THE VALLEY OF THE MOON: BOOK III
"We hiked into Monterey last winter, but we're ridin' out now, b 'gosh!" Billy said as the train pulled out and they leaned back in their seats.
They had decided against retracing their steps over the ground already traveled, and took the train to San Francisco. They had been warned by Mark Hall of the enervation of the south, and were bound north for their blanket climate. Their intention was to cross the Bay to Sausalito and wander up through the coast counties Here, Hall had told them, they would find the true home of the redwood. But Billy, in the smoking car for a cigarette, seated himself beside a man who was destined to deflect them from their course. He was a keen-faced, dark-eyed man, undoubtedly a Jew; and Billy, remembering Saxon's admonition always to ask questions, watched his opportunity and started a conversation. It took but a little while to learn that Gunston was a commission merchant, and to realize that the content of his talk was too valuable for Saxon to lose. Promptly, when he saw that the other's cigar was finished, Billy invited him into the next car to meet Saxon. Billy would have been incapable of such an act prior to his sojourn in Carmel. That much at least he had acquired of social facility.
"He's just teen tellin' me about the potato kings, and I wanted him to tell you," Billy explained to Saxon after the introduction. "Go on and tell her, Mr. Gunston, about that fan tan sucker that made nineteen thousan' last year in celery an' asparagus."
"I was just telling your husband about the way the Chinese make things go up the San Joaquin river. It would be worth your while to go up there and look around. It's the good season now--too early for mosquitoes. You can get off the train at Black Diamond or Antioch and travel around among the big farming islands on the steamers and launches. The fares are cheap, and you'll find some of those big gasoline boats, like the Duchess and Princess, more like big steamboats."
"Tell her about Chow Lam," Billy urged.
The commission merchant leaned back and laughed.
"Chow Lam, several years ago, was a broken-down fan tan player. He hadn't a cent, and his health was going back on him. He had worn out his back with twenty years' work in the gold mines, washing over the tailings of the early miners. And whatever he'd made he'd lost at gambling. Also, he was in debt three hundred dollars to the Six Companies--you know, they're Chinese affairs. And, remember, this was only seven years ago--health breaking down, three hundred in debt, and no trade. Chow Lam blew into Stockton and got a job on the peat lands at day's wages. It was a Chinese company, down on Middle River, that farmed celery and asparagus. This was when he got onto himself and took stock of himself. A quarter of a century in the United States, back not so strong as it used to was, and not a penny laid by for his return to China. He saw how the Chinese in the company had done it--saved their wages and bought a share.
"He saved his wages for two years, and bought one share in a thirty-share company. That was only five years ago. They leased three hundred acres of peat land from a white man who preferred traveling in Europe. Out of the profits of that one share in the first year, he bought two shares in another company. And in a year more, out of the three shares, he organized a company of his own. One year of this, with bad luck, and he just broke even. That brings it up to three years ago. The following year, bumper crops, he netted four thousand. The next year it wan five thousand. And last year he cleaned up nineteen thousand dollars. Pretty good, eh, for old broken-down Chow Lam?"
"My!" was all Saxon could say.
Her eager interest, however, incited the commission merchant to go on.
"Look at Sing Kee--the Potato King of Stockton. I know him well. I've had more large deals with him and made less money than with any man I know. He was only a coolie, and he smuggled himself into the United States twenty years ago. Started at day's wages, then peddled vegetables in a couple of baskets slung on a stick, and after that opened up a store in Chinatown in San Francisco. But he had a head on him, and he was soon onto the curves of the Chinese farmers that dealt at his store. The store couldn't make money fast enough to suit him. He headed up the San Joaquin. Didn't do much for a couple of years except keep his eyes peeled. Then he jumped in and leased twelve hundred acres at seven dollars an acre "
"My God!" Billy said in an awe-struck voice. "Eight thousan', four hundred dollars just for rent the first year. I know five hundred acres I can buy for three dollars an acre."
"Will it grow potatoes?" Gunston asked.
