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Helen Hunt’s primary companion in California was Sarah Woolsey, who wrote as Susan Coolidge. She is best known for What Katy Did and its sequels.
“Oaklands” is always written that way, although I don’t think Oakland, California, was ever plural. For names in and around Yosemite (Ah-Wah-Ne), see below.
|From Chicago to Ogden||3|
|Salt Lake City||17|
|From Ogden to San Francisco||28|
|Holy Cross Village and Mrs. Pope’s||53|
|The Chinese Empire||62|
|Notes on Yosemite (Ahwahne)|
|The Way to Ah-wah-ne||87|
|The Descent into Ah-wah-ne||98|
|Pi-wy-ack and Yo-wi-he||115|
|Patillima and Loya||126|
|From Big Oak Flat to Murphy’s||140|
|My Day in the Wilderness||157|
“Three nights and four days in the cars!” These words haunted us and hindered our rest. What should we eat and drink, and wherewithal should we be clothed? No Scripture was strong enough to calm our anxious thoughts; no friend’s experience of comfort and ease on the journey sounded credible enough to disarm our fears. “Dust is dust,” said we, “and railroad is railroad. All restaurant cooking in America is intolerable. We shall be wretched; nevertheless, we go.”
There is a handsome black boy at the Sherman House, Chicago, who remembers, perhaps, how many parcels of “life preservers” of one kind and another were lifted into our drawing-room on the Pullman cars. But nobody else will ever know.
Our drawing-room? Yes, our drawing-room; and this is the plan of it: A small, square room, occupying the whole width of the car, excepting a narrow passageway on one side; four windows, two opening on this passage-way and two opening out of doors; two doors, one opening into the car and one opening into a tiny closet, which held a washstand basin. This closet had another door, opening into another drawing-room beyond. No one but the occupants of the two drawing-rooms could have access to the bath-closet. On one side of our drawing-room a long sofa; on the other two large arm-chairs, which could be wheeled so as to face the sofa. Two shining spittoons and plenty of looking-glass, 4 hooks high up on the sides, and silver-plated rods for curtains overhead, completed the list of furniture. Room on the floor for bags and bundles and baskets; room, too, for a third chair, and a third chair we had for a part of the way,—an easy-chair, with a sloping back, which belonged to another of these luxurious Pullman cars. A perplexing sense of domesticity crept over us as we settled into corners, hung up our cologne bottles, and missed the cat! Then we shut both our doors, and smiled triumphantly into each other’s faces, as the train glided out of the station. No one can realize until he has journeyed in the delightful quiet and privacy of these small drawing-rooms on the Pullman cars how much of the wear and tear of railroad travel is the result of the contact with people. Be as silent, as unsocial, as surly as you please, you cannot avoid being more or less impressed by the magnetism of every human being in the car. Their faces attract or repel; you like, you dislike, you wonder, you pity, you resent, you loathe. In the course of twenty-four hours you have expended a great amount of nerve force, to no purpose; have borne hours of vicarious suffering, by which nobody is benefited. Adding to this hardly calculable amount of mental wear and tear the physical injury of breathing bad air, we sum up a total of which it is unpleasant to think. Of the two evils the last is the worst. The heart may, at least, try to turn away from unhappy people and wicked people, to whom it can do no good. But how is the body to steel itself against unwashed people and diseased people with whom it is crowded, elbow to elbow, and knee to knee, for hours? Our first day in our drawing-room stole by like a thief. The noon surprised us, and the twilight took us unawares. By hundreds of miles the rich prairie lands had unrolled themselves, smiled, and fled. On the very edges of the crumbling, dusty banks of our track stood pink, and blue, and yellow flowers, undisturbed. The homesteads in the distances looked like shining green fortresses, for nearly every house has a tree wall on two 5 sides of it. The trees looked like poplars, but we could not be sure. Often we saw only the solid green square, the house being entirely concealed from view. As we drew near the Mississippi River, soft, low hills came into view on each side; tangled skeins of little rivers, shaded by tall trees, wound and unwound themselves side by side with us. A big bridge lay ready, on which we crossed; everybody standing on the platform of the cars, at their own risk, according to the explicit prohibition of the railroad company. Burlington looked well, high up on red bluffs; fine large houses on the heights, and pleasant little ones in the suburbs, with patches of vineyard in the gardens.
“Make your beds now, ladies?” said the chamber-man, whose brown face showed brighter brown for his gray uniform and brass buttons.
“Yes,” we replied. “That is just what we most desire to see.”
Presto! The seats of the arm-chairs pull out, and meet in the middle. The backs of the arm-chairs pull down, and lie flat on level with the seats. The sofa pulls out and opens into double width. The roof of our drawing-room opens and lets down, and makes two more bedsteads, which we, luckily, do not want; but from under their eaves come mattresses, pillows, sheets, pillow-cases, and curtains. The beds are made; the roof shut up again; the curtains hung across the glass part of the doors; the curtains drawn across the passage-way windows; the doors shut and locked; and we undress as entirely and safely as if we were in the best bedroom of a house not made with wheels. Because we are so comfortable we lie awake a little, but not long; and that is the whole story of nights on the cars when the cars are built by Pullman and the sleeping is done in drawing-rooms.
Next morning, more prairie,—unfenced now, undivided, unmeasured, unmarked, save by the different tints of different growths of grass or grain; great droves of cattle grazing here and there; acres of willow saplings, 6 pale yellowish green; and solitary trees, which look like hermits in a wilderness. These, and now and then a shapeless village, which looks even lonelier than the empty loneliness by which it is surrounded,—these are all for hours and hours. We think, “now we are getting out into the great spaces.” “This is what the word ‘West’ has sounded like.” At noon we come to a spot where railway tracks cross each other. The eye can follow their straight lines out and away, till they look like fine black threads flung across the green ground, purposeless, accidental. A train steams slowly off to the left; the passengers wave handkerchiefs to us, and we to them. They are going to Denver; but it seems as if they might be going to any known or unknown planet. One man alone—short, fat—is walking rapidly away into the wide Southern hemisphere. He carries two big, shining brass trombones. Where can he be going, and what can be the use of trombones? He looks more inexplicable than ten comets.
We cross the Missouri at Council Bluffs; begin grumbling at the railroad corporations for forcing us to take a transfer train across the river; but find ourselves plunged into the confusion of Omaha before we have finished railing at the confusion of her neighbor. Now we see for the first time the distinctive expression of American overland travel. Here all luggage is weighed and rechecked for points further west. An enormous shed is filled with it. Four and five deep stand the anxious owners, at a high wooden wall behind which nobody may go. Everybody holds up checks, and gesticulates and beckons. There seems to be no system; but undoubtedly there is. Side by side with the rich and flurried New-Yorker stands the poor and flurried emigrant. Equality rules. Big bundles of feather-beds, tied up in blue check, red chests, corded with rope, get ahead of Saratoga trunks. Many languages are spoken. German, Irish, French, Spanish, a little English, and all varieties of American, I heard during thirty minutes in that luggage-shed. Inside the wall was a pathetic 7 sight,—a poor German woman on her knees before a chest, which had burst open on the journey. It seemed as if its whole contents could not be worth five dollars,—so old, so faded, so coarse were the clothes and so battered were the utensils. But it was evidently all she owned; it was the home she had brought with her from the Fatherland, and would be the home she would set up in the prairie. The railroad-men were good to her, and were helping her with ropes and nails. This comforted me somewhat; but it seemed almost a sin to be journeying luxuriously on the same day and train with that poor soul.
“Lunches put up for people going West.” This sign was out on all corners. Piles of apparently ownerless bundles were stacked all along the platforms; but everybody was too busy to steal. Some were eating hastily, with looks of distress, as if they knew it would be long before they ate again. Others, wiser, were buying whole chickens, loaves of bread, and filling bottles with tea. Provident Germans bought sausage by the yard. German babies got bits of it to keep them quiet. Murderous-looking rifles and guns, with strapped rolls of worn and muddy blankets, stood here and there; murderous, but jolly-looking miners, four-fifths boots and the rest beard, strode about, keeping one eye on their weapons and bedding. Well-dressed women and men with polished shoes, whose goods were already comfortably bestowed in palace-cars, lounged up and down, curious, observant, amused. Gay placards, advertising all possible routes; cheerful placards, setting forth the advantages of travellers’ insurance policies; insulting placards, assuming that all travellers have rheumatism, and should take “Unk Weed;” in short, just such placards as one sees everywhere,—papered the walls. But here they seemed somehow to be true and merit attention, especially the “Unk Weed.” There is such a professional croak in that first syllable; it sounds as if the weed had a diploma.
All this took two or three hours; but they were short. 8 “All aboard!” rung out like the last warning on Jersey City wharves when steamers push off for Europe; and in the twinkling of an eye we were out again in the still, soft, broad prairie, which is certainly more like sea than like any other land.
Again flowers and meadows, and here and there low hills, more trees, too, and a look of greater richness. Soon the Platte River, which seems to be composed of equal parts of sand and water, but which has too solemn a history to be spoken lightly of. It has been the silent guide for so many brave men who are dead! The old emigrant road, over which they went, is yet plainly to be seen; at many points it lies near the railroad. Its still, grass-grown track is strangely pathetic. Soon it will be smooth prairie again, and the wooden headboards at the graves of those who died by the way will have fallen and crumbled.
Dinner at Fremont. The air was sharp and clear. The disagreeable guide-book said we were only 1,176 feet above the sea; but we believed we were higher. The keeper of the dining-saloon apologized for not having rhubarb-pie, saying that he had just sent fifty pounds of rhubarb on ahead to his other saloon. “You’ll take tea there to-morrow night.”
“But how far apart are your two houses?” said we.
“Only eight hundred miles. It’s considerable trouble to go back an’ forth, an’ keep things straight; but I do the best I can.”
Two barefooted little German children, a boy and girl, came into the cars here, with milk and coffee to sell. The boy carried the milk, and was sorely puzzled when I held out my small tumbler to be filled. It would hold only half as much as his tin measure, of which the price was five cents.
“Donno’s that’s quite fair,” he said, when I gave him five cents. But he pocketed it, all the same, and ran on, swinging his tin can and pint cup, and calling out, “Nice fresh milk. Last you’ll get! No milk any further west.” Little rascal! We found it all the way; 9 plenty of it too, such as it was. It must be owned, however, that sage-brush and prickly pear (and if the cows do not eat these, what do they eat?) give a singularly unpleasant taste to milk; and the addition of alkali water does not improve it.
Toward night of this day, we saw our first Indian woman. We were told it was a woman. It was, apparently, made of old India-rubber, much soaked, seamed, and torn. It was thatched at top with a heavy roof of black hair, which hung down from a ridge-like line in the middle. It had sails of dingy-brown canvas, furled loosely around it, confined and caught here and there irregularly, fluttering and falling open wherever a rag of a different color could be shown underneath. It moved about on brown, bony, stalking members, for which no experience furnishes name; it mopped, and mowed, and gibbered, and reached out through the air with more brown, bony, clutching members; from which one shrank as from the claws of a bear. “Muckee! muckee!” it cried, opening wide a mouth toothless, but red. It was the most abject, loathly living thing I ever saw. I shut my eyes, and turned away. Presently, I looked again. It had passed on; and I saw on its back, gleaming out from under a ragged calash-like arch of basket-work, a smooth, shining, soft baby face, brown as a brown nut, silken as silk, sweet, happy, innocent, confiding, as if it were babe of a royal line, borne in royal state. All below its head was helpless mummy,—body, legs, arms, feet bandaged tight, swathed in a solid roll, strapped to a flat board, and swung by a leathern band, going around the mother’s breast. Its great, soft, black eyes looked fearlessly at everybody. It was as genuine and blessed a baby as any woman ever bore. Idle and thoughtless passengers jeered the squaw, saying: “Sell us the pappoose.” “Give you greenbacks for the pappoose.” Then, and not till then, I saw a human look in the India-rubber face. The eyes could flash, and the mouth could show scorn, as well as animal greed. The expression 10 was almost malignant, but it bettered the face; for it made it the face of a woman, of a mother.
At sunset, the clouds, which had been lying low and heavy all the afternoon, lifted and rolled away from the outer edge of the world. Thunder-storms swept around the horizon, followed by broken columns of rainbow, which lasted a second, and then faded into gray. When we last looked out, before going to bed, we seemed to be whirling across the middle of a gigantic green disc, with a silver rim turned up all around, to keep us from falling off, in case we should not put down the brakes quick enough on drawing near the edge.
Early the next morning, we saw antelopes. They were a great way off, and, while they stood still, might as well have been big goats or small cows; but, when they were good enough to bound, no eye could mistake them. The sight of these consoled us for having passed through the buffalo country in the night. It also explained the nature of the steaks we had been eating. How should steaks be tender cut out of that acrobatic sort of muscle? We passed also the outposts of Prairie Dog Town. The owls and the rattlesnakes were “not receiving,” apparently; but the droll, little squirrel-like puppies met us most cordially. The mixture of defiance and terror, of attack and retreat, in their behavior was as funny as it always is in small dogs, who bark and run, in other places. But the number and manner of shelters made it unspeakably droll here. I am not sure that I actually saw the whole of any one prairie dog at a time. What I chiefly saw was ends of tails going into holes, and tips of noses sticking out to bark.
At noon, we were invited to dine at Cheyenne,—“Cheyenne City,” it is called. Most of the buildings which we saw were one-story wooden ones,—small, square, with no appearance of roofs, only a square, sharp-cornered front, like a section of board fence. These all faced the railroad station, were painted with conspicuous signs,—such as “Billiard Saloon,” “Sample Room,” “Meals for Fifty Cents;” and, in the 11 doors of most of them, as the train arrived, there stood a woman or a boy, ringing a shrill bell furiously. It is curious, at these stations, to see how instantly the crowd of passengers assorts itself, and divides into grades,—of people seeking for the best; people seeking for the cheapest; and other people, most economical of all, who buy only hot drinks, having brought a grocery store and a restaurant along with them in a basket-tower. The most picturesque meals are set out on boards in the open air, and the most interesting people eat there; but I am afraid the food is not good. However, there was at Cheyenne a lively widow, presiding over a stall of this sort, where the bread and cheese and pickles looked clean and eatable. She had preserved strawberries also, and two bottles of California wine, and a rare gift at talking. She was a pioneer,—had come out alive from many Indian fights. Her husband had fared less well,—being brought home dead, with fourteen arrows in his body; but even this did not shake her love for the West. She “would not go back to the East, not on no account.” “Used to live in Boston;” but she “didn’t never want to see any o’ them sixpenny towns agin.”
In this neighborhood are found the beautiful moss agates,—daintiest of all Nature’s secret processes in stone. Instead of eating dinner, we ran up to a large shop where these stones are kept for sale, set in gold which may be said to be of their own kin, since it comes from Colorado.
The settings were not pleasing; but the stones were exquisitely beautiful. What geology shall tell us the whole of their secret? Dates are nothing, and names are not much. Here are microscopic ferns, feathery seaweeds, tassels of pines, rippling water-lines of fairy tides, mottled drifts of sand or snows,—all drawn in black or crowded gray, on and in and through the solid stone. Centuries treasured, traced, copied, embalmed them. They are too solemnly beautiful to be made into ornaments and set swinging in women’s ears!
From Cheyenne to Sherman, we rode on the engine—on 12 the foremost engine; for we were climbing mountains, and it needed all the power of two engines to draw us up.
At Cheyenne, we were only six thousand feet above the sea; at Sherman, we should be eight thousand two hundred and forty-two. The throbbing puffs, almost under our feet, sounded like the quick-drawn, panting breaths of some giant creature. Once in every three or four minutes, the great breastplate door opened; and we looked into its heart of fire, and fed it with fuel. Once in every three or four minutes, one of the keepers crept along on its sides, out to its very mouth, and poured oil into every joint; he strode its neck, and anointed every valve. His hand seemed to pat it lovingly, as he came back, holding on by the shining rods and knobs and handles. I almost forgot to look at the stretches of snow, the forests of pines, the plateaus of mountain-tops, on either hand, so absorbed was I in the sense of supernatural motion.
The engineer seemed strangely quiet; a calm, steady look ahead,—never withdrawn for a moment at a time from the glistening, black road before us. Now and then, a touch on some spring or pulley, when great jets of steam would spurt out, or whistling shrieks of warning come.
“Where is the rudder?” said I, being from the sea.
The engineer looked puzzled, for a second; then, laughing, said: “Oh! I don’t steer her; she steers herself. Put her on the track, and feed her. That’s all.”
Up, up, up! We are creeping, although we are mounting by steam. Snow lies on every side; and clumps of firs and pines, and rocks of fantastic shapes, are the only things which break this desolate loneliness. We are so much above the tops of many mountains that they themselves blend and become wide fields, over which we look to the far horizon, where rise still higher peaks, white with snow. We see off in all 13 directions, as we did on the plains; yet clouds are below us, rolling and rising, and changing like meadow-mists! Still, we climb. The trees are stunted and bent, the rocks are dark and terrible; many of them look like grotesque idols, standing erect or toppling over. Wyoming has well named this region “The Black Hills.”
At Sherman, we dropped one of our engines, and left off using the other. The descent is so sharp and sadden that no steam is needed, only the restraining brakes.
A few hours later, at Laramie, we were again on a plain. We had gone down hill steadily, for miles and miles. The guide-book seemed incredible, when we read that we were still more than seven thousand feet above the sea. Yet here were wide plains, droves of cattle, little runs of water, and flowers on every side. The sun was setting in a broad belt of warm, yellow sky; snow lay in the crevices of the lower hills, and covered the distant ranges; winter and spring seemed to have wed.
On the morning of the fourth day we looked out on a desert of sage-brush and sand; but the desert had infinite beauties of shape and the sage had pathos of color. Why has the sage-bush been so despised, so held up to the scorn of men? It is simply a miniature olive-tree. In tint, in shape, the resemblance is wonderful. Travellers never tire of recording the sad and subtle beauty of Mediterranean slopes, gray with the soft, thick, rounded tops of olive orchards. The stretches of these sage-grown plains have the same tints, the same roundings and blendings of soft, thick foliage; the low sand-hills have endless variety of outline, and all strangely suggestive. There are fortresses, palisades, roof slopes with dormer windows, hollows like cradles, and here and there vivid green oases. In these oases cattle graze. Sometimes an Indian stands guarding them, his scarlet legs gleaming through the sage, as motionless as the cattle he watches. A little 14 further on we come to his home,—a stack of bare bean-poles, apparently on fire at the top; his family sitting by, in a circle, cross-legged, doing nothing! Then comes a tract of stony country, where the rocks seem also as significant and suggestive as the sand-hills,—castles, and pillars, and altars, and spires: it is impossible to believe that human hands have not wrought them.
For half of a day we looked out on such scenes as these, and did not weary. It is monotonous; it is desolate: but it is solemn and significant. The day will come when this gray wilderness will be red with roses, golden with fruit, glad and rich and full of voices.
At noon, at Evanstown, the observation car was attached to the train: (when will railroad companies be wise enough to know that no train ought to be run anywhere without such an open car?) Twice too many passengers crowded in; everybody opened his umbrella in somebody’s else eye, and unfolded his map of the road on other knees than his own; but after a few miles the indifferent people and those who dreaded cinders, smoke, and the burning of skin, drifted back again into the other cars, leaving the true lovers of sky, air, and out-door room to enjoy the cañons in
What is a cañon? Only a valley between two high hills; that is all, though the word seems such a loud and compound mystery of warfare, both carnal and spiritual. But when the valley is thousands or tens of thousands of feet deep, and so narrow that a river can barely make its way through by shrinking and twisting and leaping; when one wall is a mountain of grassy slope and the other wall is a mountain of straight, sharp stone; when from a perilous road, which creeps along on ledges of the wall which is a mountain of stone, one looks across to the wall which is grassy slope, and down at the silver line of twisting, turning, leaping river, the word cañon seems as inadequate as the milder word valley! This was Echo Canon. We drew near it through rocky fields almost as grand as the cañon 15 itself. Rocks of red and pale yellow color were piled and strewn on either hand in a confusion so wild that it was majestic: many of them looked like gateways and walls and battlements of fortifications; many of them seemed poised on points, just ready to fall; others rose massive and solid, from terraces which stretched away beyond our sight. The railroad track is laid (is hung would seem a truer phrase) high up on the right-hand wall of the cañon,—that is, on the wall of stone. The old emigrant road ran at the base of the opposite wall (the wall of grassy slopes), close on the edge of the river. Just after we entered the cañon, as we looked down to the river, we saw an emigrant party in sore trouble on that road. The river was high and overflowed the road; the crumbling, gravelly precipice rose up hundreds of feet sheer from the water; the cattle which the poor man was driving were trying to run up the precipice, but all to no purpose; the wife and children sat on logs by the wagon, apathetically waiting,—nothing to be done but to wait there in that wild and desolate spot till the river chose to give them right of way again. They were so many hundred feet below us that the cattle seemed calves and the people tiny puppets, as we looked over the narrow rim of earth and stone which upheld us in the air. But I envied them. They would see the cañon, know it. To us it would be only a swift and vanishing dream. Even while we are whirling through, it grows unreal. Flowers of blue, yellow, purple are flying past, seemingly almost under our wheels. We look over them down into broader spaces, where there are homesteads and green meadows. Then the cañon walls close in again, and, looking down we see only a silver thread of river; looking up, we see only a blue belt of sky. Suddenly we turn a sharp corner and come out on a broad plain. The cañon walls have opened like arms, and they hold a town named after their own voices, Echo City. The arms are mighty, for they are snow-topped mountains. The plain is green and the river is still. On each side are 16 small cañons, with green threads in their centres, showing where the streams come down. High up on the hills are a few little farm-houses, where Americans live and make butter, like the men of the Tyrol. A few miles further the mountains narrow again, and we enter a still wider gorge. This is Weber Canon. Here are still higher walls and more wonderful rocks. Great serrated ledges crop out lengthwise the hills, reaching from top to bottom, high and thin and sharp. Two of these, which lie close together, with apparently only a pathway between (though they are one hundred feet apart), are called the Devil’s Slide. Why is there so much unconscious tribute to that person in the uncultivated minds of all countries? One would think him the patron saint of pioneers. The rocks still wear shapes of fortifications, gateways, castle fronts, and towers, as in Echo Canon; but they are most exquisitely lined, hollowed, grooved, and fretted.
As we whirl by, they look as the fine Chinese carvings in ivory would chiselled on massive stones by tools of giants.
The cañon opens suddenly into a broad, beautiful meadow, in which the river seems to rest rather than to run. A line of low houses, a Mormon settlement, marks the banks; fields of grain and grass glitter in the early green; great patches of blue lupine on every hand look blue as blue water at a distance, the flowers are set so thick. Only a few moments of this, however, and we are again in a rocky gorge, where there is barely room for the river, and no room for us, except on a bridge. This, too, is named for that same popular person, “Devil’s Gate.” The river foams and roars under our feet as we go through. Now comes another open plain,—wide, sunny, walled about by snow mountains, and holding a town. This is Ogden, and the shining water which lies in sight to the left is the Great Salt Lake!
Here’s a head-scratcher. Bits of Travel at Home was first published in book form in 1878. But way back on July 6, 1872, the Friends’ Intelligencer, vol. XXIX no. 19, pages 299ff., reprinted this article, crediting it to the Independent . . . but also giving the “Bits of Travel at Home” title. The same applies to the “Geysers” and “Holy Cross Village” chapters.
pink, and blue, and yellow flowers
[Later evidence suggests that this may have been the only time in her travels that Helen Hunt did not know the name of a blooming plant.]
Dinner at Fremont.
[The elevation of Fremont, Nebraska, is currently listed as 1203 ft., so the author is absolutely right in questioning the guidebook’s claim that it is only 1176 ft.]
We were told it was a woman.
[Get used to it. There will be more.]
enjoy the cañons in peace.
final . missing
It seems strange that the cars of the Utah Central Railroad should be just like all other cars. We expected to find “Holiness to the Lord” inscribed on the panels, and portraits of Mormon elders above the doors. In fact, I am not sure that we did not expect to see even the trees and shrubs along the track bearing the magic initials of the “Zion Co-operative Mercantile Association.” However, we made up for these lacks by scrutinizing the face of every man and every woman about us, and searching for some subtle token which might betray that they were not living as other men and women live. No doubt we made comical blunders, and in our thoughts wrongfully accused many an innocent bachelor of the blackest polygamy. However, we were right in one case. Just as the cars moved out of Ogden, there entered in at the door of our car a big, burly man, perhaps fifty-five or sixty years old. His face was very red; he wore a red wig; and, as if determined to make the red of his face and the red of his wig both as hideous as possible, he wore about his neck a scarf of a third shade of fiery red. His eyes were small, light, and watery, but sharp and cruel. His face was bloated, coarse, sensual: I have never seen a more repulsive man.
“Oh! that is a Mormon,” we whispered, under our breaths. “It must be.” He strode down the car in a pompous way, followed by a meek and lifeless-looking old woman. He looked from right to left with an air of arrogant self-consciousness, which would have been ludicrous except for a sort of terrible certainty of power in it, which made one shudder.18
“Who is that? who is that?” we said to the conductor.
“That is Historian Smith. He is the second in power in our church,” replied the conductor, with a complacent smile.
Afterward we saw him doing honor to the scarlet magnate, with most obsequious bowing and bending. But we soon forgot our interest in the baffling faces of Mormon men and women, and looked only at the wonderful valley through which we were journeying. Surely this Salt Lake Valley is itself Brigham Young’s most powerful auxiliary. No possible pomp which riches could compass, and send out to meet the new proselytes, would so appeal to their senses as must the first view of this broad, green valley, walled in by snow-topped mountains, and holding the great Salt Lake. There is a solemnity in its beauty which to a religious fanatic might easily seem supernatural.
Entering the valley, as we did, at Ogden, late in the afternoon, and journeying southward to the city, one sees a picture which cannot be forgotten.
The Wasatch Mountains, on the left, were like a solid wall, clouded purple and gray from the base half way up, then mottled and barred and striped with white wherever snow lay in the rifts and seams; then, at the very top, crowned and battlemented with solid snow, which not even the fiercest summer heats would entirely melt. On the right lay the lake, also glistening like silver, and with rippling gleams of blue. Its further shore was a snow-topped mountain range; and its islands were mountains, some of them snow-topped, some of them green, some of them bare and stony, and red in the low sunlight. Between us and the lake on the right, and between us and the Wasatch Mountains on the left, lay broad fields, green with grain or grass, or gay with many-colored blossoms, or yellow with small sunflowers. These were most beautiful of all: their wide belts of yellow were like shining frames to the color and beauty beyond. This sunflower is called 19 the Mormon flower, and is said to spring up wherever Mormons go. If other Mormon fields are like these, the superstition is well-founded. Acre after acre they spread, as solid as cloth of gold. The eye could not bear their dazzling any more than if they were suns.
Salt Lake City lies close at the base of the Wasatch range, so close that, as you first see the city from the cars, you can fancy it a walled town, walled on one side by the mountains, with a gate in every cañon. As we drew near it, the sunset lights had left the valley, but still lit the snowy hill-tops.
I confess that my first thought was of the grand old Bible words: “The angel of the Lord encampeth around them that fear him.” No doubt many a devout simple-hearted Mormon has had the same feeling, as he has first looked on the scene.
The next morning, as we looked down upon the city from some of the lower spurs of the mountains, I found myself still conscious of a peculiar solemnity in its whole expression. It is compact, but not crowded. Each house has its enclosure of fruit and shade trees; so that, as you look down on the city from above, it seems like a city built in a huge garden. It has no straggling suburbs, no poor or thriftless neighborhoods; not a dilapidated or poverty-stricken house is to be seen. On each side of the principal streets, between the side-walk and the road, run swift, sparkling little mountain streams. Close up to the city limits, on the south and west and north, come the great gray plains of the unredeemed alkali bottoms, in which the city’s dense green looks like an oasis. Near the centre of the city rises the huge, weird dome of the Tabernacle, adding still more to the mystic expression of the scene.
Fancy a roof, smooth, glistening, gray, and of a faultless oval, large enough to shelter seventeen thousand persons, comfortably seated. If it surmounted any thing which could be properly called a building, it would be as grand as St. Peter’s; but it is placed on low, straight brick walls; and the whole effect, near at hand, is like 20 nothing more nor less than half of a gigantic egg, split lengthwise. However, into all the distant views of the city it enters well, and seems strangely in keeping with the long slopes of the mountain bases. Beyond the gray alkali plains lies the shining lake, full of mountain islands; beyond the shining lake and the mountain islands rise snow-topped mountain ranges, running to the north and to the south as far as the eye can see. The sun sets behind these. It turns them to purple mist, then to golden, then to pale gray, and sends their vivid shadows way across the lake and plains. It rises behind the Wasatch range; and then that shadow also is flung out beyond the city and the plains, till it quivers on the lake. So the mountains might almost be said to clasp hands over the city’s head. At noon, when the sun was hot, I looked out through the tops of green locust-trees, and saw the whole eastern range blue as sapphire,—so blue that the blue sky above looked white; and the snow on the summits was so white that the white clouds above looked gray. The air is so rarefied that the light shimmers dazzling along all outlines, and the sense of distance is deceived. Peaks thirty miles distant seem near at hand; hills five miles off seem within a few minutes’ walk; and the sunshine seems to have a color and substance to it which I never saw elsewhere,—no, not even in Italy. It takes up room!
But, in spite of the sunshine, in spite of the beauty, the very air seemed heavy with hidden sadness. No stranger can walk the streets of Salt Lake City without a deepening sense of mystery and pain. We have been so long accustomed to the idea of polygamy as a recognized evil, we have seen the word so long and so often in print, that we are unprepared for the new sense of horror which is at once aroused by the actual presence of the thing. Each sunny doorway, each gay garden, is a centre of conjecture, of sympathy. Each woman’s face, each baby’s laugh, rouses thoughts hard to bear. The streets are full of life; shops are busy; carriages 21 with fine horses drive up and down; farm-wagons with produce are coming in; markets are open; stalls on corners are piled up with apples, and bits of cocoanut in tin pans of water, just such as are sold in Boston or New York. You can have your boots blacked or your pocket picked; boys and men of these and all other trades jostle you on every hand. Over most of the shops is a singular placard, a picture of one huge eye; above it the motto “Holiness to the Lord,” below it the initials Z. C. M. A. These stand for the words “Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Association,” and mean that the man who sells you tape or lemons behind that counter sells them at the prices fixed by the Church, and pays to the Church a semi-annual percentage on all sales.
Passing out of the business streets, you find cosey, tasteful little homes on every hand. Flowers at the windows and in the gardens; piazzas shaded by vines; fruit orchards and little patches of vegetables, or corn, or wheat, all through the city. If your driver is a Gentile, he turns round from time to time with such comments as these:—
“That’s a three-wife house.” “That’s a two-wife house.” “That’s a new house Mr. —— has just built for his last wife.” “There’s two of Brigham’s wives lives in that house.”
And before one of the pleasantest little houses of all, he reins up his horses into a walk, and says:—
“That’s where Amelia, Brigham’s last wife lives. And one of Mr. Clawson’s wives lives with her. Mr. Clawson—he married two of Brigham’s daughters.”
The heart grows faint. The sunshine seems darkened. You look up in involuntary appeal to the silent, snowy mountains, from which no help comes for this great wrong. Then you look earnestly into the faces of all the women you see. They are standing on doorsills, with laughing babies in their arms; they are talking gayly with each other on the sidewalk; they are leading little children; they are walking by the side of men; they are carrying burdens, or seeking pleasure, just as 22 other women do—apparently. Their faces are not sad, as we looked to find them. If we did not know we were in Salt Lake City, we should say. “These are simple and contented women, uncommonly healthy and strong. The community, as a whole, seems remarkably industrious, prosperous, and innocent, if one may judge from faces and from expression of the homesteads.”
These are the Mormons, of whom we have heard such terrible tales of cruelty and crime. They are the men who have created this blooming, thriving city, in the heart of a desert; these are the down-trodden and heart-broken women for whom we have wept! The problem grows more and more perplexing with every hour that you spend in the city, and with every word that you hear. Men, not Mormons, who have lived here for years, bear the strongest testimony to the uprightness, honesty, industry, purity of Mormon lives, and to their charity also. The city is divided into twenty-one wards. Every ward has its bishop, who has several assistants.
“At every train, you will see a bishop or assistant from every ward down at the cars, to meet any poor person who may come in, and to take care of them at once,” said a Mormon woman to me.
“And we all take care of our own poor; each ward has to contribute. You’ll not find a beggar or a suffering poor person in our Church. That’s the greatest part of our religion, ma’am.”
This woman, though a staunch Mormon, hates polygamy. But she says, piteously: “It’s because I am not religious; I am not naturally a religious person. I believe that polygamy is right, because the Church teaches it; but I can’t say that I feel about it as a Mormon woman ought to. And I could never have my husband’s other wife in my house; (no, never!) though I lived with his first wife for twelve years, and took care of her till she died; and she was very fond of me. She was quite an old lady. It’s only last year she died; and, to the very last, she was asking for me. But, if 23 any Mormon woman tells you that they like polygamy, they lie. It’s nothing but a cross that they bear for the sake of their religion.”
This woman has had no children; the younger wife has had two. The husband is a man of some means. If Mormon men die without making wills, their wives inherit nothing. The children inherit all; and the mother takes what the children, or the Church, as guardian of the children, may choose to give her. This woman, having no children, will have no claim; yet she has earned far more of the property than her husband has.
I talked with another Mormon wife, who was a woman of unusual strength, physically and mentally. She was one of the pioneers, having come with the first party that entered the Salt Lake Valley, through the terrible path which is still called “Emigration Canyon.” She was then in her seventeenth year; and it was just two months before the birth of her first child.
“You could never believe,” she said, “to look at this valley now, what it was then. Nothing in it, except a little mud fort in the middle; and into that we all crowded, more like wild beasts than human beings. But I was never so happy in my life. Many a day, I only had a crust of bread to eat; but it was just as if God was there with us, all the time.”
The child did not know at this time, nor till long afterward, that polygamy was peculiar to the Mormons. When she first found out the truth, it seemed to her, she said, “just as if she had been taken out of this world into some other: every thing was so changed.”
