Thursday, November 8, 2007


The Silverado Squatters by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Silverado Squatters
by Robert Louis Stevenson
THE scene of this little book is on a high mountain. There
are, indeed, many higher; there are many of a nobler outline.
It is no place of pilgrimage for the summary globe-trotter;
but to one who lives upon its sides, Mount Saint Helena soon
becomes a centre of interest. It is the Mont Blanc of one
section of the Californian Coast Range, none of its near
neighbours rising to one-half its altitude. It looks down on
much green, intricate country. It feeds in the spring-time
many splashing brooks. From its summit you must have an
excellent lesson of geography: seeing, to the south, San
Francisco Bay, with Tamalpais on the one hand and Monte
Diablo on the other; to the west and thirty miles away, the
open ocean; eastward, across the corn-lands and thick tule
swamps of Sacramento Valley, to where the Central Pacific
railroad begins to climb the sides of the Sierras; and
northward, for what I know, the white head of Shasta looking
down on Oregon. Three counties, Napa County, Lake County,
and Sonoma County, march across its cliffy shoulders. Its
naked peak stands nearly four thousand five hundred feet
above the sea; its sides are fringed with forest; and the
soil, where it is bare, glows warm with cinnabar.
Life in its shadow goes rustically forward. Bucks, and
bears, and rattle-snakes, and former mining operations, are
the staple of men's talk. Agriculture has only begun to
mount above the valley. And though in a few years from now
the whole district may be smiling with farms, passing trains
shaking the mountain to the heart, many-windowed hotels
lighting up the night like factories, and a prosperous city
occupying the site of sleepy Calistoga; yet in the mean time,
around the foot of that mountain the silence of nature reigns
in a great measure unbroken, and the people of hill and
valley go sauntering about their business as in the days
before the flood.
To reach Mount Saint Helena from San Francisco, the traveller
has twice to cross the bay: once by the busy Oakland Ferry,
and again, after an hour or so of the railway, from Vallejo
junction to Vallejo. Thence he takes rail once more to mount
the long green strath of Napa Valley.
In all the contractions and expansions of that inland sea,
the Bay of San Francisco, there can be few drearier scenes
than the Vallejo Ferry. Bald shores and a low, bald islet
inclose the sea; through the narrows the tide bubbles, muddy
like a river. When we made the passage (bound, although yet
we knew it not, for Silverado) the steamer jumped, and the
black buoys were dancing in the jabble; the ocean breeze blew
killing chill; and, although the upper sky was still
unflecked with vapour, the sea fogs were pouring in from
seaward, over the hilltops of Marin county, in one great,
shapeless, silver cloud.
South Vallejo is typical of many Californian towns. It was a
blunder; the site has proved untenable; and, although it is
still such a young place by the scale of Europe, it has
already begun to be deserted for its neighbour and namesake,
North Vallejo. A long pier, a number of drinking saloons, a
hotel of a great size, marshy pools where the frogs keep up
their croaking, and even at high noon the entire absence of
any human face or voice - these are the marks of South
Vallejo. Yet there was a tall building beside the pier,
labelled the STAR FLOUR MILLS; and sea-going, full-rigged
ships lay close along shore, waiting for their cargo. Soon
these would be plunging round the Horn, soon the flour from
the STAR FLOUR MILLS would be landed on the wharves of
Liverpool. For that, too, is one of England's outposts;
thither, to this gaunt mill, across the Atlantic and Pacific
deeps and round about the icy Horn, this crowd of great,
three-masted, deep-sea ships come, bringing nothing, and
return with bread.
The Frisby House, for that was the name of the hotel, was a
place of fallen fortunes, like the town. It was now given up
to labourers, and partly ruinous. At dinner there was the
ordinary display of what is called in the west a TWO-BIT
HOUSE: the tablecloth checked red and white, the plague of
flies, the wire hencoops over the dishes, the great variety
and invariable vileness of the food and the rough coatless
men devoting it in silence. In our bedroom, the stove would
not burn, though it would smoke; and while one window would
not open, the other would not shut. There was a view on a
bit of empty road, a few dark houses, a donkey wandering with
its shadow on a slope, and a blink of sea, with a tall ship
lying anchored in the moonlight. All about that dreary inn
frogs sang their ungainly chorus.
Early the next morning we mounted the hill along a wooden
footway, bridging one marish spot after another. Here and
there, as we ascended, we passed a house embowered in white
roses. More of the bay became apparent, and soon the blue
peak of Tamalpais rose above the green level of the island
opposite. It told us we were still but a little way from the
city of the Golden Gates, already, at that hour, beginning to
awake among the sand-hills. It called to us over the waters
as with the voice of a bird. Its stately head, blue as a
sapphire on the paler azure of the sky, spoke to us of wider
outlooks and the bright Pacific. For Tamalpais stands
sentry, like a lighthouse, over the Golden Gates, between the
bay and the open ocean, and looks down indifferently on both.
Even as we saw and hailed it from Vallejo, seamen, far out at
sea, were scanning it with shaded eyes; and, as if to answer
to the thought, one of the great ships below began silently
to clothe herself with white sails, homeward bound for
For some way beyond Vallejo the railway led us through bald
green pastures. On the west the rough highlands of Marin
shut off the ocean; in the midst, in long, straggling,
gleaming arms, the bay died out among the grass; there were
few trees and few enclosures; the sun shone wide over open
uplands, the displumed hills stood clear against the sky.
But by-and-by these hills began to draw nearer on either
hand, and first thicket and then wood began to clothe their
sides; and soon we were away from all signs of the sea's
neighbourhood, mounting an inland, irrigated valley. A great
variety of oaks stood, now severally, now in a becoming
grove, among the fields and vineyards. The towns were
compact, in about equal proportions, of bright, new wooden
houses and great and growing forest trees; and the chapel
bell on the engine sounded most festally that sunny Sunday,
as we drew up at one green town after another, with the
townsfolk trooping in their Sunday's best to see the
strangers, with the sun sparkling on the clean houses, and
great domes of foliage humming overhead in the breeze.
This pleasant Napa Valley is, at its north end, blockaded by
our mountain. There, at Calistoga, the railroad ceases, and
the traveller who intends faring farther, to the Geysers or
to the springs in Lake County, must cross the spurs of the
mountain by stage. Thus, Mount Saint Helena is not only a
summit, but a frontier; and, up to the time of writing, it
has stayed the progress of the iron horse.
IT is difficult for a European to imagine Calistoga, the
whole place is so new, and of such an accidental pattern; the
very name, I hear, was invented at a supper-party by the man
who found the springs.
The railroad and the highway come up the valley about
parallel to one another. The street of Calistoga joins the
perpendicular to both - a wide street, with bright, clean,
low houses, here and there a verandah over the sidewalk, here
and there a horse-post, here and there lounging townsfolk.
Other streets are marked out, and most likely named; for
these towns in the New World begin with a firm resolve to
grow larger, Washington and Broadway, and then First and
Second, and so forth, being boldly plotted out as soon as the
community indulges in a plan. But, in the meanwhile, all the
life and most of the houses of Calistoga are concentrated
upon that street between the railway station and the road. I
never heard it called by any name, but I will hazard a guess
that it is either Washington or Broadway. Here are the
blacksmith's, the chemist's, the general merchant's, and Kong
Sam Kee, the Chinese laundryman's; here, probably, is the
office of the local paper (for the place has a paper - they
all have papers); and here certainly is one of the hotels,
Cheeseborough's, whence the daring Foss, a man dear to
legend, starts his horses for the Geysers.
It must be remembered that we are here in a land of stagedrivers
and highwaymen: a land, in that sense, like England
a hundred years ago. The highway robber - road-agent, he is
quaintly called - is still busy in these parts. The fame of
Vasquez is still young. Only a few years go, the Lakeport
stage was robbed a mile or two from Calistoga. In 1879, the
dentist of Mendocino City, fifty miles away upon the coast,
suddenly threw off the garments of his trade, like Grindoff,
in THE MILLER AND HIS MEN, and flamed forth in his second
dress as a captain of banditti. A great robbery was followed
by a long chase, a chase of days if not of weeks, among the
intricate hill-country; and the chase was followed by much
desultory fighting, in which several - and the dentist, I
believe, amongst the number - bit the dust. The grass was
springing for the first time, nourished upon their blood,
when I arrived in Calistoga. I am reminded of another
highwayman of that same year. "He had been unwell," so ran
his humorous defence, "and the doctor told him to take
something, so he took the express-box."
The cultus of the stage-coachman always flourishes highest
where there are thieves on the road, and where the guard
travels armed, and the stage is not only a link between
country and city, and the vehicle of news, but has a faint
warfaring aroma, like a man who should be brother to a
soldier. California boasts her famous stage-drivers, and
among the famous Foss is not forgotten. Along the unfenced,
abominable mountain roads, he launches his team with small
regard to human life or the doctrine of probabilities.
Flinching travellers, who behold themselves coasting eternity
at every corner, look with natural admiration at their
driver's huge, impassive, fleshy countenance. He has the
very face for the driver in Sam Weller's anecdote, who upset
the election party at the required point. Wonderful tales
are current of his readiness and skill. One in particular,
of how one of his horses fell at a ticklish passage of the
road, and how Foss let slip the reins, and, driving over the
fallen animal, arrived at the next stage with only three.
This I relate as I heard it, without guarantee.
I only saw Foss once, though, strange as it may sound, I have
twice talked with him. He lives out of Calistoga, at a
ranche called Fossville. One evening, after he was long gone
home, I dropped into Cheeseborough's, and was asked if I
should like to speak with Mr. Foss. Supposing that the
interview was impossible, and that I was merely called upon
to subscribe the general sentiment, I boldly answered "Yes."
Next moment, I had one instrument at my ear, another at my
mouth and found myself, with nothing in the world to say,
conversing with a man several miles off among desolate hills.
Foss rapidly and somewhat plaintively brought the
conversation to an end; and he returned to his night's grog
at Fossville, while I strolled forth again on Calistoga high
street. But it was an odd thing that here, on what we are
accustomed to consider the very skirts of civilization, I
should have used the telephone for the first time in my
civilized career. So it goes in these young countries;
telephones, and telegraphs, and newspapers, and
advertisements running far ahead among the Indians and the
grizzly bears.
Alone, on the other side of the railway, stands the Springs
Hotel, with its attendant cottages. The floor of the valley
is extremely level to the very roots of the hills; only here
and there a hillock, crowned with pines, rises like the
barrow of some chieftain famed in war; and right against one
of these hillocks is the Springs Hotel - is or was; for since
I was there the place has been destroyed by fire, and has
risen again from its ashes. A lawn runs about the house, and
the lawn is in its turn surrounded by a system of little
five-roomed cottages, each with a verandah and a weedy palm
before the door. Some of the cottages are let to residents,
and these are wreathed in flowers. The rest are occupied by
ordinary visitors to the Hotel; and a very pleasant way this
is, by which you have a little country cottage of your own,
without domestic burthens, and by the day or week.
The whole neighbourhood of Mount Saint Helena is full of
sulphur and of boiling springs. The Geysers are famous; they
were the great health resort of the Indians before the coming
of the whites. Lake County is dotted with spas; Hot Springs
and White Sulphur Springs are the names of two stations on
the Napa Valley railroad; and Calistoga itself seems to
repose on a mere film above a boiling, subterranean lake. At
one end of the hotel enclosure are the springs from which it
takes its name, hot enough to scald a child seriously while I
was there. At the other end, the tenant of a cottage sank a
well, and there also the water came up boiling. It keeps
this end of the valley as warm as a toast. I have gone
across to the hotel a little after five in the morning, when
a sea fog from the Pacific was hanging thick and gray, and
dark and dirty overhead, and found the thermometer had been
up before me, and had already climbed among the nineties; and
in the stress of the day it was sometimes too hot to move
But in spite of this heat from above and below, doing one on
both sides, Calistoga was a pleasant place to dwell in;
beautifully green, for it was then that favoured moment in
the Californian year, when the rains are over and the dusty
summer has not yet set in; often visited by fresh airs, now
from the mountain, now across Sonoma from the sea; very
quiet, very idle, very silent but for the breezes and the
cattle bells afield. And there was something satisfactory in
the sight of that great mountain that enclosed us to the
north: whether it stood, robed in sunshine, quaking to its
topmost pinnacle with the heat and brightness of the day; or
whether it set itself to weaving vapours, wisp after wisp
growing, trembling, fleeting, and fading in the blue.
The tangled, woody, and almost trackless foot-hills that
enclose the valley, shutting it off from Sonoma on the west,
and from Yolo on the east - rough as they were in outline,
dug out by winter streams, crowned by cliffy bluffs and
nodding pine trees - wore dwarfed into satellites by the bulk
and bearing of Mount Saint Helena. She over-towered them by
two-thirds of her own stature. She excelled them by the
boldness of her profile. Her great bald summit, clear of
trees and pasture, a cairn of quartz and cinnabar, rejected
kinship with the dark and shaggy wilderness of lesser hilltops.
WE drove off from the Springs Hotel about three in the
afternoon. The sun warmed me to the heart. A broad, cool
wind streamed pauselessly down the valley, laden with
perfume. Up at the top stood Mount Saint Helena, a bulk of
mountain, bare atop, with tree-fringed spurs, and radiating
warmth. Once we saw it framed in a grove of tall and
exquisitely graceful white oaks, in line and colour a
finished composition. We passed a cow stretched by the
roadside, her bell slowly beating time to the movement of her
ruminating jaws, her big red face crawled over by half a
dozen flies, a monument of content.
A little farther, and we struck to the left up a mountain
road, and for two hours threaded one valley after another,
green, tangled, full of noble timber, giving us every now and
again a sight of Mount Saint Helena and the blue hilly
distance, and crossed by many streams, through which we
splashed to the carriage-step. To the right or the left,
there was scarce any trace of man but the road we followed; I
think we passed but one ranchero's house in the whole
distance, and that was closed and smokeless. But we had the
society of these bright streams - dazzlingly clear, as is
their wont, splashing from the wheels in diamonds, and
striking a lively coolness through the sunshine. And what
with the innumerable variety of greens, the masses of foliage
tossing in the breeze, the glimpses of distance, the descents
into seemingly impenetrable thickets, the continual dodging
of the road which made haste to plunge again into the covert,
we had a fine sense of woods, and spring-time, and the open
Our driver gave me a lecture by the way on Californian trees
- a thing I was much in need of, having fallen among painters
who know the name of nothing, and Mexicans who know the name
of nothing in English. He taught me the madrona, the
manzanita, the buck-eye, the maple; he showed me the crested
mountain quail; he showed me where some young redwoods were
already spiring heavenwards from the ruins of the old; for in
this district all had already perished: redwoods and
redskins, the two noblest indigenous living things, alike
At length, in a lonely dell, we came on a huge wooden gate
with a sign upon it like an inn. "The Petrified Forest.
Proprietor: C. Evans," ran the legend. Within, on a knoll
of sward, was the house of the proprietor, and another
smaller house hard by to serve as a museum, where photographs
and petrifactions were retailed. It was a pure little isle
of touristry among these solitary hills.
The proprietor was a brave old white-faced Swede. He had
wandered this way, Heaven knows how, and taken up his acres -
I forget how many years ago - all alone, bent double with
sciatica, and with six bits in his pocket and an axe upon his
shoulder. Long, useless years of seafaring had thus
discharged him at the end, penniless and sick. Without doubt
he had tried his luck at the diggings, and got no good from
that; without doubt he had loved the bottle, and lived the
life of Jack ashore. But at the end of these adventures,
here he came; and, the place hitting his fancy, down he sat
to make a new life of it, far from crimps and the salt sea.
And the very sight of his ranche had done him good. It was
"the handsomest spot in the Californy mountains." "Isn't it
handsome, now?" he said. Every penny he makes goes into that
ranche to make it handsomer. Then the climate, with the seabreeze
every afternoon in the hottest summer weather, had
gradually cured the sciatica; and his sister and niece were
now domesticated with him for company - or, rather, the niece
came only once in the two days, teaching music the meanwhile
in the valley. And then, for a last piece of luck, "the
handsomest spot in the Californy mountains" had produced a
petrified forest, which Mr. Evans now shows at the modest
figure of half a dollar a head, or two-thirds of his capital
when he first came there with an axe and a sciatica.
This tardy favourite of fortune - hobbling a little, I think,
as if in memory of the sciatica, but with not a trace that I
can remember of the sea - thoroughly ruralized from head to
foot, proceeded to escort us up the hill behind his house.
"Who first found the forest?" asked my wife.
"The first? I was that man," said he. "I was cleaning up
the pasture for my beasts, when I found THIS" - kicking a
great redwood seven feet in diameter, that lay there on its
side, hollow heart, clinging lumps of bark, all changed into
gray stone, with veins of quartz between what had been the
layers of the wood.
"Were you surprised?"
"Surprised? No! What would I be surprised about? What did
I know about petrifactions - following the sea?
Petrifaction! There was no such word in my language! I knew
about putrifaction, though! I thought it was a stone; so
would you, if you was cleaning up pasture."
And now he had a theory of his own, which I did not quite
grasp, except that the trees had not "grewed" there. But he
mentioned, with evident pride, that he differed from all the
scientific people who had visited the spot; and he flung
about such words as "tufa" and "scilica" with careless
When I mentioned I was from Scotland, "My old country," he
said; "my old country" - with a smiling look and a tone of
real affection in his voice. I was mightily surprised, for
he was obviously Scandinavian, and begged him to explain. It
seemed he had learned his English and done nearly all his
sailing in Scotch ships. "Out of Glasgow," said he, "or
Greenock; but that's all the same - they all hail from
Glasgow." And he was so pleased with me for being a Scotsman,
and his adopted compatriot, that he made me a present of a
very beautiful piece of petrifaction - I believe the most
beautiful and portable he had.
Here was a man, at least, who was a Swede, a Scot, and an
American, acknowledging some kind allegiance to three lands.
Mr. Wallace's Scoto-Circassian will not fail to come before
the reader. I have myself met and spoken with a Fifeshire
German, whose combination of abominable accents struck me
dumb. But, indeed, I think we all belong to many countries.