Billy shook his head. "Nor nothin' else, I guess."
All three laughed heartily and the commission merchant resumed:
"That seven dollars was only for the land. Possibly you know what it costs to plow twelve hundred acres?"
Billy nodded solemnly.
"And he got a hundred and sixty sacks to the acre that year," Gunston continued. "Potatoes were selling at fifty cents. My father was at the head of our concern at the time, so I know for a fact. And Sing Kee could have sold at fifty cents and made money. But did he? Trust a Chinaman to know the market. They can skin the commission merchants at it. Sing Kee held on. When 'most everybody else had sold, potatoes began to climb. He laughed at our buyers when we offered him sixty cents, seventy cents, a dollar. Do you want to know what he finally did sell for? One dollar and sixty-five a sack. Suppose they actually cost him forty cents. A hundred and sixty times twelve hundred . . . let me see . . . twelve times nought is nought and twelve times sixteen is a hundred and ninety-two . . . a hundred and ninety-two thousand sacks at a dollar and a quarter net...four into a hundred and ninety-two is forty-eight, plus, is two hundred and forty--there you are, two hundred and forty thousand dollars clear profit on that year's deal."
"An' him a Chink," Billy mourned disconsolately. He turned to Saxon. "They ought to be some new country for us white folks to go to. Gosh!--we're settin' on the stoop all right, all right."
"But, of course, that was unusual," Glunston hastened to qualify. "There was a failure of potatoes in other districts, and a corner, and in some strange way Sing Kee was dead on. He never made profits like that again. But he goes ahead steadily. Last year he had four thousand acres in potatoes, a thousand in asparagus, five hundred in celery and five hundred in beans. And he's running six hundred acres in seeds. No matter what happens to one or two crops, he can't lose on all of them."
"I've seen twelve thousand acres of apple trees," Saxon said. "And I'd like to see four thousand acres in potatoes."
"And we will," Billy rejoined with great positiveness. "It's us for the San Joaquin. We don't know what's in our country. No wonder we're out on the stoop."
"You'll find lots of kings up there," Gunston related. "Yep Hong Lee--they call him 'Big Jim,' and Ah Pock, and Ah Whang, and--then there's Shima, the Japanese potato king. He's worth several millions. Lives like a prince."
"Why don't Americans succeed like that?" asked Saxon.
"Because they won't, I guess. There's nothing to stop them except themselves. I'll tell you one thing, though-- give me the Chinese to deal with. He's honest. His word is as good as his bond. If he says he'll do a thing, he'll do it. And, anyway, the white man doesn't know how to farm. :EIven the up-to-date white farmer is content with one crop at a time and rotation of crops. Mr. John Chinaman goes him one better, and grows two crops at one time on the same soil. I've seen it--radishes and carrots, two crops, sown at one time."
"Which don't stand to reason," Billy objected. "They'd be only a half crop of each."
"Another guess coming," Gunston jeered. "Carrots have to be thinned when they're so far along. So do radishes. But carrots grow slow. Radishes grow fast. The slow-going carrots serve the purpose of thinning the radishes. And when the radishes are pulled, ready for market, that thins the carrots, which come along later. You can't beat the Chink."
"Don't see why a white man can't do what a Chink can," protested Billy.
"That sounds all right," Gunston replied. "The only objection is that the white man doesn't. The Chink is busy all the time, and he keeps the ground just as busy. He has organization, system. Who ever heard of white farmers keeping books? The Chink does. No guess work with him. He knows just where he stands, to a cent, on any crop at any moment. And he knows the market. He plays both ends. How he does it is beyond me, but he knows the market better than we commission merchants.