When she was twenty-two years old, her husband took a second wife. This was twenty-six years ago. The two women lived together for twenty years, and brought up their families of children together. One had ten children, the other eight. Then they separated. The first wife lives now some miles from the city, on a small farm. Her husband comes out on Saturday afternoon, and returns on Monday. This is all 24 she sees of him. The rest of the time he lives with the second wife in the city, where he holds an important position.
It was on a Saturday that I saw her. While I was talking with her, the husband suddenly appeared in the doorway. He had just come out from town. “Oh! there’s Mr. ——, now,” said she, rising, and going to meet him as she would go to meet a neighbor.
He shook hands with her, and said, kindly: “How d’ye do, Ma?” She introduced him to me; and he sat down. The chair was a little broken, and creaked under his weight.
“Why, Ma! why don’t you have your chairs fixed?” he said, very pleasantly. But oh! how hot my cheeks felt. “Have her chairs fixed!”—living alone, twenty miles from the city, five miles from a neighbor, with no servant in her house! Yet this man has a kindly nature. It was evident in every line of his face. He is a man to whom it would be a grief to give pain to any one. He is simple-hearted, affectionate, pure-minded. He is also a man of some education. It must be a daily sorrow to him to see his children insufficiently provided for in any way; yet his means do not enable him to make eighteen children comfortable. There is discomfort, deprivation in both houses.
“If a man brings up one family of children, and provides for them, I think that’s as much as the Lord’s going to require of any body,” said this man’s wife; “and, as for believing that the Lord’s going to require any thing of woman which makes them suffer as polygamy does, I don’t. But they are all good, earnest, true men,” she added; “and pure men, too, according to their way of looking at it. They are faithful to their wives: there isn’t such a thing known as a Mormon man’s going astray in that way.” She was most earnest in her efforts to impress me with this fact, and with the uprightness and sincerity of the men. Much as she hated polygamy herself, and fully as she believed it to be wrong, she believed that the Mormon men were sincere in regarding it as a matter of religion.25
“There’s many a man takes another wife, just because he thinks he ought to,” said she. “I have known such cases every year. The Church says they must.”
She had not heard of that petition from the women of Utah to the United States Government, which has been regarded at the East as proving so conclusively that Mormon women are all anxious for deliverance from the tyranny of the Church. Neither had the other woman of whom I have spoken heard of this petition; and, as both these women are women of position and influence, I could not but regard their ignorance of the petition as a significant fact, pointing strongly toward the truth of the assertion of the Church newspaper, that the signatures were not all genuine.
“Why,” said she, “you’d never get one-third, even, of the women who don’t like polygamy to petition against it. They believe it’s right, much as they hate it. And the rest of the women, they take it up, just as the martyrs went to the stakes, thinking they’ll get heaven by it, and they can’t get it any other way; and they wouldn’t have it done away with, if they could. The Church teaches them that no woman can go to Heaven, unless she is married to some man.”
“Why, I myself don’t want polygamy put an end to any such way,” said she, flushing. “I believe God’ll stop it somehow, sooner or later; but not in one day! Why, I should think ——.” But she could not finish the sentence. I finished it for her, however, in my heart; and I wonder that any persons can be so unthinking as not to realize the cruelty of any hasty legislation which would add one more burden of fear or sense of humiliation to the loads which these poor women are already bearing.
The next day, I heard that petition read in the Tabernacle. At the close of the afternoon services, Historian Smith—the man whom I have already described—came forward, holding a paper in his hand. He still wore the blazing red scarf, and still looked, as he did 26 in the cars, the very incarnation of sensuality and tyranny.
With a few introductory remarks, setting forth that the Church thought it best to acquaint her children with all the weapons and wiles of her adversaries, he read the paper. He read it slowly, deliberately, giving prominent and scornful emphasis to the sentences which spoke of the terror in which the women lived. He mentioned the number of signatures, adding, impressively: “The names can be identified by all of you; many of them are the names of young children.” He then made a short address, evidently for the benefit of the strangers present, giving a brief statement of the grounds on which the Church inculcates polygamy. The argument was based on the Bible prophecy of the days in which seven women should lay hold of one man, imploring him to take away “their reproach.” The term “reproach” was interpreted to mean childlessness, and was dwelt upon strenuously; and he referred to the remarkable healthfulness and strength of the Mormon children as proof that polygamy might be upheld on physical as well as Scriptural grounds.
During the whole of these extraordinary proceedings, I studied the faces of the men and women about me. At many parts of the petition, they exchanged satirical and amused glances with each other, especially at the statements in regard to the petitioners’ terrors. While the doctrine of polygamy was expounded and justified, they looked serious, attentive, and satisfied. Certainly, so far as the expression of an audience could be a test, the Mormon Church was justified by her followers that afternoon. I studied also the faces of the priesthood. They sit in a body, on a raised platform, which fronts the congregation. In the centre of this platform are three wide seats, with raised desks, where Brigham Young and those nearest him in authority sit. As the priests sit facing these central seats, their side faces are in full view. I found myself insensibly comparing them with the faces of the Romish priesthood, as 27 I used to see it in the streets of Rome. Here were the same two types of face,—the credulous, simple, and devoted; and the tyrannical and unscrupulous. They were, almost without exception, plain, hardworking-looking men, in coarse clothes; but, if they had only been robed in black and violet and scarlet, they would have seemed in no wise out of place in the College of the Propaganda. Tyranny and fanaticism work with the same tools, and write the same handwriting, all the world over. If one could banish from his mind the undercurrent of consciousness of this great wrong of ecclesiastical domination in Salt Lake City, it would be one of the most delightful spots in the world. The air, the sunshine, the snowy mountains, the blue lake, the waving orchards, the bright flowers, and the neat, cosey little homes,—all make up a picture of beauty and thrift and peace rarely equalled. But there is no escape from the shadow; there is no forgetting the wrong.
However, all diseases are self-limited. Polygamy is as sure to disappear before civilization as flails are to go down before steam-threshers. A shrewd old man, who had lived in Salt Lake City for several years, said to me, one morning, pointing to the windows of a milliner’s shop, before which we stood: “They needn’t trouble themselves to legislate about polygamy. This sort of stuff,”—waving his hand back and forth in front of the bonnets and ribbons,—“this sort of stuff will put an end to it. It’s putting an end to monogamy, for that matter! It will very soon be here, as it is elsewhere, more than most men can do to support even one wife!”
At Ogden the Union Pacific Railroad ends and the Central Pacific Railroad begins. The Pullman drawing-room cars also end, and the silver palace-cars begin; and we are told that there are good reasons why no mortal can engage a section of a sleeping-car to be ready for him at Ogden on any particular day. “Through passengers” must be accommodated first. “Through passengers,” no doubt, see the justice of this. Way passengers cannot be expected to. But we do most emphatically realize the bearing of it when we arrive at Ogden from Salt Lake City at four o’clock in the afternoon, and find anxious men standing patiently in line, forty deep, before the ticket-office, biding their chance of having to sit up for the two nights which must be spent on the road between Ogden and San Francisco. It was a desperate hour for that ticket agent; and the crowd was a study for an artist. Most to be pitied of all were the married men, whose nervous wives kept plucking them by the coat-tails and drawing them out of the line once in five minutes, to propose utterly impracticable devices for circumventing or hurrying the ticket-agent. I do not know whether I reveal things which should be hid, or whether the information would be of value upon all days; but there is a side window to that ticket-office, and a superintendent sometimes stands near it, and, by lifting a green curtain, conversations can be carried on, and money and tickets passed in and out. Neither do I know how many, if any, of the forty unfortunates rode all the way bedless to San Francisco; for our first anxiety as to whether we should each get a “section” 29 was soon merged in our second, which was almost as great—what we should do with ourselves in it. A latent sense of justice restrains me from attempting to describe a section. It is impossible to be just to a person or a thing disliked. I dislike the sleeping-car sections more than I ever have disliked, ever shall dislike, or ever can dislike any thing in the world. Therefore, I will not describe one. I will speak only of the process of going to bed and getting up in it. Fancy a mattress laid on the bottom shelf in your cupboard, and the cupboard-door shut. You have previously made choice among your possessions which ones you will have put underneath your shelf, where you cannot get at them, and which ones you must have, and will therefore keep all night on the foot of your bed (that is, on your own feet). Accurate memory and judicious selection, under such circumstances, are impossible. No sooner is the cupboard-door shut than you remember that several indispensable articles are under the shelf. But the door is locked, and you can’t get out. By which I mean that the porter has put up the curtain in front of your section, and of the opposite section, and you have partially undressed, and can’t step out into the narrow aisle without encountering the English gentleman, who is going by to heat water on the stove at the end of the car; and, even if you didn’t encounter him, you can’t get at the things which have been stowed away under your shelf, unless you lie down at full length on the floor to reach them; and you can’t lie down at full length on the floor, because most of the floor is under your opposite neighbor’s shelf. So I said the door was locked simply to express the hopelessness of the situation. Then you sit cross-legged on your bed; because, of course, you can’t sit on the edge of the shelf after the cupboard-door is shut—that is, the curtain is put up so close to the edge of your bed that, if you do sit there in the natural human manner, your knees and feet will be in the way of the English gentleman when he passes. Sitting cross-legged on your 30 bed, you take off a few of your clothes, if you have courage; and then you cast about to think what you shall do with them. It is quite light in the cupboard, for there is a little kerosene lamp in a tiny glass-doored niche in the wall; and it gives light enough to show you that there isn’t a hook or an edge of any thing on which a single article can be hung. You gaze drearily around on the smooth, shining panels of hard wood. It is a very handsome cupboard, a good deal plated, besides being made of fine hard woods, into which you can’t drive even a pin. At last you have an inspiration. You stand up on the edge of your bed, and, grasping the belt of your dress firmly in each hand, boldly thrust one arm out above the curtain, and hook the belt over the curtain-rod. It swings safely! You sink back triumphant and exhausted; come down on your travelling-bag, and upset it; the cork comes out of the hartshorn bottle, and the hartshorn runs into the borax. Of course, you can’t cross the Alkali Desert without a good supply of counter alkalies. By the time you have saved the remainder of these, and propped the travelling bag up again, you are frightfully cramped from sitting so long cross-legged. So you lie out straight a few minutes to rest. Then you get up again, more cautiously than before, on the edge of the bed, and hook and pin a few more garments around the curtain-rod. Just as you are looking on the last one, and feeling quite elated, the car gives a sudden jerk, and out you go, head foremost into the aisle into the very arms of the English gentleman. Being an English gentleman, he would look the other way if he could; but how can he? He must hold you up! You don’t know just how you clamber back. Nothing seems very clear to you for some minutes except the English gentleman’s face, which is indelibly stamped on your brain.
You don’t sit up for the next five or six minutes, nor make a sound. Then you reflect that the night is really to be ten hours long, and that there are hairpins and hair. There is no need of greater explicitness.31
The feeblest imagination can supply details and dilemmas. You sit up again, and soon become absorbed in necessary transactions. You glance up to the left! Horrors upon horrors! The cupboard-door has suddenly swung off its hinges! That is, the flank piece of the curtain, which is intended to turn a corner at the head of the bed, and shut you off from your neighbor in the next section, being not wide enough, and having no sort of contrivance to fasten it to the wooden partition, has slid along on the rod, and left you just as much exposed to the eyes of all passers-by as if your cupboard had no door at all. You drop—well—all you have in your hands, seize the curtain and hold it in place with your thumb and finger, while you grope for a pin to pin it with. Pin it, indeed! To what? I have before mentioned that the cupboard is of panels of highly-polished hard wood and silver plating. The cars are called “silver” and “palace” for this reason. At last you pin it to the upper edge of your pillow. That seems insecure; especially so, taking into account the fact that you are a restless sleeper. But it is the only thing to be done. Having done this, you look down at the foot of the bed, and find a similar yawning aperture there. You pin this flank curtain to the blanket, and pin the blanket to the mattress. You do all these things, getting about on your knees, with the car shaking and rocking violently over an unusually rough bit of road. When the flap is firmly pinned at the head and at the foot, you lean back against the middle of the back of your cupboard, to rest. The glass door outside your little lamp is very hot. You burn your elbow on it, and involuntarily scream.
“What is the matter, ma’am?” says the friendly conductor, who happens to be passing. You start up. That is, you would, if you could; but you can’t, because you are sitting cross-legged, and have the cramp besides. But it is too late. The cupboard-door is split in the middle, and there are the conductor’s sympathizing eyes looking directly in upon you. It is evidently 32 impossible to have the curtains made tight at the head and foot of your shelf without their parting in the middle. They are too scant. At this despair sets in. However, you unpin the flap at the foot of the bed, repin it so as to leave only a small crack, through which you hope your neighbor will be too busy to look. Then you pin the two curtains together firmly in the middle, all the way up and down. Then you lie down, with your head on your travelling bag, and resolve to do no more till the cars stop. You fall asleep from exhaustion. When you awake, darkness reigns; a heavy and poisonous air fills your cupboard; the car is dashing on through the night faster than ever. Timidly you unpin the curtains, and peer put. The narrow aisle is curtained from one end to the other; boots are set out at irregular intervals; snores rise in hideous chorus about you; everybody has gone to bed, nobody has opened his window, and most of the ventilators are shut. With all the haste you can make, you try to open the window at the foot of your bed. Alas! while the day lasted you neglected to learn the trick of the fastening; now the night has come, in which no man can undo a car-window. You take the skin off your fingers; you bruise your knuckles; you wrench your shoulder and back with superhuman strains,—all the time sitting cross-legged. At last, just as you have made up your mind to follow the illustrious precedent of Mrs. Kemble’s elbow, you hit the spring by accident, and, in your exultation, push the window wide open. A fierce and icy blast sweeps in, and your mouth is filled with cinders in a second. This will never do. Now, how to get the window partly down! This takes longer than it took to get it up; but you finally succeed. By this time you are so exhausted that absolute indifference to all things except rest seizes you. You slip in between the sheets, and shut your eyes. As you doze off, you have a vague impression that you hear something tumble off the foot of the bed into the aisle. You hope it is your boots, and not your travelling-bag, with the bottles in it; but 33 you would not get up again to see,—no, not if the whole car-load of passengers were to be waked up by a pungent odor of ammonia and alcohol proceeding from your cupboard. Strange to say, you sleep. Your dreams are nightmares,—but still you sleep through till daylight.
As soon as you awake you spring up and listen. All is still. Some of the snores still continue. You put up a fervent ejaculation of gratitude that you have waked so early. You resume the cross-legged position, and look about you for your possessions. It was your travelling-bag, after all, which fell off the shelf. You find it upside down on the floor in the aisle. You find, also, one boot. The other cannot be found. A horrible fear seizes you that it has gone out of the window. As calmly as your temperament will permit, you go on putting your remains together. The car is running slowly; and, all things considered, you think you are doing pretty well, when suddenly you encounter, in a glistening panel on the back of your cupboard, close to the head of your bed, a sight which throws you into new perplexity. There is—yes, it is—the face of the English gentleman. But what does it mean that the eyes are closed and a red silk handkerchief is bound about his florid brow? While you stare incredulously, the face turns on its pillow. A sleepy hand stretches up and rubs one eye. The eye opens, gazes languidly about, closes again, and the English gentleman sinks off into his morning nap. You seize your pillow, prop it up against the shining panel, so as to cut off this extremely involuntary view; then you stop dressing, and think out the phenomenon. It is very simple. The partitions between the sections do not join the walls of the car by two inches or more. The polished panel just behind this space is a perfect mirror, reflecting a part of each section; then you glance guiltily down to the similar mirror at the foot of your bed. Sure enough, the same thing! There you see the head of an excellent German frau, whom you had observed the 34 day before. She also is sound asleep. You prop your other pillow up in that corner, lest she should awake; and then you hurry on your clothes stealthily as a thief. The boot, however, cannot be found, and you are at last constrained to go to the dressing-room without it. The dressing-room is at the further end of the car. Early as you are, fellow-women are there before you—three of them; one in possession of the washbowl, two waiting for their turn. You fall into line, thankful for being only the fourth. You sit bashfully on somebody’s valise, while these strangers make their toilets. You reflect on the sweet and wonderful power of adaptation which distinguishes some natures; the guileless trust in the kindliness of their own sex which enables some women to treat all other women as if they were their sisters. The three are relating their experiences.
“Well, I got along very well,” says one, “till somebody opened a window; and after that I thought I should freeze to death. My husband, he called the conductor up, and they shut the ventilators; but I just shivered all night. Real good soap this is; ain’t it, now?” You feel yourself blushing with guilty consciousness of that open window. But you brave it out silently.
“I wa’n’t too cold,” said the washbowl incumbent, meditatively holding her false teeth under the faucet, and changing them deftly from side to side, to wash them well. “But I’ll tell you what did happen to me. In the middle o’ the night I felt suthin’ against my head, right on the very top . And what do you think it was? ’Twas the feet of the man in the next section to ! Well, sez I, this is more’n I can stand; and I give ’em such a push. I reckon he waked up, for I never felt ’em no more.”
At this you fly. You cannot trust your face any longer.
“Got tired o’ waitin’?” calls out No. 3. “You can have my turn, if you’re in a hurry. We’ve got all day before us,” and the three women chuckle drearily.35
When you reach your cupboard, Frank, the handsome black porter, has already transformed your bed into two chairs. The bedding is all put away out of sight; and there, conspicuously awaiting you, stands the missing boot, on a chair. You are not proud of your boots. For good reasons you decided to wear them on this journey; but false shame wrings you as you wonder if everybody has seen how very shabby that shoe is.
The English gentleman is in the aisle, putting on his boots. The German frau is bustling about in a very demi-dress. Nobody seems to mind anybody; and, now that the thing is over with, you laugh to think how droll it all was. And so the day begins.
We are told that in the night we have passed over the Great American Desert,—sixty square miles of alkali sand. This, then, on which we look out now, is not the desert. We had thought it must be. All we can see is sand, or sage-brush, or bunch-grass. Yet it is not dreary. The tints are exquisite. “We shall not be weary of it if it lasts all day,” we said. And it did last all day. All day long tints of gray and brown; sometimes rocky ravines, with low, dark growths on their sides; sometimes valleys, which the guide-book said were fertile, but which to us looked just as gray and brown as the plains. We passed a dozen or more small towns, all looking alike, all looking far more desolate than the silent plains. A wide and dusty space, like a ploughed field, only hardened and flattened; rows or groups of small unpainted wooden houses, all trying to face the railway station, and most bearing big signs on their front of something to sell or to hire or to drink; not a tree, not a flower, not a protecting fence,—that is the thing called town all along the road of the first day’s journey westward from Ogden. But at sunset we came to something else. We had been climbing up. Snow-topped mountains were in sight all about us. The air was clear and cold. “Humboldt Station” was the name of the station to which we had been 36 looking forward for some hours, simply because it meant “supper.” But, when we stepped out of the cars, thoughts of supper fled. Four thousand feet above the sea, among alkali sands and stony volcanic beds, there stood a brilliant green oasis. Clover fields, young trees, and vegetable gardens surrounded the little house. In front was a fountain, which sparkled in the sun. Around it was a broad rim of grass and white clover. An iron railing enclosed it. It was a pathetic sight to see rough men, even men from the emigrant-car, stretching their hands through the railing to pick a blade of grass or a clover-blossom. One great, burly fellow, lifted up his little girl, and, swinging her over the iron spikes, set her down in the grass, saying: “There! I’d like to see ye steppin’ on green grass once more.” It was a test of loyalty to green fields, and there were no traitors. We had not dreamed that we had grown so hungry for sight of true summer. Just as the train was about to start, I remembered a gentle-faced woman in our car who had not come out. I reached into the grassy rim, without looking, and picked a clover-leaf to carry her as token. I gave it to her, without having looked closely at it.
“And a four-leaved clover, too!” she exclaimed, as she took it.
It was the first four-leaved clover I ever found. I have spent hours enough to count up into weeks in searching for them. I took back my gift with a superstitious reverence for it, as omen of our journey, and also as a fitting memento of that bright oasis which patience had created in the desert, and named by the name of a good and great man.
Next morning we waked up in the Sierras. We were nearly six thousand feet above the sea. As far as we could see on either hand rose snowy tops of mountains. We were on them, below them, among them, all at once. Some were covered with pines and firs; some were glistening and bare. We looked down into ravines and gorges which were so deep they were black. Tops of 37 firs, which we knew must be hundreds of feet high, seemed to make only a solid mossy bed below us. The sun shone brilliantly on the crests and upper slopes; now and then a sharp gleam of light showed a lake or a river far down among the dark and icy walls. It seemed almost as if these lights came from our train, as if we bore a gigantic lantern, which flashed its light in and out as we went winding and leaping from depth to depth, from peak to peak. I think nothing could happen in life which could make any human being who had looked out on this scene forget it. Presently we entered the snow-sheds. These were dreary, but could not wholly interrupt the grandeur. Fancy miles upon miles of covered bridge, with black and grimy snowdrifts, or else still blacker and grimier gutters of water, on each side the track (for the snow-sheds keep out only part of the snow); through the seams between the boards, sometimes through open spaces where boards have fallen, whirling glimpses of snow-drifts outside, of tops of trees, of tops of mountains, of bottoms of canyons,—this is snow-shed travelling. And there are thirty-nine miles of it on the Central Pacific Railroad. It was like being borne along half blindfolded through the upper air. I felt as if I knew how the Sierras might look to eagles flying over in haste, with their eyes fixed on the sun.
“Breakfast in a snow-shed this morning, ladies,” said Frank, our chamber-maid. True; the snow-shed branched off like a mining gallery, widened, and took in the front of a little house, whose door was set wide open, and whose breakfast-bell was ringing as we jumped out of the cars. We walked up to the dining-room over icy rock. Through openings at each side, where the shed joined the house, we looked out upon fields of snow, and firs, and rocky peaks; but the sun shone like the sun of June, and we had not a sensation of chill. Could one be pardoned for remembering and saying that even at this supreme moment there was additional gladness from the fact that the trout also were 38 warm, being on blazers? A good breakfast on blazers, in a snow-shed, seven thousand feet above the sea! But there was one man in the train (all honor to his line) who breakfasted on other fare than trout and canned apricots. Just as we were about to get off, I saw him come leaping into the snow-shed from a high snow-drift. He carried a big staff in his hand.
“Oh!” said I, “you have been off on the snow.”
“Indeed, have I!” exclaimed he. “So far that I thought I should be left. And it ‘bears’ everywhere. I jumped on the ‘crust’ with all my weight.”
Almost immediately we began to descend. In a few miles we had gone down three thousand feet, the brakes all the while holding us back, lest we should roll too fast. Flowers sprang up into sight, as if conjured by a miracle out of the ice; green spaces, too, and little branches, with trees and shrubs around them. The great American Canyon seemed to open its arms, finding us bold enough to enter. Its walls are two thousand feet high, and are rifted by other canyons running down, each with its tiny silver thread of water, till they are lost in the abysses of fir-trees below. The mining villages looked gay as gardens. Every shanty had vines and shrubs and flowers about it. On all the hillsides were long, narrow wooden troughs, full of running water, like miniature canals, but swift, like brooks. One fancied that the water had a golden gleam in it, left from the precious gold it had washed. Still down, down, out of snow into bloom, out of winter into spring, so suddenly that the winter and the spring seemed equally unreal, and we half looked for summer’s grain and autumn’s vintage, station by station. Nothing could have seemed too soon, too startling. We doubled Cape Horn, in the sunny weather, as gaily as if we had been on a light-boat’s deck; but we were sitting, standing, clinging on the steps and platforms of a heavy railroad train, whose track bent at a sharp angle around a rocky wall which rose up hundreds of feet straight in the air, and reached down hundreds of feet into the green valley beneath. 39 A flaw in an inch of iron, and the train would be lying at the bottom of the wall, broken into fine bits. But, whirling around the perilous bend, one had only a sense of glee. After-thoughts give it another name.
We reached Colfax at noon of midsummer. According to all calendars, there had been months between our breakfast and our dinner. Men and boys ran up and down in the cars, offering us baskets of ripe strawberries and huge bunches of red, white, and pink roses. Gay placards, advertising circuses and concerts, were on the walls and fences of Colfax. Yellow stages stood ready to carry people over smooth, red roads, which were to be seen winding off in many ways. “Grass Valley,” “You Bet,” and “Little York” were three of the names. Summer, and slang, and history all beckoning.
Still down. The valleys widen to plains, the snow-topped mountains grow lower and dimmer and bluer, as they fall back into horizon lines. Our road runs through fields of grain and grass, wild oats wave almost up to the very rails, and the blue lupine and the yellow eschscholtzia make masses of solid blue and gold. The Sacramento Valley seems all astir with wind-mills, pumping up water for Sacramento vineyards. Sacramento is noisy,—hacks, hotels, daily papers, and all. “Casa Svizera” on a dingy, tumble-down building catches our eye as we are hurrying out of the city; it seems to suit the vineyards into which we go. A strong, cold wind blows; it is from the western sea. We climb again. Low, curving hills, lapping and overlapping, and making soft hollows of shade, begin to rise on either hand. We wind in among them, through great spaces of yellow, waving blossom—eschscholtzia, yellow lupine, and mustard by the acre. It seems as if California’s hidden gold had grown impatient of darkness, and burst up into flower! Twilight finds us in a labyrinth of low, bare hills. They are higher, though, than they look, as we discover when we enter sharp cuts and climb up canyons; but their outlines are indescribably soft and gentle. 40 One thinks involuntarily of some of Beethoven’s Adagios. The whole grand movement of the vast continent seems to have progressed with harmonies and successions akin to those of a symphony, and to end now with a few low, tender, gracious chords.
But the confusion of the Oaklands ferry-boat dissipates all such fancies. It seems an odd thing to cross over America—prairies, deserts, mountains—and then, after all, be ferried to the western edge of the continent.
But only so can we come to the city of San Francisco,—half an hour, at least, on a little steam-tug. It is dark, and it seems like any other steam-tug; but we have crossed the continent.
By our side in the jostling crowd are two brothers, searching for each other. They have not met for twenty years. How shall the boys (become men) know each other’s faces? They do not. At last an accidental word, overheard, reveals them to each other.
I looked into the two faces. Singularly upright, sweet faces, both of them; faces that one would trust on sight, and love on knowledge. The brother that had journeyed from the East was my friend. The brother that stood waiting on the Western shore was his twin; but he looked at least twenty years the older man. There are spaces wider than lands can measure or the seas fill. This was the moment, after all, and this was the thing which will always live in my memory as significant of crossing a continent.
right on the very top on’t.
text has o’nt
the man in the next section to ou’rn!
text unchanged: expected “our’n”
seven thousand feet above the sea!
[Helen Maria Fiske was born in Massachusetts, whose highest point is less than 3500 ft., scarcely higher than the lowest point in Colorado. Mt. Washington, the highest peak in all of New England, is only a bit over 6000 ft. So the exclamation mark is understandable.]
By boat from San Francisco to Vallejo. By cars from Vallejo to Calistoga. By stage from Calistoga to the Geysers. This was the guide-book formula. It was to take an afternoon and a forenoon, and the night between was to be spent at Calistoga. But nothing was said in the advertisement about the loveliness of the sunset in the Golden Gated Bay, on which we were to sail to Vallejo. It was not mentioned that Mount Tamalpais would be yellow in mist on our left, and Mount Diablo purple in mist on our right, and that all the San Pablo shore would seem gently floating up and down, and back and forth, as we passed, like the edge of some enchanted country, on which no man might land; that the fortified islands in the bay would be so strangely touched and lit up by the level beams of the sinking sun that their bastions and towers would only seem as still further token of an enchanted country; and that, when, after an hour and a half of this, we reached the opening of the Napa Valley, we should be carried into the heart of the very kingdom of Ceres herself,—and on a festival year too, it seemed to us, as we looked out of the car-windows, and saw yellow grain and green vines stretching miles away on either hand, and interrupted at last only by a mountain wall, too high for the grain and vines to climb. “Surely, there can be no such other valley as this in California?” we said. “Oh, yes! much finer valleys than this,” replied a statistical traveller at our side. “This is a small affair. Very pretty, very pretty. But the San Joaquin Valley is fifty miles wide and three hundred miles long! Contains eighteen million 42 acres of land!” he added, maliciously, seeing our wide-open eyes.
Since that day we have journeyed in the San Joaquin Valley; have looked off over its boundless yellow seas of wheat; have come upon distant vista views of it, where it looks so like one great ocean line that no stranger would ever dream of its being land; but not all its vastness and richness can dim or dwarf the picture of beautiful, glowing, smiling Napa. The mountain ranges on each side of Napa Valley are green to the tops; but clear-cut against the sky, as if they were of bare rock. There is not a waste field, a barren spot in it. Tall oak trees, which spread and droop like elms, stand in all the vineyards and wheat-fields. It seems impossible to believe that they have not been grouped and placed; but they have simply been left where they were found. Each man has set his house in a park, and each village stands in a wooded domain.
It was dark when we reached Calistoga. “Free carriage for the Calistoga Springs Hotel,” resounded all along the platform from an invisible point in the distance. It was only partly visible when we reached it and clambered in, and the road was not visible at all. Neither was the hotel fully visible when we were asked to enter it. It was the oddest, most twinkling of little starry spots; low, ambushed in trees, with a wide stoop thatched with great hemlock boughs, from which hung a lantern here and there. “No rooms in the hotel,” the landlord said. This did not seem so strange to us next morning, when we learned that there were but two sleeping-rooms in it. “But he had reserved rooms for us in a cottage.”
Out into the darkness, following a small boy, carrying two candles and a handful of matches, we went. The path wound and was narrow. Heavy odors of roses and honeysuckles came up on each side. If we stepped off to right or left, we were in soft grass. We passed dim shapes of pavilions and summer-houses and arbors. At last the boy swung open a little gate, and stepped up 43 on the piazza of a house, whose door stood open. Striking a match on the heel of his boot, he lit our candles, and threw open the doors of our sleeping-rooms—two tiny closets, holding one bed, one window, one chair, one washstand. There were two more such closets opposite ours. These four made the cottage! No keys, no bolts! “How shall we get any thing we want? Is there any servant in this house” said we.
The boy looked amazed. We were evidently new to the ways of California watering-places. “What would you like?” he said. “I’ll bring it to you.”
Thus pressed, we discovered that we really did not want any thing, except hot water; but it seemed eminently probable that we should want at least a dozen things as soon as the boy had vanished in the thick darkness, and we had no visible or invisible means of communication with him. In a few moments came another boy, guiding two more groping travellers into this dusky retreat. The doors were shut, all was still, save the delighted mosquitoes, to whom we were given over. It was a novel situation. How far were we from the hotel? Who were our opposite neighbors? No door could be fastened. Our one window must be open, or we should smother; but it seemed to be only two feet from the piazza floor and only one from the foot of our beds. However, as there was nothing else to be done, we went to sleep; and in the morning we only laughed at our fears. Eighteen of these picturesque little cottages stood in one circle around the hotel. The winding path, which had seemed so long in the darkness, was only a few rods long. Everybody was within sound of everybody else, and the cottages and the summer-houses and the arbors and the pavilions were all in full blossom—roses and honeysuckles and geraniums. It was simply a cluster of bed-rooms in a garden. The wide hemlock-thatched stoop of the hotel looked even more picturesque by daylight than it had done the night before. Why does it not enter into the heads of all landlords to do this thing? Then, when the summer heats 44 are over, the hemlock boughs can be burnt up, the rough sapling pillars of the stoop taken down, and the sun let into the rooms. The dining-room of this little hotel was also very picturesque. The tables were small and arranged in two rows. High up over each table was swung an odd banner-like thing, made of strips of gay paper, with fringes of blue, red, yellow, green, and pink. All of these were connected together by a wire, and the whole affair could be moved by a cord in the kitchen, and swung slowly back and forth above the tables, to keep off flies and make a cool breeze. When it was in motion it made a very gay stir, like a fluttering of paroquets’ wings.
The “Great Foss” stood in the door-way, and the Great Foss’s horses stood outside; six of them harnessed to a three-seated open wagon. Who is the Great Foss? Ah! that is the question which pressed upon our minds when friends said and friends wrote and friends reiterated: “Be sure and drive with Foss. That is the great thing, after all, in the trip to the Geysers.” All our cross-questioning failed to elicit any thing in regard to this modern Jehu, except the fact that he was in the habit of driving six horses at full gallop around a right-angled corner, and not upsetting his wagon. This seemed to us an equivocal recommendation of a driver on a very dangerous road. Nevertheless, we humbly entreated that we might take our full share of the delicious risk of broken legs and necks, and be able to come away saying that we too had gone at full gallop around right-angled corners of narrow roads, with the “daring champion reinsman of the world,” as an enthusiastic writer has called Mr. Foss. With meek thankfulness we took our seats on the middle seat, the posts of greatest honor and danger, on the front seat, having been secured many days in advance, by telegraph, from a distant part of California. Such is the notoriety of Mr. Foss’s driving, and so inexplicable are the desires of the human heart. But we soon forgot our disappointment as we drove out into the fresh morning beauty of 45 the valley,—the same park-like fields of grain and grass and oak trees on each hand, and the beautiful mountain, St. Helen’s, just rising above the gray mists. Soon the valley narrowed; the hills were covered with lower growths: no more oaks; farm-houses were wider apart. All things showed that we were drawing near the wilds. In solitary spots we came upon high posts with one cross arm, on which swung a mail-bag. With one dexterous stroke, and without reining up his horses, Mr. Foss would seize it, and send the exchange-bag whirling through the air. Then we would wheel suddenly into some farmyard; the six horses would gallop at full speed round a track in shape of a figure eight, and come to a sudden halt, like circus horses; then, while the horses were drinking water, all the men in the two wagons would disappear in the farm-house, at a mysterious signal from Foss. We knew what it meant only too well. This perpetual wayside tippling is one of the worst of California’s bad habits. The extent of it would be simply incredible, except on actual observation.