And perhaps this habit of much travel, and the engendering of
scattered friendships, may prepare the euthanasia of ancient
And the forest itself? Well, on a tangled, briery hillside -
for the pasture would bear a little further cleaning up, to
my eyes - there lie scattered thickly various lengths of
petrified trunk, such as the one already mentioned. It is
very curious, of course, and ancient enough, if that were
all. Doubtless, the heart of the geologist beats quicker at
the sight; but, for my part, I was mightily unmoved. Sightseeing
is the art of disappointment.
"There's nothing under heaven so blue,
That's fairly worth the travelling to."
But, fortunately, Heaven rewards us with many agreeable
prospects and adventures by the way; and sometimes, when we
go out to see a petrified forest, prepares a far more
delightful curiosity, in the form of Mr. Evans, whom may all
prosperity attend throughout a long and green old age.
I WAS interested in Californian wine. Indeed, I am
interested in all wines, and have been all my life, from the
raisin wine that a schoolfellow kept secreted in his play-box
up to my last discovery, those notable Valtellines, that once
shone upon the board of Caesar.
Some of us, kind old Pagans, watch with dread the shadows
falling on the age: how the unconquerable worm invades the
sunny terraces of France, and Bordeaux is no more, and the
Rhone a mere Arabia Petraea. Chateau Neuf is dead, and I
have never tasted it; Hermitage - a hermitage indeed from all
life's sorrows - lies expiring by the river. And in the
place of these imperial elixirs, beautiful to every sense,
gem-hued, flower-scented, dream-compellers:- behold upon the
quays at Cette the chemicals arrayed; behold the analyst at
Marseilles, raising hands in obsecration, attesting god
Lyoeus, and the vats staved in, and the dishonest wines
poured forth among the sea. It is not Pan only; Bacchus,
too, is dead.
If wine is to withdraw its most poetic countenance, the sun
of the white dinner-cloth, a deity to be invoked by two or
three, all fervent, hushing their talk, degusting tenderly,
and storing reminiscences - for a bottle of good wine, like a
good act, shines ever in the retrospect - if wine is to
desert us, go thy ways, old Jack! Now we begin to have
compunctions, and look back at the brave bottles squandered
upon dinner-parties, where the guests drank grossly,
discussing politics the while, and even the schoolboy "took
his whack," like liquorice water. And at the same time, we
look timidly forward, with a spark of hope, to where the new
lands, already weary of producing gold, begin to green with
vineyards. A nice point in human history falls to be decided
by Californian and Australian wines.
Wine in California is still in the experimental stage; and
when you taste a vintage, grave economical questions are
involved. The beginning of vine-planting is like the
beginning of mining for the precious metals: the wine-grower
also "Prospects." One corner of land after another is tried
with one kind of grape after another. This is a failure;
that is better; a third best. So, bit by bit, they grope
about for their Clos Vougeot and Lafite. Those lodes and
pockets of earth, more precious than the precious ores, that
yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; those virtuous
Bonanzas, where the soil has sublimated under sun and stars
to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry: these
still lie undiscovered; chaparral conceals, thicket embowers
them; the miner chips the rock and wanders farther, and the
grizzly muses undisturbed. But there they bide their hour,
awaiting their Columbus; and nature nurses and prepares them.
The smack of Californian earth shall linger on the palate of
your grandson.
Meanwhile the wine is merely a good wine; the best that I
have tasted better than a Beaujolais, and not unlike. But
the trade is poor; it lives from hand to mouth, putting its
all into experiments, and forced to sell its vintages. To
find one properly matured, and bearing its own name, is to be
fortune's favourite.
Bearing its own name, I say, and dwell upon the innuendo.
"You want to know why California wine is not drunk in the
States?" a San Francisco wine merchant said to me, after he
had shown me through his premises. "Well, here's the
And opening a large cupboard, fitted with many little
drawers, he proceeded to shower me all over with a great
variety of gorgeously tinted labels, blue, red, or yellow,
stamped with crown or coronet, and hailing from such a
profusion of CLOS and CHATEAUX, that a single department
could scarce have furnished forth the names. But it was
strange that all looked unfamiliar.
"Chateau X-?" said I. "I never heard of that."
"I dare say not," said he. "I had been reading one of X-'s
They were all castles in Spain! But that sure enough is the
reason why California wine is not drunk in the States.
Napa valley has been long a seat of the wine-growing
industry. It did not here begin, as it does too often, in
the low valley lands along the river, but took at once to the
rough foot-hills, where alone it can expect to prosper. A
basking inclination, and stones, to be a reservoir of the
day's heat, seem necessary to the soil for wine; the
grossness of the earth must be evaporated, its marrow daily
melted and refined for ages; until at length these clods that
break below our footing, and to the eye appear but common
earth, are truly and to the perceiving mind, a masterpiece of
nature. The dust of Richebourg, which the wind carries away,
what an apotheosis of the dust! Not man himself can seem a
stranger child of that brown, friable powder, than the blood
and sun in that old flask behind the faggots.
A Californian vineyard, one of man's outposts in the
wilderness, has features of its own. There is nothing here
to remind you of the Rhine or Rhone, of the low COTE D'OR, or
the infamous and scabby deserts of Champagne; but all is
green, solitary, covert. We visited two of them, Mr.
Schram's and Mr. M'Eckron's, sharing the same glen.
Some way down the valley below Calistoga, we turned sharply
to the south and plunged into the thick of the wood. A rude
trail rapidly mounting; a little stream tinkling by on the
one hand, big enough perhaps after the rains, but already
yielding up its life; overhead and on all sides a bower of
green and tangled thicket, still fragrant and still flowerbespangled
by the early season, where thimble-berry played
the part of our English hawthorn, and the buck-eyes were
putting forth their twisted horns of blossom: through all
this, we struggled toughly upwards, canted to and fro by the
roughness of the trail, and continually switched across the
face by sprays of leaf or blossom. The last is no great
inconvenience at home; but here in California it is a matter
of some moment. For in all woods and by every wayside there
prospers an abominable shrub or weed, called poison-oak,
whose very neighbourhood is venomous to some, and whose
actual touch is avoided by the most impervious.
The two houses, with their vineyards, stood each in a green
niche of its own in this steep and narrow forest dell.
Though they were so near, there was already a good difference
in level; and Mr. M'Eckron's head must be a long way under
the feet of Mr. Schram. No more had been cleared than was
necessary for cultivation; close around each oasis ran the
tangled wood; the glen enfolds them; there they lie basking
in sun and silence, concealed from all but the clouds and the
mountain birds.
Mr. M'Eckron's is a bachelor establishment; a little bit of a
wooden house, a small cellar hard by in the hillside, and a
patch of vines planted and tended single-handed by himself.
He had but recently began; his vines were young, his business
young also; but I thought he had the look of the man who
succeeds. He hailed from Greenock: he remembered his father
putting him inside Mons Meg, and that touched me home; and we
exchanged a word or two of Scotch, which pleased me more than
you would fancy.
Mr. Schram's, on the other hand, is the oldest vineyard in
the valley, eighteen years old, I think; yet he began a
penniless barber, and even after he had broken ground up here
with his black malvoisies, continued for long to tramp the
valley with his razor. Now, his place is the picture of
prosperity: stuffed birds in the verandah, cellars far dug
into the hillside, and resting on pillars like a bandit's
cave:- all trimness, varnish, flowers, and sunshine, among
the tangled wildwood. Stout, smiling Mrs. Schram, who has
been to Europe and apparently all about the States for
pleasure, entertained Fanny in the verandah, while I was
tasting wines in the cellar. To Mr. Schram this was a solemn
office; his serious gusto warmed my heart; prosperity had not
yet wholly banished a certain neophite and girlish
trepidation, and he followed every sip and read my face with
proud anxiety. I tasted all. I tasted every variety and
shade of Schramberger, red and white Schramberger, Burgundy
Schramberger, Schramberger Hock, Schramberger Golden
Chasselas, the latter with a notable bouquet, and I fear to
think how many more. Much of it goes to London - most, I
think; and Mr. Schram has a great notion of the English
In this wild spot, I did not feel the sacredness of ancient
cultivation. It was still raw, it was no Marathon, and no
Johannisberg; yet the stirring sunlight, and the growing
vines, and the vats and bottles in the cavern, made a
pleasant music for the mind. Here, also, earth's cream was
being skimmed and garnered; and the London customers can
taste, such as it is, the tang of the earth in this green
valley. So local, so quintessential is a wine, that it seems
the very birds in the verandah might communicate a flavour,
and that romantic cellar influence the bottle next to be
uncorked in Pimlico, and the smile of jolly Mr. Schram might
mantle in the glass.
But these are but experiments. All things in this new land
are moving farther on: the wine-vats and the miner's
blasting tools but picket for a night, like Bedouin
pavillions; and to-morrow, to fresh woods! This stir of
change and these perpetual echoes of the moving footfall,
haunt the land. Men move eternally, still chasing Fortune;
and, fortune found, still wander. As we drove back to
Calistoga, the road lay empty of mere passengers, but its
green side was dotted with the camps of travelling families:
one cumbered with a great waggonful of household stuff,
settlers going to occupy a ranche they had taken up in
Mendocino, or perhaps Tehama County; another, a party in dust
coats, men and women, whom we found camped in a grove on the
roadside, all on pleasure bent, with a Chinaman to cook for
them, and who waved their hands to us as we drove by.
A FEW pages back, I wrote that a man belonged, in these days,
to a variety of countries; but the old land is still the true
love, the others are but pleasant infidelities. Scotland is
indefinable; it has no unity except upon the map. Two
languages, many dialects, innumerable forms of piety, and
countless local patriotisms and prejudices, part us among
ourselves more widely than the extreme east and west of that
great continent of America. When I am at home, I feel a man
from Glasgow to be something like a rival, a man from Barra
to be more than half a foreigner. Yet let us meet in some
far country, and, whether we hail from the braes of Manor or
the braes of Mar, some ready-made affection joins us on the
instant. It is not race. Look at us. One is Norse, one
Celtic, and another Saxon. It is not community of tongue.
We have it not among ourselves; and we have it almost to
perfection, with English, or Irish, or American. It is no
tie of faith, for we detest each other's errors. And yet
somewhere, deep down in the heart of each one of us,
something yearns for the old land, and the old kindly people.
Of all mysteries of the human heart, this is perhaps the most
inscrutable. There is no special loveliness in that gray
country, with its rainy, sea-beat archipelago; its fields of
dark mountains; its unsightly places, black with coal; its
treeless, sour, unfriendly looking corn-lands; its quaint,
gray, castled city, where the bells clash of a Sunday, and
the wind squalls, and the salt showers fly and beat. I do
not even know if I desire to live there; but let me hear, in
some far land, a kindred voice sing out, "Oh, why left I my
hame?" and it seems at once as if no beauty under the kind
heavens, and no society of the wise and good, can repay me
for my absence from my country. And though I think I would
rather die elsewhere, yet in my heart of hearts I long to be
buried among good Scots clods. I will say it fairly, it
grows on me with every year: there are no stars so lovely as
Edinburgh street-lamps. When I forget thee, auld Reekie, may
my right hand forget its cunning!
The happiest lot on earth is to be born a Scotchman. You
must pay for it in many ways, as for all other advantages on
earth. You have to learn the paraphrases and the shorter
catechism; you generally take to drink; your youth, as far as
I can find out, is a time of louder war against society, of
more outcry and tears and turmoil, than if you had been born,
for instance, in England. But somehow life is warmer and
closer; the hearth burns more redly; the lights of home shine
softer on the rainy street; the very names, endeared in verse
and music, cling nearer round our hearts. An Englishman may
meet an Englishman to-morrow, upon Chimborazo, and neither of
them care; but when the Scotch wine-grower told me of Mons
Meg, it was like magic.
"From the dim shieling on the misty island
Mountains divide us, and a world of seas;
Yet still our hearts are true, our hearts are Highland,
And we, in dreams, behold the Hebrides."
And, Highland and Lowland, all our hearts are Scotch.
Only a few days after I had seen M'Eckron, a message reached
me in my cottage. It was a Scotchman who had come down a
long way from the hills to market. He had heard there was a
countryman in Calistoga, and came round to the hotel to see
him. We said a few words to each other; we had not much to
say - should never have seen each other had we stayed at
home, separated alike in space and in society; and then we
shook hands, and he went his way again to his ranche among
the hills, and that was all.
Another Scotchman there was, a resident, who for the more
love of the common country, douce, serious, religious man,
drove me all about the valley, and took as much interest in
me as if I had been his son: more, perhaps; for the son has
faults too keenly felt, while the abstract countryman is
perfect - like a whiff of peats.
And there was yet another. Upon him I came suddenly, as he
was calmly entering my cottage, his mind quite evidently bent
on plunder: a man of about fifty, filthy, ragged, roguish,
with a chimney-pot hat and a tail coat, and a pursing of his
mouth that might have been envied by an elder of the kirk.
He had just such a face as I have seen a dozen times behind
the plate.
"Hullo, sir!" I cried. "Where are you going?"
He turned round without a quiver.
"You're a Scotchman, sir?" he said gravely. "So am I; I come
from Aberdeen. This is my card," presenting me with a piece
of pasteboard which he had raked out of some gutter in the
period of the rains. "I was just examining this palm," he
continued, indicating the misbegotten plant before our door,
"which is the largest spAcimen I have yet observed in
There were four or five larger within sight. But where was
the use of argument? He produced a tape-line, made me help
him to measure the tree at the level of the ground, and
entered the figures in a large and filthy pocket-book, all
with the gravity of Solomon. He then thanked me profusely,
remarking that such little services were due between
countrymen; shook hands with me, "for add lang syne," as he
said; and took himself solemnly away, radiating dirt and
humbug as he went.
A month or two after this encounter of mine, there came a
Scot to Sacramento - perhaps from Aberdeen. Anyway, there
never was any one more Scotch in this wide world. He could
sing and dance, and drink, I presume; and he played the pipes
with vigour and success. All the Scotch in Sacramento became
infatuated with him, and spent their spare time and money,
driving him about in an open cab, between drinks, while he
blew himself scarlet at the pipes. This is a very sad story.
After he had borrowed money from every one, he and his pipes
suddenly disappeared from Sacramento, and when I last heard,
the police were looking for him.
I cannot say how this story amused me, when I felt myself so
thoroughly ripe on both sides to be duped in the same way.
It is at least a curious thing, to conclude, that the races
which wander widest, Jews and Scotch, should be the most
clannish in the world. But perhaps these two are cause and
effect: "For ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
ONE thing in this new country very particularly strikes a
stranger, and that is the number of antiquities. Already
there have been many cycles of population succeeding each
other, and passing away and leaving behind them relics.
These, standing on into changed times, strike the imagination
as forcibly as any pyramid or feudal tower. The towns, like
the vineyards, are experimentally founded: they grow great
and prosper by passing occasions; and when the lode comes to
an end, and the miners move elsewhere, the town remains
behind them, like Palmyra in the desert. I suppose there
are, in no country in the world, so many deserted towns as
here in California.
The whole neighbourhood of Mount Saint Helena, now so quiet
and sylvan, was once alive with mining camps and villages.
Here there would be two thousand souls under canvas; there
one thousand or fifteen hundred ensconced, as if for ever, in
a town of comfortable houses. But the luck had failed, the
mines petered out; and the army of miners had departed, and
left this quarter of the world to the rattlesnakes and deer
and grizzlies, and to the slower but steadier advance of
It was with an eye on one of these deserted places, Pine
Flat, on the Geysers road, that we had come first to
Calistoga. There is something singularly enticing in the
idea of going, rent-free, into a ready-made house. And to
the British merchant, sitting at home at ease, it may appear
that, with such a roof over your head and a spring of clear
water hard by, the whole problem of the squatter's existence
would be solved. Food, however, has yet to be considered, I
will go as far as most people on tinned meats; some of the
brightest moments of my life were passed over tinned mulligatawney
in the cabin of a sixteen-ton schooner, storm-stayed
in Portree Bay; but after suitable experiments, I pronounce
authoritatively that man cannot live by tins alone. Fresh
meat must be had on an occasion. It is true that the great
Foss, driving by along the Geysers road, wooden-faced, but
glorified with legend, might have been induced to bring us
meat, but the great Foss could hardly bring us milk. To take
a cow would have involved taking a field of grass and a
milkmaid; after which it would have been hardly worth while
to pause, and we might have added to our colony a flock of
sheep and an experienced butcher.
It is really very disheartening how we depend on other people
in this life. "Mihi est propositum," as you may see by the
motto, "id quod regibus;" and behold it cannot be carried
out, unless I find a neighbour rolling in cattle.
Now, my principal adviser in this matter was one whom I will
call Kelmar. That was not what he called himself, but as
soon as I set eyes on him, I knew it was or ought to be his
name; I am sure it will be his name among the angels. Kelmar
was the store-keeper, a Russian Jew, good-natured, in a very
thriving way of business, and, on equal terms, one of the
most serviceable of men. He also had something of the
expression of a Scotch country elder, who, by some
peculiarity, should chance to be a Hebrew. He had a
projecting under lip, with which he continually smiled, or
rather smirked. Mrs. Kelmar was a singularly kind woman; and
the oldest son had quite a dark and romantic bearing, and
might be heard on summer evenings playing sentimental airs on
the violin.
I had no idea, at the time I made his acquaintance, what an
important person Kelmar was. But the Jew store-keepers of
California, profiting at once by the needs and habits of the
people, have made themselves in too many cases the tyrants of
the rural population. Credit is offered, is pressed on the
new customer, and when once he is beyond his depth, the tune
changes, and he is from thenceforth a white slave. I
believe, even from the little I saw, that Kelmar, if he
choose to put on the screw, could send half the settlers
packing in a radius of seven or eight miles round Calistoga.
These are continually paying him, but are never suffered to
get out of debt. He palms dull goods upon them, for they
dare not refuse to buy; he goes and dines with them when he
is on an outing, and no man is loudlier welcomed; he is their
family friend, the director of their business, and, to a
degree elsewhere unknown in modern days, their king.