"Then, again, he's patient but not stubborn. Suppose he does make a mistake, and gets in a crop, and then finds the market is wrong. In such a situation the white man gets stubborn and hangs on like a bulldog. But not the Chink. He's going to minimize the losses of that mistake. That land has got to work, and make money. Without a quiver or a regret, the moment he's learned his error, he puts his plows into that crop, turns it under, and plants something else. He has the savve. He can look at a sprout, just poked up out of the ground, and tell how it's going to turn out--whether it will head up or won't head up; or if it's going to head up good, medium, or bad. That's one end. Take the other end. He controls his crop. He forces it or holds it back. with an eye on the market. And when the market is just right, there's his crop, ready to deliver, timed to the minute."
The conversation with Gunston lasted hours, and the more he talked of the Chinese and their farming ways the more Saxon became aware of a growing dissatisfaction. She did not question the facts. The trouble was that they were not alluring. Somehow, she could not find place for them in her valley of the moon. It was not until the genial Jew left the train that Billy gave definite statement to what was vaguely bothering her.
"Huh! We ain't Chinks. We're white folks. Does a Chink ever want to ride a horse, hell-bent for election an' havin' a good time of it? Did you ever see a Chink go swimmin' out through the breakers at Carmel?--or boxin', wrestlin', runnin' an' jumpin'for the sport of it? Did you ever see a Chink take a shotgun on his arm, tramp six miles, an' come back happy with one measly rabbit? What does a Chink do? Work his damned head off. That's all he's good for. To hell with work, if that's the whole of the game--an' I've done my share of work, an' I can work alongside of any of 'em. But what's the good? If they's one thing I've learned solid since you an' me hit the road, Saxon, it is that work's the least part of life. God!--if it was all of life I couldn't cut my throat quick enough to get away from it. I want shotguns an' rifles, an' a horse between my legs. I don't want to be so tired all the time I can't love my wife. Who wants to be rich an' clear two hundred an' forty thousand on a potato deal! Look at Rockefeller. Has to live on milk. I want porterhouse and a stomach that can bite sole-leather. An' I want you, an' plenty of time along with you, an' fun for both of us. What's the good of life if they ain't no fun?"
"Oh, Billy!" Saxon cried. "It's just what I've been trying to get straightened out in my head. It's been worrying me for ever so long. I was afraid there was something wrong with me- -that I wasn't made for the country after all. All the time I didn't envy the San Leandro Portuguese. I didn't want to be one, nor a Pajaro Valley Dalmatian, nor even a Mrs. Mortimer. And you didn't either. What we want is a valley of the moon, with not too much work, and all the fun we want. And we'll just keep on looking until we find it. And if we don't find it, we'll go on having the fun just as we have ever since we left Oakland. And, Billy . . . we're never, never going to work our damned heads off, are we?"
"Not on your life, " Billy growled in fierce affirmation.
They walked into Black Diamond with their packs on their backs. It was a scattered village of shabby little cottages, with a main street that was a wallow of black mud from the last late spring rain. The sidewalks bumped up and down in uneven steps and landings. Everything seemed un-American. The names on the strange dingy shops were unspeakably foreign. The one dingy hotel was run by a Greek. Greeks were everywhere--swarthy men in sea-boots and tam-o'-shanters, hatless women in bright colors, hordes of sturdy children, and all speaking in outlandish voices, crying shrilly and vivaciously with the volubility of the Mediterranean.
"Huh!--this ain't the United States," Billy muttered. Down on the water front they found a fish cannery and an asparagus cannery in the height of the busy season, where they looked in vain among the toilers for familiar American faces. Billy picked out the bookkeepers and foremen for Americans. All the rest were Greeks, Italians, and Chinese.
At the steamboat wharf, they watched the bright-painted Greek boats arriving, discharging their loads of glorious salmon, and departing. New York Cut-Off, as the slough was called, curved to the west and north and flowed into a vast body of water which was the united Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
Beyond the steamboat wharf, the fishing wharves dwindled to stages for the drying of nets; and here, away from the noise and clatter of the alien town, Saxon and Billy took off their packs and rested. The tall, rustling tules grew out of the deep water close to the dilapidated boat-landing where they sat. Opposite the town lay a long flat island, on which a row of ragged poplars leaned against the sky.