Soon we begin to climb. The valley has disappeared. We are shut in by hills. We are toiling up hills. From each ascent we gain we can see only hills. All the fertile beauty has gone. Only low pines, manzanita, and greasewood bushes are to be seen. But the greasewood is in full white flower, and looks like a heath; and the ground is gay with low flowers—the Columbine, Pink Clarkia, by the rod; a Claytonia, with a tiny white star-shaped blossom, growing in great mats: a low Iris, yellow and white; Snap Dragons, yellow and blue,—all these, and many others which we do not know, make the stony and dusty ground bright. It is a marvel on what they are living; but they look content. Great thickets of the “California Lilac,” purple and white, wave along the sides of the road, and as far up as we can see on the hillsides. It is pathetic to find it called “Lilac.” I wonder if homesick miners did not name it so because the odor has a slight resemblance to that of the New England lilac. But its fine, feathery flower 46 looks more like a clethra than like a lilac; and it has a long botanical name, which I forget. Ten miles of this long, winding climb, and we are at the summit of the mountain ridge, which we must cross to reach the Geyser Canyon.
From this summit is to be had what the guide-books call “one of the grandest views which the globe affords.” I confess to an unconquerable indifference to this type of view. They seem to me singularly alike in all countries; just about so much sharp mountain-top that you can see, and just about so much more that you can’t see, on account of mist; just about so much shining line of river or sea, and just about so much of pale blue at the horizon, which might be river, or sea, or mountain, or Chinese wall, or any thing else in or out of the universe, for all you can discover.
There is, of course, the one great suggestion and stimulus of unmeasured, almost immeasurable distance. This is good for conceit. Estimates are apt to adjust themselves in an hour of solitude on a mountain peak. But I think that true delight, true realization of the gracious, tender, unutterable beauty of earth and all created things are to be found in outlooks from lower points—vistas which shut more than they show, sweet and unexpected revealings in level places and valleys, secrets of near woods, and glories of every-day paths.
All this I said to myself as we whizzed down the other side of the mountain. I use the word “whizzed” without any forgetfulness of the fact that it is usually applied only to bullets and arrows. I have never journeyed on either of those vehicles, but I would unhesitatingly recommend one or other of them for the descent of this Pluton Canyon. The road is simply a succession of oxbows or letter S’s in shape laid along the precipitous wall of the canyon. The turns are so sharp that you often lose sight of the leaders and of the heads of the chain-horses. The road is so narrow that in many places the outer wheels seem to be absolutely in line with the sheer wall below, and in no place does 47 there seem to be more than six inches margin. Instead of a firm outer edge of stone, such as ought to support a road like this, there are many places where the road seems to be only a bank of gravel, which at every revolution of wheels on it shakes and sends down crumbling particles into the abyss below. Down this road, round these corners, on these rattling rims of gravel-banks we dashed at a run—two wagons full of mortal souls.
One thousand, two thousand feet below us, on our right hand, ran the Pluton River, over a rocky bed. Tall pines and firs and enormous boulders filled up the abyss, so that it looked black and terrible. If a bolt, a strap, a spoke had given way, as we turned one of those corners, wagons, people, all would have spun out into the air, as a child’s top spins off when it first leaves the string. It was perilous; it was reckless. But no sober sense can keep sober in such a descent; it is only the afterthought which takes note of the foolhardiness. At the time we held our breaths, with quite as much delight as terror. Tops of trees were below our feet one minute, above our heads the next, and the next gone, left behind, and more trees dancing up in their places. Gigantic rocks, and gnarled roots, and fallen trees covered with moss, and trickling streams, and foaming cascades, and waving bushes of white blossoms, and great spaces of pink and scarlet and yellow flowers beneath, all seemed to be flying up the hill as fast as we were flying down. High on our left rose a wall, whose top we often could not see—sometimes solid rock, with tiny ferns and flowers clinging in crevices; sometimes a heavily-wooded bank, with the roots of its great trees projecting, bare, and threatening to fall. I have forgotten how few minutes we were in reaching the bottom of the canyon. I only remember that it was a matter of boast that the descent had been made in so short a time; and the fact that this can be a point of pride with drivers, that this kind of road can be looked on as a race-course, is more significant than any comment or any statistics of speed. Is there any other country 48 except America where such a road and such driving would be permitted? In the famous Ampezzo Pass, in Italy, the road has to wind around a dolomite mountain nine thousand feet high, the Antelao. Three times the road crosses the walled front of that mountain. From the lowest road you can look up to the two above, and they look like mere lines on the rocky surface. From the uppermost road you look down straight into the valley below, and see no sign of the roads by which you have climbed, so sheer is the wall. But this road is at all points wide enough for two carriages to pass at full speed; and its outer edge is a thick wall of masonry and stone, at least a foot wide.
There is a little meadow in the bottom of the Pluton Canyon. It is just big enough to hold a small hotel and half a vegetable garden; the other half of the vegetable garden runs up hill in terraces. There is a little stable too, and a bit of white paling and one arched gateway, with the sign “To Geysers,” and another with, “To Steam Bath;” and the whole thing looks so much as if it had set itself down there in spite of the canyon that it is as droll as it is picturesque. On the opposite side of the canyon is a great bare rift,—another small canyon splitting the side of the great one. It is bare and rocky and burnt looking; and steam curls up and down and out of it, and floats off in thin, weird shapes over the tall pine forests beyond.
It was just noon when we tumbled into the Pluton Canyon and landed at the Geysers’ Hotel. There were a great many too many people, and nobody could be comfortable; by way of making things more uncomfortable still, the Dutch landlord ordered everybody to walk up the Geyser Canyon immediately after lunch.
One o’clock, a blazing sun overhead, bare, blistering rocks everywhere, and a boiling tea-kettle under foot at every step! We, having been forewarned that the time to see the Geysers in perfection is early in the morning, utterly refused to go. Dutch landlord was indignant.
“But the guide is going now. It is the time I send him up.”49
“But it is too hot, and we are tired; and there is much more steam when it is cooler. We will go this afternoon, or early in the morning.”
“But I have not twenty-five servants to send when each one likes. I do not know you can have guide this evening, and there is not time to go after five o’clock.”
“Very well. We simply shall not go now. We can return without seeing the Geysers at all, if you refuse us a guide.”
Meekly the poor, tired throng filed out through the gateway, under the scorching sun. Only we two remained. How we laughed at the Dutchman’s cross face, as he struck off into his garden! Climbing up terrace after terrace, and then one fence, we found a grassy bank, where we lay the whole afternoon, under shade of an oak, and watched the shapes of the hot steam curling and writhing up from the opposite canyon. A superb crested pheasant came and sat on a low bough, in full sight of us, and dressed his neck feathers, and called to somebody he knew. We picked twelve different kinds of wild flowers within a rod or two of our oak, and then we went down in the cool of the early twilight.
“We would like to go up to the Geysers in the morning. Will you send a guide up with us at half-past five?” said we.
“Yes,” growled the Dutchman.
“Be so good as to have us called at quarter before five.”
“Ugh!” replied the Dutchman.
At five we luckily waked up ourselves. At quarter-past five came a surly knock at the door.
“We are up,” called we.
“Ugh!” said the Dutchman.
At half-past five we had just seated ourselves in the dining-room, when the Dutchman appeared.
“Time to start. Guide is
“But we must have something to eat. You did not call us at quarter to five, as you ”50
“Nobody is called at the Geysers before quarter-past five. One quarter-hour is enough for anybody to dress.”
“It is impossible to dress in quarter of an hour.”
“Then you should not haf come to the Geysers. It is military rule at Geysers.”
Somebody speaks somewhere of before-breakfast courage. There is a before-breakfast temper too, I suppose, which is a good deal harder to keep than any other sort. What we said at this crisis in the conversation I would rather not tell; but the Dutchman said only “Ugh!” and, of course, a person who confines himself to that ejaculation can easily have the last word in any quarrel: there soon seems to remain so little to be said in reply to it. Even at this distance, however, there is satisfaction in saying of that Dutchman that he was the only ill-tempered, uncivil landlord we found in California, and that he keeps as bad a house as I ever found anywhere. But our little guide had a sunny face, the dew sparkled on every leaf as we set out, and in five minutes we were ashamed of ourselves for having had any feeling except pity for the poor cross man. The path led at once down into shady hollows, and across a stream at bottom of the Pluton Canyon; then out and up the other side, and in a few minutes we were at the entrance of the Geyser Canyon. What had looked to us the day before, from our hillside, like little more than a narrow rift in the opposite side of the valley proved to be a canyon of considerable width, with sharp sides twelve or fourteen hundred feet high.
It looked as if it had been built up of old refuse matter from foundries; as if for centuries men had sifted ashes and thrown out clinkers and bad coal and waste stones and junk and every conceivable sort of scorched metallic thing into this chasm; and as if several apothecaries’ shops had burnt down there too, for there was a new color and worse odor at every other step. And the little guide, striking his cane or fingers into bank after bank, kept bringing forth crumbs and powders, and 51 offering them to us to taste or smell, with “Here is pure alum;” “Here is epsom salts;” “Here is sulphur;” “Here is cinnabar;” “Here is soda;” till we felt as if we were in the wholesale drug-shop of the universe. Meantime, he skipped along from rock to rock like a chamois; and we followed on as best we might, through the hot steam, which came up hissing and fizzing out of every hole and from beneath every stone. A brook of hot water running swiftly over and among rocks; pools and cauldrons of hot water boiling and bubbling by dozens all around; black openings, most fearful of all, where no water can be seen, but from which roaring jets of steam come out,—this is the bottom of the Geyser Canyon. It is half a mile long, and up it, in it, back and forth across it, you go. You think you will plant your stick on the ground to steady yourself for a spring from one hot stone to another, and down goes your stick,—down, down into soft, smoking, sulphurous, gravelly sand, so far and so suddenly that you almost fall on your face. You draw the stick up and out, and a small column of hot steam follows it. Next you make a misstep, and involuntarily catch hold of a projecting point of rock with one hand. You let go as if it were fire itself. It does not absolutely blister you; but it is too hot to hold. Your foot slips an eighth of an inch out of the guide’s footsteps, which you are following as carefully as if life and death depended on it, and you go in over shoes in water so hot that you scream and think you are scalded. You are not; but, if you had slipped a few inches further to right or to left, you would have been, for on each side inky-black water is boiling so that it bubbles aloud. All this while, besides the hissing and fizzing of the steam and boiling and bubbling of the water which you see, there is a deep violoncello undertone of boiling and bubbling and hissing and fizzing of water and steam which you do not see, which are deep down under your feet,—deep down to right of you, deep down to left of you,—making the very canyon 52 itself throb and quiver. How thick the crust may be nobody knows. That it can be thick at all seems improbable when, prick it where you may, with ever so slender a stick, the hot steam rushes out.
“Why did it not all cave in yesterday?” and “Why does it not cave in this minute?” and “Oh! it will surely cave in to-morrow!” you exclaim, as you take your last leap out of it, and look back from a firm green bank above. There can be no uncannier place in this world, unless it be a volcano crater; and one does not in the least resent finding it sealed, signed, and stamped with the name of Satan. “Devil’s Gristmill,” “Devil’s Inkstand,” “Devil’s Pulpit,” “Devil’s Apothecary Shop,” “Devil’s ” were among the names which the guide shouted back to us as he perched on some especially high rock or squatted over some particularly horrible hole.
It was bewildering to pass, by almost a single step, from scorching ashes, nauseous stenches, and blinding steam, into tangled and shady woods, fragrant with spice wood and bright with flowers, and to hear the guide calling out, in advance: “This is the Lover’s Seat,” the “Lover’s Retreat.” But so we returned to the hotel by a winding path over the upper slopes of the Pluton Canyon. As we struck down to its lower level, we came upon a few trickling streams of the same hot, sulphurous water. Yellow Gherardias were growing close on their edge, and the flowers were far larger and of a deeper tint than those which grew away from the water.
“We have enjoyed our visit to the Geysers very much. It is a most wonderful sight!” said we to the landlord. We were sorry for having quarrelled with him. “Ugh!” said the Dutchman.
As with the opening chapter, this one mysteriously appeared in the Friends’ Intelligencer with the “Bits of Travel at Home” attribution: vol. XXIX, no. 27, 31 August 1872, pgs. 424ff.
Golden Gated Bay
[The name occurs only here, so I don’t know if it was a mistake or a variant form.]
Pluton Canyon; Pluton River
[Pluton has been mightily devalued since 1872. Pluton Creek—not River—is now considered the north fork of Sulphur Creek.]
Is there any other country except America where such a road and such driving would be permitted?
[Mexican buses come to mind]
into his vegetable garden
text has vegatable
“Time to start. Guide is waiting.”
close quote missing
at quarter to five, as you promised.”
final . invisible
“Devil’s Tea-kettle,” were among the names
It is put down on the maps as Santa Cruz; but why should I not speak my own language? No one of the old Padres who named the meadows and hills of this sweetest of seaside places could have lingered more tenderly on the sound of the soft “Santa” than I over the good and stronger word “Holy.” And to none of them did it seem a fitter spot for a mission than it does to me. The old adobe buildings which the Padres built are crumbled and gone, and no man knows where the Padres sleep; but the communion of saints is never banished from an air it has once filled. Sacred for ever and everywhere on earth are the places whose first founders and builders were men who went simply to carry the news of their Christ and who sought no personal gain. Holy Cross Village is by the Pacific Sea,—close by the sea, a hundred miles or so to the south if you go from San Francisco. You can get there in a day. But it is better to take longer. It always is better to take longer going anywhere,—ways are so sure to be nicer than any places you set out to reach. The way to Holy Cross Village is delightful, if you go by San Jose and Santa Clara. First, an hour in the cars, running southward through the Santa Clara Valley,—parks and rich men’s houses, wheat and oats, and windmills by dozens; then, just at sunset, San Jose, another of the sacred old mission towns. It lies low, between two mountain ranges. It is shady and straight and full of flowers. There are public gardens, with round tables under the trees, with little ponds, and boats, and targets, and jumping-boards, where it is evident that men and 54 women frolic daily, after un-American fashion. There is a Chinese quarter; which is, in fact, only five steps from the main street, but is in atmosphere five thousand miles away. At the end of its one narrow lane stands a Joss House,—small, white, high, double-gabled in roof; a dolphin, tail up, for a steeple; a gigantic lady-bug and a lobster on the ridge-pole; square patches of bright colors, interspersed with cabalistic inscriptions, like an album missionary bedquilt, on the wall; steep stairs, climbing up outside the house; and a door opening into an airless little chapel, where a huge tureen full of the ashes of burnt prayers stands on a low altar. The prayers, rolled up in the shape of slender cigarettes, are stuck like lamp-lighters in a vase close by. In a small, windowless alcove at the end of the chapel we found the priest, sitting on the edge of his bed, scraping opium. The furniture of his bedroom consisted—besides the wickerwork bedstead, which had a thin roll of bedding at its head—of a teapot, two teacups, and a pipe. This was all. He looked happy. There are three fine public schoolhouses in San Jose, a handsome building for a normal school, and the most wonderful weeping-willows in the world. These are on General Negley’s ground. Four of them make together a great dome of green, through which little light penetrates, into which you drive, and find yourself walled in on all sides by quivering, drooping willow wreaths, which, although they bend from a point some sixty or seventy feet up in the air, still trail on the ground. All this and more you will find out about San Jose before the sun sets, and then you will sleep at the Auzerais House, which is so good that one must be forgiven for calling it by name.
Early the next morning, a top seat on the stage for Santa Cruz; three miles to Santa Clara,—three miles on an absolutely straight, absolutely level road, walled with willows and poplars on each side. The old Padres set these out; most enduring of all memorials, most indisputable title-deed to the right of gratitude from generations.55
From Santa Clara, twelve miles out to the Coast Range of mountains; twelve miles across the Santa Clara Valley. This road is also perfectly level; in the dust and heat of summer, intolerable; on the day we crossed it, clear and pleasant, and golden, too, as the wake of a cloud in a smooth yellow sky, for the whole valley was waving with yellow mustard. What the ox-eye daisy is to New England, the wild mustard is to these saints’ valleys in California. But the mustard has and keeps right of way, as no plant could on the sparser New England soil. Literally acre after acre it covers, so that no spike nor spire of any other thing can lift its head. In full flower, it is gorgeous beyond words to describe or beyond color to paint. The petals are so small, and the flower swings on so fine and thread-like a stem, and the plant grows so rank and high, that the effect is of floating masses of golden globules in the air, as you look off through it, bringing the eye near and to its level; or, as you look down on it from a distance, it is a yellow surface, too undulating for gold, too solid for sea. There are wheat fields in the Santa Clara Valley, and farms with fruit-trees; but I recall the valley only as one long level of blazing, floating, yellow bloom.
The Coast Range Mountains rise gently from the valley; but the road enters abruptly upon them, and the change from the open sun and the vivid yellow of the valley to the shifting shadows of hills and the glistening darkness of redwood and madrone trees is very sharp. The road is like all the mountain roads in California,—dizzy, dangerous, delicious; flowers and ferns and vines and shrubs tangled to the very edges; towering trees above and towering trees below; a rocky wall close on one hand and a wooded abyss close on the other, and racing horses pulling you through between. “It is magnificent, but it is not driving.” We stop for a bad dinner at a shanty house, which is walled and thatched with roses; and we make occasional stops to water at lonely little settlements, where the hills have broken apart and away from each other just enough to let a 56 field or two lie and tempt a few souls up into their living grave. At all such spots the wistful, eager, homesick look on some of the faces wrung my heart. “Be you from the east?” said one man, as he brought out the water for the horses. He had a weak, tremulous, disappointed face. The pale blue eyes had lost all purpose, if they ever had it. “Oh, yes!” said we gayly. “From the other edge of the continent.” And then we waited for the usual reply. “Well I wonder if you know my uncle, Mr. ——. He lives in New York.” But no. “I thought so,” was all the man said; but there was something indescribably pathetic in the emphasis and the falling inflection. Early in the afternoon we came out on a divide, a narrow ridge, wooded less thickly, and giving us glimpses of the ocean in the distance. When we reach the end of the seaward slope of this, we shall have crossed the Coast Range, and shall find our Holy Cross Village. A few miles this side of it, the driver says:—
“Now we’re coming to the Hotel de Redwood. There it is.”
And he points with his whip. All that can be seen on either hand is the same unbroken forest of majestic redwoods and pines and madrones through which we have been driving for miles.
“Get out, gentlemen, and take a drink,” calls a feeble voice from a ragged man, taking the near leader by the head. “I am the proprietor of the Hotel de Redwood.”
Then we see a small white sign nailed to the bark of one of the biggest trees: “Hotel de Redwood.” The door is in the other side of the tree, furthest from the road. That is the reason we didn’t see it; this is the kind of thing a moderate tree can be used for in this country of sizes too big to sort. It is not a hotel in which one would sleep, to be sure; but it is a hotel big enough for eight or ten people to stand at once in front of its little counter, where are for sale the ever-present and innumerable drinks of the country. One hollow 57 tree for bar-room, one for shop, one for library, one for museum, one for bedroom of the proprietor—five hollow trees make the Hotel de Redwood. The library consists of six volumes; the museum of a live hairless South American dog, a dead California lion, and the head of a bear. The bedroom—I would rather not speak of the bedroom. I think the lion used to sleep in it, and the proprietor killed him for his bed.
“Can’t you take me into town?” said the proprietor, looking wistfully at the driver.
“Yes, yes, Mr. Baker. Jump up. It’s a light load to-day; but you must bring your violin, and play for us.”
So the poor vagabond fellow sprang merrily up on the top of the stage; and we drove into the village to the tune of “The Traveller from Arkansas.”
The village lies close to the sea. There are houses from which you can throw a stone to the beach. Then, a little higher up, is the business street, where shops and offices and one or two quaint, small inns, with pots of flowers all along their balconies, are set thick together, and contrive to look much wider awake than they are; then rise sudden, sharp terraces,—marking old water-levels, no doubt,—up which one ought to go by staircases, but up which one does climb wearily by winding roads and paths. On these terraces are the homes of Santa Cruz. Not a fine house, not a large house among them; but not a house without a garden, and hardly a house without such fuchsias, geraniums, and roses as would make a show to be sought after in any other country than this. Is it worth while, I wonder, to say to people who keep a couple of scarlet geraniums carefully in pots in their window, that in this village scarlet geraniums live out of doors all the year round, grow by dozens along fences, like currant-bushes, and stick out between the slats, great bits, and branches, that anybody may pick; that they stand plentifully at corners of houses, running up, like old lilac-trees, to the second-story windows; that a fuchsia will grow all over 58 a piazza, and a white rosebush cover a small cottage,—walls, eaves, roof,—till nothing but the chimney is left in sight, coming out of a round bank of white and green?
Believe it who can, that has not seen it! In Holy Cross Village, to-day, are many scarlet geraniums and fuchsias and rose-bushes, of all colors, that can “witness if I lie.”
Walking half a mile back—no, quarter of a mile back—from these terraces, you come to soft, round hills, with openings of meadow-stretches, fertile and rich as the prairie. Many of these are wooded heavily with redwoods and pines, madrones and buckeye. Through these woods wind delicious roads, rising out of damp, shadowy fern-and-flower-filled hollows, to broad, breezy openings, from which the sea is in full sight, and across which the delicious wind sweeps straight up from Monterey, or over from the mountains the other side of the bay.
Walking down from the terraces seaward, and then southward, you find marshy meadows, green and brown, through which the road-track is hardly defined. Flowers grow on each side, as bright and many as on the prairie. Presently, the road comes to an abrupt end, in a little grassy spot, divided only by a low, brushwood fence from a half-moon-shaped beach of white sand, between two high cliffs. The furthest cliff has a natural arch in it, many feet high, through which the sea beyond shows a half-circle of blue, set in yellowish white, looking like a great gate of sapphire, swinging slowly to and fro in an arched gateway of ivory. The nearer cliff is covered with curious plants of the cactus species, with yellow blossoms and red; and the rocks seem to be of a chalky nature, brilliantly veined with black and yellow and pale pink. At the base of the cliff, the same bright-veined rocks stretch out, in irregular and broken floors. As the high tide comes up over these, all the depressions are kept filled with water, and make beautiful aquaria, in which live limpets 59 and and anemones. Fine and rare seaweeds are strewn around their rims, and wave from their sides deep down in the water. The line of white surf breaks perpetually beyond, coming or going,—always a surf; retreating always with a kneeling face, turned to the cliff, as is the law of stately surfs on all seas, leaving the king’s presence of their shores.
To go back to the village by another way, you strike across the marshy meadows, following for two miles or more a soft, grassy road, through flowers; then ascending a high plateau, on which are farms and here and there lime-kilns, with blazing fires, and glistening, white rock piled up by their sides. You are high up above the village, now; but woods shut it out of sight. You pass it,—go two miles beyond it; then turn, and come down to it by a wooded road on the steep side of a little canyon, through which a small river makes to the sea. A wild azalea grows in masses on this road,—azalea, whose flowers are white and pink and yellow all together. Down in the bottom of the canyon is a little green meadow oasis, where there are a few white houses and a powder-mill. The river turns, to make room for it, in such a sudden and exquisite curve that you think it is carrying it on one arm, as a woman carries a baby. As you come out of the woods, the broad sea flashes suddenly into full sight; and the village shows in shining bits here and there, like something the sea might have broken and thrown up. You see now that the terraces are not so high as they seem; and the village has little threads of lanes and streets, fringing off into the meadows in all directions. It is sunset: all Nature rings the Angelus; and you say in your heart, “God bless the village!”
“Mrs. Pope’s” is a little house, where lucky strangers stay. It consists of three cottages and a quarter. In two of the cottages, the guests lodge, and take their meals in the cottage and a quarter. The furthest cottage of lodgings is an old one. It is, or ought to be, called the “Cottage of the Cloth of Gold Rose;” for, 60 on one of its walls, grows a cloth of gold rose-tree (not bush),—a tree whose trunk lies flat against the side of the house, and reaches up to the eaves before it condescends to branch at all. Then it sends out arms to the right and to the left, and hides the whole length of the eaves, from corner to corner, with leaves and roses. The cottage is very low. The boughs and sprays hang half way to the ground. You can pick as many Cloth of Gold roses every day as you like; and nobody will miss them. The next cottage is new. It has only four rooms, a back door, a front door, a roof, and a little bit of piazza. From it, you go over a pine-plank path—a few seconds’ walk—to the dining-room, in the “cottage and a quarter.” From the piazza, you look into flower-beds, through which the path leads up from the gate to the house. Rose-bushes, six and seven feet high; roses, of all colors, and of the rarest kinds; heliotropes, geraniums, pinks; a huge datura in the centre, with blossoms ten inches long; an abutilon, high as the evergreen trees by its side, and so sturdy that the tame blackbird who scolds in the garden, early and late, for somebody to come and give him bread, can sit on the topmost boughs of it.
The “quarter” is two rooms, joined to the cottage by a little glass-fronted chamber, in which ferns are to grow. The outside door opens into the parlor, which is a low room, with an open fire-place, where, in spite of the Cloth of Gold roses, a wood fire will be blazing on andirons, night and morning, in July. There is a piano, a chintz-covered lounge, fantastic shell-work, and cone-work brackets in the corners, a low centre-lamp swung by a chain from the ceiling, and, on the round-table under it, the last “Old and New.” Sixteen copies of “Old and New” are taken in Holy Cross Village. This is the result of the leaven left there by that brave, strong, but one ideaed woman, Eliza Farnham.
The farm on which she and her beloved friend, Georgia Bruce, toiled like men, and sowed and reaped and builded with their own hands, lies little more than a mile 61 away from the town. Mrs. Farnham’s house was burnt down, a short time ago; but another has been built on the same spot, and a son of “Tom”—who will be so well remembered by all who have read Mrs. Farnham’s account of her California life—lives in it now, with his mother. The house stands in a lovely spot, on high ground, from which meadows slope gently to the sea-level, and then stretch away miles to the beach. When that adventurous woman broke ground for her house, no other house was in sight, except the Mission Building, and the little shanty in which she lived while her own house was going up. Now the Mission is used for a stable. The northern outskirts of the village lie in full sight, between her farm and the sea; and, to reach the sight of her house, you must pass a thickly wooded cemetery, in which there are many headstones. On the day that we were there, men were tossing hay in the beautiful, curving meadow hollows just before the house,—the same meadow where Mrs. Farnham sowed the first wheat which was sowed in Santa Cruz, and where Georgia Bruce spent whole days in planting potatoes. The air was almost heavy with the fragrance from the fresh hay, and from the thickets of azalea on the cemetery banks. The distant sea glittered like a burnished shield, to which the mountains on the other side of the bay were set like an opal rim. Hardship and struggle seem monstrous in such an atmosphere. There must have been an air of mockery to those toiling pioneers in the very smile of this transcendently lovely Nature. To want bread, to need shelter in such realms of luxuriance and warmth; to suffer, to die under such skies,—the heart resents and rejects the very thought with passionate disbelief. But such thoughts, such recollections, such struggle, are, after all, the needed shadow to a too vivid sun. Holy Cross Village is blessed of both,—blessed in its sparkling sea, its rainless sky, its limitless blossom; blessed also in the memory of Eliza Farnham, and the presence to-day of Georgia Bruce Kirby.
This chapter, too, appeared in the Friends’ Intelligencer with the “Bits of Travel at Home” attribution: vol. XXIX no. 33, 12 Oct 1872, pgs 524ff.
Holy Cross Village
[At the time, the population of Santa Cruz was between 2000 and 3000.]
a normal school
[Now San Jose State University]
The Traveller from Arkansas.
[The version I learned as a child begins:
Away down south in Arkansas
The rain was wet, the wind was raw;
An old man sat on his porch that day
A-tuning up his fiddle . . .
At the time, it did not occur to me to wonder why the man is sitting out fiddling on his porch . . . in weather that has been explicitly described as “raw”.]
limpets and muscles and anemones
spelling “muscles” unchanged
her beloved friend, Georgia Bruce
[Properly Georgiana. The label “beloved friend” doesn’t seem to be a euphemism; Eliza Farnham and Georgiana Bruce—later Kirby—had three husbands and at least nine children between them. Georgiana is the namesake, though not the founder, of the Kirby School in Santa Cruz.]
It is situated in Kearny, Dupont, Jackson, and Sacramento Streets, in the City of San Francisco. We traversed it one afternoon, and went to its chief theatre in the evening. Those who are unable to visit it in person, as we did, can learn just about as much by a careful and imaginative study of Chinese fans and the outsides of tea-chests. Never did an indefatigable nation so perpetuate faithful fac-simile of itself, its people, customs, and fashions as the Chinese do in the grotesque, high-colored, historical paper with which they line, cover, and wrap every article of their merchandise. When I first saw the living Chow Chong walking before me on Montgomery Street, in San Francisco, the sight had nothing novel in it. It was amusing to see him in motion; but as for his face, figure, and gait, I had known them since my infancy. In my seventh year, I possessed his portrait. It was done on rice-paper, and set in the lid of a box. Afterward, I had him on the outside of a paper of crackers, and fired him off to celebrate our superiority as a nation. I did not feel so sure of our superiority when I came to walk behind him. In the matter of shoes, he excels us. That the shoes look like junks rather than shoes, and that their navigation must be a difficult science, is very true; but the breadth of the sole is a secret of dignity and equilibrium, and has, I make no doubt, a great deal to do with Chow Chong’s philosophical serenity of bearing. The general neatness and cleanliness of his attire, too, impressed me; also his Christian patience under the insulting and curious gaze of many strangers, who, like myself, had 63 never before seen the embodied Chinese nation on foot of a morning. I followed him at a respectful distance; and he led me into the heart of his country. It lay, it seemed, within ten minutes’ walk from my own hotel. As I looked up, and saw that the street was suddenly becoming like a street of Pekin, and that the trades of Hong Kong, Canton, and their suburbs were buzzing on either hand of me, a rather late caution led me to pause, and ask whether it might not be unsafe for me to go further.
“Not at all, madam; not at all,” said the short policeman to whom I spoke. “At this hour of the day, you can go with perfect safety through all these streets.”
“But I would not advise you to let them see you taking notes, however,” he added, glancing at my notebook. “They are suspicious.”
“They have been so hardly treated, it is no wonder,” replied I.
“That’s so, ma’am,” answered the policeman, as he walked on. He was a very short policeman. I observed it, because I intended to mention him; and I regretted that he was not tall. I have been impressed with the fact that good writers, in giving accounts of city experiences, invariably meet a tall policeman.
In spite of my policeman, however, or perhaps because he was so short, I did take notes; and no harm came of it. The men of China looked at me, observantly; now and then, they exchanged significant glances with each One or two tried to peep over my shoulder; but, seeing that I was not drawing pictures of them, they took no more interest in my proceedings. I looked up into their faces and smiled, and said: “I never saw Chinese shops before. Very good, very good.” And they laughed, and moved on,—no doubt inwardly moved with compassion for my ignorance.
Now and then, a woman would brush by me, turn half round, and give me a quick look of such contempt that I winced a little. Judged by her standard, I must sink very low, indeed. She herself did not venture to 64 walk thus, in open daylight among her countrymen, until she had lost all sense of decency, as her race hold it. What must I be, then,—a white woman, who had not come to buy, but simply to look at, to lift, to taste, or to smell the extraordinary commodities offered for sale in the empire? No wonder she despised me! I avenge myself by describing her hair. It was all drawn back from her forehead, twisted tight from the nape of the neck to the crown of the head, stiffened with glue, glistening with oil, and made into four huge double wings, which stood out beyond her ears on either side. It looked a little like two gigantic black satin bats, pinned to the back of her head, or still more like a windmill gone into mourning. Never, no never! not even on the heads of peasant women in the German provinces, was there seen any thing so hideous, so grotesque. A huge silver or gilt dart is pinned across these shining black flaps, which look no more like hair than they do like sheet-iron,—nor so much, for that matter. Then comes a straight, narrow band of shining black cambric, an inch wide, tight around her yellow neck; and from that falls a loose, shapeless garment of black cambric,—a sort of cross between a domino and a night-shirt; then straight, bagging, flapping sleeves down to her knuckles; then straight, bagging, flapping blue trowsers, down to her ankles; then queer black, junk-like shoes, turned up at the toes, and slipping off at the heel at every step,—there she is, the Chinese woman of Dupont or Kearny Street Could she be uglier? And her children are like unto her, only a few inches shorter,—that is all; and, when they go by, hand-in-hand, there is something pathetic in the monstrosity of them. But pass on, sister! In the sunless recesses of Quong Tuck Lane, I trust thou hast had many a laugh with thy comrades over the gown and hat I wore on Dupont Street that day.
Sing, Wo, & Co. keep one of the most picturesque shops on Jackson Street. It is neither grocer’s, nor butcher’s, nor fishmonger’s, nor druggist’s; but a little of 65 all four. It is, like most of the shops on Jackson Street, part cellar, part cellar-stairs, part sidewalk, and part back bedroom. On the sidewalk are platters of innumerable sorts of little fishes,—little silvery fishes; little yellow fishes, with whiskers; little snaky fishes; round, flat fishes, little slices of big fishes,—never too much or too many of any kind. Sparing and thrifty dealers, as well as sparing and thrifty consumers, are the Celestials. Round tubs of sprouted beans; platters of square cakes of something whose consistency was like Dutch cheese, whose color was vivid yellow, like bakers’ gingerbread, and whose tops were stamped with mysterious letters; long roots, as long as the longest parsnips, but glistening white, like polished turnips; cherries, tied up in stingy little bunches of ten or twelve, and swung in all the nooks; small bunches of all conceivable green things, from celery down to timothy grass, tied tight and wedged into corners, or swung over head; dried herbs, in dim recesses; pressed chickens, on shelves (these were the most remarkable things. They were semi-transparent, thin, skinny, and yellow, and looked almost more like huge, flattened grasshoppers than like chickens; but chickens they were, and no mistake),—all these were on the trays, on the sidewalk, and on the cellar-stairs. In the back bedroom were Mrs. Sing and Mrs. Wo, with several little Sings or Woes. It was too dark to see what they were doing; for the only light came from the open front of the shop, which seemed to run back like a cave in a hill. On shelves on the sides were tea-cups and tea-pots, and plates of fantastic shapes and gay colors. Sing and Wo were most courteous: but their interest centred entirely on sales; and I could learn but one fact from them, in regard to any of their goods. It was either “Muchee good. Englis man muchee like;” or else, “China man like; Englis man no like.” Why should I wish to know any thing further than that some articles would be agreeable to “Englis man’s” palate, and others would not? This must be enough to regulate my purchases. But I shall always 66 wish I knew how those chickens were fattened, and what the vivid yellow cakes were made of.