For some reason, Kelmar always shook his head at the mention
of Pine Flat, and for some days I thought he disapproved of
the whole scheme and was proportionately sad. One fine
morning, however, he met me, wreathed in smiles. He had
found the very place for me - Silverado, another old mining
town, right up the mountain. Rufe Hanson, the hunter, could
take care of us - fine people the Hansons; we should be close
to the Toll House, where the Lakeport stage called daily; it
was the best place for my health, besides. Rufe had been
consumptive, and was now quite a strong man, ain't it? In
short, the place and all its accompaniments seemed made for
us on purpose.
He took me to his back door, whence, as from every point of
Calistoga, Mount Saint Helena could be seen towering in the
air. There, in the nick, just where the eastern foothills
joined the mountain, and she herself began to rise above the
zone of forest - there was Silverado. The name had already
pleased me; the high station pleased me still more. I began
to inquire with some eagerness. It was but a little while
ago that Silverado was a great place. The mine - a silver
mine, of course - had promised great things. There was quite
a lively population, with several hotels and boarding-houses;
and Kelmar himself had opened a branch store, and done
extremely well - "Ain't it?" he said, appealing to his wife.
And she said, "Yes; extremely well." Now there was no one
living in the town but Rufe the hunter; and once more I heard
Rufe's praises by the yard, and this time sung in chorus.
I could not help perceiving at the time that there was
something underneath; that no unmixed desire to have us
comfortably settled had inspired the Kelmars with this flow
of words. But I was impatient to be gone, to be about my
kingly project; and when we were offered seats in Kelmar's
waggon, I accepted on the spot. The plan of their next
Sunday's outing took them, by good fortune, over the border
into Lake County. They would carry us so far, drop us at the
Toll House, present us to the Hansons, and call for us again
on Monday morning early.
WE were to leave by six precisely; that was solemnly pledged
on both sides; and a messenger came to us the last thing at
night, to remind us of the hour. But it was eight before we
got clear of Calistoga: Kelmar, Mrs. Kelmar, a friend of
theirs whom we named Abramina, her little daughter, my wife,
myself, and, stowed away behind us, a cluster of ship's
coffee-kettles. These last were highly ornamental in the
sheen of their bright tin, but I could invent no reason for
their presence. Our carriageful reckoned up, as near as we
could get at it, some three hundred years to the six of us.
Four of the six, besides, were Hebrews. But I never, in all
my life, was conscious of so strong an atmosphere of holiday.
No word was spoken but of pleasure; and even when we drove in
silence, nods and smiles went round the party like
The sun shone out of a cloudless sky. Close at the zenith
rode the belated moon, still clearly visible, and, along one
margin, even bright. The wind blew a gale from the north;
the trees roared; the corn and the deep grass in the valley
fled in whitening surges; the dust towered into the air along
the road and dispersed like the smoke of battle. It was
clear in our teeth from the first, and for all the windings
of the road it managed to keep clear in our teeth until the
For some two miles we rattled through the valley, skirting
the eastern foothills; then we struck off to the right,
through haugh-land, and presently, crossing a dry watercourse,
entered the Toll road, or, to be more local, entered
on "the grade." The road mounts the near shoulder of Mount
Saint Helena, bound northward into Lake County. In one place
it skirts along the edge of a narrow and deep canyon, filled
with trees, and I was glad, indeed, not to be driven at this
point by the dashing Foss. Kelmar, with his unvarying smile,
jogging to the motion of the trap, drove for all the world
like a good, plain, country clergyman at home; and I profess
I blessed him unawares for his timidity.
Vineyards and deep meadows, islanded and framed with thicket,
gave place more and more as we ascended to woods of oak and
madrona, dotted with enormous pines. It was these pines, as
they shot above the lower wood, that produced that pencilling
of single trees I had so often remarked from the valley.
Thence, looking up and from however far, each fir stands
separate against the sky no bigger than an eyelash; and all
together lend a quaint, fringed aspect to the hills. The oak
is no baby; even the madrona, upon these spurs of Mount Saint
Helena, comes to a fine bulk and ranks with forest trees -
but the pines look down upon the rest for underwood. As
Mount Saint Helena among her foothills, so these dark giants
out-top their fellow-vegetables. Alas! if they had left the
redwoods, the pines, in turn, would have been dwarfed. But
the redwoods, fallen from their high estate, are serving as
family bedsteads, or yet more humbly as field fences, along
all Napa Valley.
A rough smack of resin was in the air, and a crystal mountain
purity. It came pouring over these green slopes by the
oceanful. The woods sang aloud, and gave largely of their
healthful breath. Gladness seemed to inhabit these upper
zones, and we had left indifference behind us in the valley.
"I to the hills lift mine eyes!" There are days in a life
when thus to climb out of the lowlands, seems like scaling
As we continued to ascend, the wind fell upon us with
increasing strength. It was a wonder how the two stout
horses managed to pull us up that steep incline and still
face the athletic opposition of the wind, or how their great
eyes were able to endure the dust. Ten minutes after we went
by, a tree fell, blocking the road; and even before us leaves
were thickly strewn, and boughs had fallen, large enough to
make the passage difficult. But now we were hard by the
summit. The road crosses the ridge, just in the nick that
Kelmar showed me from below, and then, without pause, plunges
down a deep, thickly wooded glen on the farther side. At the
highest point a trail strikes up the main hill to the
leftward; and that leads to Silverado. A hundred yards
beyond, and in a kind of elbow of the glen, stands the Toll
House Hotel. We came up the one side, were caught upon the
summit by the whole weight of the wind as it poured over into
Napa Valley, and a minute after had drawn up in shelter, but
all buffetted and breathless, at the Toll House door.
A water-tank, and stables, and a gray house of two stories,
with gable ends and a verandah, are jammed hard against the
hillside, just where a stream has cut for itself a narrow
canyon, filled with pines. The pines go right up overhead; a
little more and the stream might have played, like a firehose,
on the Toll House roof. In front the ground drops as
sharply as it rises behind. There is just room for the road
and a sort of promontory of croquet ground, and then you can
lean over the edge and look deep below you through the wood.
I said croquet GROUND, not GREEN; for the surface was of
brown, beaten earth. The toll-bar itself was the only other
note of originality: a long beam, turning on a post, and
kept slightly horizontal by a counterweight of stones.
Regularly about sundown this rude barrier was swung, like a
derrick, across the road and made fast, I think, to a tree
upon the farther side.
On our arrival there followed a gay scene in the bar. I was
presented to Mr. Corwin, the landlord; to Mr. Jennings, the
engineer, who lives there for his health; to Mr. Hoddy, a
most pleasant little gentleman, once a member of the Ohio
legislature, again the editor of a local paper, and now, with
undiminished dignity, keeping the Toll House bar. I had a
number of drinks and cigars bestowed on me, and enjoyed a
famous opportunity of seeing Kelmar in his glory, friendly,
radiant, smiling, steadily edging one of the ship's kettles
on the reluctant Corwin.
Corwin, plainly aghast, resisted gallantly, and for that bout
victory crowned his arms.
At last we set forth for Silverado on foot. Kelmar and his
jolly Jew girls were full of the sentiment of Sunday outings,
breathed geniality and vagueness, and suffered a little vile
boy from the hotel to lead them here and there about the
woods. For three people all so old, so bulky in body, and
belonging to a race so venerable, they could not but surprise
us by their extreme and almost imbecile youthfulness of
spirit. They were only going to stay ten minutes at the Toll
House; had they not twenty long miles of road before them on
the other side? Stay to dinner? Not they! Put up the
horses? Never. Let us attach them to the verandah by a wisp
of straw rope, such as would not have held a person's hat on
that blustering day. And with all these protestations of
hurry, they proved irresponsible like children. Kelmar
himself, shrewd old Russian Jew, with a smirk that seemed
just to have concluded a bargain to its satisfaction,
intrusted himself and us devoutly to that boy. Yet the boy
was patently fallacious; and for that matter a most
unsympathetic urchin, raised apparently on gingerbread. He
was bent on his own pleasure, nothing else; and Kelmar
followed him to his ruin, with the same shrewd smirk. If the
boy said there was "a hole there in the hill" - a hole, pure
and simple, neither more nor less - Kelmar and his Jew girls
would follow him a hundred yards to look complacently down
that hole. For two hours we looked for houses; and for two
hours they followed us, smelling trees, picking flowers,
foisting false botany on the unwary. Had we taken five, with
that vile lad to head them off on idle divagations, for five
they would have smiled and stumbled through the woods.
However, we came forth at length, and as by accident, upon a
lawn, sparse planted like an orchard, but with forest instead
of fruit trees. That was the site of Silverado mining town.
A piece of ground was levelled up, where Kelmar's store had
been; and facing that we saw Rufe Hanson's house, still
bearing on its front the legend SILVERADO HOTEL. Not another
sign of habitation. Silverado town had all been carted from
the scene; one of the houses was now the school-house far
down the road; one was gone here, one there, but all were
gone away.
It was now a sylvan solitude, and the silence was unbroken
but by the great, vague voice of the wind. Some days before
our visit, a grizzly bear had been sporting round the
Hansons' chicken-house.
Mrs. Hanson was at home alone, we found. Rufe had been out
after a "bar," had risen late, and was now gone, it did not
clearly appear whither. Perhaps he had had wind of Kelmar's
coming, and was now ensconced among the underwood, or
watching us from the shoulder of the mountain. We, hearing
there were no houses to be had, were for immediately giving
up all hopes of Silverado. But this, somehow, was not to
Kelmar's fancy. He first proposed that we should "camp
someveres around, ain't it?" waving his hand cheerily as
though to weave a spell; and when that was firmly rejected,
he decided that we must take up house with the Hansons. Mrs.
Hanson had been, from the first, flustered, subdued, and a
little pale; but from this proposition she recoiled with
haggard indignation. So did we, who would have preferred, in
a manner of speaking, death. But Kelmar was not to be put
by. He edged Mrs. Hanson into a corner, where for a long
time he threatened her with his forefinger, like a character
in Dickens; and the poor woman, driven to her entrenchments,
at last remembered with a shriek that there were still some
houses at the tunnel.
Thither we went; the Jews, who should already have been miles
into Lake County, still cheerily accompanying us. For about
a furlong we followed a good road alone, the hillside through
the forest, until suddenly that road widened out and came
abruptly to an end. A canyon, woody below, red, rocky, and
naked overhead, was here walled across by a dump of rolling
stones, dangerously steep, and from twenty to thirty feet in
height. A rusty iron chute on wooden legs came flying, like
a monstrous gargoyle, across the parapet. It was down this
that they poured the precious ore; and below here the carts
stood to wait their lading, and carry it mill-ward down the
The whole canyon was so entirely blocked, as if by some rude
guerilla fortification, that we could only mount by lengths
of wooden ladder, fixed in the hillside. These led us round
the farther corner of the dump; and when they were at an end,
we still persevered over loose rubble and wading deep in
poison oak, till we struck a triangular platform, filling up
the whole glen, and shut in on either hand by bold
projections of the mountain. Only in front the place was
open like the proscenium of a theatre, and we looked forth
into a great realm of air, and down upon treetops and
hilltops, and far and near on wild and varied country. The
place still stood as on the day it was deserted: a line of
iron rails with a bifurcation; a truck in working order; a
world of lumber, old wood, old iron; a blacksmith's forge on
one side, half buried in the leaves of dwarf madronas; and on
the other, an old brown wooden house.
Fanny and I dashed at the house. It consisted of three
rooms, and was so plastered against the hill, that one room
was right atop of another, that the upper floor was more than
twice as large as the lower, and that all three apartments
must be entered from a different side and level. Not a
window-sash remained.
The door of the lower room was smashed, and one panel hung in
splinters. We entered that, and found a fair amount of
rubbish: sand and gravel that had been sifted in there by
the mountain winds; straw, sticks, and stones; a table, a
barrel; a plate-rack on the wall; two home-made bootjacks,
signs of miners and their boots; and a pair of papers pinned
on the boarding, headed respectively "Funnel No. 1," and
"Funnel No. 2," but with the tails torn away. The window,
sashless of course, was choked with the green and sweetly
smelling foliage of a bay; and through a chink in the floor,
a spray of poison oak had shot up and was handsomely
prospering in the interior. It was my first care to cut away
that poison oak, Fanny standing by at a respectful distance.
That was our first improvement by which we took possession.
The room immediately above could only be entered by a plank
propped against the threshold, along which the intruder must
foot it gingerly, clutching for support to sprays of poison
oak, the proper product of the country. Herein was, on
either hand, a triple tier of beds, where miners had once
lain; and the other gable was pierced by a sashless window
and a doorless doorway opening on the air of heaven, five
feet above the ground. As for the third room, which entered
squarely from the ground level, but higher up the hill and
farther up the canyon, it contained only rubbish and the
uprights for another triple tier of beds.
The whole building was overhung by a bold, lion-like, red
rock. Poison oak, sweet bay trees, calcanthus, brush, and
chaparral, grew freely but sparsely all about it. In front,
in the strong sunshine, the platform lay overstrewn with busy
litter, as though the labours of the mine might begin again
to-morrow in the morning.
Following back into the canyon, among the mass of rotting
plant and through the flowering bushes, we came to a great
crazy staging, with a wry windless on the top; and clambering
up, we could look into an open shaft, leading edgeways down
into the bowels of the mountain, trickling with water, and
lit by some stray sun-gleams, whence I know not. In that
quiet place the still, far-away tinkle of the water-drops was
loudly audible. Close by, another shaft led edgeways up into
the superincumbent shoulder of the hill. It lay partly open;
and sixty or a hundred feet above our head, we could see the
strata propped apart by solid wooden wedges, and a pine, half
undermined, precariously nodding on the verge. Here also a
rugged, horizontal tunnel ran straight into the unsunned
bowels of the rock. This secure angle in the mountain's
flank was, even on this wild day, as still as my lady's
chamber. But in the tunnel a cold, wet draught tempestuously
blew. Nor have I ever known that place otherwise than cold
and windy.
Such was our fist prospect of Juan Silverado. I own I had
looked for something different: a clique of neighbourly
houses on a village green, we shall say, all empty to be
sure, but swept and varnished; a trout stream brawling by;
great elms or chestnuts, humming with bees and nested in by
song-birds; and the mountains standing round about, as at
Jerusalem. Here, mountain and house and the old tools of
industry were all alike rusty and downfalling. The hill was
here wedged up, and there poured forth its bowels in a spout
of broken mineral; man with his picks and powder, and nature
with her own great blasting tools of sun and rain, labouring
together at the ruin of that proud mountain. The view up the
canyon was a glimpse of devastation; dry red minerals sliding
together, here and there a crag, here and there dwarf thicket
clinging in the general glissade, and over all a broken
outline trenching on the blue of heaven. Downwards indeed,
from our rock eyrie, we behold the greener side of nature;
and the bearing of the pines and the sweet smell of bays and
nutmegs commanded themselves gratefully to our senses. One
way and another, now the die was cast. Silverado be it!
After we had got back to the Toll House, the Jews were not
long of striking forward. But I observed that one of the
Hanson lads came down, before their departure, and returned
with a ship's kettle. Happy Hansons! Nor was it until after
Kelmar was gone, if I remember rightly, that Rufe put in an
appearance to arrange the details of our installation.
The latter part of the day, Fanny and I sat in the verandah
of the Toll House, utterly stunned by the uproar of the wind
among the trees on the other side of the valley. Sometimes,
we would have it it was like a sea, but it was not various
enough for that; and again, we thought it like the roar of a
cataract, but it was too changeful for the cataract; and then
we would decide, speaking in sleepy voices, that it could be
compared with nothing but itself. My mind was entirely
preoccupied by the noise. I hearkened to it by the hour,
gapingly hearkened, and let my cigarette go out. Sometimes
the wind would make a sally nearer hand, and send a shrill,
whistling crash among the foliage on our side of the glen;
and sometimes a back-draught would strike into the elbow
where we sat, and cast the gravel and torn leaves into our
faces. But for the most part, this great, streaming gale
passed unweariedly by us into Napa Valley, not two hundred
yards away, visible by the tossing boughs, stunningly
audible, and yet not moving a hair upon our heads. So it
blew all night long while I was writing up my journal, and
after we were in bed, under a cloudless, starset heaven; and
so it was blowing still next morning when we rose.
It was a laughable thought to us, what had become of our
cheerful, wandering Hebrews. We could not suppose they had
reached a destination. The meanest boy could lead them miles
out of their way to see a gopher-hole. Boys, we felt to be
their special danger; none others were of that exact pitch of
cheerful irrelevancy to exercise a kindred sway upon their
minds: but before the attractions of a boy their most
settled resolutions would be war. We thought we could follow
in fancy these three aged Hebrew truants wandering in and out
on hilltop and in thicket, a demon boy trotting far ahead,
their will-o'-the-wisp conductor; and at last about midnight,
the wind still roaring in the darkness, we had a vision of
all three on their knees upon a mountain-top around a glowworm.
NEXT morning we were up by half-past five, according to
agreement, and it was ten by the clock before our Jew boys
returned to pick us up. Kelmar, Mrs. Kelmar, and Abramina,
all smiling from ear to ear, and full of tales of the
hospitality they had found on the other side. It had not
gone unrewarded; for I observed with interest that the ship's
kettles, all but one, had been "placed." Three Lake County
families, at least, endowed for life with a ship's kettle.
Come, this was no misspent Sunday. The absence of the
kettles told its own story: our Jews said nothing about
them; but, on the other hand, they said many kind and comely
things about the people they had met. The two women, in
particular, had been charmed out of themselves by the sight
of a young girl surrounded by her admirers; all evening, it
appeared, they had been triumphing together in the girl's
innocent successes, and to this natural and unselfish joy
they gave expression in language that was beautiful by its
simplicity and truth.
Take them for all in all, few people have done my heart more
good; they seemed so thoroughly entitled to happiness, and to
enjoy it in so large a measure and so free from afterthought;
almost they persuaded me to be a Jew. There was,
indeed, a chink of money in their talk. They particularly
commanded people who were well to do. "HE don't care - ain't
it?" was their highest word of commendation to an individual
fate; and here I seem to grasp the root of their philosophy -
it was to be free from care, to be free to make these Sunday
wanderings, that they so eagerly pursued after wealth; and
all this carefulness was to be careless. The fine, good
humour of all three seemed to declare they had attained their
end. Yet there was the other side to it; and the recipients
of kettles perhaps cared greatly.