"Just like in that Dutch windmill picture Mark Hall has," Saxon said.
Billy pointed out the mouth of the slough and across the broad reach of water to a cluster of tiny white buildings, behind which, like a glimmering mirage, rolled the low Montezuma Hills.
"Those houses is Collinsville," he informed her. "The Sacramento river comes in there, and you go up it to Rio Vista an' Isleton, and Walnut Grove, and all those places Mr. Gunston was tellin' us about. It's all islands and sloughs, connectin' clear across an' back to the San Joaquin. "
"Isn't the sun good," Saxon yawned. "And how quiet it is here, so short a distance away from those strange foreigners. And to think! in the cities, right now, men are beating and killing each other for jobs."
Now and again an overland passenger train rushed by in the distance, echoing along the background of foothills of Mt. Diablo, which bulked, twin-peaked, greencrinkled, against the sky. Then the slumbrous quiet would fall, to be broken by the far call of a foreign tongue or by a gasoline fishing boat chugging in through the mouth of the slough.
Not a hundred feet away, anchored close in the tules, lay a beautiful white yacht. Despite its tininess, it looked broad and comfortable. Smoke was rising for'ard from its stovepipe. On its stern, in gold letters, they read Roamer. On top of the cabin, basking in the sunshine, lay a man and woman, the latter with a pink scarf around her head. The man was reading aloud from a book, while she sewed. Beside them sprawled a fox terrier.
"Gosh! they don't have to stick around cities to be happy," Billy commented.
A Japanese came on deck from the cabin, sat down for'ard, and began picking a chicken. The feathers floated away in a long line toward the mouth of the slough.
"Oh! Look!" Saxon pointed in her excitement. "He's fishing! And the line is fast to his toe!"
The man had dropped the book face-downward on the cabin and reached for the line, while the woman looked up from her sewing, and the terrier began to bark. In came the line, hand under hand, and at the end a big catfish. When this was removed, and the line rebaited and dropped overboard, the man took a turn around his toe and went on reading.
A Japanese came down on the landing-stage beside Saxon and Billy, and hailed the yacht. He carried parcels of meat and vegetables; one coat pocket bulged with letters, the other with morning papers. In response to his hail, the Japanese on the yacht stood up with the part- plucked chicken. The man said something to him, put aside the book, got into the white skiff lying astern, and rowed to the landing. As he came alongside the stage, he pulled in his oars, caught hold, and said good morning genially.
"Why, I know you," Saxon said impulsively, to Billy's amazement. "You are...."
Here she broke off in confusion.
"Go on," the man said, smiling reassurance.
"You are Jack Hastings, I 'm sure of it. I used to see your photograph in the papers all the time you were war correspondent in the Japanese-Russian War. You've written lots of books, though I've never read them."
"Right you are," he ratified. "And what's your name?"
Saxon introduced herself and Billy, and, when she noted the writer's observant eye on their packs, she sketched the pilgrimage they were on. The farm in the valley of the moon evidently caught his fancy, and, though the Japanese and his parcels were safely in the skiff, Hastings still lingered. When Saxon spoke of Carmel, he seemed to know everybody in Hall's crowd, and when he heard they were intending to go to Rio Vista, his invitation was immediate.
"Why, we're going that way ourselves, inside an hour, as soon as slack water comes," he exclaimed. "It's just the thing. Come on on board. We'll be there by four this afternoon if there's any wind at all. Come on. My wife's on board, and Mrs. Hall is one of her best chums. We've been away to South America--just got back; or you'd have seen us in Carmel. Hal wrote to us about the pair of you."
It was the second time in her life that Saxon had been in a small boat, and the Roamer was the first yacht she had ever been on board. The writer's wife, whom he called Clara, welcomed them heartily, and Saxon lost no time in falling in love with her and in being fallen in love with in return. So strikingly did they resemble each other, that Hastings was not many minutes in calling attention to it. He made them stand side by side, studied their eyes and mouths and ears, compared their hands, their hair, their ankles, and swore that his fondest dream was shattered-- namely, that when Clara had been made the mold was broken.