But I stop too long with Sing, Wo, & Co. The street is lined on either hand with shops just as fantastic and commodities just as unheard of,—“Ty, Wing, & Co.,” for instance, who have mysterious, tight-shut doors and red and yellow printed labels on their window-panes, but not an article of merchandise anywhere to be seen. Inside, only darkness and dust and cobwebs, and two Chinese women eating something out of a bowl with chopsticks,—one bowl, resting on all four of their knees, pressed tight together, and the four chopsticks flying like shuttle-cocks, back and forth between their mouths and the bowl. This was all that two eager eyes, peering into the windows, could see. Then comes “Miss Flynn, milliner.” Adventurous Irishwoman, to set up her shop in the heart of this Chinese Empire,—the only foreigner on the street. Then comes a druggist, “Chick Kee” by name. Over his door is stretched a scarlet banner, with long tassels at the corners. Peacocks’ feathers and great, plume-like bunches of fringed blue and yellow and green papers are nodding above the banner. Up and down on each side, in long, narrow stripes, is printed his sign. It is marvellously gay, having all the colors of the banner and the feathers and the papers in it; but the only thing in his window is a flat and shallow basket, with some dusty bits of old dried roots in They look as old as forgotten flag-root from Cotton Mather’s meeting-house. Chick Kee sits on his empty counter, smoking as tranquilly as if everybody had died or got well, and he had left off buying drugs. Tuck Wo keeps a restaurant, near by. It is in a cellar; and I dare not go down. But I see from above four iron pots, boiling on little three-legged furnaces; tea-cups and saucers, on shelves in corners; and great plates of rolls of the fatal nut, ready to be chewed; also a square cake, of the vivid yellow. I despise myself for being afraid to taste that cake; but I am. It looks so like bar-soap, half saleratus, or saleratus-gingerbread, half soap.67
“Moo, On, & Co.” come next. Their shop is full, crowded full,—bags, bundles, casks, shelves, piles, bunches of utterly nondescript articles. It sounds like an absurd exaggeration, but it is literally true, that the only articles in his shop which I ever saw before are bottles. There are a few of those; but the purpose, use, or meaning of every other article is utterly unknown to me. There are things that look like games, like toys, like lamps, like idols, like utensils of lost trades, like relics of lost tribes, like—well, like a pawnbroker’s stock, just brought from some other world! That comes nearest to it. “Moo, On, & Co.” have apparently gone back for more. Nobody is in the shop; the door is wide open. I wait and wait, hoping that some one will come along who can speak English, and of whom I may ask what this extraordinary show means. Timidly I touch a fluttering bit, which hangs outside. It is not paper; it is not cloth; it is not woollen, silk, nor straw; it is not leather; it is not cobweb; it is not alive; it is not dead; it crisps and curls at my touch; it waves backward, though no air blows it. A sort of horror seizes me. It may be a piece of an ancestor of Moo’s, doing ghostly duty at his shop-door. I hasten on, and half fancy that it is behind me, as I halt before Dr. Li Po Tai’s door. His promises to cure, diplomas, and so forth, are printed in gay-colored strips of labels on each side. Six bright balloons swing overhead; and peacocks’ feathers are stuck into the balloons. I have heard that Dr. Li Po Tai is a learned man, and works cures. His balloons are certainly very brilliant. Then comes a tailor, name unknown, sitting on the sidewalk, at work. Then an aristocratic boot-black, with a fantastic, gay-colored awning set up over the insignia of his calling. Then, drollest of all, an old, old woman, mending a Chinese toga. I call it a toga, because I do not know the Chinese name for it; and it is no more unlike a toga than it is unlike a coat. The old lady sits on a low stool, with half a dozen boxes of patches around her, all scrupulously sorted, according to color and fabric; an old battered box of buttons, too, 68 and thread at her feet,—the very ideal of a housewife at large; mender to a race! Every now and then, she chants a few words, in a low voice, to which nobody seems to listen. I suppose it is Chinese for “Here’s your warm patches,” “Trowsers sewed up here;” or, if there is such a thing in the Chinese Empire as a constitution, and if they have a Woman’s Rights party, perhaps some wag has taught her to call, “Here’s your Sixteenth Amendment.” That is what first came into my head, as I looked at the poor, wrinkled, forlorn old creature, sewing away on the hopelessly ragged garment.
Then comes a corner stand, with glass cases of candles. Almond candy, with grains of rice thick on the top; little bowls of pickles, pears, and peppers; platters of odd-shaped nuts; and beans baked black as coffee. As I stand looking curiously at these, a well-dressed Chinaman pauses before me, and, making a gesture with his hand toward the stand, says: “All muchee good. Buy eat. Muchee good.” Hung Wung, the proprietor, is kindled to hospitality by this, and repeats the words: “Yaas, muchee good. Take, eat,” offering me, with the word, the bowl of peppers.
Next comes a very gay restaurant, the best in the Empire. “Hang Fee, Low & Co.” keep it, and foreigners go there to drink tea. There is a green railed balcony across the front, swinging full of high-colored lanterns, round and square; tablets with Chinese letters on bright grounds are set in panels on the walls; a huge rhinoceros stands in the centre of the railing; a tree grows out of the rhinoceros’s back, and an India-rubber man sits at foot of the tree. China figures and green bushes in flower-pots are ranged all along the railing. Nowhere except in the Chinese Empire can there be seen such another gaudy, grotesque house-front. We make an appointment on the spot to take some of Hang Fee’s tea, on our way to the Chinese Theatre, the next evening; and then we hurry home, past dozens more of just such grotesque shops as 69 these, past finer and more showy shops, filled with just such Japanese and Chinese goods as we can buy on Broadway in New York; past dark lanes, so narrow that two might shake hands from opposite windows; so black that one fancies the walls are made of charcoal; so alive with shiny black Chinese heads and shiny yellow Chinese faces that one thinks involuntarily of a swarm of Spanish flies; then round a corner, and presto! there we are in America again,—on Montgomery street, which might be Broadway, for all that there is distinctive in its shops or its crowd of people. We turn back in bewilderment, and retrace our steps a little way into the Empire again, to make sure that it was not a dream! No. There are the lanterns, the peacock feathers, the rhinoceros; and there is Dr. Li Po Tai himself, in a damask dressing-gown, embossed with birds of paradise and palm-trees, bowing out a well-dressed Caucasian of our own species from his door. To complete the confusion, the Caucasian steps nimbly into a yellow horse-car, which at that instant chances to be passing Dr. Li Po Tai’s door; and we float back again, side by side in the crowd with a Chinese man-washerwoman, round the corner, into Montgomery street.
After all, we did not take tea at Hang Fee’s, on our way to the theatre. There was not time. As it was, we were late; and when we entered the orchestra had begun to play. Orchestra! It is necessary to use that name, I suppose, in speaking of a body of men with instruments, who are seated on a stage, furnishing what is called music for a theatrical performance. But it is a term calculated to mislead in this instance. Fancy one frog-pond, one Sunday school with pumpkin whistles, one militia training, and two gongs for supper, on a Fall River boat, all at once, and you will have some faint idea of the indescribable noise which saluted our ears on entering that theatre. To say that we were deafened is nothing. The hideous hubbub of din seemed to overleap and transcend all laws and 70 spheres of sound. It was so loud we could not see; it was so loud we could not breathe; it was so loud there didn’t seem to be any room to sit down! The theatre was small and low and dark. The pit and greater part of the gallery were filled with Chinamen, all smoking. One corner of the gallery was set apart for women. That was full, also, with Chinese women. Every woman’s hair was dressed in the manner I have described. The bat-like flaps projected so far on each side of each head that each woman seemed almost to be joined to her neighbors by a cartilaginous band; and, as they sat almost motionless, this effect was heightened. The stage had no pretence of scenery. It was hung with gay banners and mysterious labels. Tall plumes of peacock’s feathers in the corners and some irregularly placed chairs were all the furniture. The orchestra sat in chairs, at the back of the stage. Some of them smoked in the intervals, some drank tea. A little boy who drummed went out when he felt like it; and the fellow with the biggest gong had evidently no plan of operations at all, except to gong as long as his arms could bear it, then rest a minute, and then gong again. “Oh! well,” said we, as we wedged and squeezed through the narrow passage-way which led to our box, “it will only last a few minutes. We shall not entirely lose our hearing.” Fatal delusion! It never stopped. The actors came out; the play began; the play went on; still the hideous hubbub of din continued, and was made unspeakably more hideous by the voices of the actors, which were raised to the shrillest falsetto to surmount the noise, and which sounded like nothing in Nature except the voices of frantic cats.
This appears preposterous. Almost I fear I shall not be believed. But I will leave it to any jury of twelve who have been to the Chinese Theatre if it be possible for language even to approach a true description of the horribleness of the noises heard on its stage. What may be the sounds of the Chinese language, as 71 spoken in ordinary life, I cannot judge. But, as intoned in the theatrical screech, with the constant undertone and overtone of the gongs and drums, it is incredibly like caterwauling. Throw in a few “ch”s and “ts”s into the common caterwaul of the midnight cat, and you have the highest art of the Chinese stage, so far as it can be judged of simply by sound. We have amused ourselves by practising it, by writing it; and each experiment has but confirmed our impression of the wonderful similarity. At first, in spite of the deafening loudness of the din, it is ludicrous beyond conception. To see these superbly dressed Chinese creatures,—every one of them as perfectly and exquisitely dressed as the finest figures on their satin fans or rice-paper pictures, and looking exactly like them,—to see these creatures strutting and sailing and sweeping and bowing and bending, beating their breasts and tearing their beards, gesticulating and rushing about in an utterly incomprehensible play, with caterwauling screams issuing from their mouths, is for a few minutes so droll that you laugh till the tears run, and think you will go to the Chinese Theatre every night as long as you stay in San Francisco. I said so to the friend who had politely gone with me. He had been to the performance before. He smiled pityingly, and yawned behind his hand. At the end of half an hour, I whispered: “Twice a week will do.” In fifteen minutes more, I said: “I think we will go out now. I can’t endure this racket another minute. But, nevertheless, I shall come once more, with an interpreter. I must and will know what all this mummery means.”
The friend smiled again incredulously. But we did go again, with an interpreter; and the drollest thing of all was to find out how very little all the caterwauling and rushing and bending and bowling and sweeping and strutting really meant. The difficulty of getting an interpreter, was another interesting feature in the occasion. A lady, who had formerly been a missionary 72 in China, had promised to go with us; and, as even she was not sure of being able to understand Chinese caterwauled, she proposed to take one of the boys from the missionary school, to interpret to her before she interpreted to us. So we drove to the school. Mrs. —— went in. The time seemed very long that we waited. At last she came back, looking both amused and vexed, to report that not one of those intelligent Christian Chinees would leave his studies that evening to go to the theatre.
“I suppose it is an old story to them,” said I.
“Not at all,” said she. “On the contrary, hardly a boy there has been inside the theatre. But they cannot bear to lose a minute from their lessons. Mr. Loomis really urged some of them; but it was of no use.”
In a grocery shop on Kearny street, however, we found a clever young man, less absorbed in learning; and he went with us as interpreter. Again the same hideous din; the same clouds of smoke; the same hubbub of caterwauling. But the dramatis personæ were few. Luckily for us, our first lesson in the Chinese drama was to be a simple one. And here I pause, considering whether my account of this play will be believed. This is the traveller’s great perplexity. The incredible things are always the only things worth telling; but is it best to tell them?
The actors in this play were three,—a lady of rank, her son, and her man cook. The play opened with a soliloquy by the lady. She is sitting alone, sewing. Her husband has gone to America; he did not bid her farewell. Her only son is at school. She is sad and lonely. She weeps.
Enter boy. He asks if dinner is ready.
Enter cook. Cook says it is not time. Boy says he wants dinner. Cook says he shall not have it. This takes fifteen minutes.
Mother examines boy on his lessons. Boy does not know them; tries to peep. Mother reproves; makes 73 boy kneel; prepares to whip; whips. Mother weeps. Boy catches flies on the floor; bites her finger.
Enter cook to see what the noise means. Cook takes boy to task. Boy stops his ears. Cook bawls. Cook kneels to lady; reproves her also; tells her she must keep her own temper, if she would train her boy.
Lady sulks, naturally. Boy slips behind and cuts her work out of her embroidery frame. Cook attacks boy. Cook sings a lament, and goes out to attend to dinner; but returns in frantic distress. During his absence every thing has boiled over; every thing has been burned to a crisp. Dinner is ruined. Cook now reconciles mother and son; drags son to his knees; makes him repeat words of supplication. While he does this, cook turns his back to the audience, takes off his beard carefully, lays it on the floor, while he drinks a cup full of tea. Exit all, happy and smiling.
This is all, literally all! It took an hour and a half. The audience listened with intensest interest. The gesticulations, the expressions of face, the tones of the actors all conveyed the idea of the deepest tragedy. Except for our interpreter, I should have taken the cook for a soothsayer, priest, a highwayman and murderer, alternately. I should have supposed that all the dangers, hopes, fears, delights possible in the lives of three human beings were going on on that stage. Now we saw how very far-fetched and preposterous had probably been our theories of the play we had seen before, we having constructed a most brilliant plot from our interpretation of the .
After this domestic drama came a fierce spectacular play, too absurd to be described, in which nations went to war because a king’s monkey had been killed. And the kings and their armies marched in at one door and out at the other, sat on gilt thrones, fought with gilt swords, tumbled each other head over heels with as much vigor and just about as much art as small boys play the battle of Bunker Hill with the nursery chairs on a rainy day. But the dresses of these warlike monarchs 74 were gorgeous and fantastic beyond description. Long, gay-colored robes, blazoned and blazing with gold and silver embroidery; small flags, two on each side, stuck in at their shoulders, and projecting behind; helmets, square breastplates of shining stones, and such decorations with feathers as pass belief. Several of them had behind each ear a long, slender bird of Paradise feather. These feathers reached out at least three feet behind, and curved and swayed with each step the man took. When three or four of these were on the stage together, marching and countermarching, wrestling, fighting, and tumbling, why these tail-feathers did not break, did not become entangled with each other, no mortal can divine. Others had huge wings of silver filagree work behind their ears. These also swayed and flapped at each step.
Sometimes there would be forty or fifty of these nondescript creatures on the stage at once, running, gesticulating, attacking, retreating, howling, bowing, bending, tripping each other up, stalking, strutting, and all the while caterwauling, and all the while the drums beating, the gongs ringing, and the stringed instruments and the castanets and the fifes playing. It was dazzling as a gigantic kaleidoscope and deafening as a cotton-mill. After the plays came wonderful tumbling and somersaulting. To see such gymnastic feats performed by men in long damask night-gowns and with wide trousers is uncommonly droll. This is really the best thing at the Chinese Theatre,—the only thing, in fact, which is not incomprehensibly childish.
My last glimpse of the Chinese Empire was in Mr. Loomis’s Sunday school. I had curiosity to see the faces of the boys who had refused our invitation to the theatre. As soon as I entered the room, I was asked to take charge of a class. In vain I demurred and refused.
“You surely can hear them read a chapter in the New Testament.”
It seemed inhuman as well as unchristian to refuse, 75 for there were several classes without teachers,—many good San Franciscans having gone into the country. There were the eager yellow faces watching for my reply. So I sat down in a pew with three Chinese young men on my right hand, two on my left, and four in the pew in front, all with English and Chinese Testaments in their hands. The lesson for the day was the fifteenth chapter of Matthew. They read slowly, but with greater accuracy of emphasis and pronunciation than I expected. Their patience and eagerness in trying to correct a mispronunciation were touching. At last came the end of the chapter.
“Now do you go on to the next chapter?” said I.
“No. Arx-play-in,” said the brightest of the boys. “You arx-play-in what we rade to you.”
I wished the floor of that Sunday-school chapel would open and swallow me up. To expound the fifteenth of Matthew at all, above all to expound it in English which those poor souls could understand! In despair I glanced at the clock,—it lacked thirty minutes of the end of school; at the other teachers,—they were all glibly expounding. Guiltily, I said: “Very well. Begin and read the chapter over again, very slowly; and when you come to any word you do not understand tell me, and I will try to explain it to you.”
Their countenances fell. This was not the way they usually had been taught. But, with the meekness of a down-trodden people, they obeyed. It worked even better than I had hoped. Poor souls! they probably did not understand enough to select the words which perplexed them. They trudged patiently through their verses again, without question. But my Charybdis was near. The sixth verse came to the brightest boy. As he read, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition,” he paused after the word tradition. I trembled.
“Arx-play-in trardition!” he said.
“What?” said I, feebly, to gain a second’s more of time. “What word did you say?”76
“Trardition!” he persisted. “What are trardition? Arx-play-in!”
What I said I do not know. Probably I should not tell if I did. But I am very sure that never in all my life have I found myself and never in all the rest of my life shall I find myself in so utterly desperate a dilemma as I was then, with those patient, earnest, oblique eyes fixed on me, and the gentle Chinese voice reiterating, “What are trardition?”
Reminder: this was written before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
exchanged significant glances with each other.
final . invisible
of Dupont or Kearny Street to-day?
question mark unchanged
bits of old dried roots in it.
final . invisible
“Here’s your Sixteenth Amendment.”
[It ended up the Nineteenth, after income taxes, direct election of senators, prohibition . . . and almost fifty years.]
This is all, literally all! It took an hour and a half.
[It seems an awful shame the author never thought of bringing an interpreter to the opera in Italy or, better yet, Germany. The average Wagner plot can be summarized in two minutes. And then there’s the noted aria from Maskerade that goes questa maledetta porta si blocca . . .]
our interpretation of the pantomime.
text has pantomine
the fifteenth chapter of Matthew
[An action-packed chapter, winding up with the miracle of the loaves and fishes]
When I first stepped out of the door of the Occidental Hotel, on Montgomery street, in San Francisco, I looked up and down in disappointment.
“Is this all?” I exclaimed. “It is New York,—a little lower of story, narrower of street, and stiller, perhaps. Have I crossed a continent only to land in Lower Broadway on a dull day?”
I looked into the shop-windows. The identical hats, collars, neckties for men, the identical tortoise-shell and gold ear-rings for women, which I had left behind on the corners of Canal and Broome streets, stared me in the face. Eager hack-drivers, whip-handles in air, accosted me,—all brothers of the man who drove me to the Erie Railroad station, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, ten days before.
“What do you ask an hour?” said I.
“Three dollars,” said they all.
“Three dollars!” echoed I, in astonishment. But I jumped in, glad of any sensation of novelty, even so high-priced a one, and said:—
“Show me all you can of your city in an hour.”
Presto. In one minute we had turned a sharp corner, left the dull shops behind, and plunged into scenes unfamiliar enough. I no longer wondered at the dearness of the driving. The street was as steep as the street of an Alpine village. Men and women walking up its sidewalks were bowed over, as if nobody were less than ninety. Those walking down had their bodies slanted back and their knees projecting in front, as people come down mountains. The horses went at a 78 fast walk, almost a trot. On corners, the driver reined them up, turned them at a sharp angle, and stopped them to breathe a minute.
The houses were small, wooden, light-colored, picturesque. Hardly any two were of the same height, same style, or tint. High steps ran up to the front doors. In many instances, when the house was built very much up-hill, the outside stair-case curved and wound, to make the climb easier. Each house had a little yard. Many had small square gardens. Every nook and cranny and corner that could hold a flower did. Roses and geraniums and fuchsias, all in full blossom,—callas, growing rank and high, and evidently held in no great esteem,—set, great thickets of them, under stairways and behind gates. Again and again I saw clumps which had dozens of the regal alabaster cups waving among their green pennons four feet high. Ivy geraniums clambered all over railings and flowered at every twist. Acacias and palms, and many of the rare tropical trees which we are used to seeing in conservatories at the East, were growing luxuriantly in these glittering little door-yards. Some of the houses were almost incredibly small, square, one story high, with a door in the middle, between two small windows. Their queer flat roofs and winding ladders of steps in front, with gay flowers all around, made you feel as if some fanciful and artistic babies must have run away and gone to housekeeping in a stolen box. Others were two stories high, or even two and a half, with pretty little dormer or balconied windows jutting out in the second story; but there were none large, none in the least elegant, all of wood, painted in light shades of buff, yellow or brown, the yellow predominating; all with more or less carved work about the eaves, window-tops, and doors, and all bright with flowers. In many of the gardens stood a maid-servant, watering the plants with a hose. Not one drop of rain had these gay little parterres had for a month; not a drop would they have for three months to come. These were evidently the 79 homes of the comfortable middle class of San Francisco. I am a little ashamed of having forgotten the names of these streets. There were several streets of this sort; but who wishes to find them must take his chance, as I did. There are horse-cars that run through two or three of them, up and down such grades as I never saw horse-cars on elsewhere.
Then there are broader streets running along these hills; a street taking its up-hill widthwise, which has a curious effect in the steepest places. Some of these streets are full of shops. I think they are the Bowery and Sixth Avenue of San Francisco. Others, higher up, are chiefly filled with dwelling-houses,—many of them very handsome, with large gardens; some with what might almost be called grounds about them; and all commanding superb views of the bay and the part of the city lying below. It is odd to stand on the corner of a street and look off over chimneys of houses only two streets off; but you do it constantly among the ups and downs of San Francisco,—in many of the streets, in fact in all of them. You see also the most ludicrous propinquities of incongruous homes. For instance, “Wang Fo” takes in washing, in a shed, next door to a large and handsome house, with palm-trees and roses growing thickly on all sides of it. The incongruities of base-line are still more startling. One man, who builds on a bit of hill—and no man builds on any thing else—cuts it down, before he begins, to something like the level of his neighbor’s house. But the next man who comes along, having no prejudice against stairs, sets his house on the very top of the pinnacle, and climbs up forty steps to his front door.
I ought to have said that it was going away from the sea that I found these streets. Going seaward, and bearing to the south, you find still sharper hills, still more picturesque streets. To reach them, you have to go through whole tracts of business streets, ordinary and shabby houses; but, once there, you understand why it should be the West End of San Francisco.80
The names of these streets also I forget; but how can it matter? They lie on and along crags, not hills. Strangers coming to live there are warned by physicians not to walk to their houses by the steepest way. There are many instances of heart disease in San Francisco, brought on by walking too perpetually up and down steep places. Many of the houses on these highest seaward streets are handsome, and have pleasant grounds about them. But they are not so distinctively and peculiarly picturesque and sunny and homelike as the cheaper little flower-fronted houses on the other side of the city. And, going only a few steps further seaward, you come to or you look down on crowded lanes, of dingy, tumbling, forlorn buildings, which seem as if they must be for ever slipping into the water. As you look up at the city from the harbor, this is the most noticeable thing. The hills rise so sharply and the houses are set on them at such incredible angles that it wouldn’t surprise you, any day when you are watching it, to see the city slide down whole streets at a time. If San Francisco had known that it was to be a city, and if (poor, luckless place that it is, spite of all its luck) it had not burnt down almost faster than it could build up, it might have set on its myriad hills a city which the world could hardly equal. But, as it is, it is hopelessly crowded and mixed, and can never look from the water like any thing but a toppling town.
But nothing can mar the beauty of its outlying circles of hills. The bay chose well its stopping-place. They curve and lap and arch and stretch and sink, as if at some time the very sands had been instinct with joy and invitation and passion and rest. Who knows the spells of shores, the secrets of seas? Surely the difference between stern, frowning, inaccessible cliffs, against which waters dash, but cannot prevail, and soft, wooing beaches, up which waves sweep far as they like, is not an insignificant fact in Does anybody believe that, if the Pilgrims had landed where Father Junipero Serra’s missionaries did, witches would have been burnt 81 in the San Joaquin Valley? Or that if gold strewed the ground to-day from Cape Cod to Berkshire, a Massachusetts man would ever spend it like a Californian? This is the key-note to much which the expectation and prophecy about California seem to me to overlook. I believe that the lasting power, the true culture, the best, most roundest result—physical, moral, mental,—of our national future will not spring on the Western shore, any more than on the Eastern. It lies to-day like a royal heir, hidden in secret, crowned with jewels, dowered with gold and silver, nurtured on strengths of the upper airs of the Sierras, biding the day when two peoples, meeting midway on the continent, shall establish the true centre and the complete life.
It takes one hundred pages of Bancroft’s “Guidebook” to instruct strangers what to see in San Francisco and how to see it,—one hundred pages full of hotels, markets, meeting-houses, car-routes, museums, menageries, public schools, asylums, hospitals, foundries, mills, gas-works, private residences, and hack regulations. All these appear to do very well in their way, but to be singularly devoid of interest to any but the most business-like of travellers. The population of the city is about one hundred and fifty thousand; and this is all I know about San Francisco, considered from a statistical point of view. The hotels, I might add, have been so much injured by being called the best in the world that they are now decidedly poor. There is in the whole city but one hotel on the European plan,—which is the only endurable plan,—and this hotel is not more than a third or fourth-rate house.
There are two things to do in San Francisco (besides going to the Chinese theatre). One is to drive out of the city, and the other is to sail away from it. If you drive, you drive out to the Cliff House, to breakfast on the sight of seals. If you sail, you sail around the harbor, and feast on the sight of most picturesque islands. Alcatraz, Goat, and Angel islands are all fortified and garrisoned. If you are fortunate enough to 82 go in a Government steamer, on a fort reception day, you land on these little islands, climb up their winding paths to the sound of band playing, and are welcomed to sunny piazzas and blooming gardens, with that ready cordiality of which army people know the secret. The islands are cliff-like; and the paths wind up steep grades, coming out on the plateau above. You see an effect which is picture-like. The green sward seems to meet the blue sea-line; piles of cannon-balls glisten on corners; the officers’ cottages are surrounded by the broad piazzas are shady with roses; the soldiers’ quarters are in straight lines or hollow squares; the sentinel paces up and down, without looking at you; the brass instruments shine and flash in the sun, at the further end of the square; and the sky and the bay seem dancing to the same measure, above and around. It is hard to believe that the scene is any thing more than a pleasure spectacle, for a summer delight. On one of the islands,—Alcatraz, I think,—the road up to the quarters is so steep that an officer has invented a most marvellous little vehicle, in which guests are hoisted to the commander’s door. It is black; it swings low, between two huge wheels; it has two seats, facing each other; it is drawn by a stout, short-legged horse, who looks as it he had been imported out of the Liverpool dray service. The vehicle looks like nothing ever seen on wheels elsewhere. I can think of nothing to which to compare it except to two coal-scuttles joined together, one mouth making the front, one mouth making the back, and the rounded sides nearly straightened and overlapping each other.
The morning and the noon and the early afternoon all seem one on the bright, rainless skies which spread over San Francisco’s matchless bay. It will be four o’clock before you get back to the city from this sail around the harbor; but you will find it hard to believe it.
The drive to the Cliff House must be taken early in the day,—the earlier the better; for you must be safely 83 back again, under shelter of the city walls, before eleven o’clock, when the winds rise and the sands begin to blow about. To be anywhere on the outskirts, suburbs, or near neighborhood of San Francisco after this hour is like being out when deserts play at “Puss, puss in the corner.” Any thing like the whirling sand-banks which are tossed up and around and sent back and forth in these daily gales cannot be imagined till one has seen it. Neither can the beauty of a sand-drift be imagined till you have seen one which has that very minute been piled up, and which will not lie where it is more than one minute longer. No snow-drift can be lovelier. Of an exquisite pale tint,—too yellow to be brown, too brown to be yellow, and too white to be either; too soft to glisten, too bright not to shine; mottled, dimpled, shadowed, and shaded; lined, graven, as it were, from bottom to top with the finest, closest, rippling curves, marking each instant’s new level and sweep, as water-lines write on beaches. There it lies—in a corner of an open street, it may be, or even across your road. Look quick! Already the fine crest undulates; the base-line alters. In a minute more it will be a cloud of torturing dust, which will cover, suffocate, madden you, as it whirls away miles to east or west, to nestle again for another minute in some other hollow or corner.
The Cliff House stands on the very edge of the Pacific Ocean. From the westward piazza you look not only off; you look down on the water. The cliffs are not high; but they are bold and rocky, and stretch off northward to the Golden Gate. To the south, miles long, lies the placid beach. The low, quiet swell, the day we were there, scarce seemed enough to bring the tiniest shell. Buried deep in the sand lay the wreck of a brig, the prow pointed upward, as if still some purpose struggled in its poor, wrecked heart. The slow, incoming tide lapped and bathed it, washing, even while we looked, fresh sand into the seams and higher up around the keel. But out a few rods from the shore 84 were navigators whose fates and freaks soon diverted and absorbed our attention.
It is so much the fashion to be tender, not to say sentimental, over the seals of the Cliff House rocks that I was disappointed not to find myself falling into that line as I looked at them. But the longer I looked the less I felt like it.
It is, of course, a sight which ought to profoundly touch the human heart, to see a colony of any thing that lives left unmolested, unharmed of men; and it, perhaps, adds to the picturesqueness and interest of the Cliff House situation to have these licensed warblers disporting themselves, safe and shiny, on the rocks. But when it comes to the seals themselves, I make bold to declare that, if there be in the whole animal kingdom any creature of size and sound less adapted than a seal for a public pet, to adorn public grounds,—I mean waters,—I do not know such creature’s name. Shapeless, boneless, limbless, and featureless; neither fish nor flesh; of the color and consistency of India-rubber diluted with mucilage; slipping, clinging, sticking, like gigantic leeches; flapping, walloping with unapproachable clumsiness; lying still, lazy, inert, asleep, apparently, till they are baked browner and hotter than they like, then plunging off the rocks, turning once over in the water, to wet themselves enough to bear more baking; and all the while making a noise too hideous to be described,—a mixture of bray and squeal and snuff and snort,—old ones, young ones, big ones, little ones, masculine, feminine, and, for aught I know, neuter, by dozens, by scores,—was there ever any thing droller in the way of a philanthropy, if it be a philanthropy, or in the way of a public amusement, if it be an amusement, than this? Let them be sold, and their skins given to the poor; and let peace and quiet reign along that delicious beach and on those grand old rocks.
Going back to the city, you drive for two or three miles on the beach, still water on your right and sand-hills, covered thick with blue and yellow and red 85 flowers, on your left. Surely, never an ocean met more gracious welcome. Many of the flowers seem to be of the cactus species; but they intertwine and mat their tangles so as to make great spaces of solid color. Then you take a road turning sharply away from the sea, eastward. It is hard and bright red. It winds at first among green marshes, in which are here and there tiny blue lakes; then it ascends and winds among more sand-hills, still covered with flowers; then higher still, and out on broader opens, where the blue lupine and the yellow eschscholtzia grow literally by fields full; and then, rounding a high hill, it comes out on a plateau, from which the whole city of San Francisco, with the bay beyond and the high mountains beyond the bay, lies full in sight. This is the view which shows San Francisco at its best and reveals, also, how much better that best ought to have been made.
I said there were but three things to do in San Francisco. There are four. And the fourth is to go and see Mr. Muybridge’s photographs.
The scenery of California is known to Eastern people chiefly through the big but inartistic pictures of Watkins. When it is known through the pictures which Mr. Muybridge is now engaged in taking, it will be seen in its true beauty and true proportions. Every thing depends on stand-point; very few photographs of landscapes really render them. Of two photographs, both taking in precisely the same objects and both photographing them with accuracy, one may be good and the other worthless, to all intents and purposes. No man can so take a photograph of a landscape as to render and convey the whole truth of it, unless he is an artist by nature, and would know how to choose the point from which that landscape ought to be painted. Mr. Muybridge is an artist by nature. His photographs have composition. There are some of them of which it is difficult to believe that they are not taken from paintings,—such unity, such effect, such vitality do they possess, in comparison with the average photograph, 86 which has been made, hap-hazard, to cover so many square feet and take in all that happened to be there. Mr. Muybridge’s pictures have another peculiarity, which of itself would mark them superior to others. The skies are always most exquisitely rendered. His cloud photographs alone fill a volume; and many of them remind one vividly of Turner’s studies of skies. The contrast between a photographed landscape, with a true sky added, and one with the usual ghastly, lifeless, pallid, stippled sky is something which it is impossible to overstate.
Mr. Muybridge has a series of eight pictures illustrative of the California vintage, all of which are exquisitely beautiful, and any one of which, painted in true color simply from the photograph as it stands, would seem to be a picture from a master’s hand. One of the first pictures in the series, representing the first breaking of the soil for the vineyard, is as perfect a Millet as could be imagined. The soft tender distance, outlined by low mountain ranges; a winding road, losing itself in a wood; a bare and stricken tree on the right of the foreground; and in the centre a solitary man, ploughing the ground. Next comes the same scene, with the young vines just starting. The owner is sitting on a bank in the foreground, looking off dreamily over his vineyard. Then there are two pictures representing the cutting of the grapes and the piling of them into the baskets and the wagons. The grouping of the vintagers in these is exquisite. Then there is a picture of the storehouses and the ranges of casks; all so judiciously selected and placed that it might be a photograph from some old painting of still life in Meran. The last picture of all is of the corking the bottles. Only a group of workmen, under an open shed, corking wine-bottles; but every accessory is so artistically thrown in that the whole scene reminds one of Teniers.
I am not sure, after all, that there is any thing so good to do in San Francisco as to spend a forenoon in Mr. Muybridge’s little upper chamber, looking over these marvellous pictures.
not an insignificant fact in Nature.
final . invisible
Does anybody believe that, if the Pilgrims had landed where Father Junipero Serra’s missionaries did, witches would have been burnt in the San Joaquin Valley?
