California – Camulos

To be in harmony with the “Ramona” motif, it seemed fitting to start from Santa Barbara, from the serene shades of whose beautiful Mission Father Salvierderra was wont to set out on foot upon his periodical visits to the Señora Moreno’s ranch. The highroad follows the sea to Carpinteria, thence through the lovely Casitas Passes to Ventura, an-other Mission town; then turning inland takes one, an easy day’s travel, by the Camulos Rancho, well known as the place of which Mrs. Jackson made a special study for the local color of the Moreno estate in her novel. The courteous Spanish family who owned and lived on the ranch when the novelist made her two-hour visit there, are still occupants and if approached with the consideration to which their station entitles them, are glad to show and explain points of interest about the place. Time was when in true Spanish fashion, hospitality was extended in a princely manner, and all visitors, whatever the number, were treated as guests; but the inability on the part of average American tourists to receive such attention in the spirit in which it was given, and their outrageous disregard of the family’s rights and feelings, have led to a discontinuance of the freedom of the house to the uninvited.

The nearest public accommodation to Camulos is a plain but comfortable hostelry at Piru, two miles distant, which we made the terminus of our day’s drive from Ventura. Next morning as we drove along the road that winds up the little valley of the Rio Santa Clara, whose waters flow through Camulos, all the earth seemed one great jewel sparkling in the bright sunshine. The fragrance of a myriad flowers sweetened the dewy air, and the meadow larks and red-throated linnets raised their cheery carols from fence post and telegraph pole. Now and again we drove through thickets of wild mustard, higher than a man, as in Ramona’s time, and covered with golden bloom. The great, swelling hills, so characteristic of the coast region of Southern California, treeless but verdure clad, lifted their rounded heads on both sides of our valley road; and on the summit of one, outlined against the blue sky ahead of us, stood a slender wooden cross. We re-membered the Señora Moreno’s reminders for heretical Americans and knew that Camulos must be near.

Shortly the white walls of the rambling ranch house shone through a screen of trees, and hitching our horse without the gate, we walked across a bridge spanning a little stream where white ducks were swimming, and in another moment we were looking into the courtyard of Ramona’s home. The sunlight lay warm and bright in the peaceful enclosure; there was a fragrance of roses in the still air, and far away somewhere beyond the house the harsh, insistent cry of a pea-fowl. Across the patio a door banged and a Japanese boy walked briskly along the far corridor and disappeared within the house. At the kitchen window near us a Mexican man-cook glanced indifferently at us. Evidently Old Marda was dead.

The front of the house, as readers of “Ramona” will remember, is turned away from the highroad. It faces a shady garden and the cultivated lands of the rancho with its orange and almond groves, its vineyards and pomegranate hedges ; and as we stood before the wide veranda speculating as to Ramona’s window and the Father Salvierderra’s, there stepped from the house a bright-faced young girl, whose black hair, olive skin and vivacious eyes proclaimed her Spanish blood. Evidently it was she to whom we should speak.

“Maybe you would like to see the chapel,” she suggested. “Yes? Then the little girl will show it you. O Frasquita, ven aqui!”

A little Mexican maid came running from within, bringing a jingling bunch of keys, and piloted us into the garden.

“When you are through,” called the señorita, “maybe you would like to eat your lunch under the big walnut tree. It is cool there.”

So we were let into the little rustic chapel within the garden’s shade, and saw an altar cloth as white and fresh as though just from Ramona’s hands. And Frasquita told us all the news about the chapel, how they had to keep it locked now, for the American visitors they would have carried everything away for—what you call ?—keepsake, yes ; and once they did—Mother of God, the here-tics !—steal a holy crucifix that had been the family’s for a hundred two hundred—yes, two hundred years maybe ; and how they still hold services in the chapel once a month, and Father John comes up from Ventura, and there is mass, and everybody attends from the rancho, and sometimes some of the neighbors, too. O yes, a gift for the chapel? Many, many thanks ; and adios, Señora ; adios, Señor.

As we sat under the shade of the huge walnut tree which is a special pride of Camulos, at the end of the ranch house, the Senorita came by and smiled.

“We work at the orange packing,” she remarked, with an apologetic glance at her workaday attire, “maybe you would like to see? Over there in that building we are, where the teams are unloading the boxes. They have just come in from the trees, and I must hurry;” and off she ran.

We followed at leisure, and entering the long barnlike building, had our first sight of an orange-packing. The golden balls were tumbled from the wagons into a great hopper, out of which they ran by gravity in a long single file down a narrow trough the bottom of which was perforated by holes of various sizes, permitting the oranges of the corresponding sizes to fall through into compartments beneath. Each compartment thus was fed with fruit all of the same size. A half dozen laughing girls, of whom the señorita was one, sat deftly wrapping the assorted oranges in thin paper and packing them in their boxes for shipment. The wrapping and packing went forward as rapidly as the fruit dropped, and as each box was filled, it was lifted away by a man and nailed up, ready for transportation to the car that lay upon the siding a hundred rods away.

The Señorita smiled brightly upon us and enjoyed our enjoyment in the novel sight.

“Yes, I like the packing, too; it is pretty seeing the oranges roll along and drop each down into the box with the others of just their size. It is like life, no? the great folks gathering together by them-selves and the humble little people by themselves, too.” And she laughed merrily at her fancy.

“But there isn’t much money in the business for the poor orange raiser. There is the scale to fight always, and the pruning to do, and the help to pay, for the picking, and the packing, and the freight to the railroads-oh, the robbers that they are—and after it all, if we have twenty-five cents a box left for ourselves we are lucky. That’s just enough to keep us from getting far from home, and I should so like to travel. Oh, to see the world—New Or-leans and New York and old Mexico—would it not be beautiful ! But we may as well be as happy as we can—and it is a beautiful world right here, eh, Pedro, you rascal ! “–stroking a big black cat that rubbed up against her—”for oh, we shall be a long time dead!”