No sooner had they returned, than the scene of yesterday
began again. The horses were not even tied with a straw rope
this time - it was not worth while; and Kelmar disappeared
into the bar, leaving them under a tree on the other side of
the road. I had to devote myself. I stood under the shadow
of that tree for, I suppose, hard upon an hour, and had not
the heart to be angry. Once some one remembered me, and
brought me out half a tumblerful of the playful, innocuous
American cocktail. I drank it, and lo! veins of living fire
ran down my leg; and then a focus of conflagration remained
seated in my stomach, not unpleasantly, for quarter of an
hour. I love these sweet, fiery pangs, but I will not court
them. The bulk of the time I spent in repeating as much
French poetry as I could remember to the horses, who seemed
to enjoy it hugely. And now it went -
"O ma vieille Font-georges
Ou volent les rouges-gorges:"
and again, to a more trampling measure -
"Et tout tremble, Irun, Coimbre,
Sautander, Almodovar,
Sitot qu'on entend le timbre
Des cymbales do Bivar."
The redbreasts and the brooks of Europe, in that dry and
songless land; brave old names and wars, strong cities,
cymbals, and bright armour, in that nook of the mountain,
sacred only to the Indian and the bear! This is still the
strangest thing in all man's travelling, that he should carry
about with him incongruous memories. There is no foreign
land; it is the traveller only that is foreign, and now and
again, by a flash of recollection, lights up the contrasts of
the earth.
But while I was thus wandering in my fancy, great feats had
been transacted in the bar. Corwin the bold had fallen,
Kelmar was again crowned with laurels, and the last of the
ship's kettles had changed hands. If I had ever doubted the
purity of Kelmar's motives, if I had ever suspected him of a
single eye to business in his eternal dallyings, now at
least, when the last kettle was disposed of, my suspicions
must have been allayed. I dare not guess how much more time
was wasted; nor how often we drove off, merely to drive back
again and renew interrupted conversations about nothing,
before the Toll House was fairly left behind. Alas! and not
a mile down the grade there stands a ranche in a sunny
vineyard, and here we must all dismount again and enter.
Only the old lady was at home, Mrs. Guele, a brown old Swiss
dame, the picture of honesty; and with her we drank a bottle
of wine and had an age-long conversation, which would have
been highly delightful if Fanny and I had not been faint with
hunger. The ladies each narrated the story of her marriage,
our two Hebrews with the prettiest combination of sentiment
and financial bathos. Abramina, specially, endeared herself
with every word. She was as simple, natural, and engaging as
a kid that should have been brought up to the business of a
money-changer. One touch was so resplendently Hebraic that I
cannot pass it over. When her "old man" wrote home for her
from America, her old man's family would not intrust her with
the money for the passage, till she had bound herself by an
oath - on her knees, I think she said - not to employ it
This had tickled Abramina hugely, but I think it tickled me
fully more.
Mrs. Guele told of her home-sickness up here in the long
winters; of her honest, country-woman troubles and alarms
upon the journey; how in the bank at Frankfort she had feared
lest the banker, after having taken her cheque, should deny
all knowledge of it - a fear I have myself every time I go to
a bank; and how crossing the Luneburger Heath, an old lady,
witnessing her trouble and finding whither she was bound, had
given her "the blessing of a person eighty years old, which
would be sure to bring her safely to the States. And the
first thing I did," added Mrs. Guele, "was to fall
At length we got out of the house, and some of us into the
trap, when - judgment of Heaven! - here came Mr. Guele from
his vineyard. So another quarter of an hour went by; till at
length, at our earnest pleading, we set forth again in
earnest, Fanny and I white-faced and silent, but the Jews
still smiling. The heart fails me. There was yet another
stoppage! And we drove at last into Calistoga past two in
the afternoon, Fanny and I having breakfasted at six in the
morning, eight mortal hours before. We were a pallid couple;
but still the Jews were smiling.
So ended our excursion with the village usurers; and, now
that it was done, we had no more idea of the nature of the
business, nor of the part we had been playing in it, than the
child unborn. That all the people we had met were the slaves
of Kelmar, though in various degrees of servitude; that we
ourselves had been sent up the mountain in the interests of
none but Kelmar; that the money we laid out, dollar by
dollar, cent by cent, and through the hands of various
intermediaries, should all hop ultimately into Kelmar's till;
- these were facts that we only grew to recognize in the
course of time and by the accumulation of evidence. At
length all doubt was quieted, when one of the kettle-holders
confessed. Stopping his trap in the moonlight, a little way
out of Calistoga, he told me, in so many words, that he dare
not show face therewith an empty pocket. "You see, I don't
mind if it was only five dollars, Mr. Stevens," he said, "but
I must give Mr. Kelmar SOMETHING."
Even now, when the whole tyranny is plain to me, I cannot
find it in my heart to be as angry as perhaps I should be
with the Hebrew tyrant. The whole game of business is beggar
my neighbour; and though perhaps that game looks uglier when
played at such close quarters and on so small a scale, it is
none the more intrinsically inhumane for that. The village
usurer is not so sad a feature of humanity and human progress
as the millionaire manufacturer, fattening on the toil and
loss of thousands, and yet declaiming from the platform
against the greed and dishonesty of landlords. If it were
fair for Cobden to buy up land from owners whom he thought
unconscious of its proper value, it was fair enough for my
Russian Jew to give credit to his farmers. Kelmar, if he was
unconscious of the beam in his own eye, was at least silent
in the matter of his brother's mote.
THERE were four of us squatters - myself and my wife, the
King and Queen of Silverado; Sam, the Crown Prince; and
Chuchu, the Grand Duke. Chuchu, a setter crossed with
spaniel, was the most unsuited for a rough life. He had been
nurtured tenderly in the society of ladies; his heart was
large and soft; he regarded the sofa-cushion as a bed-rook
necessary of existence. Though about the size of a sheep, he
loved to sit in ladies' laps; he never said a bad word in all
his blameless days; and if he had seen a flute, I am sure he
could have played upon it by nature. It may seem hard to say
it of a dog, but Chuchu was a tame cat.
The king and queen, the grand duke, and a basket of cold
provender for immediate use, set forth from Calistoga in a
double buggy; the crown prince, on horseback, led the way
like an outrider. Bags and boxes and a second-hand stove
were to follow close upon our heels by Hanson's team.
It was a beautiful still day; the sky was one field of azure.
Not a leaf moved, not a speck appeared in heaven. Only from
the summit of the mountain one little snowy wisp of cloud
after another kept detaching itself, like smoke from a
volcano, and blowing southward in some high stream of air:
Mount Saint Helena still at her interminable task, making the
weather, like a Lapland witch.
By noon we had come in sight of the mill: a great brown
building, half-way up the hill, big as a factory, two stories
high, and with tanks and ladders along the roof; which, as a
pendicle of Silverado mine, we held to be an outlying
province of our own. Thither, then, we went, crossing the
valley by a grassy trail; and there lunched out of the
basket, sitting in a kind of portico, and wondering, while we
ate, at this great bulk of useless building. Through a chink
we could look far down into the interior, and see sunbeams
floating in the dust and striking on tier after tier of
silent, rusty machinery. It cost six thousand dollars,
twelve hundred English sovereigns; and now, here it stands
deserted, like the temple of a forgotten religion, the busy
millers toiling somewhere else. All the time we were there,
mill and mill town showed no sign of life; that part of the
mountain-side, which is very open and green, was tenanted by
no living creature but ourselves and the insects; and nothing
stirred but the cloud manufactory upon the mountain summit.
It was odd to compare this with the former days, when the
engine was in fall blast, the mill palpitating to its
strokes, and the carts came rattling down from Silverado,
charged with ore.
By two we had been landed at the mine, the buggy was gone
again, and we were left to our own reflections and the basket
of cold provender, until Hanson should arrive. Hot as it was
by the sun, there was something chill in such a home-coming,
in that world of wreck and rust, splinter and rolling gravel,
where for so many years no fire had smoked.
Silverado platform filled the whole width of the canyon.
Above, as I have said, this was a wild, red, stony gully in
the mountains; but below it was a wooded dingle. And through
this, I was told, there had gone a path between the mine and
the Toll House - our natural north-west passage to
civilization. I found and followed it, clearing my way as I
went through fallen branches and dead trees. It went
straight down that steep canyon, till it brought you out
abruptly over the roofs of the hotel. There was nowhere any
break in the descent. It almost seemed as if, were you to
drop a stone down the old iron chute at our platform, it
would never rest until it hopped upon the Toll House
shingles. Signs were not wanting of the ancient greatness of
Silverado. The footpath was well marked, and had been well
trodden in the old clays by thirsty miners. And far down,
buried in foliage, deep out of sight of Silverado, I came on
a last outpost of the mine - a mound of gravel, some wreck of
wooden aqueduct, and the mouth of a tunnel, like a treasure
grotto in a fairy story. A stream of water, fed by the
invisible leakage from our shaft, and dyed red with cinnabar
or iron, ran trippingly forth out of the bowels of the cave;
and, looking far under the arch, I could see something like
an iron lantern fastened on the rocky wall. It was a
promising spot for the imagination. No boy could have left
it unexplored.
The stream thenceforward stole along the bottom of the
dingle, and made, for that dry land, a pleasant warbling in
the leaves. Once, I suppose, it ran splashing down the whole
length of the canyon, but now its head waters had been tapped
by the shaft at Silverado, and for a great part of its course
it wandered sunless among the joints of the mountain. No
wonder that it should better its pace when it sees, far
before it, daylight whitening in the arch, or that it should
come trotting forth into the sunlight with a song.
The two stages had gone by when I got down, and the Toll
House stood, dozing in sun and dust and silence, like a place
enchanted. My mission was after hay for bedding, and that I
was readily promised. But when I mentioned that we were
waiting for Rufe, the people shook their heads. Rufe was not
a regular man any way, it seemed; and if he got playing poker
- Well, poker was too many for Rufe. I had not yet heard
them bracketted together; but it seemed a natural
conjunction, and commended itself swiftly to my fears; and as
soon as I returned to Silverado and had told my story, we
practically gave Hanson up, and set ourselves to do what we
could find do-able in our desert-island state.
The lower room had been the assayer's office. The floor was
thick with DEBRIS - part human, from the former occupants;
part natural, sifted in by mountain winds. In a sea of red
dust there swam or floated sticks, boards, hay, straw,
stones, and paper; ancient newspapers, above all - for the
newspaper, especially when torn, soon becomes an antiquity -
and bills of the Silverado boarding-house, some dated
Silverado, some Calistoga Mine. Here is one, verbatim; and
if any one can calculate the scale of charges, he has my
envious admiration.
Calistoga Mine, May 3rd, 1875.
John Stanley
To S. Chapman, Cr.
To board from April 1st, to April 30 $25 75
" " " May lst, to 3rd ... 2 00
27 75
Where is John Stanley mining now? Where is S. Chapman,
within whose hospitable walls we were to lodge? The date was
but five years old, but in that time the world had changed
for Silverado; like Palmyra in the desert, it had outlived
its people and its purpose; we camped, like Layard, amid
ruins, and these names spoke to us of prehistoric time. A
boot-jack, a pair of boots, a dog-hutch, and these bills of
Mr. Chapman's were the only speaking relics that we
disinterred from all that vast Silverado rubbish-heap; but
what would I not have given to unearth a letter, a pocketbook,
a diary, only a ledger, or a roll of names, to take me
back, in a more personal manner, to the past? It pleases me,
besides, to fancy that Stanley or Chapman, or one of their
companions, may light upon this chronicle, and be struck by
the name, and read some news of their anterior home, coming,
as it were, out of a subsequent epoch of history in that
quarter of the world.
As we were tumbling the mingled rubbish on the floor, kicking
it with our feet, and groping for these written evidences of
the past, Sam, with a somewhat whitened face, produced a
paper bag. "What's this?" said he. It contained a
granulated powder, something the colour of Gregory's Mixture,
but rosier; and as there were several of the bags, and each
more or less broken, the powder was spread widely on the
floor. Had any of us ever seen giant powder? No, nobody
had; and instantly there grew up in my mind a shadowy belief,
verging with every moment nearer to certitude, that I had
somewhere heard somebody describe it as just such a powder as
the one around us. I have learnt since that it is a
substance not unlike tallow, and is made up in rolls for all
the world like tallow candles.
Fanny, to add to our happiness, told us a story of a
gentleman who had camped one night, like ourselves, by a
deserted mine. He was a handy, thrifty fellow, and looked
right and left for plunder, but all he could lay his hands on
was a can of oil. After dark he had to see to the horses
with a lantern; and not to miss an opportunity, filled up his
lamp from the oil can. Thus equipped, he set forth into the
forest. A little while after, his friends heard a loud
explosion; the mountain echoes bellowed, and then all was
still. On examination, the can proved to contain oil, with
the trifling addition of nitro-glycerine; but no research
disclosed a trace of either man or lantern.
It was a pretty sight, after this anecdote, to see us
sweeping out the giant powder. It seemed never to be far
enough away. And, after all, it was only some rock pounded
for assay.
So much for the lower room. We scraped some of the rougher
dirt off the floor, and left it. That was our sitting-room
and kitchen, though there was nothing to sit upon but the
table, and no provision for a fire except a hole in the roof
of the room above, which had once contained the chimney of a
To that upper room we now proceeded. There were the eighteen
bunks in a double tier, nine on either hand, where from
eighteen to thirty-six miners had once snored together all
night long, John Stanley, perhaps, snoring loudest. There
was the roof, with a hole in it through which the sun now
shot an arrow. There was the floor, in much the same state
as the one below, though, perhaps, there was more hay, and
certainly there was the added ingredient of broken glass, the
man who stole the window-frames having apparently made a
miscarriage with this one. Without a broom, without hay or
bedding, we could but look about us with a beginning of
despair. The one bright arrow of day, in that gaunt and
shattered barrack, made the rest look dirtier and darker, and
the sight drove us at last into the open.
Here, also, the handiwork of man lay ruined: but the plants
were all alive and thriving; the view below was fresh with
the colours of nature; and we had exchanged a dim, human
garret for a corner, even although it were untidy, of the
blue hall of heaven. Not a bird, not a beast, not a reptile.
There was no noise in that part of the world, save when we
passed beside the staging, and heard the water musically
falling in the shaft.
We wandered to and fro. We searched among that drift of
lumber-wood and iron, nails and rails, and sleepers and the
wheels of tracks. We gazed up the cleft into the bosom of
the mountain. We sat by the margin of the dump and saw, far
below us, the green treetops standing still in the clear air.
Beautiful perfumes, breaths of bay, resin, and nutmeg, came
to us more often and grew sweeter and sharper as the
afternoon declined. But still there was no word of Hanson.
I set to with pick and shovel, and deepened the pool behind
the shaft, till we were sure of sufficient water for the
morning; and by the time I had finished, the sun had begun to
go down behind the mountain shoulder, the platform was
plunged in quiet shadow, and a chill descended from the sky.
Night began early in our cleft. Before us, over the margin
of the dump, we could see the sun still striking aslant into
the wooded nick below, and on the battlemented, pinebescattered
ridges on the farther side.
There was no stove, of course, and no hearth in our lodging,
so we betook ourselves to the blacksmith's forge across the
platform. If the platform be taken as a stage, and the outcurving
margin of the dump to represent the line of the footlights,
then our house would be the first wing on the actor's
left, and this blacksmith's forge, although no match for it
in size, the foremost on the right. It was a low, brown
cottage, planted close against the hill, and overhung by the
foliage and peeling boughs of a madrona thicket. Within it
was full of dead leaves and mountain dust, and rubbish from
the mine. But we soon had a good fire brightly blazing, and
sat close about it on impromptu seats. Chuchu, the slave of
sofa-cushions, whimpered for a softer bed; but the rest of us
were greatly revived and comforted by that good creaturefire,
which gives us warmth and light and companionable
sounds, and colours up the emptiest building with better than
frescoes. For a while it was even pleasant in the forge,
with the blaze in the midst, and a look over our shoulders on
the woods and mountains where the day was dying like a
It was between seven and eight before Hanson arrived, with a
waggonful of our effects and two of his wife's relatives to
lend him a hand. The elder showed surprising strength. He
would pick up a huge packing-case, full of books of all
things, swing it on his shoulder, and away up the two crazy
ladders and the breakneck spout of rolling mineral,
familiarly termed a path, that led from the cart-track to our
house. Even for a man unburthened, the ascent was toilsome
and precarious; but Irvine sealed it with a light foot,
carrying box after box, as the hero whisks the stage child up
the practicable footway beside the waterfall of the fifth
act. With so strong a helper, the business was speedily
transacted. Soon the assayer's office was thronged with our
belongings, piled higgledy-piggledy, and upside down, about
the floor. There were our boxes, indeed, but my wife had
left her keys in Calistoga. There was the stove, but, alas!
our carriers had forgot the chimney, and lost one of the
plates along the road. The Silverado problem was scarce
Rufe himself was grave and good-natured over his share of
blame; he even, if I remember right, expressed regret. But
his crew, to my astonishment and anger, grinned from ear to
ear, and laughed aloud at our distress. They thought it
"real funny" about the stove-pipe they had forgotten; "real
funny" that they should have lost a plate. As for hay, the
whole party refused to bring us any till they should have
supped. See how late they were! Never had there been such a
job as coming up that grade! Nor often, I suspect, such a
game of poker as that before they started. But about nine,
as a particular favour, we should have some hay.
So they took their departure, leaving me still staring, and
we resigned ourselves to wait for their return. The fire in
the forge had been suffered to go out, and we were one and
all too weary to kindle another. We dined, or, not to take
that word in vain, we ate after a fashion, in the nightmare
disorder of the assayer's office, perched among boxes. A
single candle lighted us. It could scarce be called a
housewarming; for there was, of course, no fire, and with the
two open doors and the open window gaping on the night, like
breaches in a fortress, it began to grow rapidly chill. Talk
ceased; nobody moved but the unhappy Chuchu, still in quest
of sofa-cushions, who tumbled complainingly among the trunks.