[Not sure what she’s getting at here. Witches in the English colonies weren’t burned, they were hanged, and witches don’t seem to have been executed (by any method) in the Spanish colonies.]
on the European plan
[That is: hotel room only. The “American plan” included meals.]
the officers’ cottages are surrounded by gardens:
may be : for ;
Mr. Muybridge’s photographs
[This is the same Eadweard Muybridge who later became famous for his stop-motion photographs of a running horse. The spelling of his name suggests that his parents were the most pretentious sods in creation. But it turns out he was born Edward James Muggeridge. So we can’t blame his parents; it was the man himself.]
eight pictures illustrative of the California vintage
[The photographs were taken at the Buena Vista Vineyard, Sonoma, in 1872 (stereographs) and 1873 (vintage); some can be viewed here. That includes stereographs, if you’ve got a viewer lying around.
The final Yosemite chapter (“My Day in the Wilderness”) appears at the end of the California section, after the chapters on Murphys and Lake Tahoe.
Yosemite place names are discussed at the definitive Yosemite site (text from 1955) and in still more detail here (book from 1988 and 2005). Short version:
When the author gives the background or meaning of a name, her source is generally Hutchings, whose etymologies are regarded with some doubt by later writers. One source calls them “fanciful”.
Hutchings: The author never gives his first name, but it has to be James Hutchings (1820–1902), a big name in Yosemite history. He was away from Yosemite between 1875 and 1880, so she was lucky to connect with him before he left.
John Murphy: This one’s a puzzler. John L. Murphy—eponym of various places in Yosemite—isn’t supposed to have arrived until 1878, years after Helen Hunt’s visit, but who else can it be? It would be fun to think she remembered the name wrong and was really thinking of John Muir, who was around since 1868 and did time as a guide. But that’s probably too much to hope.
Ah-wah-ne! Does not the name vindicate itself at first sight and sound? Shall we ever forgive the Dr. Bunnell, who, not content with volunteer duty in killing off Indians in the great Merced River Valley, must needs name it the Yo-sem-i-te, and who adds to his account of his fighting campaigns the following naïve paragraph?
“It is acknowledged that Ah-wah-ne is the old Indian name for the valley, and that Ah-wah-ne-chee is the name of the original occupants; but, as this was discovered by the writer long after he had named the valley, and as it was the wish of every volunteer with whom he conversed that the name Yo-semite be retained, he said very little about it. He will only say, in conclusion, that the principal facts are before the public, and that it is for them to decide whether they will retain the name Yo-semite or have some other.”
It is easy to do and impossible to undo this species of mischief. No concerted action of “the public,” no legislation of repentant authorities, will ever give back to the valley its own melodious name; but I think its true lovers will for ever call it Ah-wah-ne. The name seems to have in its very sound the same subtle blending of solemnity, tenderness, and ineffable joy with which the valley’s atmosphere is filled. Ahwahne! Blessed Ahwahne!
I look back with remorse upon the days we spent in resolving to go. Philistines poured warnings into our ears. I shudder to think how nearly they attained their end. At the very last, it was only lack of courage 88 which drove us on; it seemed easier to endure any thing than to confess that we had been afraid. O Philistines who warned, be warned in turn. Pray that ye never meet us again.
Early on a Monday, the 17th of June, we set out. The Oaklands ferry-boat was crowded. Groups of people, evidently bound on the long overland journey; and other groups bound, like ourselves, for the Valley. Everybody was discussing routes with everybody else. Each was sure that he was going the only good way. We were happiest, not being committed to any fixed programme, and having left it to be decided on the road whether we should go first to the Big Trees or to the Valley. Behind us sat a woman whose lead we almost resolved to follow, for the sake of seeing the effect her toilet would produce on landscapes. She wore a fiery scarlet cashmere gown, the overskirt profusely trimmed with black lace and scarlet satin, the underskirt trimmed high with the same scarlet satin. A black lace jacket, a point-lace collar and sleeves, and a costly gold chain. A black velvet hat, with a huge white pearl buckle and ostrich plume, completed this extraordinary costume. Gloves were omitted. The woman had beauty of a strong, coarse type. She laughed loud and showed white teeth. She also spat in the aisle or from the window, like a man. Such sights as this are by no means uncommon in California. One never wearies of watching or ceases to wonder at the clothes and the bearing of the women. Just behind this woman sat another, wearing an embroidered white and a fur collar. At one of the first stations entered a third, dressed in a long, trailing black silk, bordered around the bottom with broad black velvet. Her hands and arms were bare, and she carried a coarse sacking bag, half as big as herself, tied up at the mouth with a dirty rope.
Agents for hotels in Stockton, and for different routes to the Yosemite, went up and down in the cars. It was pitiful to see pusillanimous and will-less persons swaying like reeds in the breeze of their noisy statements.89
The great San Joaquin wheat valley stretched away, on each side of the railway track, further than we could look. Except for the oaks rising out of the wheat, it might have been taken, under the gently stirring wind, for a sunlit sea.
Here and there went rolling along the mysterious steam-threshers; huge red wagon-like things, with towers and fans and a sharp clatter, doing by a single puff of steam the work of many men’s arms, finishing in a single hour the work of many days. Here and there, also, we saw a narrow road through the wheat. The crowded, slender, waving columns walled it so high that a man on horseback looked like a man riding in a forest, and could not see over the tops of the grain.
A bad, a very bad dinner at a town named Peters; a change of cars at Stockton,—from the Central Pacific to the Copperopolis Railroad; a change from cars to stage at Burnet; and, before the middle of the afternoon, we had really set our faces toward Ah-wah-ne. The road lay at first through a fertile country, great parks, shaded by oaks, and sown with wheat; then through barer and less beautiful lands, stony and uncultivated, but picturesque and almost weird from the cropping out of sharp, vertical slate ledges, in all directions; then into still barer and stonier tracts of old mining-fields. These are dismal beyond description. The earth has been torn up with pick-axes, and gullied by forced streams; the rocks have been blasted and quarried and piled in confusion; no green thing grows for acres; the dull yellow of the earth and the black and white and gray of the heaped stones give a coloring like that of volcanic ruins; and the shapes into which many of the softer stones have been worn by the action of water are so like the shapes of bones that it adds another element of horror to the picture. Again and again we saw spots which looked as if graveyards full of buried monsters had been broken open, and the skeletons strewn about.90
We were to sleep at Chinese Camp. The name was not attractive; and the town looked less so as we approached it. A narrow, huddled street of low and dingy houses, set closely together as a city; a thick, hedge-like row of dwarfed locust-trees stood on each side, making it dark and damp; many of the buildings were of stone, with huge, studded iron shutters to both doors and windows of the first story; but stone and iron were alike cobwebbed and dusty, as if enemies had long since ceased to attack. At the door of the hotel, a surprise awaited us. A middle-aged man, with a finely cut, sensitive face, and the bearing and the speech of a gentleman, came forward to receive us. It was the landlord,—the Count Solinsky, a Polish exile. His story is only the story of thousands of the pioneers of ’49. Glowing hopes, bitter disappointments, experiment after experiment, failure after failure; at last, the keeper of a little tavern and the agent of an express company, he had settled down, no longer looking for fortune and success. There was something very pathetic in the quiet dignity with which he filled the uncongenial place, accepted the inevitable burden. His little daughter, twelve years old, had on her beautiful face a wistful look,—the stamp of unconscious exile. “What will be the child’s fate!” I said to myself, as I watched her arranging with idle, lingering fingers a few bright, wild flowers in an old pitcher. Who knows? There is promise of great beauty in her face and figure. Not the least of the exiled Count’s griefs must be the anticipation of her future, in this wild, rough land. Perhaps she may yet live to be the landlady of the inn, and so perpetuate the cleanliness and good service which to-day make it memorable in the journey to Ah-wah-ne. “I have not much I can give,” said the Count, with the fine instinct of hospitality; , if all come clean on, I know that is the most. I know what is most when one will travel.”
It was only six o’clock, when we set out, the next morning. White mists were curling up from all the hollows 91 in the hills, and the air was frosty: but, in an hour, the hot sun had driven the mists away; and the marvellous, cloudless blue of the rainless sky stretched again above us. This is a perpetual wonder to the traveller in California in spring,—day after day of such radiant weather: it seems like living on a fairy planet, where the atmosphere is made of sunshine, and rain is impossible.
Old mining-fields still lay along our road, dismal and ghastly,—sluices and gulches and pits and shelving banks, toppling masses of excavated rock, and piles of gravel and stones. Here and there a vineyard or fruit orchard, in some hollow or on some hillside, gave us a keen thrill of delight by its glistening green, and its suggestion of something to eat or drink besides the scorching gold. We passed a settlement of Digger Indians, too loathsome to be looked at. We crossed a swift river in a creaking rope ferry. We climbed up the side of a canyon, two thousand feet deep, with a foaming river at bottom. And then we came to Garrote No. 1.
“Why No. 1?”
“Because there is Garrote No. 2, three miles further along.” It would seem as if one so hideous name might suffice to a district.
“And why do we not hurry on?” added we, being informed that we were to wait in Garrote No. 1 for two hours and a half. Replies were unsatisfactory. But only too well did we answer the question for ourselves at bedtime. Then we discovered that the whole programme of the route had been arranged by the stage company, with a view to the single end of compelling travellers to sleep one more night on the way. (Here let me forewarn all persons going by the Big Oak Flat route to the Yosemite, that there is not the slightest need of spending more than one night between Burnet and Gentry’s,—Gentry’s being the house at the entrance of the Valley. They should insist on spending the second night at Gentry’s.)
However, ill winds blow good. This one blew to us 92 the good of a sight of the hydraulic mining, such as we could not easily have seen elsewhere. The proprietor of the Treadwell Mine chanced to be in town, and, hearing of our desire to see the mine, took us to it. It lay, not far off our road, eight miles ahead. How we dashed over the ground, in a light buggy, behind two fast horses! It seemed like flying or ballooning, after our jolting in the heavy stage. It was not much more than a semblance of a road into which we turned off from the highway, at end of the eight miles. It led through fields, across morasses, up sharp, stony hillsides, through gaps in fences. A mile from the public road, we passed a small cabin, covered with white roses. Only the chimney and one corner of the ridgepole peeped out. We could not even see the windows. No one had lived in it for a year; and, in that short time, the roses had buried it. The well, also, was covered in the same way with pink roses. It was strange to see the look of desolation which even roses could have, left all alone.
Just beyond the rose-buried cabin, we came suddenly in sight of the mine. It looked like an acre or two of sand-quarry, or more like dozens of great, yellow clay cellars, with their partition-walls broken down irregularly, in places. It was spanned by a shining stream of water, arching high in the air, and making a noise like a small waterfall. This stream came from a huge, black nozzle on the right side of the excavation, and played with its full force, or like a jet from a fire-engine, into the cliff-like side of the opposite bank. It was a part of the Tuolomne River; and it had journeyed miles and miles through pipes to come to do this work. As it leaped through the air, it was white and pure, and flashed in the sun. After breaking against the yellow clay-bank, it fell turbid and thick, in masses of gamboge-colored foam, into narrow wooden sluices. These led off, slanting, for many rods across the yellow cellars, down a narrow wooded valley, and then through a sharp ravine, into the river again. At intervals in these sluices were set boxes, with wired sides and pebbled bottoms. 93 Into these is put that unerring constable, quicksilver, which arrests, by its magic power, every grain of the precious gold. As we walked along on the rough bank, by side of the sluices, the rattle and rumble of the pebbles under the torrent seemed a sort of weird, defiant chorus.
“Over and over and over,
And give up the gold.
The gold, the gold;
And over and over and over,
Untold, untold, untold!”—
I fancied it saying. There certainly was, in the sound made by the rolling over of the pebbles on the wooden surfaces, a strange predominance of that vowel-sound of O.
High up on the bank, opposite the spot upon which the stream played, was the superintendent’s house. It was only a one-storied shanty, papered with pictorial newspapers, and floored with planed pine; but terraces, with little patches of garden, led up to it; and the whole scene, from the verandah, was one which might well have contented an artist to stay there for days. The high, yellow cliff opposite, with evergreen trees on top; the stirring arch of water, perpetually bridging the space between and undermining the cliff,—sometimes a large part of the front edge falling at once, like an avalanche; the foaming streams down the sluices; the dark ravine; the sunny sky; the inexpressible look of remoteness and loneliness over all; the utter silence, save for the thud of the water against the bank, and the rumble of the pebbly torrents over the wooden pavements,—altogether, it was a vivid picture, not to be forgotten.
The sweet face of the superintendent’s wife was also not to be forgotten,—the sharp-cut, keen-visioned, sensitive-nerved New England face, with the repressed wistfulness born of long, solitary days in lonely places. When we said, in the flush of our enthusiastic delight 94 at the picturesqueness of the scene, and at the exquisite neatness and order of the little home:—
“O Mrs. ——! would you not take us to board?” she sighed, as she answered:—
“Well, I don’t know what you’d do with yourselves, after you got here. It’s very pretty to look at once; but it’s terrible still here, all but that water. An’ sometimes I get listenin’ to that till it seems to me it sounds louder and louder every minute, till it’s as loud as thunder.”
What genius could have invented a better analysis of the effect produced upon the mind by dwelling on a single sensation, under such circumstances?
We found the stage waiting for us at the point where we had left the public road. The passengers’ impatience at our short delay had been assuaged by the pleasure of killing a large rattlesnake, whose rattles were triumphantly displayed to us, in token of what we had missed.
Now we began to climb and to enter upon forests,—pines and firs and cedars. It seemed as if the whole world had become forest, we could see off so far through the vistas between the tall, straight, branchless trunks. The great sugar-pines were from one hundred to two hundred and twenty feet high, and their lowest branches were sixty to eighty feet from the ground. The cedars and firs and yellow pines were not much shorter. The grandeur of these innumerable colonnades cannot be conceived. It can hardly be realized, even while they are majestically opening, receding, closing, in your very sight. Sometimes a sunbeam will strike on a point so many rods away, down one of these dark aisles, that it is impossible to believe it sunlight at all. Sometimes, through a break in the tree-tops, will gleam snowy peaks of Sierras, hundreds of miles away; but the path to their summits will seem to lead straight through these columns of vivid green. Perspective becomes transfiguration, miracle when it deals with such distance, such color, and such giant size. It would not have 95 astonished me at any moment, as I gazed reverently out into these measureless cloisters, to have seen beings of Titanic stature moving slowly along, chanting service and swinging incense in some supernatural worship.
The transition from such grandeur, such delight as this to the grovelling misery of a night at Hogdin’s (g soft, but not by rights) cannot be described. Except for a sense of duty to posterity, one ought never to allude to such places as Hogdin’s,—that is, if there are any such places as Hogdin’s, which I question. It was only half-past 5 o’clock when we arrived. The two shanties of which Hogdin’s consists were already filled. Unhappy men and women, sitting on log steps, with their knees drawn up, glared at us savagely, as brigands might. They were wretched enough before. Now we had come, what would be done? How many to a room would it make? And wherewithal were we to be fed?
Only fifteen miles further was the comfortable little hotel kept by Mr. Gentry, at the entrance of the Valley. Would entreaties, would bribes, induce the driver to take us on? No. Entreaties and bribes, even large bribes, are unavailing. Mr. Hogdin has purchased an interest in the stage company, and no stage-driver dares carry passengers past Mr. Hogdin’s house.
Three, four, five in a room; some on floors, without even a blanket. A few pampered ones, women, with tin pans for wash-bowls and one towel for six hands. The rest, men, with one tin basin in an open shed, and if they had any towel or not I do not know. That was a night at Hogdin’s.
Food? Yes. Junks of beef floating in bowls of fat, junks of ham ditto, beans ditto, potatoes as hard as bullets, corn-bread steaming with saleratus, doughnuts ditto, hot biscuits ditto; the whole set out in indescribable confusion and dirt, in a narrow, unventilated room, dimly lit by two reeking kerosene lamps. Even brave and travelled souls could not help being appalled at the 96 situation. Not in the wildest and most poverty-stricken little town in Italy could such discomfort be encountered. However, nobody dies of starvation for lack of one supper and one breakfast. Anybody can lie awake in a shed all of one night, and go without washing his face one morning; and, except for the barefaced imposition of the unnecessary night at Hogdin’s, we could have laughed heartily at it the next day.
There was something uncommonly droll in the energetic promptness and loudness with which the landlady roused all her guests at half-past four in the morning.
“You don’t suppose we were asleep, do you?” called out somebody, whose sense of humor had not been entirely extinguished by hunger and no bed.
It is seven miles from Hogdin’s to the highest point on the road. This is seven thousand feet above the sea. It is the summit of the ridge which separates the Merced River from the Tuolomne. The Tuolomne we have seen; it is behind us now. The Merced is in the valley we seek. Already we feel a sense of the nearness of grander glories than we have seen. Vast spaces open on either hand. We look off over great tracks of tree-tops; huge rocks are piled up around us in wild, almost terrible confusion; the horizon line before us, and to the right and to the left is of serrated, glistening snow-peaks. The Sierras seem closing in upon us. The road descends sharply from the summit. We have almost a grateful feeling of protection in plunging again into the forests, and escaping from the wide outlook of the bleak, stony ridge. Down hill, seven more miles, to Gentry’s. The road is steep, zig-zag, rough; the horses go at full speed; the three hours have seemed like but one, when we dash up in the sunny little clearing in front of “Gentry’s.” Tall pines wall the clearing on three sides; the third is open. Looking that way, we see blue mountain tops and infinite distance. Is it Ah-wah-ne? It looks as the Ancaufthal, in the Austrian Tyrol, might in some magic summer which had melted off all the snow. We run 97 to the furthermost edge of the precipitous hill and bend out eagerly to look into its depths.
But it is not Ah-wah-ne. Ah-wah-ne makes no such half revelation of itself. Ah-wah-ne is behind and below the dark sugar-pines on the left; and there fastened to the posts, sound , stand Hutchings’s mules, ready to carry us down its wall.
Throughout this chapter, Tuolomne is written with an “o”; the correct form is Tuolumne.
Yo-sem-i-te . . . Yo-semite; Ah-wah-ne . . . Ahwahne
All of these are at mid-line, with hyphens as shown.
Monday, the 17th of June
[Thank you, Helen! This lets us proceed directly to the nearest Perpetual Calendar, and so determine that the year was 1872.]
an embroidered white pique
spelling unchanged; expected piqué
“but, if all come clean on
open quote missing
“Digger Indians, too loathsome to be looked at”
[Reminder: this is the same H. H. who would become such a visible spokesman for the Indian. Maybe it’s a case of “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”]
fastened to the posts, sound asleep,
text has aleep
seven thousand feet above the sea!
[Apparently the exclamation point is obligatory when mentioning this particular elevation.]
he is feeding on so sharp a slope.
final . invisible
Falstaff’s men could find their proper mount at Gentry’s when the saddle train comes up from Ah-wah-ne. Ten, twenty, thirty, horses, mustangs, mules, rusty black, dingy white, streaked red; ungroomed, unfed, untrained; harmless only because they are feeble from hunger; sure to keep on, if their strength holds out, to the end of the journey, simply because their one instinct is to escape somewhere; saddled with saddles of all possible shapes, sizes, colors, and dilapidation; bridled with halters, likely enough, or with clumsy Mexican bits, big enough to curb a mastodon, or not bridled at all if they are to carry luggage; gaunt-ribbed, swollen-jointed, knock-kneed, piteous-eyed beasts,—surely, nobody ever saw out of John Leech’s pictures so sorry horseflesh. You stand on the piazza, at Gentry’s, and watch the procession come slowly up. Nose after nose comes into sight, followed by reluctant, stumbling fore-feet; so slow they climb it seems to take a good while before you see the whole of any one horse.
They stop long before they reach the piazza, thinking that their riders may as well get off a minute or two sooner. The guides whack their haunches and push them up to the steps, and the Ah-wah-ne pilgrims slip or spring from their saddles with sighs of relief.
You, who were longing for these to come out, that you might go in, look on with dismay. On all sides you hear ejaculations from the people waiting. “I’ll never go on that horse;” “nor on that;” “that poor creature will never live to go down again.” Everybody gazes intently toward the crest of the hill, over which the pathetic 99 file is still coming. Everybody hopes to see a horse better than these. But there is not a pin’s choice between them, when they are all there. Wherever their riders leave them, there they stand, stock-still, till they are pushed or dragged away. Heads down, tails limp, legs out, abject, pitiable things,—you feel as if cruelty personified could not have the heart to lay a feather’s weight on their backs.
With the timid reverence natural in the mind of one going toward Ah-wah-ne for one coming from it, you approach the newly arrived and ask concerning these horses. Your pity and horror deepen when you are told that the poor creatures are never fed, never sheltered. They are worked all day without food, often being out from six in the morning until six at night, carrying people over steep, stony trails; then they are turned loose to shift for themselves in the meadows all night. By four or five o’clock in the morning the guides are out scouring the meadows to drive them in again. And so their days go on. There was but one alleviation to this narrative. It was the statement that every morning a good many horses cannot be found. They trot all night to find fields out of reach of their tormentors, or they swim off to little islands in the Merced and hide. Mr. Hutchings has lost seventy horses in this way since last year. When we were told these things, we said:—
“Very well. The horses that carry us down the wall of Ah-wah-ne shall be fed. We will not go down until afternoon, and they shall have all the barley they can eat between now and then.”
Sol White, a ruddy-faced man, whom we had chosen for our guide as soon as we saw him laugh, assented with a comic shrug of his shoulders to this Quixotic humanity, and led off the astonished horses to the stable. But another guide who stood by—a tall, thin man, whose deep-lined face looked like that of a Scottish Covenanter—said, half sadly, half gruffly:—
“’Taint any kindness to ’em. The sooner they die the better.”100
We watched the rest of the saddle-train off,—the fat women on the little saddles, and the tall men on the short mules, and the eager children on horses that wouldn’t budge, and the pack-mule going ahead, under a mountain of everybody’s valises. Each one disappeared down the steep trail so suddenly it seemed as if the had pitched down headforemost; the last view of each tail and pair of hind-legs showing them in the air.
Ah! the comfort of that five hours’ rest at Gentry’s. If all travellers to Ah-wah-ne rested thus at the entrance of the Valley, we should hear less of the fatigues of the journey. After three hours of the severest jolting in a stage, to undertake three hours more of horseback riding is a serious mistake for any but the strong. The bread or the barley of our charity to the poor horses came back to us tenfold, and that speedily.
The pleasant little sitting-room, with its bright carpet and lace curtains and melodeon; the bedrooms, clean as clean could be and with two beds in each; the neat dining-room and good dinner; the log cabin for a linen closet; the running spring water; the smiling faces and prompt kindliness of the landlord and his wife,—what a marvel it was to find all these in this new clearing in a pine forest of the Sierra Country, seven thousand feet above the sea!
And better than the barley for the starved horses, and better than five hours’ rest, and the dinner, and the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Kenny, was it that we entered Ah-wah-ne in the late afternoon, when the impertinent noon lights had passed and shadows went before us and journeyed by our side.
We set out at three o’clock. Our first sensations were not agreeable. We had seen how steep it looked when horse and rider disappeared over that hill-crest. It felt steeper. To an unaccustomed rider it is not pleasant to sit on a horse whose heels are much higher than his head. One’s first impulse is to clutch, to brace, to cling, and to guide the horse. But there is neither comfort 101 nor safety till you leave off doing so. With a perfectly loose rein and every muscle relaxed, sitting as you would sit in a rocking-chair, leaning back when the horse rocks down, leaning forward when he rocks up, and forgetting him altogether, riding down precipices is as comfortable and safe as riding on a turnpike. I do not say that it is altogether easy in the outset to follow these simple directions. But, if you are wise, it soon becomes so, and you look with impatient pity on the obstinacy of women who persist in grasping pommels, and sitting so stark stiff that it seems as if a sudden lurch of the horse must inevitably send them off, before or behind.
The first two miles and a half of the path down the wall of Ah-wah-ne are steep,—so steep that it is best not to try to say how steep. It is a narrow path, zigzagging down on ledges, among bowlders, through thickets. It is dusty and stony; it comes out suddenly on opens, from which you look over and down thousands, yes, thousands of feet; it plunges into tangles of trees, where a rider must lay his head on the horse’s neck to get through, for oaks and pines and firs grow on this precipice; high ceanothus bushes, fragrant with blossom, make wall-like sides to the path, and bend in as if trying to arch it. In some places the rocks are bright with flowers and ferns, which look as if they were holding on for dear life and climbing up: they project so nearly at right angles from the steep surfaces. With almost every step we get a new view,—more depth, more valley, more wall, more towering rock. The small cleared spaces in the valley are vivid light green; they seem sunken like emerald-paved wells among the masses of dark firs and pines, whose tops he solid and black below us. The opposite wall of the valley looks steeper than the wall we are descending. It seems within stone’s throw, or as if we might call across; it is less than a half-mile distant. Its top seems far higher than the point from which we set out; for it lies in full sunshine, and we are in shadow. One waterfall after 102 another comes into view, streaming over its edge like smooth silver bands. The guide calls out their names: “Inspiration Fall,” “Bridal Veil Fall.” The words seem singularly meaningless, face to face with the falls. How do men dare to name things so confidently? The luggage mule, who is ahead, keeps clambering out of the path, in search of something to eat. We come upon him sometimes apparently standing bolt upright on his hind-legs, he is feeding on so sharp a We all halt, while the guide spurs his horse up the rocks and drives the mule down again. We are almost grateful that the mule makes us laugh, for Ah-wah-ne overawes us. It takes an hour to reach the bottom of the wall. As we near it, the opposite wall appears to lift and grow and stretch, till the sky seems pushed higher. Our trail lies along the bank of the river, on sandy stretches of low meadow, shaded by oaks and willows and bordered by alders. Occasionally we come to fields of bowlders and stones, which have broken and rolled down from the walls above; then we pass through green bits of grass-grown land, threaded by little streams, which we ford; then we ride through great groves of pines and firs, two and three hundred feet high. These feel dark and damp, though the ground is sandy, for it is long past sunset here; but the gray spires and domes and pinnacles of the eastern wall of the valley are still bright in sunlight. The luggage mule trots off and disappears. After vain efforts to combine the two duties of looking after him and looking after us, Sol White finally gallops away, exclaiming:—
“That pesky mule’ll swim the river with your baggage, an’ not be heard of for days, if I don’t keep close up to him. You can’t miss your way. There ain’t but this one trail up the valley, an’ its only five miles to Hutchings’s.”
What miles they were. Mile by mile the grand rocks, whose shapes and names we already knew, rose up on either hand: The Cathedral Rocks, The Spires, El Capitan, The Three Brothers, The Sentinel. Already 103 the twilight wrapped the western wall. The front of El Capitan looked black; but its upper edge was lined with light, as sometimes a dark cloud will be when the sun is shining behind. The eastern wall was carved and wrought into gigantic forms, which in the lessening light grew more and more fantastic and weird every moment. Bars and beams of sunlight fell, quivered, and vanished on summit after summit, as we passed. At last we heard the sound of waters ahead to the left. Soon we saw the white line, indistinct, waving, ghostly, coming down apparently from the clouds, for it was too dark to see distinctly the lip of a fall two thousand and seven hundred feet up in the air. This was the great Yosemite Fall. Its sound is unlike that of any other fall I have seen. It is not so loud as one would expect, and it is not continuous or even in tone. Listening to it intently, one hears strange rhythmic emphases of undertone on a much lower key. They are grand. They are like the notes of a gigantic violoncello,—booming, surging, filling full and rounding out the harmony of supernatural music. Sometimes they have an impatient and crashing twist, as if the bow escaped the player’s hand; sometimes, for an hour, they are regular and alike, as the beats of a metronome. Men have said that these sounds are made by rocks thundering down under the water. They may be. I would rather not know.
For the last mile before reaching Hutchings’s Hotel, the trail is little more than a sandy path, winding in and among huge granite bowlders, under and around oak and pine trees, and over and through little runs and pools, when the Merced River is high. It ends abruptly, in a rough and dusty place, partly cleared of bowlders, partly cleared of trees. Here are four buildings, which stand apparently where they happened to, between the rocks and trees. Three of these make up Hutchings’s Hotel. Two of them are cottages, used only for lodgings. One of these is called “The Cottage by the River,” and stands closer than is safe to the banks of the 104 Merced; the other is called “The Cottage in the Rocks,” and seems half barricaded by granite bowlders. “Oh, Mr. Hutchings!” we exclaimed. “Put us in the ‘Cottage by the River.’ We cannot be happy anywhere else.”
There are no such rooms in Ah-wah-ne as the rooms on the river-side of this little house. This is the back side; and those who wish to see the coming and going of people, the setting-off of saddle-trains, the driving up and down of the laundry wagon, would better take rooms on the front. But he who would like to open his eyes every morning on the full shining of the great Yosemite Fall; to lie in bed, and from his very pillow watch it sway to right and left under moonlight beams, which seem like wands arresting or hastening the motion; to look down into the amber and green Merced, which caresses his very door-sill; to listen at all hours to the grand violoncello tones of the mysterious waters,—let him ask, as we did, for back bedrooms in the Cottage by the River.
But if he is disconcerted by the fact that his bedroom floor is of rough pine boards, and his bedroom walls of thin laths, covered with unbleached cotton; that he has neither chair, nor table, nor pitcher; that his washbowl is a shallow tin pan, and that all the water he wants he must dip in a tin pint from a barrel out in the hall; that his bed is a sack stuffed with ferns, his one window has no curtain and his door no key,—let him leave Ah-wah-ne the next day.
Not that there are not tables and chairs and washbowls and pitchers and keys in Hutchings’s Hotel; and not that you cannot, by a judicious system of “jumping” and coaxing and feeing, very soon collect these useful articles, and lock them up in your room, and live decently and with sufficient comfort for weeks in the muslin-walled bedroom; but the soul which in its first hours in Ah-wah-ne can be hindered or interrupted by sense of lack or loss on account of its body’s being poorly lodged will never thrive in Ah-wah-ne air. It has come to the wrong place of all places in the world, and the sooner it takes itself and body away the better for it and for Ah-wah-ne.
They do not dawn like days elsewhere. How should they, seeing that the sun has been long up before he looks over into Ah-wah-ne? They burst, they flash, they begin like a trumpet peal. One moment it is morning twilight. The swaying torrent of the Great Fall looks dim at the edges, and the pines and firs, high in the air by its side, look black. The next moment it is broad day. The Fall shines like molten silver under the streaming sunlight, and the firs and pines are changed in a twinkling from black to green. This miracle of dayspring was the first sight I saw in Ah-wah-ne. I was but half awake. From my pillow I looked out on the upper half of the Great Fall. An oval of gray sky; white foam pouring from it, and falling into a bed of black fir-tops; waving branches of near trees just beyond my window,—these were all I saw. Boom! boom! boom! sounded the mysterious violoncello accompaniment, measuring and making rhythmical the roar of the Fall. Suddenly, as suddenly as a light-house flashes its first beam seaward, came a great blaze of yellow light from the east, making the water dazzling bright, and throwing out into relief every green spire fir or pine on the precipice. With the sudden flood of light seemed to come a sudden flood of louder sound. I sprang to the window in wonder, which was not without a vague terror; but in that very second the transformation was past, the quiet look of full day had settled on all things. Almost I doubted the vision I had seen. It was simply broad daylight; that was all. The air was full of fleecy-winged seeds from Balm of 106 Gilead trees. They went slowly, sinking and rising, but steadily to the north, like a snowy flock following an invisible shepherd. As they passed, they seemed to spin fine silken lines athwart the Fall; and they came so fast and thick they hindered my seeing. There was a strange sweetness of peace and promise in their presence. The Great Fall so loud, so vast: they so small, so still. Three thousand feet from my window-sill up to the top of the wall over which the torrent of waters fell; within my hand’s reach, the current, silent, irresistible, unmeasured, on which centuries of forest were gliding into place.
This was the first beginning of my first day in Ah-wah-ne. Two hours later was the second beginning of the same day. It is odd how much bustle there can be in Ah-wah-ne. Sit on the hotelward piazza of Hutchings’s River Cottage from seven till nine, and no moment goes by empty. The little clearing is dusty; the sun beats down; people crossing from house to house, zigzag, to get into shade of the oaks or into dust an inch or so less deep. On every piazza sit groups ready to set out on excursions, and waiting for their guides to bring up the horses and mules. Under the trees, beyond the hotel, is a long line of the unfortunate beasts, saddled hap-hazard and tied to the fence, waiting the evil that may betide them. They have been saddled since four or five o’clock; perhaps they will stand there till three. Now and then a man comes riding over the bridge, driving in a few more, which he has just caught. Poor things! They miscalculated distances, and did not run away quite far enough in the night. Sometimes a wiry, weather-beaten old guide dashes round and round the clearing (I think I will call it plaza, since I do not know what name the Ah-wah-ne-chee had for little clearings)—dashes round the plaza, trying to break in a vicious mule or mustang. Sometimes the mustang gets the better; sometimes the guide. Then comes the laundry wagon, tilting up and down on its two big wheels, stopping at everybody’s door for 107 clothes for the laundry. It is painted bright blue, and, being the only thing seen going about on wheels in Ah-wah-ne, looks marvellously queer.
Then comes along an Indian woman, with a pappoose on her back. Half naked, dirty beyond words, her stiff, vicious-looking hair falling around her forehead like fringed eaves, her soulless eyes darting quick glances to right and left, in search of a possible charity, she strides through the plaza, and disappears among the thickets and bowlders. She belongs to a colony which has camped half a mile below. They will dance a hideous dance for a few pennies. They are descendants of Tenaya, no doubt; but Tenaya would scorn them to-day.
Next comes a party of riders from one of the hotels below. They all sit straight, and try to prick their horses into a quicker gait, as they pass Hutchings’s piazzas. Some of the women are dressed in bloomers, and ride astride. One can hardly believe one’s eyes looking at them. They who have had strength of mind and body to persevere in learning to ride in this way say it is far easier and safer. But it would still remain a question whether there are not evils more to be disliked than fatigue and tumbling from one’s horse? We wonder vaguely where these riders can be going. The high granite walls appear to shut in upon all sides. There seems no way for any thing but water to get in, and no way for anything at all to get out. One forgets the trail by which he himself came down, and listens doubtingly to the mention of others leading up on other places in the wall. Once in, once down in this magic abyss, which men have chosen to call a valley, all the rest of the world seems incredible, unreal, and unattainable. But the riders ride on, and are soon out of sight among the oaks and willows which shade the meadow beyond the hotel. They are going to Lake Ah-wi-yah, known now, thanks to some American importer of looking-glasses, as Mirror Lake. If they reach the lake early enough, they will see a water surface, two acres in extent, 108 so smooth, so clear that the whole of the South Dome will be reflected in it. Across the lake, even to the roots of the sedges and white violets, reaches the pale picture of the majestic granite mountain, over four thousand feet high. The Ah-wah-ne-chee lived chiefly on acorns and wore wild beasts’ skins; but there were poets among them who named this benignant gray stone mountain, for ever gazing calmly into the lake, “Tis-sa-ack,” “Goddess of the Valley.”
