From Camulos, the Santa Susana Mountains crossed, it is a pleasant road through the olive or-chards, the barley-fields and the berry ranches of the San Fernando Valley, past the ruined Mission of San Fernando, homely of aspect in its present low estate but interesting to the ‘Mission enthusiast; through Pasadena, and San Gabriel, through the walnut groves of Whittier to Santa Ana and thence to Capistrano, where we arrived on the evening of our fourth day out.
Fair in the evening light, the crumbling walls of the most poetic of all the Missions, “the Melrose of the West,” outlined themselves against a back-ground of hills clothed in living green. The shadows lay long in the old deserted garden with its white oleanders and scarlet geraniums, where once the Padres walked in the cool of the day and meditated; and instead of the spiritual songs that ascended a century ago from worshiping congregations in the great church, the air was filled with the whir and twitter of hundreds of swallows flying in and out of their mud nests built far up on the walls of the roofless ruin. Time has laid a kindly hand on the broken pillars and buttresses, mellowing the color of the plaster to soft pinks and yellows, and brightening the gaps with tiny gardens of wild bloom, sown by the winds and the birds. In one of the rooms opening off the cloistered quadrangle we found a Mexican wood carver at work, patiently piecing together parts of broken, wooden saints for the chapel; brightening up their time-dimmed features, and -gilding their halos anew. He was a sociable child of the sun, none too well pleased with the dim light of his thick-walled cell, and glad of some one to talk to.
“Yes, senor caballero,” he observed, rolling the inevitable cigarette, “it’s pleasant work enough, and it’s good for the soul to be doing something for the Church; but it’s dull business seeing nobody for days together.” Then he shrugged his shoulders, before adding, “Of course, some days too many comethese American tourists–pardon me, señor, but you are not their kind-and then, Santa Maria purisima! you must watch or they will carry off the last stone. Pieces of the wall, branches of ivy torn from the pillars, tiles from the roof, brick from the cloister pavementeverything would go, if we let it. Why, señor, will you believe me, once they stole the gold crown from the Blessed Virgin’s head at the altar; but the heretics were caught and had to give it back. Hombre! Some people when they go sightseeing, have neither manners nor religion.”
On every hand were subjects appealing to the artistic sense, but the descending night made any sketching or photographing out of the question until morning. We would spend the whole of the next day, however, in the enchanting spot, and so, agog with enthusiasm, we sought our room and went early to bed. Sometime in the ,night, a sound awakened me, the patter of rain upon the roof. By morning there was a steady downpour without a rift in the leaden sky. We made some remarks to the chambermaid about having understood that it never rained in Southern California after the middle of April. She said she didn’t know much about this climate, having been here only a few monthsshe was from back East herselfbut she had heard the boss say he thought we were in for a three days’ storm.
We sighed. Accommodations were exceedingly poor. Our room was cold, of course; no dyed-in-the-wool Southern Californian would think of sup-plying fire in your roomit would be an insult to the climate. There were leaks in the ceiling. The public sitting-room, normally cheerless and dark, was made more so that morning by the concentrated gloom of an assemblance of three or four other storm-stayed travelers who had nothing to do but read back-number literature and grumble about the weather. Even the prospect of a good dinner was denied us, for never elsewhere, East or West, had we encountered the like of the bill-of-fare offered by that rustic hostelry with its fried onions, boiled cabbage, rank butter, and bloody bones of bull steakserved on cold, greasy plates upon a grimy table cloth. Alas for the sunshine of Camulos, the radiance of the San Fernando Valley, the happy gypsy meals by the flowery roadsides; alas for our carriage trip-was it to end like this?
The day dragged wearily on. Sylvia, wrapped in a shawl and coat, attempted to work at a dejected sketch in our chamber; while I sat drearily writing up my notes in a corner of the public sitting-room where there was a shred of fire smoldering in a rusty grate. Matters were not helped any by the cheerful assurance of our hostess that a rain like this would cause all the rivers between there and San Diego, several of which were on our map to be crossed, to rise so as to be unfordable for at least a week.
“But it won’t wash away the bridges,” said I anxiously.