It required a certain happiness of disposition to look
forward hopefully, from so dismal a beginning, across the
brief hours of night, to the warm shining of to-morrow's sun.
But the hay arrived at last, and we turned, with our last
spark of courage, to the bedroom. We had improved the
entrance, but it was still a kind of rope-walking; and it
would have been droll to see us mounting, one after another,
by candle-light, under the open stars.
The western door - that which looked up the canyon, and
through which we entered by our bridge of flying plank - was
still entire, a handsome, panelled door, the most finished
piece of carpentry in Silverado. And the two lowest bunks
next to this we roughly filled with hay for that night's use.
Through the opposite, or eastern-looking gable, with its open
door and window, a faint, disused starshine came into the
room like mist; and when we were once in bed, we lay,
awaiting sleep, in a haunted, incomplete obscurity. At first
the silence of the night was utter. Then a high wind began
in the distance among the tree-tops, and for hours continued
to grow higher. It seemed to me much such a wind as we had
found on our visit; yet here in our open chamber we were
fanned only by gentle and refreshing draughts, so deep was
the canyon, so close our house was planted under the
overhanging rock.
THERE is quite a large race or class of people in America,
for whom we scarcely seem to have a parallel in England. Of
pure white blood, they are unknown or unrecognizable in
towns; inhabit the fringe of settlements and the deep, quiet
places of the country; rebellious to all labour, and pettily
thievish, like the English gipsies; rustically ignorant, but
with a touch of wood-lore and the dexterity of the savage.
Whence they came is a moot point. At the time of the war,
they poured north in crowds to escape the conscription; lived
during summer on fruits, wild animals, and petty theft; and
at the approach of winter, when these supplies failed, built
great fires in the forest, and there died stoically by
starvation. They are widely scattered, however, and easily
recognized. Loutish, but not ill-looking, they will sit all
day, swinging their legs on a field fence, the mind seemingly
as devoid of all reflection as a Suffolk peasant's, careless
of politics, for the most part incapable of reading, but with
a rebellious vanity and a strong sense of independence.
Hunting is their most congenial business, or, if the occasion
offers, a little amateur detection. In tracking a criminal,
following a particular horse along a beaten highway, and
drawing inductions from a hair or a footprint, one of those
somnolent, grinning Hodges will suddenly display activity of
body and finesse of mind. By their names ye may know them,
the women figuring as Loveina, Larsenia, Serena, Leanna,
Orreana; the men answering to Alvin, Alva, or Orion,
pronounced Orrion, with the accent on the first. Whether
they are indeed a race, or whether this is the form of
degeneracy common to all back-woodsmen, they are at least
known by a generic byword, as Poor Whites or Low-downers.
I will not say that the Hanson family was Poor White, because
the name savours of offence; but I may go as far as this -
they were, in many points, not unsimilar to the people
usually so-cared. Rufe himself combined two of the
qualifications, for he was both a hunter and an amateur
detective. It was he who pursued Russel and Dollar, the
robbers of the Lake Port stage, and captured them the very
morning after the exploit, while they were still sleeping in
a hayfield. Russel, a drunken Scotch carpenter, was even an
acquaintance of his own, and he expressed much grave
commiseration for his fate. In all that he said and did,
Rufe was grave. I never saw him hurried. When he spoke, he
took out his pipe with ceremonial deliberation, looked east
and west, and then, in quiet tones and few words, stated his
business or told his story. His gait was to match; it would
never have surprised you if, at any step, he had turned round
and walked away again, so warily and slowly, and with so much
seeming hesitation did he go about. He lay long in bed in
the morning - rarely indeed, rose before noon; he loved all
games, from poker to clerical croquet; and in the Toll House
croquet ground I have seen him toiling at the latter with the
devotion of a curate. He took an interest in education, was
an active member of the local school-board, and when I was
there, he had recently lost the schoolhouse key. His waggon
was broken, but it never seemed to occur to him to mend it.
Like all truly idle people, he had an artistic eye. He chose
the print stuff for his wife's dresses, and counselled her in
the making of a patchwork quilt, always, as she thought,
wrongly, but to the more educated eye, always with bizarre
and admirable taste - the taste of an Indian. With all this,
he was a perfect, unoffending gentleman in word and act.
Take his clay pipe from him, and he was fit for any society
but that of fools. Quiet as he was, there burned a deep,
permanent excitement in his dark blue eyes; and when this
grave man smiled, it was like sunshine in a shady place.
Mrs. Hanson (NEE, if you please, Lovelands) was more
commonplace than her lord. She was a comely woman, too,
plump, fair-coloured, with wonderful white teeth; and in her
print dresses (chosen by Rufe) and with a large sun-bonnet
shading her valued complexion, made, I assure you, a very
agreeable figure. But she was on the surface, what there was
of her, out-spoken and loud-spoken. Her noisy laughter had
none of the charm of one of Hanson's rare, slow-spreading
smiles; there was no reticence, no mystery, no manner about
the woman: she was a first-class dairymaid, but her husband
was an unknown quantity between the savage and the nobleman.
She was often in and out with us, merry, and healthy, and
fair; he came far seldomer - only, indeed, when there was
business, or now and again, to pay a visit of ceremony,
brushed up for the occasion, with his wife on his arm, and a
clean clay pipe in his teeth. These visits, in our forest
state, had quite the air of an event, and turned our red
canyon into a salon.
Such was the pair who ruled in the old Silverado Hotel, among
the windy trees, on the mountain shoulder overlooking the
whole length of Napa Valley, as the man aloft looks down on
the ship's deck. There they kept house, with sundry horses
and fowls, and a family of sons, Daniel Webster, and I think
George Washington, among the number. Nor did they want
visitors. An old gentleman, of singular stolidity, and
called Breedlove - I think he had crossed the plains in the
same caravan with Rufe - housed with them for awhile during
our stay; and they had besides a permanent lodger, in the
form of Mrs. Hanson's brother, Irvine Lovelands. I spell
Irvine by guess; for I could get no information on the
subject, just as I could never find out, in spite of many
inquiries, whether or not Rufe was a contraction for Rufus.
They were all cheerfully at sea about their names in that
generation. And this is surely the more notable where the
names are all so strange, and even the family names appear to
have been coined. At one time, at least, the ancestors of
all these Alvins and Alvas, Loveinas, Lovelands, and
Breedloves, must have taken serious council and found a
certain poetry in these denominations; that must have been,
then, their form of literature. But still times change; and
their next descendants, the George Washingtons and Daniel
Websters, will at least be clear upon the point. And anyway,
and however his name should be spelt, this Irvine Lovelands
was the most unmitigated Caliban I ever knew.
Our very first morning at Silverado, when we were full of
business, patching up doors and windows, making beds and
seats, and getting our rough lodging into shape, Irvine and
his sister made their appearance together, she for
neighbourliness and general curiosity; he, because he was
working for me, to my sorrow, cutting firewood at I forget
how much a day. The way that he set about cutting wood was
characteristic. We were at that moment patching up and
unpacking in the kitchen. Down he sat on one side, and down
sat his sister on the other. Both were chewing pine-tree
gum, and he, to my annoyance, accompanied that simple
pleasure with profuse expectoration. She rattled away,
talking up hill and down dale, laughing, tossing her head,
showing her brilliant teeth. He looked on in silence, now
spitting heavily on the floor, now putting his head back and
uttering a loud, discordant, joyless laugh. He had a tangle
of shock hair, the colour of wool; his mouth was a grin;
although as strong as a horse, he looked neither heavy nor
yet adroit, only leggy, coltish, and in the road. But it was
plain he was in high spirits, thoroughly enjoying his visit;
and he laughed frankly whenever we failed to accomplish what
we were about. This was scarcely helpful: it was even, to
amateur carpenters, embarrassing; but it lasted until we
knocked off work and began to get dinner. Then Mrs. Hanson
remembered she should have been gone an hour ago; and the
pair retired, and the lady's laughter died away among the
nutmegs down the path. That was Irvine's first day's work in
my employment - the devil take him!
The next morning he returned and, as he was this time alone,
he bestowed his conversation upon us with great liberality.
He prided himself on his intelligence; asked us if we knew
the school ma'am. HE didn't think much of her, anyway. He
had tried her, he had. He had put a question to her. If a
tree a hundred feet high were to fall a foot a day, how long
would it take to fall right down? She had not been able to
solve the problem. "She don't know nothing," he opined. He
told us how a friend of his kept a school with a revolver,
and chuckled mightily over that; his friend could teach
school, he could. All the time he kept chewing gum and
spitting. He would stand a while looking down; and then he
would toss back his shock of hair, and laugh hoarsely, and
spit, and bring forward a new subject. A man, he told us,
who bore a grudge against him, had poisoned his dog. "That
was a low thing for a man to do now, wasn't it? It wasn't
like a man, that, nohow. But I got even with him: I pisoned
HIS dog." His clumsy utterance, his rude embarrassed manner,
set a fresh value on the stupidity of his remarks. I do not
think I ever appreciated the meaning of two words until I
knew Irvine - the verb, loaf, and the noun, oaf; between
them, they complete his portrait. He could lounge, and
wriggle, and rub himself against the wall, and grin, and be
more in everybody's way than any other two people that I ever
set my eyes on. Nothing that he did became him; and yet you
were conscious that he was one of your own race, that his
mind was cumbrously at work, revolving the problem of
existence like a quid of gum, and in his own cloudy manner
enjoying life, and passing judgment on his fellows. Above
all things, he was delighted with himself. You would not
have thought it, from his uneasy manners and troubled,
struggling utterance; but he loved himself to the marrow, and
was happy and proud like a peacock on a rail.
His self-esteem was, indeed, the one joint in his harness.
He could be got to work, and even kept at work, by flattery.
As long as my wife stood over him, crying out how strong he
was, so long exactly he would stick to the matter in hand;
and the moment she turned her back, or ceased to praise him,
he would stop. His physical strength was wonderful; and to
have a woman stand by and admire his achievements, warmed his
heart like sunshine. Yet he was as cowardly as he was
powerful, and felt no shame in owning to the weakness.
Something was once wanted from the crazy platform over the
shaft, and he at once refused to venture there - "did not
like," as he said, "foolen' round them kind o' places," and
let my wife go instead of him, looking on with a grin.
Vanity, where it rules, is usually more heroic: but Irvine
steadily approved himself, and expected others to approve
him; rather looked down upon my wife, and decidedly expected
her to look up to him, on the strength of his superior
Yet the strangest part of the whole matter was perhaps this,
that Irvine was as beautiful as a statue. His features were,
in themselves, perfect; it was only his cloudy, uncouth, and
coarse expression that disfigured them. So much strength
residing in so spare a frame was proof sufficient of the
accuracy of his shape. He must have been built somewhat
after the pattern of Jack Sheppard; but the famous
housebreaker, we may be certain, was no lout. It was by the
extraordinary powers of his mind no less than by the vigour
of his body, that he broke his strong prison with such
imperfect implements, turning the very obstacles to service.
Irvine, in the same case, would have sat down and spat, and
grumbled curses. He had the soul of a fat sheep, but,
regarded as an artist's model, the exterior of a Greek God.
It was a cruel thought to persons less favoured in their
birth, that this creature, endowed - to use the language of
theatres - with extraordinary "means," should so manage to
misemploy them that he looked ugly and almost deformed. It
was only by an effort of abstraction, and after many days,
that you discovered what he was.
By playing on the oaf's conceit, and standing closely over
him, we got a path made round the corner of the dump to our
door, so that we could come and go with decent ease; and he
even enjoyed the work, for in that there were boulders to be
plucked up bodily, bushes to be uprooted, and other occasions
for athletic display: but cutting wood was a different
matter. Anybody could cut wood; and, besides, my wife was
tired of supervising him, and had other things to attend to.
And, in short, days went by, and Irvine came daily, and
talked and lounged and spat; but the firewood remained intact
as sleepers on the platform or growing trees upon the
mountainside. Irvine, as a woodcutter, we could tolerate;
but Irvine as a friend of the family, at so much a day, was
too bald an imposition, and at length, on the afternoon of
the fourth or fifth day of our connection, I explained to
him, as clearly as I could, the light in which I had grown to
regard his presence. I pointed out to him that I could not
continue to give him a salary for spitting on the floor; and
this expression, which came after a good many others, at last
penetrated his obdurate wits. He rose at once, and said if
that was the way he was going to be spoke to, he reckoned he
would quit. And, no one interposing, he departed.
So far, so good. But we had no firewood. The next
afternoon, I strolled down to Rufe's and consulted him on the
subject. It was a very droll interview, in the large, bare
north room of the Silverado Hotel, Mrs. Hanson's patchwork on
a frame, and Rufe, and his wife, and I, and the oaf himself,
all more or less embarrassed. Rufe announced there was
nobody in the neighbourhood but Irvine who could do a day's
work for anybody. Irvine, thereupon, refused to have any
more to do with my service; he "wouldn't work no more for a
man as had spoke to him's I had done." I found myself on the
point of the last humiliation - driven to beseech the
creature whom I had just dismissed with insult: but I took
the high hand in despair, said there must be no talk of
Irvine coming back unless matters were to be differently
managed; that I would rather chop firewood for myself than be
fooled; and, in short, the Hansons being eager for the lad's
hire, I so imposed upon them with merely affected resolution,
that they ended by begging me to re-employ him again, on a
solemn promise that he should be more industrious. The
promise, I am bound to say, was kept. We soon had a fine
pile of firewood at our door; and if Caliban gave me the cold
shoulder and spared me his conversation, I thought none the
worse of him for that, nor did I find my days much longer for
the deprivation.
The leading spirit of the family was, I am inclined to fancy,
Mrs. Hanson. Her social brilliancy somewhat dazzled the
others, and she had more of the small change of sense. It
was she who faced Kelmar, for instance; and perhaps, if she
had been alone, Kelmar would have had no rule within her
doors. Rufe, to be sure, had a fine, sober, open-air
attitude of mind, seeing the world without exaggeration -
perhaps, we may even say, without enough; for he lacked,
along with the others, that commercial idealism which puts so
high a value on time and money. Sanity itself is a kind of
convention. Perhaps Rufe was wrong; but, looking on life
plainly, he was unable to perceive that croquet or poker were
in any way less important than, for instance, mending his
waggon. Even his own profession, hunting, was dear to him
mainly as a sort of play; even that he would have neglected,
had it not appealed to his imagination. His hunting-suit,
for instance, had cost I should be afraid to say how many
bucks - the currency in which he paid his way: it was all
befringed, after the Indian fashion, and it was dear to his
heart. The pictorial side of his daily business was never
forgotten. He was even anxious to stand for his picture in
those buckskin hunting clothes; and I remember how he once
warmed almost into enthusiasm, his dark blue eyes growing
perceptibly larger, as he planned the composition in which he
should appear, "with the horns of some real big bucks, and
dogs, and a camp on a crick" (creek, stream).
There was no trace in Irvine of this woodland poetry. He did
not care for hunting, nor yet for buckskin suits. He had
never observed scenery. The world, as it appeared to him,
was almost obliterated by his own great grinning figure in
the foreground: Caliban Malvolio. And it seems to me as if,
in the persons of these brothers-in-law, we had the two sides
of rusticity fairly well represented: the hunter living
really in nature; the clodhopper living merely out of
society: the one bent up in every corporal agent to capacity
in one pursuit, doing at least one thing keenly and
thoughtfully, and thoroughly alive to all that touches it;
the other in the inert and bestial state, walking in a faint
dream, and taking so dim an impression of the myriad sides of
life that he is truly conscious of nothing but himself. It
is only in the fastnesses of nature, forests, mountains, and
the back of man's beyond, that a creature endowed with five
senses can grow up into the perfection of this crass and
earthy vanity. In towns or the busier country sides, he is
roughly reminded of other men's existence; and if he learns
no more, he learns at least to fear contempt. But Irvine had
come scatheless through life, conscious only of himself, of
his great strength and intelligence; and in the silence of
the universe, to which he did not listen, dwelling with
delight on the sound of his own thoughts.
A CHANGE in the colour of the light usually called me in the
morning. By a certain hour, the long, vertical chinks in our
western gable, where the boards had shrunk and separated,
flashed suddenly into my eyes as stripes of dazzling blue, at
once so dark and splendid that I used to marvel how the
qualities could be combined. At an earlier hour, the heavens
in that quarter were still quietly coloured, but the shoulder
of the mountain which shuts in the canyon already glowed with
sunlight in a wonderful compound of gold and rose and green;
and this too would kindle, although more mildly and with
rainbow tints, the fissures of our crazy gable. If I were
sleeping heavily, it was the bold blue that struck me awake;
if more lightly, then I would come to myself in that earlier
and fairier fight.
One Sunday morning, about five, the first brightness called
me. I rose and turned to the east, not for my devotions, but
for air. The night had been very still. The little private
gale that blew every evening in our canyon, for ten minutes
or perhaps a quarter of an hour, had swiftly blown itself
out; in the hours that followed not a sigh of wind had shaken
the treetops; and our barrack, for all its breaches, was less
fresh that morning than of wont. But I had no sooner reached
the window than I forgot all else in the sight that met my
eyes, and I made but two bounds into my clothes, and down the
crazy plank to the platform.