As this party disappears on the left, another winds slowly off on the right,—people going away from Ah-wah-ne. Every morning these are to be seen, and “Saddle-train for Gentry’s will start at half-past six” is posted on the hotel walls. But the train rarely leaves at half-past six. There are obstacles in the way. As I have before said, there are the horses to be caught. But this is not the greatest obstacle. There is breakfast to be eaten (I was on the point of saying “caught”). Mealtime at Hutchings’s is a species of secular passover: breakfast is a freebooting foray, lunch a quieter foraging excursion, dinner a picnic. As soon as one learns the order or disorder of the thing, one can get on; but it is droll to watch the newly arrived or the obstinately fastidious traveller, sitting in blank astonishment at the absence of most which he expects to find in a dining-room. Mr. Hutchings is an enthusiast, a dreamer, a visionary. He loved Ah-wah-ne well enough years ago to make his home in its uninhabited solitude, and find in its grand silences all the companionship he needed. He loves it well enough to-day to feel all the instinct of loving hospitality in his welcome to every traveller who has journeyed to find it by reason of the fame of its beauty. All this is plainly to be seen in his mobile, artistic face, and in the affectionate ring of every word that he speaks of the Valley.
But landlords are not made of such stuff as this. Artistic sensibility and enthusiasm do not help a man to order dinner. Mr. Hutchings has been for some time seeking a business partner, to relieve him of the practical 109 cares of the hotel. When he finds the right person for this position, and is thus left at leisure himself to be the host of Ah-wah-ne, and not of a house, Ah-wah-ne will gain a most eloquent interpreter and travellers thither will fare better.
When the morning saddle-train is fairly off and the last excursion party has ridden away a lull settles down on the little plaza. A few horses are still left standing at the tethering-posts. They are the lamest and laziest and feeblest,—the refuse ones, that no guide takes unless he must. Poor things, their heads sink lower and lower, their tails shrink, and their legs shorten, the longer they stand. They do not move a muscle for hours, except to shift the burden of their lifeless weight slowly from one leg to another.
In this after-breakfast lull of our first Ah-wah-ne day we met John Murphy, guide. We had set our affections upon the ruddy face of Sol White, who had brought us into the Valley, and we had tried hard to press him into our service for the whole of our stay. But Mr. Hutchings was inexorable. Sol White could not be spared from the saddle-train.
“Then, Mr. White,” said we, confidentially, “tell us who of all the guides you think we should like best.”
“I reckon you’d like John Murphy. He’s settled consid’able; but there ain’t no better guide in the Valley. He knows every inch on’t. I reckon he’s just the sort o’ man you folks ’d take to.”
When John Murphy walked slowly toward us, as we sat on the piazza, I understood what the word “settled” had meant. Upon every inch of the tall, almost gaunt, frame was set the indefinable stamp of years of frontier life. No firmness was lost from the fibre, no elasticity from the action; but the firmness and the elasticity were as unlike those of a young man as the young man’s would be unlike the boy’s. To Sol White, no doubt, Murphy seemed old. As he came nearer, I saw that he was the very man whose face had so strongly impressed me at Gentry’s, the day before, when, on overhearing 110 my proposition to have the horses fed, he had muttered: “’Tain’t no kindness to ’em. The sooner they die the better.” It was an uncommon face; it was at once hard and tender, sad and droll, shrewd and simple. The eyes looked strangely younger than the weather-beaten cheeks and lined temples, and the voice was low and deep-toned.
“I did calkalate to give up guidin’,” said Murphy. “I wa’n’t goin’ out again with anybody.”
“Why so?” said we.
“Because I can’t have anythin’ ’s I think it ought to be. I won’t put folks on some o’ these horses. An’ I can’t stand it to be goin’ about with folks an’ see ’m so dissatisfied all the time, an’ blamin’ me, too, for what ain’t no fault o’ mine.”
“But, Mr. Murphy,” we pleaded, “we will not be dissatisfied with any thing; and, if we are, we won’t blame you. Do be our guide. We shall stay a week, and we want you to be with us every day.”
“Well, I did tell Mr. Hutchings I was done guidin’. But I’ll stick to you ’s long ’s you stay. But it’s the last guidin’ I shall do till things is fixed very different. You’ll be the last, sure.”
So John Murphy became our guide. How well we learned to know the pathetic, twinkling face before we parted from it. How familiar to our eyes became the queer brown-gingham Garibaldi, a little too short, which seemed in Murphy’s esteem to be suited to all weathers.
After dinner we set out for the Pohono Fall. Not even the frequent hearing from the lips of companions of its other name—“The Bridal Veil”—could banish from my thoughts the sweet vowel cadences by which the Ah-wah-ne-chee had called it. Pohono was an evil spirit. His breath was a fatal wind, sweeping over this precipice and swaying the Fall. The Ah-wah-ne-chee hurried past it in fear, and would never sleep within sound of its waters. They believed, also, that the voices of its drowned victims were continually to be heard calling, through the roar and the foam: “Shun Pohono!”111
Perhaps Pohono had cast an evil eye upon me this day, not knowing how reverently I was drawing near. Surely, nobody in the party had fuller faith in the legend of his wickedness and his power. But I was not permitted to reach his shrine that afternoon. Why I did not keep on is a secret between the mule, John Murphy, and me. I will not tell it. When at last I said: “Mr. Murphy, I must get off this minute. I will wait here by the road till you come back,” he replied seriously: “Well, I didn’t much think you could.” But his face expressed the regret which his reticence did not utter. And, as he tied that mule to a low branch of a live oak, I heard some kicks on ribs and an unflattering epithet.
“Won’t ye be skeared?” said Murphy, as he remounted his horse. “Ye hain’t no occasion to be; but I dunno but ye’ll be lonesome.”
Lonesome! They were almost my best hours in Ah-wah-ne. As the last voice and hoof-fall died away in the distance, and the little cloud of dust settled slowly down on the brakes, an indescribable delight took possession of me. The silence seemed more than silence; it seemed to quiver without sound, just as the warm air shimmered without stir along all the outlines of the rocky walls. On my left hand rose the granite watch-tower Loya (Sentinel Rock), on my right the colossal buttress Tutocanula (El Capitan). The Cathedral, the Spires, the Three Brothers, all were in full sight. Wherever I stood, the mountain walls seemed to shut close around me in a circle. I said to myself, again and again: “Only between three and four thousand feet high.” But the figures had lost their meaning. All sense of estimated distance was swallowed up, obliterated by the feeling of what seemed to be immeasurable height. It is said by some that the eye does not recognize differences of magnitude beyond a certain limit; that, for instance, a fall three thousand feet high does not look much higher than one fifteen hundred feet. This seems a safe proposition. Who can either prove or disprove it? But it would be hard to make one looking 112 up to the dim upper edge of the wall of Ah-wah-ne believe that the grandeur does not gain, infinitely gain, by each height to which it mounts.
The road was sandy, and ran through forests of oaks and pines, which stretched to the base of the Valley walls on either hand. The ground was covered in some places with a dense growth of brakes; then came bare and sandy stretches, strewn with drift-wood by the spring freshets of the Merced, which was close at hand on the right. I walked down to its very edge, and tried to look up from thence to the top of El Capitan, which rose abruptly from the further bank. To do this, it is necessary to throw the head back, almost as if to look at a ceiling, so vertical is that grand wall. Its surface was of a sharp, dark gray, with black and white markings, so curiously blended they looked almost like giant hieroglyphs. In an earlier and stronger light afterward I saw El Capitan, of a pale pearl gray, hardly darker than the soft ashes of a wood-fire, and the hieroglyphs all melted away into indistinct tintings of brown and yellowish white.
Presently I heard axe-strokes in the distance,—two axes alternating with each other in rhythmic precision. After a time I walked toward them. Suddenly they stopped, and in that instant began a loud crash, which seemed to come rapidly nearer and nearer me. I could see nothing, but I involuntarily stepped back. The noise came nearer, but grew fainter. Then came the heavy thud on the ground; the tree had fallen. I could just distinguish the quivering top of it between the trees, a little way off. The crashing noise, which had seemed to journey toward me so inexplicably, was the noise of the breaking branches of other trees, past which it fell. I went close to it. Two woodsmen were sitting on the ground by it, and looked up in undisguised astonishment at the sight of me. The tree still trembled and vibrated along its whole length. Drops of water, like tears, were trickling out fast from its under side,—water which had been stored away for the summer in the 113 cistern fissures of its rough bark. It was a pine, and nearly two hundred feet high; the circling rings which had kept record of its birthdays showed clear on the yellow disk, as on a dial-plate.
“How old was it?” said I. The men bent over and counted in silence.
“Well nigh on to four hundred years it must hev ben,” said they.
“And how long have you been cutting it down?”
A quick gleam passed over their faces. They had caught my feeling before I had put it in words.
“Well, about two hours, or mebbe three,” replied one of them, glancing up at the sun.
“Only think of that!” I said. “Four hundred years growing, and cut down in three hours.”
“I vow, I never thought o’ that before, Jim. Did you?” said the youngest of the two.
“No, dunno’s I did,” replied Jim, hacking meditatively at the stump and looking down.
It was near sunset when the party came back from Pohono’s Fall. I had spent the last hour sitting on an old oak log, in front of the majestic stone face of “Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah.” Three thousand feet up in the air, cut on an inaccessible peak, serene, sad, majestic, there it lives. It does not vanish on a slight change of position by the observer, as do other stone faces, sculptured by Nature’s hand on mountain-walls. It seems to turn and gaze after you, whether you go up or down the Valley. It is watchful. It is the face of the first chieftain who ruled the Children of the Sun who lived in Ah-wah-ne. He loved Tis-sa-ack, the goddess, whose face, as I have said, is reflected each morning in Lake Ah-wi-yah. When she flew away, the down from her wings floated over the lake, and, sinking to the ground, sprang up in white violets, which blossom to this day on the shores of Ah-wi-yah. Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah left his kingdom and roved the earth in pursuit of his love. But, that his people might not forget him, he carved his face on this rock.114
“Oh! has not the time seemed long to you?” exclaimed everybody, in sympathizing tones, as the party rode up. Murphy looked observantly into my face, a twinkle came into his eye, and, as he mounted me once more on that mule, he said, in a low tone:
“I reckon ye like bein’ alone; don’t yer?”
“Yes, Mr. Murphy,” said I. “As well as if I were a woman of the Ah-wah-ne-chee.”
“I won’t put folks on some o’ these horses.”
[I expected “hosses”, didn’t you?]
[Color me puzzled. The Garibaldi—whether you call it a shirt, a blouse or a jacket—was (a) primarily a women’s fashion and (b) almost by definition red. If made of brown gingham and worn by a man, that would be . . . a shirt.]
Pohono was an evil spirit.
[As with other place-name etymologies in this section, Hutchings may well have made this up.]
In the language of the Ah-wah-ne-chee, who always spoke truth, “Pi-wy-ack” means “white water” or “shower of shining crystals,” and “Yo-wi-he” means “the twisting” or “the meandering.” These were the names of the two great falls by which the Merced (River of Mercy) leaps into Ah-wah-ne. Then came the white men, liars; they called the upper fall “Nevada,” and the lower one “Vernal;” and the lies prevailed; being, as lies are apt to be, easier said than the truth.
Ah-wah-ne guides tell you that you can see both these falls in one day, leaving Hutchings’s early in the morning and returning late in the afternoon. This is true, if the verb to see means simply to look at. John Murphy defined it better:
“Now, I’ll tell you the way to see them two falls,” he said. “You jest make your calkerlations to stay over night to Snow’s an’ you’ll re’ly see ’em. There don’t nobody see a thing that jest rides up to it, an’ turns round an’ rides away. It’s jest the greatest place for moonlight, up on that Nevada Fall, you ever see.”
Sol White was right. John Murphy was “jest the sort o’ person” we “folks would take to.” How much of Ah-wah-ne we should have lost or have but half known except for him!
So we set out for Pi-wy-ack in the early afternoon. We too rode through the mysterious opening in the line of tethering posts, where we had watched party after party disappear, just beyond the hotel. Right into an oak and willow wood, right into a swamp, right into an overflow of the Merced River itself rode Murphy. His 116 white horse was up to the saddle-girths in water. It plunged and seemed to stumble. Murphy glanced quietly over his shoulder at us.
“Keep right behind me, and there’s no danger. Don’t bear to the left. It’s ten foot deep just off there.”
It was good generalship to make us concentrate our attention on the one point of keeping close in his steps. No doubt we could have ridden as safely a little to the left; but we should have been twice as frightened at the place we were in if we had not been occupied in trying to avoid a worse one. It was an ugly slough,—water ten feet deep on the left; the current running quite fast; the horses stumbling over the hidden rocks; and close on the right a confusion of high rocks, up which no horse could possibly clamber. But it only lasted a minute or two, and nobody fell in; and then we came out at once on the meadows. Ah! the beauty of the eastern meadow land of Ah-wah-ne, shaded by oaks and pines, and spruces and maples, in groves, without underbrush; threaded by little streams, which zigzag capriciously among thickets of alders and white azalea; and between, white shining bars and stretches of sand, like miniature . They lose themselves in each other or in the Merced; or stop of a sudden, as if changing their mind. You leap them, you ford them, you indulge your horse in sipping them, one after another, just for the pleasure of it. They seem almost a relief sometimes from the grandeur of the lofty walls on every side. So, also, do the flowers, with which great spaces here and there are bright,—red lilies and yellow, deep blue larkspur, rose-colored everlasting, columbine, wild roses, and yellow honeysuckles, besides many others which do not grow out of Ah-wah-ne. After looking up at the terrible To-coy-ae and Tis-sa-ack, bald granite domes four and five thousand feet high, after following the line of overlapping arches and columns and peaks of stone; high up in the air on either hand as far as you can see, seeming to tower and grow, and threaten to 117 topple under your very gaze,—there is a sense of protection in the neighborhood of an azalea, a new comradeship with a daisy. They have summered and wintered in Ah-wah-ne, and are not afraid.
Two miles of this meadow, and then the Valley ends, or, rather, branches into three, so narrow that they are called canyons. As we came near this point, the great walls seemed to have wheeled and opened. All the familiar summits looked new and strange, and new summits, almost grander, came into view. Our path lay up the canyon down which the Merced comes. The noise of its coming soon grew loud. The path winds close along its edge. Out of Ah-wah-ne, we should not call it a path. Steep, narrow, full of bowlders, between which your horse turns and twists at such sharp angles you sway to right and left dizzily, under low-hanging boughs, between bushes which catch you on either side, up and up and up it leads; and the Merced on the left leaps and foams and roars, louder and louder, mile by mile. Now we caught glimpses of its white foam between the dark pines; then it would plunge into still darker depths, and be out of sight for a time. As we came out upon open points here and there, and looked back, we could see no valley behind, no valley anywhere, only peaks and chasms and walls. Except for the green tops of the trees, struggling up among them or clinging to their sides, the sight would have been desolate. Yet it was among those peaks and chasms that we had seen the azaleas. Up from those abysses we had climbed, and still were to climb; for we seemed hardly midway. Far up on the right, so far up that the pine-trees looked like bushes on an almost vertical wall, Murphy pointed out to us a dark line. That, he said, was our path.
“But we shall have to wait at Lady Franklin’s Rock,” he said, “until the party that went up this morning gets down. There ain’t no passing on that trail when I’m guidin’,—at least, not if I can help it.”
Just as he said this, we turned a corner, and came suddenly in sight of Pi-wy-ack. The Ah-wah-ne-chee 118 spoke well. Three hundred and fifty feet of “white water,” “shining crystals,” there it was, with solid walls of glittering fir and pine on either hand. Lady Franklin—bless her loyal woman’s heart—was carried in a litter up to this point, and rested on the broad flat rock which bears her name.
But Pi-wy-ack could not have been so beautiful when she saw it as on this day; for now the water was so high that the rock was wet, and the thick moss with which it is covered glistened as with dew. As we sat waiting, we heard the crackling of branches, and presently there came toward us four figures, bending low, running, parting the wet bushes above their heads, leaping from stone to stone. They were black and shiny. They looked like some novel specimen of upright seal or walrus; but they were men and women. They had come down under the spray of Pi-wy-ack. As they threw off the India-rubber wraps, and, sputtering and splashing, stamped on the ground, water dripped from them. But their eyes flashed with delight. They seemed almost to have brought the rainbows from the Fall along with them. The rest of their party, feebler or more timorous, were coming on horseback by the trail; it was for them we were to wait. It seemed long, for we were impatient, the passion for climbing deepens so fast and the lure of a mountain summit ahead is so magnetic. As soon as they came, we pushed breathlessly on, turning around a sharp corner of the rock-wall, and losing sight of Pi-wy-ack at once. Now the real climbing began. We smiled to think we had called it steep, lower down in the canyon. The trail zigzagged up precipice after precipice; it bent at as sharp angles as a ship’s course, tacking in a gale. At each corner the horses stopped to breathe; and, if we had the nerve to look off and over, we looked down on the tops of the heads of the riders coming close behind us, on the very next bend below. They seemed winding in a stately dance. Further down one could hardly bear to look. The chasms into which we had looked before seemed 119 to be merged in one gigantic abyss, the bottom of which was made of sharp mountain peaks and granite needles and ridges. We welcomed every shade of tree or shelter of rock which seemed to stand between us and the edge of this fathomless space; and yet the sense of grandeur was so great that it left little room for terror. We were drawing near to peaks higher than those we had left behind. Hundreds or, for aught we could feel, thousands of feet below us thundered the river. On the further side of it rose up Mah-tah, a perpendicular rock-mountain, two thousand feet above the top of the fall we were climbing to reach. What patriot first called this peak “Cap of Liberty” considerate history forgets.
As we approached the head of the canyon, we came out on fields of piled bowlders and low bushes. The trail was now literally a trail,—nothing but great, dusty hoof-tracks between these bowlders; and, as there rarely seemed any especial reason for following them, each horse picked his way much as he liked. To this I owe it that my first view of the Yo-wi-he Fall was so sudden that the whiteness of it blinded me for a second, as lightning does. For some minutes I had been absorbed in an ignoble contest with my horse. I had not observed that the roar of the Fall sounded louder. I looked up unexpectant, and the avalanche of dazzling foam flashed full before me. It is nearly twice as high as Pi-wy-ack and of much statelier movement. About midway—say three hundred feet from the top—the water falls against a projecting ledge. This twists and turns and throws out the upper half of the Fall in narrow, waving separate lengths, which look like myriads of gigantic Roman candles, made of snow-flakes, as they fall, fall, fall, perpetually, in front of the main body of water, that continues still unbroken, though it spreads suddenly out into a silvery sheet one hundred and thirty feet wide, and has a distinct swaying motion, as of a supple grace, which yielded way a little for courtesy, and not of need. Again we said of the Ah-wah-ne-chee: “How well they told the truth!” It had not seemed beforehand 120 as if “Yo-wi-he,” “The Meandering,” could be a good name for a grand waterfall. As near the base of the Fall as the Fall will let it stand—in fact, so near that in some winds half the piazza is drenched with spray—stands Mr. Snow’s little inn, “La Casa Nevada.”
How we thanked Murphy for having brought us to sleep there.
“And now about the moon, Mr. Murphy. When will it be up?”
Murphy looked confused.
“Well, ye see I hain’t been keepin’ much run on her lately, an’ the fact is, I’d forgot, when I spoke to you about seein’ the Falls, how late she is. There won’t be no moonlight here to-night till nigh one o’clock.”
“Never mind. We’ll sleep till one, and then get up and see the moonlight.”
Nobody can be sure, after a half-day’s horseback riding in Ah-wah-ne, of waking up at the hour they resolve upon. It was long after one o’clock that night when three shapeless figures, rolled up in Mrs. Snow’s bed-blankets and comforters, went stumbling about in that trackless waste of bowlders, looking for the moon. The ground was black, the bowlders were black, the bushes were black. Blacker still loomed up the pine and fir-forests on either hand; and, above them, actually glistening like walls of black crystal, towered the granite peaks. The moon had shone her little hour in the canyon and gone on. A faint light in the dark sky to the south, outlining more distinctly the jagged summits and serrated forest tops, told that she was still shining the other side. The Fall showed ghastly whitish gray; the rapids all the way down from the base of the Fall to the bridge gleamed, but did not look white; the stars shone piercingly; and the silence was terrible, in spite of the roar of the water. We felt our way about; we lost the path again and again, and hardly dared to move, for fear of falling headlong down some precipice. The air was sharply cold, but the bed-blankets and comforters were very inconvenient. At last somebody said to 121 somebody: “Don’t you think we are fools?” And then we groped our way back to bed.
The next morning we climbed to the top of the Fall. Since the Fall is only seven hundred feet high, why it need be a four hours’ climb up and down one side of it is not evident. But the path is steep,—partly through woods of fir, cedar, and maple; partly over sandy and rocky cliffs, where the trail is close to the edge and is full of sharp-cornered bits of granite, broken so fine it looks like gray loaf-sugar and is uncommonly hard to the feet. All the way up are wonderful glimpses of the Fall. Seen from the side, the long, slender shafts of foam look more like snowy Roman candles than ever. And, as you can often look between them and the main sheet of the Fall, it is easy to fancy them thrown off by invisible pyrotechnists (aquatechnists?) under the rocks. The swaying of the great avalanche to the right is also more clearly seen; and the stream on the left, which from below had looked merely like a stray thread of the Fall, proves to be almost another river, itself leaping and falling in cascades of such beauty one might well have climbed up for their sake alone. As we sank down breathless on the rocks at the top of the Fall, Murphy said:—
“Now you must keep on and take a look into the Little Yosemite Valley. It is only a few steps.”
There was, then, a miniature Ah-wah-ne. We wondered and pressed on. The “few steps” were half or three-quarters of a mile along the river’s sandy and rocky bank, through live oak and bushes and over mats of tiny low flowers, growing as thickly as our moss pinks. They were purple and blue and yellow and white, and I never saw one of them anywhere else,—not even anywhere else in Ah-wah-ne. They were almost too tiny to pick. They shrivelled and became nothing in one’s fingers, and they seemed to have little root, coming off the dry rock surface at a touch; but they made solid masses of color under our feet.
Little Ah-wah-ne is like Ah-wah-ne the greater,—a 122 brilliant emerald meadow, with the Merced running through it, shut in on the east and the west by buttressed and pinnacled walls, from two to three thousand feet high, and belted here and there by dark fir forests. It also has its stately pleasure domes, and streams run fast and free down its sides. It is two thousand feet higher than Ah-wah-ne, and will be as well known and loved some day.
From the top of the square granite rock off which the Merced leaps in the Pi-wy-ack Fall runs a narrow staircaseway down to the bottom of the canyon. It is a staircase, and not a ladder; for the steps are not rounds, and there is a railing to cling to. But it feels like a ladder, and most persons can get down easier by going backward. You land at the mouth of a shallow cave, whose whole roof is fringed with the dainty maiden’s-hair fern. There is only a narrow rocky rim between you and the mad river, which is foaming down the canyon. On each side the stone walls rise almost vertically and are thickly wooded with firs and cedars. There you are, you and the river, together at the bottom of this crevice. It is easy to see what would become of you if the river were suddenly to crowd a little. Every pine, every cedar, every moss is glistening. The bowlders are black, they are so wet. You can look only a little way down the canyon, for the spray rises in clouds, which lap and roll and spread like steam. Going a few steps into it, and looking back to the Fall, you see that just at the upper edge it is emerald green, for a hand’s-breadth, perhaps,—no more; then it breaks all at once, in an instant, into millions of distinct drops, sparkling, whirling, round as dew-drops, falling in perpetual shower. Ah! the Ah-wah-ne-chee. And ah! the miracle of water at its freest. Why should some water be stately and some be frolicful? Yo-wi-he leaps from as sharp an edge as Pi-wy-ack; but Yo-wi-he is full of majestic dignity, and Pi-wy-ack is radiant with fun.
Perhaps Pi-wy-ack gets clearer sight of its own rainbows. 123 No need here to travel for the magic rainbow end, where the money lies. It follows you, it trips you up, it tangles itself around your feet. As I first walked back toward the Fall, after going as far out in the spray as I dared, I accidentally slipped on a rolling stone. I looked down quickly, to find a firmer footing; and I looked down upon a broad band of the most brilliant rainbow. I exclaimed at the sight; but, as I exclaimed, the rainbow slipped to the left, then as I advanced it slowly retreated, as if luring me to the Fall. Suddenly as it came it vanished, on the surface of a wet bowlder. A step or two back into the spray, and it danced under my feet; a step or two forward, and it was gone.
“These ain’t any thing,” said Murphy. “The place where you get the rainbows is down there,” pointing into what looked like the mouth of a steaming cauldron, some rods down the canyon.
Through this we must go if we walked down to Lady Franklin’s Rock. Remembering the choked breath and dripping hair of the people we had seen the day before, we hesitated; but, remembering also the joy which flashed in their eyes, we longed.
“It’s pretty bad now,” said Murphy, reflectively. “Dunno’s I’ve ever taken anybody through when the river was higher. But you’re pretty sure-footed. I guess you’d git along well enough. An’ ye won’t never be sorry ye did it. I can tell ye that.”
Never, indeed! Only sorry that I cannot remember it more vividly. Leaping from stone to stone, poising on slippery logs under water, clinging to Murphy’s hand as to a life-preserver, blinded, choked, stifled, drenched, down into that canyon, through that steaming spray, we went. It was impossible to keep one’s eyes open wide for more than half a second at a time. The spray drove and pelted, making great gusts of wind by its own weight as it fell. It seemed to whirl round and round, and wrap us, as if trying to draw us down into the black depths. It was desperately uncomfortable, and dangerous, no doubt. But what of that? We were taken into 124 the heart of a carnival of light. Rainbows rioted everywhere, and we were crowding and jostling through as we could. The air was full of them, the ground danced with them, they climbed and chased and tumbled mockingly over our heads and shoulders, and across our faces. I nearly lost my footing, laughing at one, made chiefly of blue and purple, which flitted across Murphy’s left eyebrow. They wheeled and broke into bits and flew; they swung and revolved and twined. When I looked at them in the air, I could think of nothing but a gigantic loom, on which threads of rainbow were being shuttled and woven with magic swiftness. When I looked down into the confusion of dark bowlders and pools under our feet, I could think of nothing but gigantic mill-hoppers spinning round, and grinding up purple and blue and yellow and green and red. I held out my hand and caught the threads in the loom,—stopped them, turned them, snapped them. I leaned down and dipped into the purple and blue and yellow and green and red, and lifted them in the hollow of my palm. I do not think anybody could have come nearer to the secrets of rainbows if he had sat in the sky and watched the first one made.
There was nobody waiting at the Rock to laugh at us as we also came, running, bending over, parting the wet bushes over our heads, panting, stamping, dripping, and looking like upright seals or walruses.
“Oh, Mr. Murphy, how thankful we are to you for making us come down that way!” we exclaimed.
“I told ye ye wouldn’t never be sorry if ye did,” replied Murphy, shaking out the wet India-rubber coats and rolling them up in a bundle, which looked more like a seal than we had.
The east meadow land of Ah-wah-ne looked lovelier than ever as we rode slowly back through it at sunset. Long shadows linked tree to tree in the groves; the little brooks reflected bits of crimson cloud and yellow sky; the azalea blossoms seemed to expand, like white wings, in the dimmer light; and the primroses were all shut.125
Just before we reached Hutchings’s we passed a tent, where an adventurous party of pleasure-seekers were camping out. A small boy, with his head and the greater part of his face tied up in a blue veil, was piling brush on a large bonfire, close to the door of the tent.
“To keep off the black flies?” called I, as I rode by.
“Yes, and skeeters, too,” said he, lifting up roguish eyes, reddened by the smoke.
“Oh, dear!” said I, “do you like camping out?”
“Yes, indeed,” shouted he. “It’s splendid. We killed six rattlesnakes yesterday!”
white shining bars and stretches of sand, like miniature beaches
text has beeches
[The author has been rattling off trees one after the other, but “beeches” doesn’t make sense.]
waking up at the hour they resolve upon
[In theory, alarm clocks have existed for centuries. In practice, portable alarm clocks—even nightstand-sized ones, let alone travel alarms—had to wait for a series of patents beginning in 1876.]
through live oak and manzanita bushes
text has manzinita
Standing one evening in the little clearing before Hutchings’s Hotel, and looking up three thousand feet in the air, to the upper edge of Ah-wah-ne’s southern wall, I saw a small point of bright light. It looked as a star might which had fallen and caught in a tree. While I was looking at it, Murphy passed by; and, in answer to my eager question what the light could be, he replied:—
“That’s folks camping out on Glacier Point. That’s where I’m going to take you to-morrow.”
“Take us there!” I exclaimed. I realized for the first time how I had been overawed by Ah-wah-ne. If Murphy had said to me that “folks were camping out” in the Little Dipper, which lay calm and bright and apparently little further off on the sky, I should have accepted the statement as readily. Murphy laughed.
“Why, ’tain’t much higher than ’twas where you came down from Gentry’s. I’m goin’ to take you more’n a thousand feet higher’n that, too. That ain’t three quarters o’ the way up to Sentinel Dome.”
The shining point held my eyes spell-bound. I watched it late into the evening. Once I thought I detected a slight flicker in it; but with that exception it looked no more like a watch-fire than did the other countless outpost watch-fires in the sky above it.
The Ah-wah-ne-chee had an odd name for this jutting point. They called it Er-na-ting Law-oo-too, or Bearskin. But there was evidently a man or woman among them who loved musical sounds, and rebelled against these uncouth words; for another name has come down 127 which is melody itself,—“Patillima.” Nobody knows what it means; but I think it means “Picture of the Emerald Meadow.” Does it not sound as if it might? It does when you are looking over its dizzy edge, down into the radiant Ah-wah-ne.
We set out at half-past six in the morning. One cannot grow used to the splendor of Ah-wah-ne morning; it is the dew and glitter and awaking of dawn, filled, flushed, and overflowed with the light and the warmth of noon. One fears, at first, that the noon will arrive arid, lifeless, and beggared. But the miracle is as long as the day. Until the sun drops out of sight the marvellous shining and balm and zest of the air last. We rode westward down the Valley. On our left hand rose the wall; daylight made it look only the more inaccessible. We rode on and on, past the lower hotels,—Black’s and Leydig’s.
“Oh! we would rather stay at the upper end of the Valley, even if Hutchings had nothing but acorns to eat!” we exclaimed, as we more and more lost sight of the Great Fall, and looked at the dreary sand-fields in which the other hotels stand.
“But how far behind we are leaving Glacier Point, Mr. Murphy!” said we. “It must be a mile back.”
“Yes,” said Murphy, his eyes twinkling. “The trail begins a mile ’n a half west. Ye hev’ to work round considerable on sech a wall ’s that to git up.”
At the entrance of the trail we found a small tollhouse, kept by a far-seeing Irishman, named Macaulay, who built the trail. It cost $3,000 and it took eleven months of steady, hard labor to build it, though it is only six or seven miles long. But it is a marvellous piece of work. It is broad, smooth, and well protected on the outer edge, in all dangerous places, by large rocks; so that, although it is far the steepest trail out of the Valley, zigzagging back and forth on a sheer granite wall, one rides up it with little alarm or giddiness, and with such a sense of gratitude to the builder that the dollar’s toll seems too small. Looking off on 128 the Valley side, however, requires nerve. You can see usually, one terrace below you,—the one from which you have just turned, at an acute angle, into the one on which you are. Sometimes you can just see round the last bend of the one next below, and see a horse’s head slowly climbing up. But this is the most. Below that, only tops of trees and empty space, out, out, down, down, to the very bottom of Ah-wah-ne. It is incredible while you see it. You seem to be ascending on a series of narrow shelves, swung like book-shelves, one above another, but from earth to sky. You gain a few feet at each turn; but you double and double the length of the face of the wall, more times than you can count, with each turn. The bottom of the valley looks further and further away, and yet the sky looks no nearer.
On this day a large party was coming up just below us. Looking down on the long line of horses, winding and turning at slow pace, one could think of nothing but a circus suddenly tilted up, and the manœuvres going on just the same on the wall.
In this party was one man never to be forgotten. He belonged to that class of healthy, irrepressible, loud-voiced travellers whom no grandeur can awe, no sentiment silence. Malicious fate had set him on a horse named January. January was lazy and slow of foot. Feeling along the path, echoing among the rocks, rising, sinking, doing every thing a voice can do, except die away, went the stentorian cry of that man:—
“Git up, Jenuerry! Git up, Jenuerry!”
At first we laughed at it. Then we looked grave. Then we set our teeth. Then we sinned with our tongues as we spoke one with another concerning that man. All the way from the bottom of the wall to the top he shouted, and gave no rest. The self-satisfied, jubilant hilarity of his tone was indescribably exasperating. Another sentence which we heard from his lips, however, had something so redeeming in it, that I treasured it. It was as we reached the summit of Glacier Point.129
“The most romantic mind can here find enough of the picturesque to satisfy its wildest desires.” So saying, he wheeled his horse and trotted off, the whole party following swiftly, saying to their guide: “Come on, Guide! We’ve gazed enough.” They had been on the Point perhaps five minutes.
“I do hate to see folks do that way,” muttered Murphy, looking contemptuously after them.
“Git up, Jenuerry!” “Git up, Jenuerry!” came faintly back from the depths of the wood, as the party plunged off to the left, on the trail to Clark’s.
Three weeks later, by one of those deliciously improbable coincidences which fate itself must chuckle over when it brings them about, it happened that we saw this irrepressible, loud-voiced traveller again.