On Clara's suggestion that it might have been pretty much the same mold, they compared histories. Both were of the pioneer stock. Clara's mother, like Saxon's, had crossed the Plains with ox-teams, and, like Saxon's, had wintered in Salt Intake City--in fact, had, with her sisters, opened the first Gentile school in that Mormon stronghold. And, if Saxon's father had helped raise the Bear Flag rebellion at Sonoma, it was at Sonoma that Clara's father had mustered in for the War of the Rebellion and ridden as far east with his troop as Salt Lake City, of which place he had been provost marshal when the Mormon trouble flared up. To complete it all, Clara fetched from the cabin an ukulele of boa wood that was the twin to Saxon's, and together they sang "Honolulu Tomboy."
Hastings decided to eat dinner--he called the midday meal by its old-fashioned name--before sailing; and down below Saxon was surprised and delighted by the measure of comfort in so tiny a cabin. There was just room for Billy to stand upright. A centerboard-case divided the room in half longitudinally, and to this was attached the hinged table from which they ate. Low bunks that ran the full cabin length, upholstered in cheerful green, served as seats. A curtain, easily attached by hooks between the centerboard-case and the roof, at night screened Mrs. Hastings' sleeping quarters. On the opposite side the two Japanese bunked, while for'ard, under the deck, was the galley. So small was it that there was just room beside it for the cook, who was compelled by the low deck to squat on his hands. The other Japanese, who had brought the parcels on board, waited on the table.
"They are looking for a ranch in the valley of the moon," Hastings concluded his explanation of the pilgrimage to Clara.
"Oh!--don't you know--" she cried; but was silenced by her husband.
"Hush," he said peremptorily, then turned to their guests. "Listen. There's something in that valley of the moon idea, but I won't tell you what. It is a secret. Now we've a ranch in Sonoma Valley about eight miles from the very town of Sonoma where you two girls' fathers took up soldiering; and if you ever come to our ranch you'll learn the secret. Oh, believe me, it's connected with your valley of the moon.--Isn't it, Mate?"
This last was the mutual name he and Clara had for each other.
She smiled and laughed and nodded her head.
"You might find our valley the very one you are looking for," she said.
But Hastings shook his head at her to check further speech. She turned to the fox terrier and made it speak for a piece of meat.
"Her name's Peggy," she told Saxon. "We had two Irish terriers down in the South Seas, brother and sister, but they died. We called them Peggy and Possum. So she's named after the original Peggy."
Billy was impressed by the ease with which the Roamer was operated. While they lingered at table, at a word from Hastings the two Japanese had gone on deck. Billy could hear them throwing down the halyards, casting off gaskets, and heaving the anchor short on the tiny winch. In several minutes one called down that everything was ready, and all went on deck. Hoisting mainsail and jigger was a matter of minutes. Then the cook and cabin-boy broke out anchor, and, while one hove it up, the other hoisted the jib. Eastings, at the wheel, trimmed the sheet. The Roamer paid off, filled her sails, slightly heeling, and slid across the smooth water and out the mouth of New York Slough. The Japanese coiled the halyards and went below for their own dinner.
"The flood is just beginning to make," said Hastings, pointing to a striped spar-buoy that was slightly tipping up-stream on the edge of the channel.
The tiny white houses of Collinsville, which they were nearing, disappeared behind a low island, though the Montezuma Hills, with their long, low, restful lines, slumbered on the horizon apparently as far away as ever.
As the Roamer passed the mouth of Montezuma Slough and entered the Sacramento, they came upon Collinsville close at hand. Saxon clapped her hands.
"It's like a lot of toy houses," she said, "cut out of cardboard. And those hilly fields are just painted up behind."