The sun was still concealed below the opposite hilltops,
though it was shining already, not twenty feet above my head,
on our own mountain slope. But the scene, beyond a few near
features, was entirely changed. Napa valley was gone; gone
were all the lower slopes and woody foothills of the range;
and in their place, not a thousand feet below me, rolled a
great level ocean. It was as though I had gone to bed the
night before, safe in a nook of inland mountains, and had
awakened in a bay upon the coast. I had seen these
inundations from below; at Calistoga I had risen and gone
abroad in the early morning, coughing and sneezing, under
fathoms on fathoms of gray sea vapour, like a cloudy sky - a
dull sight for the artist, and a painful experience for the
invalid. But to sit aloft one's self in the pure air and
under the unclouded dome of heaven, and thus look down on the
submergence of the valley, was strangely different and even
delightful to the eyes. Far away were hilltops like little
islands. Nearer, a smoky surf beat about the foot of
precipices and poured into all the coves of these rough
mountains. The colour of that fog ocean was a thing never to
be forgotten. For an instant, among the Hebrides and just
about sundown, I have seen something like it on the sea
itself. But the white was not so opaline; nor was there,
what surprisingly increased the effect, that breathless,
crystal stillness over all. Even in its gentlest moods the
salt sea travails, moaning among the weeds or lisping on the
sand; but that vast fog ocean lay in a trance of silence, nor
did the sweet air of the morning tremble with a sound.
As I continued to sit upon the dump, I began to observe that
this sea was not so level as at first sight it appeared to
be. Away in the extreme south, a little hill of fog arose
against the sky above the general surface, and as it had
already caught the sun, it shone on the horizon like the
topsails of some giant ship. There were huge waves,
stationary, as it seemed, like waves in a frozen sea; and
yet, as I looked again, I was not sure but they were moving
after all, with a slow and august advance. And while I was
yet doubting, a promontory of the some four or five miles
away, conspicuous by a bouquet of tall pines, was in a single
instant overtaken and swallowed up. It reappeared in a
little, with its pines, but this time as an islet, and only
to be swallowed up once more and then for good. This set me
looking nearer, and I saw that in every cove along the line
of mountains the fog was being piled in higher and higher, as
though by some wind that was inaudible to me. I could trace
its progress, one pine tree first growing hazy and then
disappearing after another; although sometimes there was none
of this fore-running haze, but the whole opaque white ocean
gave a start and swallowed a piece of mountain at a gulp. It
was to flee these poisonous fogs that I had left the
seaboard, and climbed so high among the mountains. And now,
behold, here came the fog to besiege me in my chosen
altitudes, and yet came so beautifully that my first thought
was of welcome.
The sun had now gotten much higher, and through all the gaps
of the hills it cast long bars of gold across that white
ocean. An eagle, or some other very great bird of the
mountain, came wheeling over the nearer pine-tops, and hung,
poised and something sideways, as if to look abroad on that
unwonted desolation, spying, perhaps with terror, for the
eyries of her comrades. Then, with a long cry, she
disappeared again towards Lake County and the clearer air.
At length it seemed to me as if the flood were beginning to
subside. The old landmarks, by whose disappearance I had
measured its advance, here a crag, there a brave pine tree,
now began, in the inverse order, to make their reappearance
into daylight. I judged all danger of the fog was over.
This was not Noah's flood; it was but a morning spring, and
would now drift out seaward whence it came. So, mightily
relieved, and a good deal exhilarated by the sight, I went
into the house to light the fire.
I suppose it was nearly seven when I once more mounted the
platform to look abroad. The fog ocean had swelled up
enormously since last I saw it; and a few hundred feet below
me, in the deep gap where the Toll House stands and the road
runs through into Lake County, it had already topped the
slope, and was pouring over and down the other side like
driving smoke. The wind had climbed along with it; and
though I was still in calm air, I could see the trees tossing
below me, and their long, strident sighing mounted to me
where I stood.
Half an hour later, the fog had surmounted all the ridge on
the opposite side of the gap, though a shoulder of the
mountain still warded it out of our canyon. Napa valley and
its bounding hills were now utterly blotted out. The fog,
sunny white in the sunshine, was pouring over into Lake
County in a huge, ragged cataract, tossing treetops appearing
and disappearing in the spray. The air struck with a little
chill, and set me coughing. It smelt strong of the fog, like
the smell of a washing-house, but with a shrewd tang of the
sea salt.
Had it not been for two things - the sheltering spur which
answered as a dyke, and the great valley on the other side
which rapidly engulfed whatever mounted - our own little
platform in the canyon must have been already buried a
hundred feet in salt and poisonous air. As it was, the
interest of the scene entirely occupied our minds. We were
set just out of the wind, and but just above the fog; we
could listen to the voice of the one as to music on the
stage; we could plunge our eyes down into the other, as into
some flowing stream from over the parapet of a bridge; thus
we looked on upon a strange, impetuous, silent, shifting
exhibition of the powers of nature, and saw the familiar
landscape changing from moment to moment like figures in a
The imagination loves to trifle with what is not. Had this
been indeed the deluge, I should have felt more strongly, but
the emotion would have been similar in kind. I played with
the idea, as the child flees in delighted terror from the
creations of his fancy. The look of the thing helped me.
And when at last I began to flee up the mountain, it was
indeed partly to escape from the raw air that kept me
coughing, but it was also part in play.
As I ascended the mountain-side, I came once more to overlook
the upper surface of the fog; but it wore a different
appearance from what I had beheld at daybreak. For, first,
the sun now fell on it from high overhead, and its surface
shone and undulated like a great nor'land moor country,
sheeted with untrodden morning snow. And next the new level
must have been a thousand or fifteen hundred feet higher than
the old, so that only five or six points of all the broken
country below me, still stood out. Napa valley was now one
with Sonoma on the west. On the hither side, only a thin
scattered fringe of bluffs was unsubmerged; and through all
the gaps the fog was pouring over, like an ocean, into the
blue clear sunny country on the east. There it was soon
lost; for it fell instantly into the bottom of the valleys,
following the water-shed; and the hilltops in that quarter
were still clear cut upon the eastern sky.
Through the Toll House gap and over the near ridges on the
other side, the deluge was immense. A spray of thin vapour
was thrown high above it, rising and falling, and blown into
fantastic shapes. The speed of its course was like a
mountain torrent. Here and there a few treetops were
discovered and then whelmed again; and for one second, the
bough of a dead pine beckoned out of the spray like the arm
of a drowning man. But still the imagination was
dissatisfied, still the ear waited for something more. Had
this indeed been water (as it seemed so, to the eye), with
what a plunge of reverberating thunder would it have rolled
upon its course, disembowelling mountains and deracinating
pines! And yet water it was, and sea-water at that - true
Pacific billows, only somewhat rarefied, rolling in mid air
among the hilltops.
I climbed still higher, among the red rattling gravel and
dwarf underwood of Mount Saint Helena, until I could look
right down upon Silverado, and admire the favoured nook in
which it lay. The sunny plain of fog was several hundred
feet higher; behind the protecting spur a gigantic
accumulation of cottony vapour threatened, with every second,
to blow over and submerge our homestead; but the vortex
setting past the Toll House was too strong; and there lay our
little platform, in the arms of the deluge, but still
enjoying its unbroken sunshine. About eleven, however, thin
spray came flying over the friendly buttress, and I began to
think the fog had hunted out its Jonah after all. But it was
the last effort. The wind veered while we were at dinner,
and began to blow squally from the mountain summit; and by
half-past one, all that world of sea-fogs was utterly routed
and flying here and there into the south in little rags of
cloud. And instead of a lone sea-beach, we found ourselves
once more inhabiting a high mountainside, with the clear
green country far below us, and the light smoke of Calistoga
blowing in the air.
This was the great Russian campaign for that season. Now and
then, in the early morning, a little white lakelet of fog
would be seen far down in Napa Valley; but the heights were
not again assailed, nor was the surrounding world again shut
off from Silverado.
THE Toll House, standing alone by the wayside under nodding
pines, with its streamlet and water-tank; its backwoods,
toll-bar, and well trodden croquet ground; the ostler
standing by the stable door, chewing a straw; a glimpse of
the Chinese cook in the back parts; and Mr. Hoddy in the bar,
gravely alert and serviceable, and equally anxious to lend or
borrow books; - dozed all day in the dusty sunshine, more
than half asleep. There were no neighbours, except the
Hansons up the hill. The traffic on the road was
infinitesimal; only, at rare intervals, a couple in a waggon,
or a dusty farmer on a springboard, toiling over "the grade"
to that metropolitan hamlet, Calistoga; and, at the fixed
hours, the passage of the stages.
The nearest building was the school-house, down the road; and
the school-ma'am boarded at the Toll House, walking thence in
the morning to the little brown shanty, where she taught the
young ones of the district, and returning thither pretty
weary in the afternoon. She had chosen this outlying
situation, I understood, for her health. Mr. Corwin was
consumptive; so was Rufe; so was Mr. Jennings, the engineer.
In short, the place was a kind of small Davos: consumptive
folk consorting on a hilltop in the most unbroken idleness.
Jennings never did anything that I could see, except now and
then to fish, and generally to sit about in the bar and the
verandah, waiting for something to happen. Corwin and Rufe
did as little as possible; and if the school-ma'am, poor
lady, had to work pretty hard all morning, she subsided when
it was over into much the same dazed beatitude as all the
Her special corner was the parlour - a very genteel room,
with Bible prints, a crayon portrait of Mrs. Corwin in the
height of fashion, a few years ago, another of her son (Mr.
Corwin was not represented), a mirror, and a selection of
dried grasses. A large book was laid religiously on the
table - "From Palace to Hovel," I believe, its name - full of
the raciest experiences in England. The author had mingled
freely with all classes, the nobility particularly meeting
him with open arms; and I must say that traveller had ill
requited his reception. His book, in short, was a capital
instance of the Penny Messalina school of literature; and
there arose from it, in that cool parlour, in that silent,
wayside, mountain inn, a rank atmosphere of gold and blood
and "Jenkins," and the "Mysteries of London," and sickening,
inverted snobbery, fit to knock you down. The mention of
this book reminds me of another and far racier picture of our
island life. The latter parts of ROCAMBOLE are surely too
sparingly consulted in the country which they celebrate. No
man's education can be said to be complete, nor can he
pronounce the world yet emptied of enjoyment, till he has
made the acquaintance of "the Reverend Patterson, director of
the Evangelical Society." To follow the evolutions of that
reverend gentleman, who goes through scenes in which even Mr.
Duffield would hesitate to place a bishop, is to rise to new
ideas. But, alas! there was no Patterson about the Toll
House. Only, alongside of "From Palace to Hovel," a sixpenny
"Ouida" figured. So literature, you see, was not
The school-ma'am had friends to stay with her, other schoolma'ams
enjoying their holidays, quite a bevy of damsels.
They seemed never to go out, or not beyond the verandah, but
sat close in the little parlour, quietly talking or listening
to the wind among the trees. Sleep dwelt in the Toll House,
like a fixture: summer sleep, shallow, soft, and dreamless.
A cuckoo-clock, a great rarity in such a place, hooted at
intervals about the echoing house; and Mr. Jenning would open
his eyes for a moment in the bar, and turn the leaf of a
newspaper, and the resting school-ma'ams in the parlour would
be recalled to the consciousness of their inaction. Busy
Mrs. Corwin and her busy Chinaman might be heard indeed, in
the penetralia, pounding dough or rattling dishes; or perhaps
Rufe had called up some of the sleepers for a game of
croquet, and the hollow strokes of the mallet sounded far
away among the woods: but with these exceptions, it was
sleep and sunshine and dust, and the wind in the pine trees,
all day long.
A little before stage time, that castle of indolence awoke.
The ostler threw his straw away and set to his preparations.
Mr. Jennings rubbed his eyes; happy Mr. Jennings, the
something he had been waiting for all day about to happen at
last! The boarders gathered in the verandah, silently giving
ear, and gazing down the road with shaded eyes. And as yet
there was no sign for the senses, not a sound, not a tremor
of the mountain road. The birds, to whom the secret of the
hooting cuckoo is unknown, must have set down to instinct
this premonitory bustle.
And then the first of the two stages swooped upon the Toll
House with a roar and in a cloud of dust; and the shock had
not yet time to subside, before the second was abreast of it.
Huge concerns they were, well-horsed and loaded, the men in
their shirt-sleeves, the women swathed in veils, the long
whip cracking like a pistol; and as they charged upon that
slumbering hostelry, each shepherding a dust storm, the dead
place blossomed into life and talk and clatter. This the
Toll House? - with its city throng, its jostling shoulders,
its infinity of instant business in the bar? The mind would
not receive it! The heartfelt bustle of that hour is hardly
credible; the thrill of the great shower of letters from the
post-bag, the childish hope and interest with which one gazed
in all these strangers' eyes. They paused there but to pass:
the blue-clad China-boy, the San Francisco magnate, the
mystery in the dust coat, the secret memoirs in tweed, the
ogling, well-shod lady with her troop of girls; they did but
flash and go; they were hull-down for us behind life's ocean,
and we but hailed their topsails on the line. Yet, out of
our great solitude of four and twenty mountain hours, we
thrilled to their momentary presence gauged and divined them,
loved and hated; and stood light-headed in that storm of
human electricity. Yes, like Piccadilly circus, this is also
one of life's crossing-places. Here I beheld one man,
already famous or infamous, a centre of pistol-shots: and
another who, if not yet known to rumour, will fill a column
of the Sunday paper when he comes to hang - a burly, thickset,
powerful Chinese desperado, six long bristles upon
either lip; redolent of whiskey, playing cards, and pistols;
swaggering in the bar with the lowest assumption of the
lowest European manners; rapping out blackguard English oaths
in his canorous oriental voice; and combining in one person
the depravities of two races and two civilizations. For all
his lust and vigour, he seemed to look cold upon me from the
valley of the shadow of the gallows. He imagined a vain
thing; and while he drained his cock-tail, Holbein's death
was at his elbow. Once, too, I fell in talk with another of
these flitting strangers - like the rest, in his shirtsleeves
and all begrimed with dust - and the next minute we
were discussing Paris and London, theatres and wines. To
him, journeying from one human place to another, this was a
trifle; but to me! No, Mr. Lillie, I have not forgotten it.
And presently the city-tide was at its flood and began to
ebb. Life runs in Piccadilly Circus, say, from nine to one,
and then, there also, ebbs into the small hours of the
echoing policeman and the lamps and stars. But the Toll
House is far up stream, and near its rural springs; the
bubble of the tide but touches it. Before you had yet
grasped your pleasure, the horses were put to, the loud whips
volleyed, and the tide was gone. North and south had the two
stages vanished, the towering dust subsided in the woods; but
there was still an interval before the flush had fallen on
your cheeks, before the ear became once more contented with
the silence, or the seven sleepers of the Toll House dozed
back to their accustomed corners. Yet a little, and the
ostler would swing round the great barrier across the road;
and in the golden evening, that dreamy inn begin to trim its
lamps and spread the board for supper.
As I recall the place - the green dell below; the spires of
pine; the sun-warm, scented air; that gray, gabled inn, with
its faint stirrings of life amid the slumber of the mountains
- I slowly awake to a sense of admiration, gratitude, and
almost love. A fine place, after all, for a wasted life to
doze away in - the cuckoo clock hooting of its far home
country; the croquet mallets, eloquent of English lawns; the
stages daily bringing news of - the turbulent world away
below there; and perhaps once in the summer, a salt fog
pouring overhead with its tale of the Pacific.
IN our rule at Silverado, there was a melancholy interregnum.
The queen and the crown prince with one accord fell sick;
and, as I was sick to begin with, our lone position on Mount
Saint Helena was no longer tenable, and we had to hurry back
to Calistoga and a cottage on the green. By that time we had
begun to realize the difficulties of our position. We had
found what an amount of labour it cost to support life in our
red canyon; and it was the dearest desire of our hearts to
get a China-boy to go along with us when we returned. We
could have given him a whole house to himself, selfcontained,
as they say in the advertisements; and on the
money question we were prepared to go far. Kong Sam Kee, the
Calistoga washerman, was entrusted with the affair; and from
day to day it languished on, with protestations on our part
and mellifluous excuses on the part of Kong Sam Kee.
At length, about half-past eight of our last evening, with
the waggon ready harnessed to convey us up the grade, the
washerman, with a somewhat sneering air, produced the boy.
He was a handsome, gentlemanly lad, attired in rich dark
blue, and shod with snowy white; but, alas! he had heard
rumours of Silverado. He know it for a lone place on the
mountain-side, with no friendly wash-house near by, where he
might smoke a pipe of opium o' nights with other China-boys,
and lose his little earnings at the game of tan; and he first
backed out for more money; and then, when that demand was
satisfied, refused to come point-blank. He was wedded to his
wash-houses; he had no taste for the rural life; and we must
go to our mountain servantless. It must have been near half
an hour before we reached that conclusion, standing in the
midst of Calistoga high street under the stars, and the
China-boy and Kong Sam Kee singing their pigeon English in
the sweetest voices and with the most musical inflections.
We were not, however, to return alone; for we brought with us
Joe Strong, the painter, a most good-natured comrade and a
capital hand at an omelette. I do not know in which capacity
he was most valued - as a cook or a companion; and he did
excellently well in both.
The Kong Sam Kee negotiation had delayed us unduly; it must
have been half-past nine before we left Calistoga, and night
came fully ere we struck the bottom of the grade. I have
never seen such a night. It seemed to throw calumny in the
teeth of all the painters that ever dabbled in starlight.
The sky itself was of a ruddy, powerful, nameless, changing
colour, dark and glossy like a serpent's back. The stars, by
innumerable millions, stuck boldly forth like lamps. The
milky way was bright, like a moonlit cloud; half heaven
seemed milky way. The greater luminaries shone each more
clearly than a winter's moon. Their light was dyed in every
sort of colour - red, like fire; blue, like steel; green,
like the tracks of sunset; and so sharply did each stand
forth in its own lustre that there was no appearance of that
flat, star-spangled arch we know so well in pictures, but all
the hollow of heaven was one chaos of contesting luminaries -
a hurry-burly of stars. Against this the hills and rugged
treetops stood out redly dark.
As we continued to advance, the lesser lights and milky ways
first grew pale, and then vanished; the countless hosts of
heaven dwindled in number by successive millions; those that
still shone had tempered their exceeding brightness and
fallen back into their customary wistful distance; and the
sky declined from its first bewildering splendour into the
appearance of a common night. Slowly this change proceeded,
and still there was no sign of any cause. Then a whiteness
like mist was thrown over the spurs of the mountain. Yet a
while, and, as we turned a corner, a great leap of silver
light and net of forest shadows fell across the road and upon
our wondering waggonful; and, swimming low among the trees,
we beheld a strange, misshapen, waning moon, half-tilted on
her back.