It was at night, on the Central Pacific Railroad, between Lake Donner and Truckee. We had been standing on the platform of the car for half an hour, watching the gleaming lights from the lake, where the Indians were fishing by torchlight. When we returned to our seat, we found it occupied by a sleeping man, whose head rested comfortably on our bags and bundles. It was the rider of January. As gently and gravely as we could, we roused him, and reclaimed our seat. I hope it is counted unto us for righteousness that we resisted the impulse to wake him by the cry, “Git up, Jenuerry!”
Standing on Glacier Point, we saw why the Ah-wah-ne-chee had called it Er-na-ting Law-oo-too. Its shape is not unlike that of a stretched bearskin, the head making the extreme point of the plateau. But we did not spend most of our time on Glacier Point standing. We spent it crouched between high rocks, or lying flat on our breasts, peering over the edge, drinking in the loveliness of this marvellous miniature picture of Ah-wah-ne. Its green was as vivid as ever. Its river and its lake shone like crystals; but its towering trees looked no higher than mosses. Great spaces of forest looked a hand’s-breadth wide. Mr. Tamon’s fruit orchard, four acres square, and containing five hundred trees, made 130 merely a tiny dark spot in the glowing green meadow. No living thing, man or beast, could be distinguished from that height. The few buildings seemed hardly separate from the gray rocks among which they stood. There was no motion, no sound. Vivid, bright, beautiful, like the sudden picture shown by a wizard’s spell of some supernatural land, there the Valley lay. We knew that we had come from it; we knew that we should return to it; but not even this knowledge could make it seem real that we were on a level with the top of the Great Fall on the opposite side of the Valley,—could make the Great Fall look any less as if it came from the sky. We, also, seemed to be on a field of sky. and Pi-wy-ack were in full sight, looking, in the radiant distance, not so much like foaming waterfalls as like broad molten silver bands, by which the dark spaces of forest might be linked together and welded to the granite mountains.
But grander than the falls and more wonderful than all the other mountain walls, was the great South Dome, Tis-sa-ack. Seen from this point, its expression is so significant that even its stupendous size is partially forgotten. When half of Tis-sa-ack fell, the northeast front was left a sheer, straight granite surface, nearly six thousand feet high. The top is still rounded. No human foot has ever trod it or ever will. The longer I looked at it, this day, the more its contour assumed the likeness of a colossal visor, closed. But this peculiar expression is seen from no other point. Therefore, I think that it was here on Patillima that the Ah-wah-ne-chee first crowned it “Goddess of the Valley,” and first wove the legend of the mysterious maiden, with yellow hair and blue eyes, who sat upon its crest and won the love of Tu-tock-ah-nu-lah, and then disappeared for ever, leaving Tis-sa-ack to guard her memory and her secret together.
“I hate to hurry ye,” said Murphy, after we had been a half an hour here; “but, if we’re goin’ to the top of Sentinel Dome, we must re’ly be goin’. We hain’t got none too much time now.”131
A few more minutes he gave us, touched by our entreaties; but then he sternly followed us about from rock to rock with our horses, and compelled us to mount. The trail led down into the woods again, along a little brook-course, over beds of ferns, among which blue forget-me-nots waved as they wave on the shores of the Alban Lake. The magic Valley, the colossal domes, the radiant infinite distances, all had disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. It might be any other sweet forest out of Ah-wah-ne through which we were quietly riding. Just as I was thinking how wonderful the transition seemed, and how hard it was to realize that we were really three thousand feet high and riding on the rim of Ah-wah-ne, Murphy cantered up by my side, and said, in a low tone:—
“Ye wouldn’t think now, would ye, when ye’re in these woods, that ye was jest on the edge of the Valley?” Was there any shade of feeling, any point of beauty which this silent and half-grim old guide did not know?
“I always think it’s a real rest after the Pint to get in here,” he continued; “an’ it kind o’ prepares ye for the Dome.”
“An’ here’s a first-rate place to eat your lunch,” he added, stopping under a big pine, whose scraggy roots thrust out like wharves into the brook. The poor, hungry horses eyed our gingerbread, and nibbled disconsolately at bushes they did not like. There was not a blade of grass. We fed them with all that we could spare, and they took the crumbs from our hands gratefully as dogs. Oh! the pitifulness of the Ah-wah-ne horses. It is hard to bear the sight of it.
When we left the woods, we struck out into open, rocky fields. There was hardly a vestige of a trail, to our inexperienced eyes; but Murphy rode on, turning to the right and to the left, and as we followed him we could see that on either hand of our way the rocks and stones and pebbles and sand looked even less like a road than those under our feet. Before us rose Loya, 132 the bald, gray dome, the sentinel; on its top one low pine tree, and on the side nearest us a big belt of snow.
“Ye’ll have to walk up the rest of the way,” said Murphy. “This snow won’t bear the horses.”
I jumped from my horse just in the edge of the first snow-drift; and I alighted on beds of tiny, low flowers, growing like those I had seen at the top of the Nevada Fall, in thick mats, but with even smaller blossoms, all of a delicate pink color. The snow-drifts bore us, and in some spots the crust crackled under our feet as it does in the New England winter. Yet the air was soft and balmy, and almost at the top of the Dome I picked one little yellow pansy. The pine-tree was low, and so bent it seemed to have crouched in terror. One long, gnarled branch grew out for many feet to the south; but on the north side all was bare and scarred. We looked at the snow-drifts, at the tiny flowers, at the all before we looked off at the Sierras. Only by glimpses at first could we bear the grandeur of the sight. We were one thousand feet above the highest fall in Ah-wah-ne. Ah-wah-ne itself—shrunk to a narrow abyss, with vivid gleams of green and silver at its bottom—was only a near line in the vast distance on which we looked. Little Ah-wah-ne was an emerald spot, walled by bare granite masses. Mountains seemed piled on mountains; and yet, beyond them and between them, we could see the great valley stretches of the San Joaquin and the Sacramento, and to the west a dim blue line, which marked the Golden Gate. Looking northward across the Valley, we could see Mount Hoffman, eleven thousand feet high, covered with snow; and the gigantic North Dome, seeming almost to nestle under its shadow. Only one thing except the far Sierras was higher than we. That was the eternally sealed mask of Tis-sa-ack.
The Sierra Nevada, in its immortal white, lay only thirty miles away, every peak sharp-cut on the intense blue of the cloudless sky. Beyond Ah-wah-ne we saw, coming from the north, the slender thread of white 133 which makes Ah-wah-ne’s Great Fall. It seemed somehow to be the one thing which linked it with the human world, proved it real, and made it safe.
“You folks ought to go round the whole Valley and camp out,” said Murphy, who had watched us more and more approvingly. “It wouldn’t take more than two weeks, and there’s lots of places you’d like as well’s you do this.”
“Mr. Murphy, do you believe that you are speaking truth?” said we, severely.
Murphy’s eyes smiled a little, but he said no more. He liked our loyalty to Loya.
On our way down, we stopped for a few moments to rest on Union Point, half way between Glacier Point and the Valley. Here we found an Irishman living in a sort of pine-plank wigwam, from the top of which waved the United States flag. In a low tree, on the very edge of the precipice, I saw a small bunch of flowers. “Oh! somebody has lost a bouquet,” I exclaimed. But, when I tried to take it from the crotch in the branch, I found it was firmly wedged in and confined by a twig bent across the opening. The Irishman came running up, and, handing it to me, with a broad smile on his ugly red face, said:—
“It was me tied it up. I thought some leddy ’d be comin’ along that ’d like it.”
“I will keep it always, in memory of Union Point and you,” exclaimed I.
Alas! long before I reached the bottom of that dizzy wall it had fallen from my belt. But, nevertheless, it is true that I keep it still in memory of Union Point and the lonely, chivalrous Irish gentleman who lives there and looks down into Ah-wah-ne.
four acres square
Yo-wi-he and Pi-wy-ack were in full sight
text has To-wi-he
No human foot has ever trod it or ever will.
[The first ascent of Half Dome was in 1875—a few years after Helen Hunt’s visit, but a few years before the article’s publication in book form.]
the mysterious maiden, with yellow hair and blue eyes,
[Hutchings’s narration, I assume.]
at the tiny flowers, at the tree,
second , invisible
“Mr. Murphy,” said I, “do you believe that the Evil Spirit of the Bridal Veil Fall would let me come near enough to see it, this afternoon?”
Murphy stared at me for a moment in real alarm, thinking I had lost my senses. Then he broke into one of the few laughs I ever heard from his lips, and made a reply which must have seemed to a bystander singularly irrelevant.
“That pesky mule hain’t been seen since that afternoon. I reckon he’s swum the river, and as like ’s not he won’t never be heard from again. ’Tain’t no great loss, nuther; though I dunno but he did ’s well ’s any on ’em for a pack mule. I allers did hate mules,” continued Murphy. “I never could see no sense in ’em; an’ I reckon you don’t ever want to see another.”
And Murphy’s eyes glistened mischievously at the reminiscence of the untimely end of my trip to Pohono.
Why the Ah-wah-ne-chee should have given this sad name to the most beautiful fall in their valley, and have associated with it such gloomy legends and superstitions, it is not easy to conceive. The stream which makes the Fall rises in a small lake, on which there is said to be a perpetual strong wind; and there is a tradition that once an old woman who was gathering seeds just above the Fall, fell into the stream and was carried over the precipice. But these facts are not sufficient to account for the terror which the Indians felt at approaching the Fall. They always hurried by at the top of their speed; nothing would induce them to sleep near it; and even to point toward it, as they journeyed up 135 or down the Valley was considered certain death. The air of Ah-wah-ne is so much rarer and more stimulating than other air, life seems there so much less a thing of the accredited five senses than anywhere else, that such legends and superstitions take hold on the imagination in spite of one. I confess that, as I rode toward Pohono that afternoon, I could not for one moment forget that we were doing what an Ah-wah-ne-chee would not have done for his life; and, musical as is the word Pohono, is it all a fancy that it sounds as if it might be the name of a malignant and treacherous spirit?
To reach Pohono from Hutchings’s, you follow the trail down the Valley for some six miles westward. Much of the way it is on the bank of the Merced, which at times spreads out foaming and shallow, and then narrows again into a deep, dark, resistless-looking current. In these narrow depths the Merced has most exquisite spaces tinted with amber and malachite, shaded up to black. As it glides swiftly along, the serrated tops of the firs and pines are reflected in these shining surfaces like spear-points and plumes of ranks of soldiery in the shield and bosses of a leader flashing by. And above and before the serrated spear-points and plumes stand, silent, massive, impregnable for ever, the high buttresses of rock.
The last two miles of the way lay near the southern wall of the Valley, through wild lands, almost like jungles,—firs and cedars and maples and Balm of Gilead and dog-wood and alders growing densely; and on each hand and as far as we could see thickets of white azalea, Ah-wah-ne azalea,—not azalea as New England knows it, in gaunt, straggling bushes, bare-stemmed nearly to the top and with flowers set somewhat scantily on the spreading ends of branches,—but azalea in thickets, in banks which would be solidly leafy and green from bottom to top if they were not solidly snowy, but which are so snowy that only little points and tips of green are left in sight. The blossoms are very large, tinted in the centre with pale yellow and sometimes veined with 136 rose-pink; and I have had branches on which these royal flowers were set in bunches two hand’s-breadths broad, like great flattened snowballs.
Our first sight of the Fall was at a moment when the wind, or the breath of Pohono, was lifting its whole fleecy mass and swinging it to the west. “Can it be water?” we exclaimed. It looked like a fluttering cloud, driven before the wind and clinging to the rock. But in a second it swayed back again, with an undulating motion no cloud could show. And yet the fleecy, filmy grace of its shape seemed too ethereal for water, and the sound seemed, for some inexplicable reason, to come from a point much further to the left. But, in looking up at it from the base,—and that is looking up nine hundred feet,—all wonder at its fine-spun, gossamer fleeciness is swallowed up in wonder at its zone of rainbow. At some hours of the day, and when the spray is very heavy, there are five or six of these rainbow belts arching across it, sinking and rising and swaying to right and left with it.
But I shall never believe that this effect can be so beautiful as that we saw produced by one broad, brilliant rainbow,—a perfect semicircle,—its apex in the centre of the Fall and its bases reaching to our very feet. We sat on a high bowlder, some rods away from the Fall; and yet, when a sudden gust of wind blew the spray toward us, we were wet as in a shower. The bright, broad zone of color, arching, and yet seeming to belt and confine the flowing lengths of fleecy white,—expanding and spanning them still when they seemed to seek to be free,—deepening, flashing with brighter color, like renewed jewels, and clasping closer when they seemed to sink and yield,—there was an infinite tenderness of triumphant passion, of mingled compliance and compulsion, surrender and conquest, in the whole expression of the movement of the two, as they swung and swayed and shone and melted together in the radiant air. Almost one felt as it he knew more than he should, in watching them; as if, perchance, they believed 137 themselves alone. As the sun sunk lower, the rainbow zone rose higher and higher and grew narrower and fainter. The parting grew near. I would not have seen it. As we rode slowly home, in the early twilight, the pinnacles and spires and towers of rock on the southern side of the Valley were changed by shadows into fantastic shapes.
The serene and majestic face of Tu-tock-ah-nu-la alone looked unaltered. Neither light nor shade can change the benignant, watchful look on its grand and clear-cut features. Just beyond it a rounded peak took suddenly the shape of a man’s head, in a pointed monkish cowl. As we rode on, it slowly changed to the outline of a Bedouin, half wrapped in a cloak and riding a gigantic camel. The long neck of the camel and the folds of the cloak were perfect; and a sharp ledge line, lower down, gleamed like a spear, poised low in the rider’s hand. The weird effect of such phantom shapes as these, when seen three thousand feet up in the air and of such great size, cannot be imagined. A little further on, a colossal cat-like face suddenly looked out from the sky. The mouth grinned and the ears were erect. It was rather the face of a tiger than of a cat, and yet it had no fierceness of expression. In a moment it was gone, and we could see that the left ear had been a pine tree. No doubt the tree was two hundred feet high, but it did not seem in the least out of proportion as an ear on the gigantic head.
Behind this head, in the far southeast, we could see clouds rest, six thousand feet above us. Its top was still rosy pink with the sunset glow, which had so long left the Valley; and below the pink lay a broad snow-belt, silver white.
As Murphy lifted me from my horse, he looked at me closely, and said, with a little hesitation of manner:
“Feel a little stiff, don’t ye?”
Pride rebelled at the suggestion; but candor conquered, and I replied:
“Yes, Mr. Murphy. I must own that I do. So many 138 hours on horseback is a pretty severe thing to one unaccustomed to riding.”
“I only wonder the ladies stand it so well’s they do,” said Murphy courteously, detecting, I have no doubt, my foolish pride. “But, if you was to take a good long hot-bath to-night, you’d feel as good as new tomorrow.”
“A long hot-bath,” exclaimed I, remembering the shallow milk-pan which served me for wash-bowl. “Are any corners of the Merced heated?”
“Yes,” replied Murphy, with perfect gravity. “A good deal of the Merced is kept hot all the time.”
It was my turn to stare now. Murphy twinkled, but did not speak till I said:
“What do you mean, Mr. Murphy?”
“Jest what I say,” he replied, slowly, enjoying my bewilderment. “There’s a good deal of the Merced kept hot all the time in the bath-tubs in Mr. Smith’s saloon. And, what’s more, you won’t find any nicer bath-rooms anywhere, not even in San Francisco.”
This sounded incredible. The fourth of the three buildings in the little plaza was a long, low, dark-brown house, with a piazza on two sides, which I knew was called saloon, and at which, for that reason, I had looked without interest. But I was soon to discover that it was one of the wonders of Ah-wah-ne.
This long, low, dark-brown house, called the “Cosmopolitan Saloon” and kept by a Mr. Smith, consists of nine rooms. A billiard-room, where are two fine billiard-tables; a reading-room, where are the California newspapers, and a long writing-table, with stationery ready to one’s hand; a small sitting-room, furnished with sofas and comfortable easy-chairs, and intended exclusively for the use of ladies; and five small bath-rooms, perfectly appointed in all respects and kept with the most marvellous neatness. A small store-room at the end completes the list of the rooms.
The bath-tubs shine; the floors of the bath-rooms are carpeted; Turkish towels hang on the racks; soaps, 139 bottles of cologne, and bay rum are kept in each room; a pincushion stands under each glass, and on the pincushion are not only pins, but scissors, needles, thread, and buttons of several kinds. Has anybody ever seen public bath-rooms of this order? And Mr. Smith mentions, apologetically, that the button-hooks for which he has sent have not yet arrived.
A tall and portly black man, with that fine polish of civility of which the well-trained African servant is the only master on this continent, attends to every requirement of Mr. Smith’s customers, and exhibits the establishment many times a day, with most pardonable pride.
To have seen the slates of those billiard tables coming down the wall of Ah-wah-ne on the backs of mules must have been an amazing spectacle. As we looked at their great mahogany frames, it seemed more and more impossible every moment. But to all our exclamations Mr. Smith replied, with great quietness, that there was no difficulty in bringing any thing whatever into Ah-wah-ne, and that he intended to bring a piano next year. A mule can carry six hundred pounds weight of any thing which can be strapped on his back; and, once strapped firmly on his back, the load will be carried with far less jolt and jar than on wheels. Poor mule! The very Wandering Jew of burden and misery among beasts. From sea to sea, from continent to continent, the spell of his evil destiny stretches. Cairo or Ah-wah-ne, it is all one to him. But I think that never even in Cairo could have been seen a mule of which so little was to be seen as of the one which came down the Ah-wah-ne precipices under Mr. Smith’s billiard-tables.
called the “Cosmopolitan Saloon” and kept by a Mr. Smith
[The Saloon had only opened in 1871, a year earlier, which may explain why the author didn’t know about it.]
Turkish towels hang on the racks
[“Turkish towel” is one of those interesting terms whose meaning has done a perfect 180° over time. (Similarly: a “reverse mortgage” is a mortgage, a “double-hung” window is single-hung, “East Prussia” is the original Prussia.) In 1872 it still meant what is now called terry cloth, as opposed to the cheaper and more common flat weave.]
Only one day’s ride; but a ride so vivid with characteristic color, so picturesque, so pathetic in panoramic narrative that I think there can hardly be in all California any other one day’s journey more essentially Californian.
Big Oak Flat is a little mining town, about sixty miles from Stockton. In going from Ah-wah-ne to the Calaveras Big Trees, we slept there; but it looked so desolate, so apart, that I never thought of its having any relation to the rest of the world—even to the points of compass—and I remember it only as the spot where this vivid day’s ride began.
First down-hill—down, down, through a canyon whose sides were made of bare overlapping hills, grass-grown, and fringed and barred with low bushes. At the bottom ran a stream; on all sides were old mining-sluices, little green vine-yards, piles of broken quartz rock. Then the road ran through the bed of Moccasin Creek. The Creek had shrunk, and was licking along abjectly in the sand on the right; and we rattled and jolted over its pebbly channel. The low hills in the distance were oddly shaped, like cones and triangles, and seemed to be joined and fitted like pieces in a puzzle, to be taken apart. Red chasms and crevices marked their sides; tottering old stone chimneys and blackened hearthstones showed where cabins had been; solid squares of shining green vineyard and orchard, mixed, surrounded the cabins of to-day.
Then we came to Keith’s Fruit Garden, a bit of color worth painting. A low cabin-like house, white and set 141 behind white palings. At the gate tall branching oleanders, rosy with blossoms; from the gate to the door a dark fig-tree grove; a broad piazza, wreathed with honeysuckles from eaves to sill, with hanging baskets made of strung acorns and holding green vines, and bird-cages holding linnets and gold-finches; on the piazza a table, set with fruit,—pears, figs, apricots, plums, apples; and this was only the 29th of June. Last year’s wine, too, in bottles, with red roses printed on the labels; and above the table, nailed to the wall of the house, a cheap colored print of somebody,—Ceres, or Flora, or Pomona,—crowned with flowers and bearing in her hands a salver of prodigious fruit. A running spring on one side the house; and on the other a glistening yellow bed of straw, alive with downy, trembling, peeping chickens, just out of the shell. On both sides and behind, stretching away so that you peered down into its alleys, lay the vineyard, shaded dark by alternating rows of fig, of peach, of apricot, of plum, of almond trees. Last, not least, and everywhere at once, a blue-eyed maid child, a little older, perhaps, than the linnets, and the goldfinches, which she said she had had “always.” Then more cabins, more vineyards, and a foaming river on our left, the earth all red wherever it lay open, and little yellow streams running about like lost babies; great piles of crushed quartz rock here and there, and rough skeleton mills, with the huge round wheels, which had broken it up. The hills grew more yellow, the country grew more bald and bare and sterile. Deserted cabins, with vines running riot, and sluices, dry and rusty tin pans, left out in the sun, told their half of the story of the barren tract. Now we climbed again, slowly, steadily, up to a broad plateau, called Table Mountain. Here were huge oaks, all tremulous at top with mistletoe, but seamed and seared below like old fossils. Wheat-fields came into sight in the distance, and their pale yellow looked cooler and wholesomer than the orange-tinted streams and the red earth. In lonely places were twos and threes of ragged, hopeless 142 Chinamen, bent double over the old worn-out gullies and hollows, shaking the thin sands and peering and groping after a penny’s worth of gold. They looked like galvanized mummies, working out some spell which could bode no good to anybody. Now and then a house and now and then a cross-road made the solitudes seem less remote, and gave a strange, sudden reminder of civilization and humanity. But in a moment we had plunged again into thickets and tangles of pines and manzanita; then out upon desolate, frightful, stony fields, where crowds of limestone rocks reared themselves up like hobgoblins and gnomes. And so, before noon, we came to Sonora.
Sonora’s main street is narrow, and walled thick with green locust-trees. The buildings are chiefly half shop and half house, excepting those which are all saloon. They are wooden and low and of uneven heights; the shop fronts are wide open, being made of two huge doors. This gives the street the look of an arbor of cluttered and miscellaneous wares. In the centre of the busiest part of the street, we came upon hydraulic mining in one of the cellars, the hose playing away as for a fire, and the yellow bank crumbling and melting into the sluices.
“What is this?” said we.
“Oh! the man that lived there found gold in his cellar. So he moved off his house and went to mining, and he’s taken out $10,000 already,” replied the Street.
“But are you all living over gold mines?”
“Shouldn’t wonder. But mining isn’t such lively work as it used to be. It’s dull times in Sonora now. Twenty-dollar pieces used to chink on this street from morning to night.” And the Street sighed.
Next to Sonora comes Columbia, only four miles off. I think there is not in sight on either hand of that four miles of road, a half-acre of land which is not tunnelled, trenched, scooped, torn to pieces, and turned bottom side up by mining. The wildest confusion of bowlders ever seen on a mountain-top looks like the orderly precision 143 of a cabinet by side of these deserted mining claims. The rocks are worn and fretted by the old action of water into ghastly and grotesque shapes, which add an element of weird horror to the picture. They look like giant skeletons, like idols, like petrified monsters, which might come to life and hold hideous carnival in their burial-place. A little way out of Sonora stands a small church, on a high hill, surrounded by a graveyard. The land on one side of it has been mined away, until the hill is left standing like a seashore cliff, steep, abrupt, many feet above the yawning, rocky chasms below. The little paling of the graveyard and the white gravestones nearest it look as if at any minute they might topple off, by the caving in of the bank,—the greed of gold has so grudged even to the dead the few inches they need.
Columbia houses are like cabins, bowered in vines and flowers; and Columbia’s streets literally run with gold. As we drove through, on this 29th of June, we saw dozens of small boys panning out gold in the little streams which ran close to their fathers’ gates.
“For Fourth of July?” called we.
“Yes, to see the circus,” shouted the infant gold-seekers.
“How much can you get a day?” I said.
“He got twenty-five cents yesterday,” said a wistful little fellow, pointing to the great man of their exchange.
A little further on we met a squad of the dismal Chinamen again, walking with their shovels, pans, and pickaxes slung in a clattering bundle on their backs.
After Columbia came a gentler and greener country, woods again, and a glorious canyon, down which we zigzagged and whirled round ox-bow bends, and came to the swift, coffee-colored Stanislaus River at bottom. Over this, in a swinging ferry-boat, made fast to an iron cable, and then up the other side of the canyon. The hills were covered densely with the low greasewood bushes, which, now that the white flowers were fallen, 144 had taken on a most exquisite tint of brilliant yellow-brown. Once out of the canyon, we bore away across stretch after stretch of wilderness again. Woods, woods, woods, or else bare rocky fields; now and then a dismal little village, which once had a hope of gold, but now has lost it, and found nothing else in its stead. Pitiful faces meet you at each turn in these luckless little mining towns,—faces of women hardened and weary and lifeless; faces of little children sick and without joy; faces of men dull, inert, discouraged, and brutal. It is hard to fancy what will become of them.
As we drove up to the inn at “Murphy’s,” I could have fancied myself in some little Italian village. The square stone walls were gray, and in spots grimed with mould; the windows were sunk deep, like embrasures, and heavy black shutters flapped and creaked. Bright green locust-trees shaded it, hens and chickens were running about, and the padrona and several servants stood on the doorstep, smiling. Murphy’s one narrow, long street is picturesquely dismal,—old wooden sidewalks, loose, broken in in places, with grass growing up in the holes; deserted houses, with the ridge-pole sinking low in the middle and the chimney-bricks lying strewn about; unused warerooms, with iron shutters on the outside, barred tight and crossbarred by cobwebs; back yards and front yards, here and there, all gullied and piled with heaps of rock, where gold used to be. One we found surrounded by a high fence, the gate tight locked with a padlock, and the pickaxes and pans lying where they were dropped at sunset. This within stone’s throw of an apple-stand and a meeting-house. Just beyond the street limits, in all directions, are fields of mining claims,—some deserted, some still being worked. The rocks are hollowed and scooped, and thrown up in even wilder and more fantastic shapes than those we had seen before. By moonlight they were terrible. A few years ago Murphy’s was alert and gay. Gold came free, and no man stopped to ask how soon the rocky treasure-house would be empty. To-day 145 Murphy’s would hardly exist except that it is on one of the routes to the Calaveras Big Trees, and most of the Big Tree pilgrims by this route sleep two nights at Murphy’s.
For this we too had come to Murphy’s. And for this we too rose at five in the morning, and set out to climb four hours up-hill. Twenty-three hundred feet we were to rise in sixteen miles. In what good faith we did it. And how sharp set were we, mile by mile, for the first sight of the first Big Tree. On either side forests stretched, almost unbroken for much of the way. Scarcely a sign of human habitation is to be seen along the road. We grew impatient, in spite of ourselves, and weary of the monotonous aisles of pines. At last we came out on higher ground; distant mountains were revealed,—the Coast Range in the west and to the north and east the shining snow-points of the high Sierras.
“Almost there now,” said the driver; and as he spoke we saw the gleam of the white house among the trees. Looking eagerly to right, to left, we sprang out on the piazza. Trees on all hands, majestic, straight, but just such trees as we had been living with for weeks, it seemed to us. What did it mean? “Where are the Big Trees?” we exclaimed to bystanders. Bystanders looked astounded. We seemed such pigmies, I suppose, and our question so hugely impudent.
“There are a few of them,” curtly replied some one, with a dignified wave of his hand to the left.
We looked, we gazed; earnestly, honestly. We said no more, but we walked off at a brisk pace to the giants nearer at hand. We followed a sandy road, which wound in and out among the trees. Pine shingles, with names of great and little men printed on them, were nailed to the trunks,—history, poetry, politics, press, and pulpit, all jumbled together. Bryant, and Grant, and Clay, and Cobden; Henry Ward Beecher and Uncle Tom; Dr. Kane and James King, Esq.,—whoever he may be,—Vermont and Florence Nightingale and 146 Elihu Burritt. Could any thing be droller than for such trees, after their centuries of royal solitude, to find themselves with labels of pine shingle tacked to their sides, calling them by the names of these men of a day? Perhaps, except for the shingles, the trees might sooner have seemed big; but it took long to forget those. The would-be poetical names were worst of all.
“Mother of the Forest” (set down on the catalogue as being “without bark”), “Three Graces,” and “Beauty of the Forest,”—these were the names that stirred most fury in our souls. It seems strange that neither satire nor resentment has taken shape in this matter. Many hearts must have been touched to the quick by the sight of the poor trees, by the spectacle of might so dishonored.
But, in spite of the shingles, the trees were grand. The inevitable underestimate at first sight wears off, and the reaction from it is intense. When it takes twenty-four steps to climb up a ladder set against the side of a fallen tree, and your head swims a little as you reach the top, with nothing to hold on by; when you sit in a pavilion built on and only just enclosing a tree-stump over nine yards in diameter, on which thirty-two people have danced at a time; when you walk into a fallen tree, which is half-buried in earth, and walk on and on under its curving roof, and see apertures in it so high above your head that you cannot reach the grasses which have taken root in the crumbling bark around their edges; when, as you walk here, you see, a hundred feet away, a tall man coming toward you, he also finding the brown ceilinged chamber high enough; when you see a horse, carrying a rider, gallop through the same mysterious archway, wonder does not long delay; and when, later, walking on and on in the forest, you find many trees as large in circumference as these standing bright and full-leaved from two to three hundred and twenty-five feet high, wonder becomes akin to veneration.
But many things in Nature move us more than size; 147 wonder, even tinged with veneration, is shorter-lived than tenderness. The most vivid memory I brought away from the Calaveras Grove is of a tiny little striped squirrel, which had fallen from its nest, high up in one of the largest trees. The little thing could not have been many days old; its eyes were scarcely open and it could not crawl. It lay on the ground, uttering the most piteous cries. We waited and watched a long time, hoping that the mother might come to its help. Then we made a soft bed of leaves and moss in a deep cleft of one of the roots, and hid it from sight. After we had made the circuit of the grove, we returned to this tree, hoping that the little creature would either have died or have been found by its parents. It still lay there, moaning; but the moans were feebler. It was strangely hard to come away, and leave the helpless dying thing; but I think it could not have lived long, and I never think of it without remembering a good word said somewhere in our Bible about that feeble folk, the conies, for whom the Lord cares.
Murphy’s is now called Murphys without hyphen, but the form may have been correct at the time.
A lake six thousand feet above the sea, thirty miles long, sixteen miles wide, surrounded by mountains from which no summer melts all the snow, walled round the edges by firs and pines, set at the rim in a Mosaic of polished pebbles and brilliant flowers,—is not that a lake to be loved? And I have not yet said a word of its water, which is so blue that it seems impossible it should not stain, and so clear that one can see fishes swimming more than a hundred feet below his boat, and so cold that ice would not cool it. For its water alone it could be well loved, if it lay in a desert. It has had some hard fortune in way of names. A German once named it Lake Bompland, and a militia general named it, after a governor, Lake Bigler. But ten years ago, by some marvellous good luck (I wish we knew whom to thank for it), it was rechristened by the old Indian name, Tahoe, pronounced by the Indians Tah-oo, and meaning “Big Water.”
To find Lake Tahoe, one must journey on the Overland Railroad six days west from New York or one day east from San Francisco, and leave the cars at Truckee. Truckee is as odd as its name. It looks so much as it sounds that one wonders if it could have been named beforehand. Truckee has one street. It is a broad, rocky, dusty field. The railroad track runs through it, so close to the houses on one side that you step from the cars to the hotel piazza. From the railroad side to the other plank, walks are laid at intervals: but there is no road, no semblance of a road, up and down the field. Enormous bowlders lie here and there, and you drive 149 around them. Poor Truckee has had no time to blast rock on its highway, for it has been three times burnt out in nine months. Opposite the hotel is a long line of low wooden shops, with a row of slender evergreen trees in front,—trees cut down and stuck into the ground, not planted. Beyond these comes the Chinese quarter,—another long row of low, huddled, rickety wooden buildings, half of them black from the smoke of the fires, and all of them swarming with shiny-faced Chinese children. Newly cleared hill-slopes, hideous with blackened stumps, come down to the very backs of the houses. Truckee sells timber, and cuts down the nearest first. If anybody had had sense, the near slopes would have been left covered with trees, and Truckee would have had comfort and beauty; but now it is stripped, shelterless, dusty, as if it had been set down in a rocky Sahara.
Blackberries and strawberries and apricots and peaches and pears and apples can be bought on the sidewalk in Truckee early in July. You will be invited to an Indian-corn dance, too, if you can read the Indian language; for you will meet the invitations on all the corners. They are painted in red and white and black on the foreheads and cheekbones of Indian men and women. We supposed, at first, in our ignorance, that this was the usual style of promenade paint on the noble savage of these latitudes; but it was explained to us that it was their method of circulating the news and extending the invitations of a great Festival, the corn-dance, which was to take place a few weeks later. What a delicious device of taciturnity. There they stood,—men, women, wrapped in blankets, proud, impassive, speechless,—looking at each other, and us, and the street, their sharp, fathomless eyes gleaming out from among the glistening scarlet and white hieroglyphics on their faces. “Request the pleasure of,” etc., looks uncommonly queer done in Indian red over an eyebrow. But one needs to think before calling it silly or barbarous. It has its merits: no words lost, for one thing; 150 economical, too, for another; and no replies expected, best of all,—though one could not be sure, perhaps, of this last. I do not know that a few days later the whole tribe might not have been seen painted in new colors and shapes, to signify their intended absence or presence.
The road from Truckee to Lake Tahoe lies along the bank of the Truckee River, a small stream, which comes foaming and roaring down from the High Sierras, in a swift fashion for a carrier of wood. But wood it carries—all it can lift and spin and whirl—every day; and in many places we saw it choked full of the black, shiny logs, and groups of men (“log-drivers”), up to their waists in the water, trying to separate them and hurry them along. We saw also a “log-,” which is a fine sight of a sunny morning,—a yellow, glistening line from the top of the mountain straight to the river’s edge. This line is made of two split logs, laid lengthwise, close, smooth side up. Down this, logs are sent sliding into the river. Before the log is half way down the planks beneath it are smoking, blue and fast, from the friction. Sometimes they take fire. As the log hits the river-edge, it often somersaults twice, and leaps with such force that the water is thrown up in a sparkling sheaf higher than the tops of the trees. Four or five times over, taking less than half a minute a time, we saw this swift, craunching slide, pale smoke-wreath, and glittering water-spout.