They passed many arks and houseboats of fishermen moored among the tules, and the women and children, like the men in the boats, were dark-skinned, black-eyed, foreign. As they proceeded up the river, they began to encounter dredges at work, biting out mouthfuls of the sandy river bottom and heaping it on top of the huge levees. Great mats of willow brush, hundreds of yards in length, were laid on top of the river-slope of the levees and held in place by steel cables and thousands of cubes of cement. The willows soon sprouted, Hastings told them, and by the time the mats were rotted away the sand was held in place by the roots of the trees.
"It must cost like Sam Hill," Billy observed.
"But the land is worth it," Hastings explained. "This island land is the most productive in the world. This section of California is like Holland. You wouldn't think it, but this water we're sailing on is higher than the surface of the islands. They're like leaky boats--calking, patching, pumping, night and day and all the time. But it pays. It pays."
Except for the dredgers, the fresh-piled sand, the dense willow thickets, and always Mt. Diablo to the south, nothing was to be seen. Occasionally a river steamboat passed, and blue herons flew into the trees.
"It must be very lonely," Saxon remarked.
Hastings laughed and told her she would change her mind later. Much he related to them of the river lands, and after a while he got on the subject of tenant farming. Saxon had started him by speaking of the land-hungry Anglo-Saxons.
"Land-hogs," he snapped. "That's our record in this country. As one old Reuben told a professor of an agricultural experiment station: 'They ain't no sense in tryin' to teach me farmin'. I know all about it. Ain't I worked out three farms?' It was his kind that destroyed New England. Back there great sections are relapsing to wilderness. In one state, at least, the deer have increased until they are a nuisance. There are abandoned farms by the tens of thousands. I've gone over the lists of them--farms in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut. Offered for sale on easy pay nent. The prices asked wouldn't pay for the improvements, while the land, of course, is thrown in for nothing.
"And the same thing is going on, in one way or another, the same land-robbing and hogging, over the rest of the country--down in Texas, in Missouri, and Kansas, out here in California. Take tenant farming. I know a ranch in my county where the land was worth a hundred and twenty-five an acre. And it gave its return at that valuation. When the old man died, the son leased it to a Portuguese and went to live in the city. In five years the Portuguese skimmed the cream and dried up the udder. The second lease, with another Portuguese for three years, gave one-quarter the former return. No third Portuguese appeared to offer to lease it. There wasn't anything left. That ranch was worth fifty thousand when the old man died. In the end the son got eleven thousand for it. Why, I've seen land that paid twelve per cent., that, after the skimming of a five-years' lease, paid only one and a quarter per cent."
"It's the same in our valley," Mrs. Hastings supplemented. "All the old farms are dropping into ruin. Take the Ebell Place, Mate." Her husband nodded emphatic indorsement. "When we used to know it, it was a perfect paradise of a farm. There were dams and lakes, beautiful meadows, lush hayfields, red hills of grape-lands, hundreds of acres of good pasture, heavenly groves of pines and oaks, a stone winery, stone barns, grounds--oh, I couldn't describe it in hours. When Mrs. Bell died, the family scattered, and the leasing began. It's a ruin to-day. The trees have been cut and sold for firewood. There's only a little bit of the vineyard that isn't abandoned-- just enough to make wine for the present Italian lessees, who are running a poverty-stricken milk ranch on the leavings of the soil. I rode over it last year, and cried. The beautiful orchard is a horror. The grounds have gone back to the wild. Just because they didn't keep the gutters cleaned out, the rain trickled down and dry-rotted the timbers, and the big stone barn is caved in. The same with part of the winery--the other part is used for stabling the cows. And the house!--words can't describe!"
"It's become a profession," Hastings went on. "The 'movers.' They lease, clean out and gut a place in several years, and then move on. They're not like the foreigners, the Chinese, and Japanese, and the rest. In the main they're a lazy, vagabond, poor-white sort, who do nothing else but skin the soil and move, skin the soil and move. Now take the Portuguese and Italians in our country. They are different. They arrive in the country without a penny and work for others of their countrymen until they've learned the language and their way about. Now they're not movers. What they are after is land of their own, which they will love and care for and conserve. But, in the meantime, how to get it? Saving wages is slow. There is a quicker way. They lease. In three years they can gut enough out of somebody else's land to set themselves up for life. It is sacrilege, a veritable rape of the land; but what of it, It's the way of the United States."