“Carambal” she replied, startled into Spanish by such crass ignorance, “there are no bridges!”
She would advise our staying where we were till the waters went down; orfor, bless you, she did not want us to think she was seeking to profit by our misfortunewe might ship the team home by freight and go back ourselves on the train. Only she felt it her duty to warn us about those rivers.
It was a dreadful dilemma, either horn of which it was out of the question for us to consider; and after a glance at an equally impossible supper, we again sought our room. The Government map was spread out on the table, and gone minutely over with a view to discovering some road that went in-land whereby we might go around. the dreadful rivers, but the mountain range that hedges in the coast country set a veto upon any such program. There was but the one road and we were on it. Under such circumstances the man of the party naturally felt the responsibility of procedure, and as I tossed the map into the satchel, I observed savagely:
“It was folly anyhow to undertake a trip of this kind through a half-settled country. These outdoor trips are lotteries even in a civilized land, but here there’s nothing to fall back on if you come to grief. The idea of there being no bridges! In my opinion, there’s not much to California anyhow except its climate and even that is not what it is cracked up to be. If those idiots in Santa Barbara who sent us on this carriage trip, had only warned us of what we might expect, we’d have known better than to come.”
I saw a look of sympathetic comprehension come into Sylvia’s face. To the eternal feminine the spring of the trouble was evident.
“Here are the rubbers, put them on,” she observed; “take the umbrella, and go down to the buggy. There are some things to eat in the right-hand basket; please bring them all up here, and the tea-pot, too.”
In half an hour there was a spread upon the table worthy of a college impromptu. The alcohol lamp which goes with us on every trip, burned merrily; the tea-pot purred; the frizzled beef sent out an aroma of comfort; the bread was like mother’s, for it was home-baked, supplied us by a discerning friend in Pasadena who had “roughed it” and knew; and the butter was sweetit had been laid in fresh at Santa Ana, the day before. There was a crowning touch from somewhere of canned peaches. Our starving stomachs returned practical thanks in a quiet tide of serenity that took possession of our frames. What matter that the rains descended, and that overcoats and capes had to be donned in a fire-less room? A happy inspiration brought the hot-water bags to mind, and these were fished up from the baggage, filled, and one laid in each lap. So with this heat without, and the joyous radiance of our normal life restored within, whence it shone out into the little room lighted by one smoky lamp, we looked forward to the developments of the morrow with the proverbial serenity of one who has dined today.
Recall if you can the cool, crisp mornings of your childhood’s Octobers when the air sparkled like an elixir, and you know the sort of morning that greeted us when we opened our eyes to the sun next day. The tender blue of the California sky, the dazzling green hills, flower-bedecked here and there, the look of everything as if Nature had washed her face and hands and come out to play-all these things called to us to be up and make an early start.
“But hombre, the rivers?” said our anxious hostess.
Nothing, even risen rivers, we felt, could be very dreadful on such a day, but in order to be on the safe side, we engaged Cipriano Morales for two dollars to ride ahead of us on horseback and pilot us across the San Mateo ford, seventeen miles away, which would be the worst of all. If we could cross that, we could surely cross the others. So with Cipriano as an outrider, spurs jingling, sombrero flapping, and saddle strings streaming on the breeze, and Gypsy Johnson, our sorrel mare, tossing her blond mane in high spirits, we drove out of Capistrano in some style.
The road, after following the line of surf for a while, turned inland and upward upon a great mesa with a glorious view of emerald hills and sparkling sea; and at noon after the dangerous fords had been safely crossed and we made our midday camp amid wild flowers and nodding mustard in yellow bloom, and the bacon sizzled cheerfully in the pan, the delight of life overcame me and I launched forth enthusiastically :
“This is one of the loveliest places ou earth. I defy Italy to show anything equal to this superb view of green, rounding hills and blue ocean and bluer sky. Then the soft touch of this breeze, and the stimulus of this heavenly sunshine. This is something like ! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
To each statement individually and to all collectively Sylvia gave joyous assent, checking them off with the fork that turned the bacon. Then with a merry twinkle in her eyes, she observed very softly:
“If only those idiots in Santa Barbara who sent us on this carriage trip”