And then we came to a foundling asylum for trout. We went in, and the proprietor set all the infants fighting for food at once, to amuse us. Their dormitories were cool and well ventilated, certainly, consisting of a series of unroofed tanks: and the chopped liver on which they are fed must have been of the very best quality, for they scrambled for it faster than beggars ever scrambled for pennies. The youngest of all were put in shallow covered boxes, with gravelled bottoms and only a little water. Those that were but four days old were droll. There were millions of them in a box. 151 They looked like white currants, with two black beads for eyes and a needle-point for tail. The man said they would be trout presently and weigh two or three pounds apiece. It seemed unlikelier than any thing I ever heard.
You are three hours going from Truckee to Lake Tahoe, and it is so steadily up hill that you begin to wonder long before you get there why the lake does not run over and down. At last you turn a sharp corner, and there lies the lake, only a few rods off. What color you see it depends on the hour and the day. It has its own calendars—its spring-times and winters, its dawns and darknesses—incalculable by almanacs.
It is apt to begin by gray, early in the morning; then the mountains around it look like pale onyx and the sky, too, is gray. Then it changes to clouded sapphire, and the mountains change with it also to a pale, opaque blue; then to brilliant, translucent, glittering sapphire, when the right sort of sun reaches just the right height. And, when there is this peculiar translucent sapphire blue in the water then the mountains are of opal tints, shifting and changing, as if heat were at work in their centres.
Then, if at sunset the mountains take on rose or ruby tints, the water becomes like a sea of pink pearl molten together with silver; and as the twilight wind cools changes to blue, to green, to steel-gray, to black. This is merely one of its calendars of color; one which I happened to write down on a day when, lying all day by a second-story window, I saw no interval of foreground at all,—only the sky arching down to the lake, and the lake reaching, as it seemed, up to my window-sill. I felt as one might who sailed in a hollow globe of sapphire or floated in a soap-bubble.
There are two tiny steamboats on Lake Tahoe. Every morning one lies at the little wharf opposite the hotel, and rings its miniature bell and whistles its gentle whistle; but it will wait while the head waiter puts up more lunch, or the bridegroom runs back for 152 the forgotten shawl. The twenty or thirty people who are going off in her all know this, and nobody hurries. There are several small villages on the shore of the lake; there are some Hot Springs; there is Cornelian Beach, where tiny red and yellow cornelians can be picked up by handfuls; there is Emerald Bay, where are sharp cliffs many hundred feet high, and water of a miraculous green color. It takes all day to go anywhere and come back in one of these boats, for the engines are only of one tea-kettle power. In fact, as the little craft puffs and wriggles out from shore, it looks as if it had the Quangle Wangle for steersman, and as if Lionel and his companions might come back on the rhinoceros’s back. The row-boats are better; and, if you take a row-boat, Fred is the man to row you. Everybody at Lake Tahoe knows Fred. He it was who rowed us out to one Sunday service we shall not forget. It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Summer afternoons on Lake Tahoe are warm till sunset—never has the mercury been known to rise above 75 degrees in this magic air; and it rarely, during July and August, falls below 62 degrees. The delight and the stimulus of this steady, clear, crisp air, snow-cooled, sun-warmed, water-fed, cannot be told. Day after day of warm sunlight, such as only rainless skies can show; and night after night of the sleep which only cool nights can give; almost it seems to me that miracles of cure might be wrought on these shores.
The Lake Tahoe House (one of the very best in all California) stands in a small clearing on the shore of the lake. A minute-and-a-half’s walk, chiefly downstairs, and you are at the water’s edge. For a few rods up and down the lake the trees are felled; there are also four or five small houses; but, once past these, you glide instantly into shadow of the firs and pines, and can believe that you are the first to sail by. On this Sunday we rowed to the south, keeping close into the shore. Two miles below the hotel we had seen a picturesque lumber-mill, standing in 153 another small clearing, which from the lake looked like a flower-garden, so gay was it with solid reds and blues.
Searching for this, we rowed slowly along,—now coming so near the shore that we could reach the brakes and mosses, now striking out far into the lake to go around a fallen tree, which walled our path as effectually as if we had been on foot in the woods. As we drew near the mill, and saw the gay colors more distinctly, we looked at each other in speechless wonder. We had seen fields yellow with the eschscholtzia, and spots so blue with blue-larkspur that we had taken them for ponds; but never had we seen such radiance of color as this. Spaces six feet, ten feet, twelve feet square, set thick with the scarlet-painted cups growing and flowering in such fulness it hardly looked like itself, and fully justified its common name in California,—“Painter’s Brush.” Mingling with this, also, in great solid spaces, a light blue forget-me-not, flowering in full heads; two other blue flowers grew in great profusion all about; one grew in low clumps. The flowers were set on the stem like the foxglove flowers, but three rows thick, making a wide spike, which on its front gleamed like a row of blue steel tube-mouths, so deep was the color, so lustrous the surface. What would we have given to have known or to have been able to find out the name of this superb flower. The other blue flower was like a snap-dragon and grew on slenderer stems. Then there was a royal pennyroyal, with white flowers in heads like clovers; and a graceful branching plant, full of small trumpet-shaped blossoms, of a vivid cherry red. We gathered them not by handfuls or by bunches, but by armfuls, and staggered back into the boat, literally loaded down.
Then we said to Fred:—
“Now, row us back to that thicker part of the wood where we saw those fine green ferns.”
Jumping out to get the ferns, and going a few steps into the wood, we came upon a still more wonderful 154 spot. The water of the Lake had made up in the spring into a small hollow among the bushes; this was now left green as a river meadow. It was not more than ten or twelve feet either way, and the grass in the centre was wet and rank. On its outer edges grew red lilies, scarlet columbines, high green brakes, and willows; but these were not its glory. Tall, stately, white as Annunciation lilies, there stood forty or fifty spikes of a flower we had never seen. It was from two to five feet high. The blossoms were small, resembling syringa blossoms, but set thick on long, tasselling stems, as corn blossoms are; and these again massed thick around the central stem, making a branching, drooping, and yet erect and stately spike, not unlike the spike of the flower of the Indian corn, except that it was much thicker and more solid. It was the most regal flower I ever saw growing. Among these were growing many lower spikes of a tiny white flower like our lady’s-tresses. But even these spikes of this tiny flower were at least two inches in circumference at the bottom, tapering up to the top exquisitely.
Again loaded with sheaves, we climbed back into the boat. Fred looked on wonderingly. There was no room to step, to sit. He never carried such multitudes before.
“Now, row out, Fred, into the middle of the lake,” we said, as we sank down.
By this time the sunsetting had begun. The sky and the mountains and the water were all turning rose-pink; and we came shooting anon in the midst of the rose-color, bringing our fiery reds and stately white. We set the tall snowy spikes upright along the sides of the boat; great nodding yellow disks, too, of the elecampane and the vermillion bells of columbine. Then we made one huge bouquet of the scarlet painted cups and the blue forget-me-nots; one of the red trumpet flower and the white pennyroyal, with a solid base of the mysterious dark blue flowers; one of the white lady’s-tresses, with the red trumpets; and one of the 155 stately white spikes, with branching ferns. Then, setting these up as royal passengers, we lay down humbly at their feet, and, with our heads low, looked off over the rose-colored waters. Much I doubt if so gorgeous a pageant will ever float again on that water.
The next day we rowed early in the morning. Fred had assured us that in a still morning one could see the bottom of the lake where it was one hundred and fifteen feet deep. We doubted, but longed to believe. The water was like glass. We rowed out toward the centre of the lake. The snow-covered mountains on the further side were reflected in long, white, shimmering columns on the purple surface of the water.
“Thirty,” “fifty,” “sixty,” “one hundred feet deep,” Fred called out from time to time as he rowed steadily on. And we, hanging half out of the boat, exclaimed with irrepressible wonder at the golden-brown world below, into which we were gazing. We could see the bottom of the lake as clearly as we could see the bottom of the boat. It was a dusty field, with huge bowlders, covered with a soft brown growth, which made them look like gigantic sponges. Then would come great ledges of rock; then dark hollows, unfathomably deep.
“I shpect if she be dry she be shust like these mountains,” said Fred,—“all canyons and pig beaks.”
And in a moment more: “Here it ish one hunder fifteen feet clear,” he called out triumphantly, and lifted his oars.
Not a stone was indistinct. We could count small ones. It seemed as if we could touch them with ease; and, swift as an arrow, apparently within our hand’s reach, went by a shining trout.
“How far down was he, Fred?” we called.
“Ach! Don’t know. Maype fifty feet,” said The trout were an old story to him.
But it was when we turned to row back that the full wonder of such a transparent sea was revealed to us. The sun was behind us. As we looked over the bows, we could see the shadow of our boat, of our heads, of 156 the moving oars, all distinct on the soft brown bottom of the lake. This shadow lay off to the left, a little ahead, gliding as we glided, pausing as we paused; then, directly ahead, gliding as we glided, pausing as we paused, went another double, equally distinct, but dark and shimmering on the surface. This was the reflection. Over the edges of this phantom boat we seemed to be leaning with even more eagerness than over the edges of the one below. It was an uncanny sight. To have two shadows would have been too much for even Peter Schlemihl. It added much to the unreality of the sight that every round stone, every small object on the bottom was surrounded by a narrow line of rainbow. These gave a fantastic gayety to the soft amber-brown realm, and, beautiful as they made it, made it also seem more supernatural.
“You pe shust in time,” called Fred. “In two minute you not see nothing. There vill pe vint.”
Sure enough. Already the ripple was in sight, coming rapidly toward us from the north. The air stirred faintly, our glass sea quivered and broke noiselessly under us, and the phantom boat below disappeared.
As we rowed on the shallower water, nearing the shore, where we could still see the bottom distinctly, the effects of the sunlight on it were exquisite. It lay in lapping and interlacing circles and ovals of yellow, and the surface ripples were reflected there in larger lines. The reflection of the oars in the water on each side of us looked like golden snakes, swimming fast alongside, and the beautiful rainbow lines still edged every object on the bottom,—even an old shoe and the ace of diamonds, which were the last things I saw on the bottom of Lake Tahoe. “Not so inappropriate, either,” said we, “ugly as they are. For the old shoe meant good luck, and diamonds are trumps all the world over.”
We saw also a “log-shoot,”
text unchanged; the word is really “chute”
and as the twilight wind cools it it changes
“it it” not an error
the engines are only of one tea-kettle power . . . Quangle Wangle for steersman . . . Lionel and his companions might come back on the rhinoceros’s back
[See Edward Lear, “The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round the World”. The Quangle Wangle also appears in Lear’s poem “The Crumpetty Tree”.]
“Ach! Don’t know. Maype fifty feet,” said Fred.
final . invisible
It was the morning of our eighth day in Ah-wah-ne; and the next day we must go.
If it had been my birthday of my eightieth year in Ah-wah-ne, I could not have clung to the valley more fondly. As I looked up to the dark line of firs on either side of the Great Fall, I pictured to myself the form of that six-year-old boy of the Ah-wah-ne-chee, who, when the white men entered the valley, was seen climbing, naked, like a wild chamois, on the glistening granite face of the rock-wall, midway between heaven and earth, to escape the enemy. A cruel man of his tribe lured him down and gave him captive to the white men, who christened him Reuben, put trowsers on him, and sent him to school. But just when they thought they had him tamed, he stole two horses and ran away, “to illustrate the folly of attempting to civilize the race,” says the biographer of the poor Ah-wah-ne-chee; “to illustrate the spell of Ah-wah-ne,” say I. Swift on the stolen horses I know he rode back to Ah-wah-ne, and finding it in the hands of white men, fled on to some still remoter walled valley, where he lives in a wigwam to-day.
“John Murphy, guide,” as with quaint dignity he writes his name, stood near me, also looking up at the Fall.
“When you come back next year, ’s ye say you’re comin’, but then folks never does come back when they say they will,” said Murphy, “I’ll hev a trail built right to the base o’ thet upper fall.”
“Why, Mr. Murphy, where will you put it?” I said, 158 looking along the sheer gray wall three thousand feet high.
“There’s plenty of places. I’ll make it as broad ’n’ easy a trail ’s there is in this valley,” said Murphy quietly; “’tain’t half so steep as ’tis up Indian Canyon, where they’ve just finished a new trail this week; at least so they say; I hain’t seen it.”
“Up Indian Canyon,” I exclaimed, for I knew where that lay; it was the next one to the east of the Great Fall, and in one of the steepest parts of the valley. “Then why can I not go out of the valley that way, and strike across to Gentry’s?”
“Well, ye might; an’ ’twould be jest what you’d like; you could cross the Creek just above the Fall, an’ go up on to Eagle Pint; an’ the view from there is finer than ’tis from Sentinel Dome where I took ye yesterday. But ye see I mistrust whether the river ain’t too high to ford.”
What more could be needed to make one resolve to go? Boom-boom-boom, sounded the deep violoncello undertones of the Fall, thundering down from the sky, three thousand feet up. Ford that? Every drop of blood in one’s veins took a bound at the thought.
All the Scotchman in Murphy demurred about the undertaking; but the woodsman and the sympathizing guide conquered.
“I’d like to hev ye see it first rate,” he said, “but I want ye to understand before we set out, that I shan’t cross’ if I think there’s any resk.”
This last with a determination of tone which was worthy of Cromwell.
In an hour all was ready, and, in spite of shaking heads and warning voices, we set out. In that short time the usual amount of conflicting testimony had been gathered as to the trail and the condition of the river. “The trail was finished;” “the trail was only half done;” “the river was much too high to be forded;” “a man had come across yesterday, without trouble.”159
“I expect ye’d kind o’ hate to give up, an’ come down into the valley agin?” said Murphy, inquiringly, as we rode out into the meadows.
“Mr. Murphy,” I replied, “I shall not give up, and come down into the valley again. There must be some other way of getting across, higher up. Is there not?”
If Mr. Murphy perceived the truly feminine manner in which I defined my position, the delicious contrast between my first sentence and my last, he did not betray any consciousness of it, but answered with undisturbed gravity:—
“Why, yes; there’s the old Mono Trail, a good piece farther up the river. But I dunno ’s you could ride so far ’s that. However, we don’t know yet but what we can get over to the first ford.” And Murphy relapsed into his customary thoughtful silence.
The meadow was dewy and sweet; through the lush grass and brakes we rode past red lilies, white , columbines, and wild roses: after half an hour of this, we struck the new trail and began climbing the wall.
Almost at once, by the first two or three bends of the trail, we were lifted so high above the valley, that its walls seemed to round and close to the west, and the green meadow and its shining river sank, sank, like a malachite disk, slowly settling into place, at bottom. The trail was steeper than any we had seen. Even Murphy muttered disapprovingly at some of its grades, and jumped down and walked to make the climb easier for his old gray. On our left hand rose a granite wall, so straight that we could see but a little way up, so close that we had need to take care in turning corners not to be bruised by its sharp points, and so piled up in projecting and overlapping masses that, mountain as it was, it seemed as if it might topple at any second. On our right hand—space! nothing more; radiant, sunny, crisp, clear air: across it I looked over at the grand domes and pinnacles of the southern wall of Ah-wah-ne; down through it I looked into the depths of Ah-wah-ne; away from it I turned, dizzy, shuddering, and found the 160 threatening rocks on the left friendly by contrast. Then, with impatience at my own weakness, I would turn my face toward the measureless space again, and compel myself to look over, and across, and out and down.
But it could not be borne for many minutes; even Murphy did not like it.
“I reckon this trail won’t be much of a favorite,” he said grimly; “’pears to me it’s worse’n ’t used to be gettin’ up among the trees, on the Injun trail.” We zigzagged so sharply that we seemed often to be merely doubling on our own track, with no perceptible gain, although each ascent was so steep that the horses had to stop for breath every two or three minutes. But to all my propositions to walk Murphy replied with firm denial.
“You’ll be tired enough, come night, anyhow,” he said, with a droll mixture of compassion and approbation in his voice: “you stay where ye be; that horse can do it well enough.”
But he led his own more than half the way.
New flowers, and new ferns, that I had not found before in all Ah-wah-ne, hung thick on the rocky wall, which, facing south, has sun all day, and can make the most of Ah-wah-ne’s short summers.
Every cleft was full of color or of nodding green. High in the very topmost crevices waved scarlet and blue blossoms like pennons, so far above our heads that we could see no shape, only the fluttering color; and long sprays of yellow honeysuckle swept into our very faces again and again.
Suddenly, Murphy halted, and exclaimed:
Several other voices spoke at once, surprise and curiosity in their tones: a bend in the trail concealed the speakers. I hurried around it, and found myself facing four men working with pickaxes and spades on the trail. A small fire was burning on the rocks, and a big iron pot of coffee boiled and bubbled above it, exhaling delicious fragrance. The men leaned on their tools and 161 looked at me. I looked at Murphy. Nobody spoke. This was the end of the new trail!
“I s’pose ye can get through well enough; the bushes are cut down,” said one.
Murphy said something in a tone so low I could not hear; I fear it was not complimentary to my riding.
“Mr. Murphy,” said I, “I would rather ride all day and all night in the woods than ride down this precipice again. Pray keep on. I can follow wherever you can go.”
Murphy smiled pityingly at me, and went on talking with the men. Then he walked away with them for a few moments. When he came back, I read in his eyes that we were to go on.
“There’s the old Injun trail,” he said, “there ain’t any trouble about the trail. The thing that stumps me, is the river; there don’t none of these men think you can get over.”
“But I’m goin’ to get you through to Gentry’s, somehow, before I sleep,” added Murphy, with a new and delightful doggedness spreading over his face; and he sprang into his saddle, and pushed on. One of the men picked up his hatchet, and followed, saying:—
“There’s a bad piece just out yonder; I guess I’ll fix a little for the lady.”
The “piece” consisted simply of a brook, full of bowlders, water running like a mill-race, fallen trees and bent saplings, and tangled bushes all woven and interwoven above it. How we got over I do not know. Then the knight with the hatchet went back, and we began to pick our way up Indian Canyon. I could see no trail. All I knew was that Murphy was zigzagging along before me, on the steep side of the Canyon, through thickets of interlaced growths of all sorts, and over numberless little streams which were foaming across our track, and that I was following him.
“Don’t try to guide the horse,” he called back to me every few minutes. “He’ll follow me, or pick out a better way for himself.”162
The “better way” resulted presently in a most surprising sensation. Lifting one forefoot after the other carefully, and setting them both down firmly on the farther side of a big fallen tree, my horse whisked his two hind feet over at one jump, which nearly threw me over his head.
“You villain!” shouted Murphy, who happened to be looking back. “That’s because he’s gettin’ tired; I’ll look out and not lead ye over any more trees big enough to jump.”
Many an extra half-mile did we ride before night by reason of this: it was hours before I could ride my horse at the smallest log without a sharp terror.
But Indian Canyon did not last long. Once at the head of it, we came out into magnificent spaces of forest; pines and firs from one hundred to three hundred feet high, all about us, and as far as we could see, and it seemed as if we could look off as far as upon an ocean, for the trunks rose straight, and bare, and branchless for fifty, sixty, eighty feet. The ground was soft, with piled layers of brown pine needles, and high-branching brakes, which bent noiselessly under our feet. In and out among the fallen trees, now to right, now to left, Murphy pushed on, through these trackless spaces, as unhesitatingly as on a turnpike.
Following a few paces behind, I fell into a silence as deep as his. I lost consciousness of every thing except the pure animal delight of earth, and tree, and sky. I did not know how many hours had passed, when Murphy suddenly stopped, and said:—
“You set as if you was getting tired. I reckon you’d better rest a spell here; and I’ll go down on foot to the river an’ see if we can get across. You’ll feel better, too, if you eat somethin’.” And he looked at me a little anxiously.
It was past noon. Murphy was right: it was high time for rest and for lunch, but merely to leave the saddle was not rest. The intense realization of the 163 grandeur and the solitude was only heightened as I sat all alone, in such silence as I never knew, in such space as I never felt. Murphy was not gone, he said, more than ten minutes, but in that ten minutes I lived the life of all hermits who have ever dwelt in desert or mountain.
As he came slowly towards me, I studied his face: Ford? or no ford?
I could not gather a gleam of indication, but one learns strange reticence with reticent people. I did not speak, only smiled: Murphy did not speak, only smiled, but shook his head, and began at once to fasten the saddle-bags on his saddle again.
In a moment, he spoke. “No use. Couldn’t get across there myself, nohow. I never see the river so high ’t this time o’ year.”
Now what was to be done? The old Mono trail, of which Murphy had spoken, came up the other side of Indian Canyon, and struck the river four miles higher. We could not be many miles from that trail; but the finding it was a matter of luck and chance. We might strike off on the ridges along the river, in just the line to hit it. We might wander about for hours, and not find it. Then, again, when we had found it, and by it had reached the river, what if even there the river proved unfordable? This was Murphy’s great point of perplexity, I could see.
“We should have hard work to get back to the valley again to-night,” he said.
I shuddered at the thought of riding down that wall after dark. But I kept silence, I did not wish to seem to bias his decision. At last he burst out with,—
“I’m blamed if I know what to do. I hate to give up an’ go back’s bad ’s you can. I can sleep well enough under a tree, if wust comes to wust, but I dunno ’s ’t ’s right to run any risk on’t for you.”
Sleeping under a tree, with brave, kind, old Murphy to keep a watch-fire burning, looked to me like paradise in comparison with riding down Indian Canyon at night.164
“Mr. Murphy,” said I, “you must decide. I myself would far rather ride all night, or sit all night under a tree, than go down that trail again. I am not in the least afraid of any thing excepting that. But I promised to be guided by your judgment, and I will. I will turn right round now, and go back to the valley, if you say so. But you must decide. Do just what you really think best.”
This I said because my whole heart was set on going to Gentry’s by the Mono trail.
Murphy pulled out his watch. It was half-past one o’clock.
“I don’t think we could be later’n three, gettin’ to the river,” he said. “I’ll do it! I’ll resk it!”
“But I dunno ’s now I’m doin’ right,” he added, as I clapped my hands and sprang up. I sat down again and looked at him reproachfully.
“Yes, yes, I’ll resk it,” he exclaimed. “I wan’t agoin’ back on myself, but I dunno ’s I’m doin’ right for all that.”
After we were mounted, Murphy stood still for some minutes, looking carefully all around, taking his bearings. Then he rode off in a direction apparently at right angles to the river. Now I was to find out—I who had thought the trail up Indian Canyon well-nigh impassable—what it is to ride where there is no trail. Over steep slopes, thick with bowlders and bushes, and no trace of a path,—along rocky ledges, where loose stones rolled under the horses’ feet at every step,—three times Murphy tried too near the river to get up to the Mono trail. At last he turned back and struck down into the leveler spaces of forest again. It began to seem as if we were riding round and round in circles; north and south, and east and west, seemed alike; it was hard to believe that Murphy had any plan, any instinct. Acre after acre of pine-forest, hill after hill of bowlders and bushes, valley after valley with threading streams at bottom, we crossed. Sometimes we came upon great fields of low berry-bearing bushes, under 165 the majestic pines. There was something touching in the sight of these stores of tiny fruit for the feeble folk who live on wing and in nests in the wilderness. Clumps of the strange red snow-flower, too, we saw in the wildest and most desolate places. Surely there can be no flower on earth whose look so allies it to uncanny beings and powers. “Sarcodes sanguinea,” the botanists have called it; I believe the spirits of the air know it by some other.
Imagine a red cone, from four to ten inches in height, and one or two in diameter, set firmly in the ground. It is not simply red, it is blood-red; deep and bright as drops from living veins. It is soft, flesh-like, and in the beginning shows simply a surface of small, close, lapping, sheath-like points, as a pine-cone does. These slowly open, beginning at the top, and as they fold back you see under each one a small flower, shaped like the flower of the Indian Pipe, and of similar pulpiness. This also is blood-red; but the centre of the cone, now revealed, is of a fleshy-pinkish white; so also is the tiny, almost imperceptible stem which unites the flower to it. They grow sometimes in clumps, like the Indian Pipe, three or four in a clump, sometimes singly. As far off as one can see down the dim vistas of these pine-forests will gleam out the vivid scarlet of one of these superb uncanny flowers. When its time comes to die, it turns black, so that in its death, also, it looks like a fleshy thing linked to mysteries.
At last Murphy shouted triumphantly from ahead: “Here’s the trail. Fetched it this time; now keep up, sharp;” and he rode off down a steep and rocky hillside, at a rate which dismayed me. The trail was faint, but distinct: at times on broad opens, it spread out suddenly into thousands of narrow dusty furrows; these had been made by flocks of sheep driven through earlier in the season. From some of these broad opens were magnificent views of the high Sierras; we were six thousand feet high, but they were five and six and eight thousand feet higher still; their glistening white peaks 166 looked like ice-needles, sharp, thick-set against the far blue sky; between us and them, a few miles off, to the left, lay the beautiful granite-walled, meadow-paved abyss of Ah-wah-ne, but its narrow opening made no perceptible break in the grand surfaces of green and gray over which we looked to the horizon. It seemed long before we reached the river. At first sight of its gleam through the trees, Murphy drove his spurs into his horse, and galloped towards it. Slowly he rode up and down the bank, looking intently at the water. Then he turned and rode back to me. As before, I studied his reticent face in vain. But, when he began to speak, his eyes twinkled.
“It’s runnin’ pretty fast, but I can get ye over: I’ll do it now, if I have to carry ye. But I’m goin’ to ride over fust to see how the stones lay,” and he plunged in. I had hard work to hold my horse back from following. Suddenly Murphy looked back and shouted, “Come on. ’Taint so deep ’s I thought; come right on.” For a second I shrank. Murphy was half across; the water was foaming high; I could see no bottom; Murphy’s feet were thrown up by an inexplicable gymnastic twist, so that they were nearly on his horse’s back, and nearly to his feet the water came; the current seemed to me swift enough to carry any living thing, man or horse, off his legs in a second. But shame made me bold, and I rode in. At the first gurgling rush of the water under me, and the first sway of my horse’s body in it, I leaned forward, clutched his neck, shut my eyes, drew up my left foot, and tried not to think. It could not have been more than four or five minutes across, by the watch; but there are other measures of time than time. When I scrambled out dripping on the bank, Murphy sat on his horse looking at me kindly.
“Ye done that fust rate,” he said, “an’ now the sooner we push on the better.”
I pleaded for five minutes’ rest for the horses to nibble the low green grass which grew in the little bit of meadow at the ford. Poor things! it was half-past four 167 o’clock; not a mouthful of food had they had since morning. For the last two hours mine had been snatching mouthfuls of every eatable and uneatable shrub we had passed.
But Murphy was inexorable. “’Twon’t do them no good, the little bit they’d get, an’ we’ve got considerable ridin’ to do yet,” he said.
“How far is it to Gentry’s now?” said I.
“I dunno exactly,” replied Murphy, Wise Murphy! “If we’d come out on Eagle Pint, where we calculated to, it ’ud ha’ been about six miles from there to Gentry’s. But it’s some farther from here.”
Some farther! into sunless, pathless woods, miles and miles of them,—out on bare plateaus, acres and acres of them,—down canyons, steep and ledged with bare rocks, or jungled with trees and bushes, down one side, over the stream at bottom, and up the other side, across three of them, led that Mono trail. And after the woods, and the plateaus, and the canyons, came more woods; “the last woods,” said Murphy. These were the great Tamarack Flats. Dense, dark, desolate; trees with black-seamed bark, straight and branchless, unloving and grim, up to the very tops; and even the tops did not seem to blend, though they shut out the sky. A strange ancient odor filled the air, as from centuries of distilling essence of resins, and mouldering dust of spices. Again, and again, and again, we were stopped by a fallen tree, which lay, barring our path for a hundred feet each way, and was crossed again itself by other fallen trees, till we had to whirl and twine and ride up and down to get out of the corral. Then we would come to a huge snow-bank, nine, ten feet high, curiously dotted and marked over the whole surface, where raindrops had pattered down, and pine-needles had fallen; around these also we had to ride, for they were too soft to bear the horses’ weight.
After these circuits it was very hard to find the trail again, for there was no trace of it on the ground,—only old blazes on the trees to indicate it.
Sometimes Murphy would tell me to wait where I 168 was, and not stir, while he rode back and forth looking for a blaze on a tree. Sometimes I spied the blaze first; and then I felt a thrill of real backwoods achievement.
On one of the opens he suddenly halted, and, waiting for me to come up, pointed to a mark in the dust.
“There’s something ye never see before, I reckon,” he said.
It was a broad print in the dust, as if a mitten had been laid down heavily.
“That’s the trail of a grizzly,” exclaimed Murphy exultantly, “he was the last along this road.”
A little further on he stopped again, and after leaning low from his horse and looking closely at the ground, called back to me:—
“There’s been a whole herd of deer along here, not but a very little while ago. I’d ha’ liked it if you could ha’ had a look at ’em.”
, deer, and if there were any other wild creature there, I should have been glad to see them all. Murphy and I seemed to belong to the wilderness as much as they. I felt ready to meet my kin, and rather lonely that they were all out of the way. But I wished that they kept their house better lighted. It was fast growing dark; very dark very fast. It was already impossible for me to see the blazes on the trees; and Murphy had often to ride close up to a tree to make sure he was right. The blazes were old, and in many places almost the color of the rest of the tree. I could see that Murphy was anxious. He kept his horse at the fastest gait he thought I could follow, and said to me every now and “Ye must keep up ’s well ’s ye can. These woods is pretty dark.”
My horse was a pacer, originally; but bad usage and old age had so robbed him of his gait, that the instant he moved quickly he became almost unendurable. It was neither pace, trot, nor run, but a capricious mixing of the three. Hunger and crossness now added to the irregularity of his motions, and it was simply impossible 169 for me to bear more than a few minutes at a time of any thing but a walk. I felt also a singular indifference to getting out of that wood. It was uncanny in its gloom and damp and chill; but I liked being there. Its innumerable and impenetrable black vistas had an indescribable fascination. And here and there, even in the darkest distances, gleamed out the vivid warmthless glow of the mysterious snow-plants; sometimes just in the edge of the snow-drifts; sometimes on the banks of inky brooks.
Very dark, very fast, it grew; Murphy rode pitilessly ahead, and I crept patiently along, keeping my eye on the ghostly winding white of his horse among the trees. Suddenly I saw a light to the left, and Murphy wheeling towards it. I hurried up. Never shall I forget the picture I saw. A smouldering fire, two evil-looking men crouching over it; their mules tied to a tree; and a third still more -looking man leading up a third mule.
But Murphy hailed them with as cheery good fellowship as if they had been old friends.
“How far is it to Gentry’s?”
“Five miles,” said they sullenly.
“’Tain’t now,” exclaimed Murphy, startled into a tone of real astonishment.
“Guess you’ll think so before you get there; five good miles,” said the man who was leading up the mule.
Murphy rode on without a word, but in a few moments he turned to me, and said, energetically:—
“Ye must reely keep up smart now. I couldn’t possibly follow this trail, if it was to get much darker,” and he fairly galloped off; turning back, however, to say in a lower tone, “I shouldn’t wonder if them men were runnin’ a man off from jail.”
Luckily, the last three miles of the five were on the high road. It had not seemed very long to me, though it was so dark that I could not have followed Murphy easily except for his being on a white horse; when he stopped, and, waiting for me to come up, said, “I suppose 170 ’twould surprise ye now if I was to tell you that the road is jest out yonder!”
“No, Mr. Murphy,” I replied, “nothing could surprise me less.”
“Well, here ’tis,” he said, a little crest-fallen, “and our troubles are all over.”
It had a friendlier look than the black wood, after all,—the broad gray belt of distinct road. And then first I realized how very dark it had been. Even in the road it was real night.
Three miles now down to Gentry’s, the very road over which, eight days before, we had rattled so furiously in the stage, going to Ah-wah-ne.
I jumped off my horse; for five minutes I lay at full length on a mossy log.
“I thought ye’d have to own up to bein’ some tired before ye was through with it,” said Murphy, with more compassion in his voice than in his words. “I tell you, though, I couldn’t ha’ followed that trail half an hour longer. It ain’t so dark yet ’s it’s going to be.”
Gayly we cantered up to Gentry’s piazza. The lamps flared as the astonished landlord opened his door to see who came riding so late. It was almost nine o’clock; twelve hours and more I had been in my saddle.
“Do tell,” and “ye don’t say,” were the ejaculations with which everybody received the news of our having ridden out and from Ah-wah-ne by Indian Canyon and the old Mono trail.
What a night’s sleep it was, to be sure, which I took that night at Gentry’s! and what genuine sympathy there was in Murphy’s voice, the next morning, when he came early to my door, for any orders to take down into the valley! and I said: “Tell them I am not one whit tired, Mr. Murphy.”
“Well, I’m reely glad,” replied Murphy. “I was reely a’most afraid to ask ye.”
When we bade Murphy good-bye the next day, we found it hard to make him take the small gift we meant as token of our friendship, and our appreciation of his 171 kindness and faithfulness as guide. At last he consented, saying: “I’ve refused a great many times to take any thin’ this way. But I’ll tell ye what I shall do. When I get a place of my own, I shall jest put this money into some books, and write you folks’ names in ’em to remember ye by.”
But we are beforehand with him in the matter of names.
Here let his stand written, to remember him by:—
Best of Guides in Most Wonderful of Valleys.
This article—the last of the Yosemite group—first appeared in Scribner’s Monthly, Vol. VI, no. 4 (August 1873), pgs. 471ff. There were no illustrations.
you could cross the Yo Semite Creek
text unchanged; the Scribner’s version is the same
red lilies, white azaleas,
text has azalias
clutched his neck, shut my eyes, drew up my left foot,
[As pointed out a few chapters earlier, she is riding sidesaddle.]
Grizzlies, deer, and if there were any other
text has spurious open quote
said to me every now and then,
text has . for ,
still more villanous-looking
John Murphy: Best of Guides
[For John Murphy—which may be an error for John Muir—see Notes on Yosemite, halfway up this page.]
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.