He turned suddenly on Billy.
"Look here, Roberts. You and your wife are looking for your bit of land. You want it bad. Now take my advice. It's cold, hard advice. Become a tenant farmer. Lease some place, where the old folks have died and the country isn't good enough for the sons and daughters. Then gut it. Wring the last dollar out of the soil, repair nothing, and in three years you'll have your own place paid for. Then turn over a new leaf, and love your soil. Nourish it. Every dollar you feed it will return you two. lend have nothing scrub about the place. If it's a horse, a cow, a pig, a chicken, or a blackberry vine, see that it's thoroughbred."
"But it's wicked!" Saxon wrung out. "It's wicked advice."
"We live in a wicked age," Hastings countered, smiling grimly. "This wholesale land-skinning is the national crime of the United States to-day. Nor would I give your husband such advice if I weren't absolutely certain that the land he skins would be skinned by some Portuguese or Italian if he refused. As fast as they arrive and settle down, they send for their sisters and their cousins and their aunts. If you were thirsty, if a warehouse were burning and beautiful Rhine wine were running to waste, would you stay your hand from scooping a drink?Well, the national warehouse is afire in many places, and no end of the good things are running to waste. Help yourself. If you don't, the immigrants will."
"Oh, you don't know him," Mrs. Hastings hurried to explain. "He spends all his time on the ranch in conserving the soil. There are over a thousand acres of woods alone, and, though he thins and forests like a surgeon, he won't let a tree be chopped without his permission. He's even planted a hundred thousand trees. He's always draining and ditching to stop erosion, and experimenting with pasture grasses. And every little while he buys some exhausted adjoining ranch and starts building up the soil."
"Wherefore I know what I 'm talking about," Hastings broke in. "And my advice holds. I love the soil, yet tomorrow, things being as they are and if I were poor, I'd gut five hundred acres in order to buy twenty-five for myself. When you get into Sonoma Valley, look me up, and I'll put you onto the whole game, and both ends of it. I'll show you construction as well as destruction. When you find a farm doomed to be gutted anyway, why jump in and do it yourself."
"Yes, and he mortgaged himself to the eyes," laughed Mrs. Hastings, "to keep five hundred acres of woods out of the hands of the charcoal burners."
Ahead, on the left bank of the Sacramento, just at the fading end of the Montezuma Hills, Rio Vista appeared. The Roamer slipped through the smooth water, past steamboat wharves, landing stages, and warehouses. The two Japanese went for'ard on deck. At command of Hastings, the jib ran down, and he shot the Roomer into the wind, losing way, until he called, "Let go the hook!" The anchor went down, and the yacht swung to it, so close to shore that the skiff lay under overhanging willows.
"Farther up the river we tie to the bank," Mrs. Hastings said, "so that when you wake in the morning you find the branches of trees sticking down into the cabin."
"Ooh!" Saxon murmured, pointing to a lump on her wrist. "Look at that. A mosquito."
"Pretty early for them," Hastings said. "But later on they're terrible. I've seen them so thick I couldn't back the jib against them."
Saxon was not nautical enough to appreciate his hyperbole, though Billy grinned.
"There are no mosquitoes in the valley of the moon," she said.
"No, never," said Mrs. Hastings, whose husband began immediately to regret the smallness of the cabin which prevented him from offering sleeping accommodations.
An automobile bumped along on top of the levee, and the young boys and girls in it cried, "Oh, you kid!" to Saxon and Billy, and Hastings, who was rowing them ashore in the skiff. Hastings called, "Oh, you kid!" back to them; and Saxon, pleasuring in the boyishness of his sunburned face, was reminded of the boyishness of Mark Hall and his Carmel crowd.
Continue to Chapter 12