"Where are ye when the moon appears?" so the old poet sang,
half-taunting, to the stars, bent upon a courtly purpose.
"As the sunlight round the dim earth's midnight tower of
shadow pours,
Streaming past the dim, wide portals,
Viewless to the eyes of mortals,
Till it floods the moon's pale islet or the morning's golden
So sings Mr. Trowbridge, with a noble inspiration. And so
had the sunlight flooded that pale islet of the moon, and her
lit face put out, one after another, that galaxy of stars.
The wonder of the drive was over; but, by some nice
conjunction of clearness in the air and fit shadow in the
valley where we travelled, we had seen for a little while
that brave display of the midnight heavens. It was gone, but
it had been; nor shall I ever again behold the stars with the
same mind. He who has seen the sea commoved with a great
hurricane, thinks of it very differently from him who has
seen it only in a calm. And the difference between a calm
and a hurricane is not greatly more striking than that
between the ordinary face of night and the splendour that
shone upon us in that drive. Two in our waggon knew night as
she shines upon the tropics, but even that bore no
comparison. The nameless colour of the sky, the hues of the
star-fire, and the incredible projection of the stars
themselves, starting from their orbits, so that the eye
seemed to distinguish their positions in the hollow of space
- these were things that we had never seen before and shall
never see again.
Meanwhile, in this altered night, we proceeded on our way
among the scents and silence of the forest, reached the top
of the grade, wound up by Hanson's, and came at last to a
stand under the flying gargoyle of the chute. Sam, who had
been lying back, fast asleep, with the moon on his face, got
down, with the remark that it was pleasant "to be home." The
waggon turned and drove away, the noise gently dying in the
woods, and we clambered up the rough path, Caliban's great
feat of engineering, and came home to Silverado.
The moon shone in at the eastern doors and windows, and over
the lumber on the platform. The one tall pine beside. the
ledge was steeped in silver. Away up the canyon, a wild cat
welcomed us with three discordant squalls. But once we had
lit a candle, and began to review our improvements, homely in
either sense, and count our stores, it was wonderful what a
feeling of possession and permanence grow up in the hearts of
the lords of Silverado. A bed had still to be made up for
Strong, and the morning's water to be fetched, with clinking
pail; and as we set about these household duties, and showed
off our wealth and conveniences before the stranger, and had
a glass of wine, I think, in honour of our return, and
trooped at length one after another up the flying bridge of
plank, and lay down to sleep in our shattered, moon-pierced
barrack, we were among the happiest sovereigns in the world,
and certainly ruled over the most contented people. Yet, in
our absence, the palace had been sacked. Wild cats, so the
Hansons said, had broken in and carried off a side of bacon,
a hatchet, and two knives.
NO one could live at Silverado and not be curious about the
story of the mine. We were surrounded by so many evidences
of expense and toil, we lived so entirely in the wreck of
that great enterprise, like mites in the ruins of a cheese,
that the idea of the old din and bustle haunted our repose.
Our own house, the forge, the dump, the chutes, the rails,
the windlass, the mass of broken plant; the two tunnels, one
far below in the green dell, the other on the platform where
we kept our wine; the deep shaft, with the sun-glints and the
water-drops; above all, the ledge, that great gaping slice
out of the mountain shoulder, propped apart by wooden wedges,
on whose immediate margin, high above our heads, the one tall
pine precariously nodded - these stood for its greatness;
while, the dog-hutch, boot-jacks, old boots, old tavern
bills, and the very beds that we inherited from bygone
miners, put in human touches and realized for us the story of
the past.
I have sat on an old sleeper, under the thick madronas near
the forge, with just a look over the dump on the green world
below, and seen the sun lying broad among the wreck, and
heard the silence broken only by the tinkling water in the
shaft, or a stir of the royal family about the battered
palace, and my mind has gone back to the epoch of the
Stanleys and the Chapmans, with a grand TUTTI of pick and
drill, hammer and anvil, echoing about the canyon; the
assayer hard at it in our dining-room; the carts below on the
road, and their cargo of red mineral bounding and thundering
down the iron chute. And now all gone - all fallen away into
this sunny silence and desertion: a family of squatters
dining in the assayer's office, making their beds in the big
sleeping room erstwhile so crowded, keeping their wine in the
tunnel that once rang with picks.
But Silverado itself, although now fallen in its turn into
decay, was once but a mushroom, and had succeeded to other
mines and other flitting cities. Twenty years ago, away down
the glen on the Lake County side there was a place, Jonestown
by name, with two thousand inhabitants dwelling under canvas,
and one roofed house for the sale of whiskey. Round on the
western side of Mount Saint Helena, there was at the same
date, a second large encampment, its name, if it ever had
one, lost for me. Both of these have perished, leaving not a
stick and scarce a memory behind them. Tide after tide of
hopeful miners have thus flowed and ebbed about the mountain,
coming and going, now by lone prospectors, now with a rush.
Last, in order of time came Silverado, reared the big mill,
in the valley, founded the town which is now represented,
monumentally, by Hanson's, pierced all these slaps and shafts
and tunnels, and in turn declined and died away.
"Our noisy years seem moments in the wake
Of the eternal silence."
As to the success of Silverado in its time of being, two
reports were current. According to the first, six hundred
thousand dollars were taken out of that great upright seam,
that still hung open above us on crazy wedges. Then the
ledge pinched out, and there followed, in quest of the
remainder, a great drifting and tunnelling in all directions,
and a great consequent effusion of dollars, until, all
parties being sick of the expense, the mine was deserted, and
the town decamped. According to the second version, told me
with much secrecy of manner, the whole affair, mine, mill,
and town, were parts of one majestic swindle. There had
never come any silver out of any portion of the mine; there
was no silver to come. At midnight trains of packhorses
might have been observed winding by devious tracks about the
shoulder of the mountain. They came from far away, from
Amador or Placer, laden with silver in "old cigar boxes."
They discharged their load at Silverado, in the hour of
sleep; and before the morning they were gone again with their
mysterious drivers to their unknown source. In this way,
twenty thousand pounds' worth of silver was smuggled in under
cover of night, in these old cigar boxes; mixed with
Silverado mineral; carted down to the mill; crushed,
amalgated, and refined, and despatched to the city as the
proper product of the mine. Stock-jobbing, if it can cover
such expenses, must be a profitable business in San
I give these two versions as I got them. But I place little
reliance on either, my belief in history having been greatly
shaken. For it chanced that I had come to dwell in Silverado
at a critical hour; great events in its history were about to
happen - did happen, as I am led to believe; nay, and it will
be seen that I played a part in that revolution myself. And
yet from first to last I never had a glimmer of an idea what
was going on; and even now, after full reflection, profess
myself at sea. That there was some obscure intrigue of the
cigar-box order, and that I, in the character of a wooden
puppet, set pen to paper in the interest of somebody, so
much, and no more, is certain.
Silverado, then under my immediate sway, belonged to one whom
I will call a Mr. Ronalds. I only knew him through the
extraordinarily distorting medium of local gossip, now as a
momentous jobber; now as a dupe to point an adage; and again,
and much more probably, as an ordinary Christian gentleman
like you or me, who had opened a mine and worked it for a
while with better and worse fortune. So, through a defective
window-pane, you may see the passer-by shoot up into a
hunchbacked giant or dwindle into a potbellied dwarf.
To Ronalds, at least, the mine belonged; but the notice by
which he held it would ran out upon the 30th of June - or
rather, as I suppose, it had run out already, and the month
of grace would expire upon that day, after which any American
citizen might post a notice of his own, and make Silverado
his. This, with a sort of quiet slyness, Rufe told me at an
early period of our acquaintance. There was no silver, of
course; the mine "wasn't worth nothing, Mr. Stevens," but
there was a deal of old iron and wood around, and to gain
possession of this old wood and iron, and get a right to the
water, Rufe proposed, if I had no objections, to "jump the
Of course, I had no objection. But I was filled with wonder.
If all he wanted was the wood and iron, what, in the name of
fortune, was to prevent him taking them? "His right there
was none to dispute." He might lay hands on all to-morrow,
as the wild cats had laid hands upon our knives and hatchet.
Besides, was this mass of heavy mining plant worth
transportation? If it was, why had not the rightful owners
carted it away? If it was, would they not preserve their
title to these movables, even after they had lost their title
to the mine? And if it were not, what the better was Rufe?
Nothing would grow at Silverado; there was even no wood to
cut; beyond a sense of property, there was nothing to be
gained. Lastly, was it at all credible that Ronalds would
forget what Rufe remembered? The days of grace were not yet
over: any fine morning he might appear, paper in hand, and
enter for another year on his inheritance. However, it was
none of my business; all seemed legal; Rufe or Ronalds, all
was one to me.
On the morning of the 27th, Mrs. Hanson appeared with the
milk as usual, in her sun-bonnet. The time would be out on
Tuesday, she reminded us, and bade me be in readiness to play
my part, though I had no idea what it was to be. And suppose
Ronalds came? we asked. She received the idea with derision,
laughing aloud with all her fine teeth. He could not find
the mine to save his life, it appeared, without Rufe to guide
him. Last year, when he came, they heard him "up and down
the road a hollerin' and a raisin' Cain." And at last he had
to come to the Hansons in despair, and bid Rufe, "Jump into
your pants and shoes, and show me where this old mine is,
anyway!" Seeing that Ronalds had laid out so much money in
the spot, and that a beaten road led right up to the bottom
of the clump, I thought this a remarkable example. The sense
of locality must be singularly in abeyance in the case of
That same evening, supper comfortably over, Joe Strong busy
at work on a drawing of the dump and the opposite hills, we
were all out on the platform together, sitting there, under
the tented heavens, with the same sense of privacy as if we
had been cabined in a parlour, when the sound of brisk
footsteps came mounting up the path. We pricked our ears at
this, for the tread seemed lighter and firmer than was usual
with our country neighbours. And presently, sure enough, two
town gentlemen, with cigars and kid gloves, came debauching
past the house. They looked in that place like a blasphemy.
"Good evening," they said. For none of us had stirred; we
all sat stiff with wonder.
"Good evening," I returned; and then, to put them at their
ease, "A stiff climb," I added.
"Yes," replied the leader; "but we have to thank you for this
I did not like the man's tone. None of us liked it. He did
not seem embarrassed by the meeting, but threw us his remarks
like favours, and strode magisterially by us towards the
shaft and tunnel.
Presently we heard his voice raised to his companion. "We
drifted every sort of way, but couldn't strike the ledge."
Then again: "It pinched out here." And once more: "Every
minor that ever worked upon it says there's bound to be a
ledge somewhere."
These were the snatches of his talk that reached us, and they
had a damning significance. We, the lords of Silverado, had
come face to face with our superior. It is the worst of all
quaint and of all cheap ways of life that they bring us at
last to the pinch of some humiliation. I liked well enough
to be a squatter when there was none but Hanson by; before
Ronalds, I will own, I somewhat quailed. I hastened to do
him fealty, said I gathered he was the Squattee, and
apologized. He threatened me with ejection, in a manner
grimly pleasant - more pleasant to him, I fancy, than to me;
and then he passed off into praises of the former state of
Silverado. "It was the busiest little mining town you ever
saw:" a population of between a thousand and fifteen hundred
souls, the engine in full blast, the mill newly erected;
nothing going but champagne, and hope the order of the day.
Ninety thousand dollars came out; a hundred and forty
thousand were put in, making a net loss of fifty thousand.
The last days, I gathered, the days of John Stanley, were not
so bright; the champagne had ceased to flow, the population
was already moving elsewhere, and Silverado had begun to
wither in the branch before it was cut at the root. The last
shot that was fired knocked over the stove chimney, and made
that hole in the roof of our barrack, through which the sun
was wont to visit slug-a-beds towards afternoon. A noisy,
last shot, to inaugurate the days of silence.
Throughout this interview, my conscience was a good deal
exercised; and I was moved to throw myself on my knees and
own the intended treachery. But then I had Hanson to
consider. I was in much the same position as Old Rowley,
that royal humourist, whom "the rogue had taken into his
confidence." And again, here was Ronalds on the spot. He
must know the day of the month as well as Hanson and I. If a
broad hint were necessary, he had the broadest in the world.
For a large board had been nailed by the crown prince on the
very front of our house, between the door and window, painted
in cinnabar - the pigment of the country - with doggrel
rhymes and contumelious pictures, and announcing, in terms
unnecessarily figurative, that the trick was already played,
the claim already jumped, and Master Sam the legitimate
successor of Mr. Ronalds. But no, nothing could save that
he went, and left his rights depending.
Late at night, by Silverado reckoning, and after we were all
abed, Mrs. Hanson returned to give us the newest of her news.
It was like a scene in a ship's steerage: all of us abed in
our different tiers, the single candle struggling with the
darkness, and this plump, handsome woman, seated on an
upturned valise beside the bunks, talking and showing her
fine teeth, and laughing till the rafters rang. Any ship, to
be sure, with a hundredth part as many holes in it as our
barrack, must long ago have gone to her last port. Up to
that time I had always imagined Mrs. Hanson's loquacity to be
mere incontinence, that she said what was uppermost for the
pleasure of speaking, and laughed and laughed again as a kind
of musical accompaniment. But I now found there was an art
in it, I found it less communicative than silence itself. I
wished to know why Ronalds had come; how he had found his way
without Rufe; and why, being on the spot, he had not
refreshed his title. She talked interminably on, but her
replies were never answers. She fled under a cloud of words;
and when I had made sure that she was purposely eluding me, I
dropped the subject in my turn, and let her rattle where she
She had come to tell us that, instead of waiting for Tuesday,
the claim was to be jumped on the morrow. How? If the time
were not out, it was impossible. Why? If Ronalds had come
and gone, and done nothing, there was the less cause for
hurry. But again I could reach no satisfaction. The claim
was to be jumped next morning, that was all that she would
condescend upon.
And yet it was not jumped the next morning, nor yet the next,
and a whole week had come and gone before we heard more of
this exploit. That day week, however, a day of great heat,
Hanson, with a little roll of paper in his hand, and the
eternal pipe alight; Breedlove, his large, dull friend, to
act, I suppose, as witness; Mrs. Hanson, in her Sunday best;
and all the children, from the oldest to the youngest; -
arrived in a procession, tailing one behind another up the
path. Caliban was absent, but he had been chary of his
friendly visits since the row; and with that exception, the
whole family was gathered together as for a marriage or a
christening. Strong was sitting at work, in the shade of the
dwarf madronas near the forge; and they planted themselves
about him in a circle, one on a stone, another on the waggon
rails, a third on a piece of plank. Gradually the children
stole away up the canyon to where there was another chute,
somewhat smaller than the one across the dump; and down this
chute, for the rest of the afternoon, they poured one
avalanche of stones after another, waking the echoes of the
glen. Meantime we elders sat together on the platform,
Hanson and his friend smoking in silence like Indian sachems,
Mrs. Hanson rattling on as usual with an adroit volubility,
saying nothing, but keeping the party at their ease like a
courtly hostess.
Not a word occurred about the business of the day. Once,
twice, and thrice I tried to slide the subject in, but was
discouraged by the stoic apathy of Rufe, and beaten down
before the pouring verbiage of his wife. There is nothing of
the Indian brave about me, and I began to grill with
impatience. At last, like a highway robber, I cornered
Hanson, and bade him stand and deliver his business.
Thereupon he gravely rose, as though to hint that this was
not a proper place, nor the subject one suitable for squaws,
and I, following his example, led him up the plank into our
barrack. There he bestowed himself on a box, and unrolled
his papers with fastidious deliberation. There were two
sheets of note-paper, and an old mining notice, dated May
30th, 1879, part print, part manuscript, and the latter much
obliterated by the rains. It was by this identical piece of
paper that the mine had been held last year. For thirteen
months it had endured the weather and the change of seasons
on a cairn behind the shoulder of the canyon; and it was now
my business, spreading it before me on the table, and sitting
on a valise, to copy its terms, with some necessary changes,
twice over on the two sheets of note-paper. One was then to
be placed on the same cairn - a "mound of rocks" the notice
put it; and the other to be lodged for registration.
Rufe watched me, silently smoking, till I came to the place
for the locator's name at the end of the first copy; and when
I proposed that he should sign, I thought I saw a scare in
his eye. "I don't think that'll be necessary," he said
slowly; "just you write it down." Perhaps this mighty
hunter, who was the most active member of the local school
board, could not write. There would be nothing strange in
that. The constable of Calistoga is, and has been for years,
a bed-ridden man, and, if I remember rightly, blind. He had
more need of the emoluments than another, it was explained;
and it was easy for him to "depytize," with a strong accent
on the last. So friendly and so free are popular
When I had done my scrivening, Hanson strolled out, and
addressed Breedlove, "Will you step up here a bit?" and after
they had disappeared a little while into the chaparral and
madrona thicket, they came back again, minus a notice, and
the deed was done. The claim was jumped; a tract of
mountain-side, fifteen hundred feet long by six hundred wide,
with all the earth's precious bowels, had passed from Ronalds
to Hanson, and, in the passage, changed its name from the
"Mammoth" to the "Calistoga." I had tried to get Rufe to
call it after his wife, after himself, and after Garfield,
the Republican Presidential candidate of the hour - since
then elected, and, alas! dead - but all was in vain. The
claim had once been called the Calistoga before, and he
seemed to feel safety in returning to that.
And so the history of that mine became once more plunged in
darkness, lit only by some monster pyrotechnical displays of
gossip. And perhaps the most curious feature of the whole
matter is this: that we should have dwelt in this quiet
corner of the mountains, with not a dozen neighbours, and yet
struggled all the while, like desperate swimmers, in this sea
of falsities and contradictions. Wherever a man is, there
will be a lie.
I MUST try to convey some notion of our life, of how the days
passed and what pleasure we took in them, of what there was
to do and how we set about doing it, in our mountain
hermitage. The house, after we had repaired the worst of the
damages, and filled in some of the doors and windows with
white cotton cloth, became a healthy and a pleasant dwellingplace,
always airy and dry, and haunted by the outdoor
perfumes of the glen. Within, it had the look of habitation,
the human look. You had only to go into the third room,
which we did not use, and see its stones, its sifting earth,
its tumbled litter; and then return to our lodging, with the
beds made, the plates on the rack, the pail of bright water
behind the door, the stove crackling in a corner, and perhaps
the table roughly laid against a meal, - and man's order, the
little clean spots that he creates to dwell in, were at once
contrasted with the rich passivity of nature. And yet our
house was everywhere so wrecked and shattered, the air came
and went so freely, the sun found so many portholes, the
golden outdoor glow shone in so many open chinks, that we
enjoyed, at the same time, some of the comforts of a roof and
much of the gaiety and brightness of al fresco life. A
single shower of rain, to be sure, and we should have been
drowned out like mice. But ours was a Californian summer,
and an earthquake was a far likelier accident than a shower
of rain.
Trustful in this fine weather, we kept the house for kitchen
and bedroom, and used the platform as our summer parlour.
The sense of privacy, as I have said already, was complete.
We could look over the clump on miles of forest and rough
hilltop; our eyes commanded some of Napa Valley, where the
train ran, and the little country townships sat so close
together along the line of the rail. But here there was no
man to intrude. None but the Hansons were our visitors.
Even they came but at long intervals, or twice daily, at a
stated hour, with milk. So our days, as they were never
interrupted, drew out to the greater length; hour melted
insensibly into hour; the household duties, though they were
many, and some of them laborious, dwindled into mere islets
of business in a sea of sunny day-time; and it appears to me,
looking back, as though the far greater part of our life at
Silverado had been passed, propped upon an elbow, or seated
on a plank, listening to the silence that there is among the
My work, it is true, was over early in the morning. I rose
before any one else, lit the stove, put on the water to boil,
and strolled forth upon the platform to wait till it was
ready. Silverado would then be still in shadow, the sun
shining on the mountain higher up. A clean smell of trees, a
smell of the earth at morning, hung in the air. Regularly,
every day, there was a single bird, not singing, but
awkwardly chirruping among the green madronas, and the sound
was cheerful, natural, and stirring. It did not hold the
attention, nor interrupt the thread of meditation, like a
blackbird or a nightingale; it was mere woodland prattle, of
which the mind was conscious like a perfume. The freshness
of these morning seasons remained with me far on into the
As soon as the kettle boiled, I made porridge and coffee; and
that, beyond the literal drawing of water, and the
preparation of kindling, which it would be hyperbolical to
call the hewing of wood, ended my domestic duties for the
day. Thenceforth my wife laboured single-handed in the
palace, and I lay or wandered on the platform at my own sweet
will. The little corner near the forge, where we found a
refuge under the madronas from the unsparing early sun, is
indeed connected in my mind with some nightmare encounters
over Euclid, and the Latin Grammar. These were known as
Sam's lessons. He was supposed to be the victim and the
sufferer; but here there must have been some misconception,
for whereas I generally retired to bed after one of these
engagements, he was no sooner set free than he dashed up to
the Chinaman's house, where he had installed a printing
press, that great element of civilization, and the sound of
his labours would be faintly audible about the canyon half
the day.
To walk at all was a laborious business; the foot sank and
slid, the boots were cut to pieces, among sharp, uneven,
rolling stones. When we crossed the platform in any
direction, it was usual to lay a course, following as much as
possible the line of waggon rails. Thus, if water were to be
drawn, the water-carrier left the house along some tilting
planks that we had laid down, and not laid down very well.
These carried him to that great highroad, the railway; and
the railway served him as far as to the head of the shaft.
But from thence to the spring and back again he made the best
of his unaided way, staggering among the stones, and wading
in low growth of the calcanthus, where the rattlesnakes lay
hissing at his passage. Yet I liked to draw water. It was
pleasant to dip the gray metal pail into the clean,
colourless, cool water; pleasant to carry it back, with the
water ripping at the edge, and a broken sunbeam quivering in
the midst.
But the extreme roughness of the walking confined us in
common practice to the platform, and indeed to those parts of
it that were most easily accessible along the line of rails.
The rails came straight forward from the shaft, here and
there overgrown with little green bushes, but still entire,
and still carrying a truck, which it was Sam's delight to
trundle to and fro by the hour with various ladings. About
midway down the platform, the railroad trended to the right,
leaving our house and coasting along the far side within a
few yards of the madronas and the forge, and not far of the
latter, ended in a sort of platform on the edge of the dump.
There, in old days, the trucks were tipped, and their load
sent thundering down the chute. There, besides, was the only
spot where we could approach the margin of the dump.
Anywhere else, you took your life in your right hand when you
came within a yard and a half to peer over. For at any
moment the dump might begin to slide and carry you down and
bury you below its ruins. Indeed, the neighbourhood of an
old mine is a place beset with dangers. For as still as
Silverado was, at any moment the report of rotten wood might
tell us that the platform had fallen into the shaft; the dump
might begin to pour into the road below; or a wedge slip in
the great upright seam, and hundreds of tons of mountain bury
the scene of our encampment.
I have already compared the dump to a rampart, built
certainly by some rude people, and for prehistoric wars. It
was likewise a frontier. All below was green and woodland,
the tall pines soaring one above another, each with a firm
outline and full spread of bough. All above was arid, rocky,
and bald. The great spout of broken mineral, that had dammed
the canyon up, was a creature of man's handiwork, its
material dug out with a pick and powder, and spread by the
service of the tracks. But nature herself, in that upper
district, seemed to have had an eye to nothing besides
mining; and even the natural hill-side was all sliding gravel
and precarious boulder. Close at the margin of the well
leaves would decay to skeletons and mummies, which at length
some stronger gust would carry clear of the canyon and
scatter in the subjacent woods. Even moisture and decaying
vegetable matter could not, with all nature's alchemy,
concoct enough soil to nourish a few poor grasses. It is the
same, they say, in the neighbourhood of all silver mines; the
nature of that precious rock being stubborn with quartz and
poisonous with cinnabar. Both were plenty in our Silverado.
The stones sparkled white in the sunshine with quartz; they
were all stained red with cinnabar. Here, doubtless, came
the Indians of yore to paint their faces for the war-path;
and cinnabar, if I remember rightly, was one of the few
articles of Indian commerce. Now, Sam had it in his
undisturbed possession, to pound down and slake, and paint
his rude designs with. But to me it had always a fine
flavour of poetry, compounded out of Indian story and
Hawthornden's allusion:
"Desire, alas! I desire a Zeuxis new,
From Indies borrowing gold, from Eastern skies
Most bright cinoper . . ."
Yet this is but half the picture; our Silverado platform has
another side to it. Though there was no soil, and scarce a
blade of grass, yet out of these tumbled gravel-heaps and
broken boulders, a flower garden bloomed as at home in a
conservatory. Calcanthus crept, like a hardy weed, all over
our rough parlour, choking the railway, and pushing forth its
rusty, aromatic cones from between two blocks of shattered
mineral. Azaleas made a big snow-bed just above the well.
The shoulder of the hill waved white with Mediterranean
heath. In the crannies of the ledge and about the spurs of
the tall pine, a red flowering stone-plant hung in clusters.
Even the low, thorny chaparral was thick with pea-like
blossom. Close at the foot of our path nutmegs prospered,
delightful to the sight and smell. At sunrise, and again
late at night, the scent of the sweet bay trees filled the
canyon, and the down-blowing night wind must have borne it
hundreds of feet into the outer air.
All this vegetation, to be sure, was stunted. The madrona
was here no bigger than the manzanita; the bay was but a
stripling shrub; the very pines, with four or five exceptions
in all our upper canyon, were not so tall as myself, or but a
little taller, and the most of them came lower than my waist.
For a prosperous forest tree, we must look below, where the
glen was crowded with green spires. But for flowers and
ravishing perfume, we had none to envy: our heap of roadmetal
was thick with bloom, like a hawthorn in the front of
June; our red, baking angle in the mountain, a laboratory of
poignant scents. It was an endless wonder to my mind, as I
dreamed about the platform, following the progress of the
shadows, where the madrona with its leaves, the azalea and
calcanthus with their blossoms, could find moisture to
support such thick, wet, waxy growths, or the bay tree
collect the ingredients of its perfume. But there they all
grew together, healthy, happy, and happy-making, as though
rooted in a fathom of black soil.
Nor was it only vegetable life that prospered. We had,
indeed, few birds, and none that had much of a voice or
anything worthy to be called a song. My morning comrade had
a thin chirp, unmusical and monotonous, but friendly and
pleasant to hear. He had but one rival: a fellow with an
ostentatious cry of near an octave descending, not one note
of which properly followed another. This is the only bird I
ever knew with a wrong ear; but there was something
enthralling about his performance. You listened and
listened, thinking each time he must surely get it right; but
no, it was always wrong, and always wrong the same way. Yet
he seemed proud of his song, delivered it with execution and
a manner of his own, and was charming to his mate. A very
incorrect, incessant human whistler had thus a chance of
knowing how his own music pleased the world. Two great birds
- eagles, we thought - dwelt at the top of the canyon, among
the crags that were printed on the sky. Now and again, but
very rarely, they wheeled high over our heads in silence, or
with a distant, dying scream; and then, with a fresh impulse,
winged fleetly forward, dipped over a hilltop, and were gone.
They seemed solemn and ancient things, sailing the blue air:
perhaps co-oeval with the mountain where they haunted,
perhaps emigrants from Rome, where the glad legions may have
shouted to behold them on the morn of battle.
But if birds were rare, the place abounded with rattlesnakes
- the rattlesnake's nest, it might have been named. Wherever
we brushed among the bushes, our passage woke their angry
buzz. One dwelt habitually in the wood-pile, and sometimes,
when we came for firewood, thrust up his small head between
two logs, and hissed at the intrusion. The rattle has a
legendary credit; it is said to be awe-inspiring, and, once
heard, to stamp itself for ever in the memory. But the sound
is not at all alarming; the hum of many insects, and the buzz
of the wasp convince the ear of danger quite as readily. As
a matter of fact, we lived for weeks in Silverado, coming and
going, with rattles sprung on every side, and it never
occurred to us to be afraid. I used to take sun-baths and do
calisthenics in a certain pleasant nook among azalea and
calcanthus, the rattles whizzing on every side like spinningwheels,
and the combined hiss or buzz rising louder and
angrier at any sudden movement; but I was never in the least
impressed, nor ever attacked. It was only towards the end of
our stay, that a man down at Calistoga, who was expatiating
on the terrifying nature of the sound, gave me at last a very
good imitation; and it burst on me at once that we dwelt in
the very metropolis of deadly snakes, and that the rattle was
simply the commonest noise in Silverado. Immediately on our
return, we attacked the Hansons on the subject. They had
formerly assured us that our canyon was favoured, like
Ireland, with an entire immunity from poisonous reptiles;
but, with the perfect inconsequence of the natural man, they
were no sooner found out than they went off at score in the
contrary direction, and we were told that in no part of the
world did rattlesnakes attain to such a monstrous bigness as
among the warm, flower-dotted rocks of Silverado. This is a
contribution rather to the natural history of the Hansons,
than to that of snakes.
One person, however, better served by his instinct, had known
the rattle from the first; and that was Chuchu, the dog. No
rational creature has ever led an existence more poisoned by
terror than that dog's at Silverado. Every whiz of the
rattle made him bound. His eyes rolled; he trembled; he
would be often wet with sweat. One of our great mysteries
was his terror of the mountain. A little away above our
nook, the azaleas and almost all the vegetation ceased.
Dwarf pines not big enough to be Christmas trees, grew thinly
among loose stone and gravel scaurs. Here and there a big
boulder sat quiescent on a knoll, having paused there till
the next rain in his long slide down the mountain. There was
here no ambuscade for the snakes, you could see clearly where
you trod; and yet the higher I went, the more abject and
appealing became Chuchu's terror. He was an excellent master
of that composite language in which dogs communicate with
men, and he would assure me, on his honour, that there was
some peril on the mountain; appeal to me, by all that I held
holy, to turn back; and at length, finding all was in vain,
and that I still persisted, ignorantly foolhardy, he would
suddenly whip round and make a bee-line down the slope for
Silverado, the gravel showering after him. What was he
afraid of? There were admittedly brown bears and California
lions on the mountain; and a grizzly visited Rufe's poultry
yard not long before, to the unspeakable alarm of Caliban,
who dashed out to chastise the intruder, and found himself,
by moonlight, face to face with such a tartar. Something at
least there must have been: some hairy, dangerous brute
lodged permanently among the rocks a little to the north-west
of Silverado, spending his summer thereabout, with wife and
And there was, or there had been, another animal. Once,
under the broad daylight, on that open stony hillside, where
the baby pines were growing, scarcely tall enough to be a
badge for a MacGregor's bonnet, I came suddenly upon his
innocent body, lying mummified by the dry air and sun: a
pigmy kangaroo. I am ingloriously ignorant of these
subjects; had never heard of such a beast; thought myself
face to face with some incomparable sport of nature; and
began to cherish hopes of immortality in science. Rarely
have I been conscious of a stranger thrill than when I raised
that singular creature from the stones, dry as a board, his
innocent heart long quiet, and all warm with sunshine. His
long hind legs were stiff, his tiny forepaws clutched upon
his breast, as if to leap; his poor life cut short upon that
mountain by some unknown accident. But the kangaroo rat, it
proved, was no such unknown animal; and my discovery was
Crickets were not wanting. I thought I could make out
exactly four of them, each with a corner of his own, who used
to make night musical at Silverado. In the matter of voice,
they far excelled the birds, and their ringing whistle
sounded from rock to rock, calling and replying the same
thing, as in a meaningless opera. Thus, children in full
health and spirits shout together, to the dismay of
neighbours; and their idle, happy, deafening vociferations
rise and fall, like the song of the crickets. I used to sit
at night on the platform, and wonder why these creatures were
so happy; and what was wrong with man that he also did not
wind up his days with an hour or two of shouting; but I
suspect that all long-lived animals are solemn. The dogs
alone are hardly used by nature; and it seems a manifest
injustice for poor Chuchu to die in his teens, after a life
so shadowed and troubled, continually shaken with alarm, and
the tear of elegant sentiment permanently in his eye.
There was another neighbour of ours at Silverado, small but
very active, a destructive fellow. This was a black, ugly
fly - a bore, the Hansons called him - who lived by hundreds
in the boarding of our house. He entered by a round hole,
more neatly pierced than a man could do it with a gimlet, and
he seems to have spent his life in cutting out the interior
of the plank, but whether as a dwelling or a store-house, I
could never find. When I used to lie in bed in the morning
for a rest - we had no easy-chairs in Silverado - I would
hear, hour after hour, the sharp cutting sound of his
labours, and from time to time a dainty shower of sawdust
would fall upon the blankets. There lives no more
industrious creature than a bore.
And now that I have named to the reader all our animals and
insects without exception - only I find I have forgotten the
flies - he will be able to appreciate the singular privacy
and silence of our days. It was not only man who was
excluded: animals, the song of birds, the lowing of cattle,
the bleating of sheep, clouds even, and the variations of the
weather, were here also wanting; and as, day after day, the
sky was one dome of blue, and the pines below us stood
motionless in the still air, so the hours themselves were
marked out from each other only by the series of our own
affairs, and the sun's great period as he ranged westward
through the heavens. The two birds cackled a while in the
early morning; all day the water tinkled in the shaft, the
bores ground sawdust in the planking of our crazy palace -
infinitesimal sounds; and it was only with the return of
night that any change would fall on our surroundings, or the
four crickets begin to flute together in the dark.
Indeed, it would be hard to exaggerate the pleasure that we
took in the approach of evening. Our day was not very long,
but it was very tiring. To trip along unsteady planks or
wade among shifting stones, to go to and fro for water, to
clamber down the glen to the Toll House after meat and
letters, to cook, to make fires and beds, were all exhausting
to the body. Life out of doors, besides, under the fierce
eye of day, draws largely on the animal spirits. There are
certain hours in the afternoon when a man, unless he is in
strong health or enjoys a vacant mind, would rather creep
into a cool corner of a house and sit upon the chairs of
civilization. About that time, the sharp stones, the planks,
the upturned boxes of Silverado, began to grow irksome to my
body; I set out on that hopeless, never-ending quest for a
more comfortable posture; I would be fevered and weary of the
staring sun; and just then he would begin courteously to
withdraw his countenance, the shadows lengthened, the
aromatic airs awoke, and an indescribable but happy change
announced the coming of the night.
The hours of evening, when we were once curtained in the
friendly dark, sped lightly. Even as with the crickets,
night brought to us a certain spirit of rejoicing. It was
good to taste the air; good to mark the dawning of the stars,
as they increased their glittering company; good, too, to
gather stones, and send them crashing down the chute, a wave
of light. It seemed, in some way, the reward and the
fulfilment of the day. So it is when men dwell in the open
air; it is one of the simple pleasures that we lose by living
cribbed and covered in a house, that, though the coming of
the day is still the most inspiriting, yet day's departure,
also, and the return of night refresh, renew, and quiet us;
and in the pastures of the dusk we stand, like cattle,
exulting in the absence of the load.
Our nights wore never cold, and they were always still, but
for one remarkable exception. Regularly, about nine o'clock,
a warm wind sprang up, and blew for ten minutes, or maybe a
quarter of an hour, right down the canyon, fanning it well
out, airing it as a mother airs the night nursery before the
children sleep. As far as I could judge, in the clear
darkness of the night, this wind was purely local: perhaps
dependant on the configuration of the glen. At least, it was
very welcome to the hot and weary squatters; and if we were
not abed already, the springing up of this lilliputian
valley-wind would often be our signal to retire.
I was the last to go to bed, as I was still the first to
rise. Many a night I have strolled about the platform,
taking a bath of darkness before I slept. The rest would be
in bed, and even from the forge I could hear them talking
together from bunk to bunk. A single candle in the neck of a
pint bottle was their only illumination; and yet the old
cracked house seemed literally bursting with the light. It
shone keen as a knife through all the vertical chinks; it
struck upward through the broken shingles; and through the
eastern door and window, it fell in a great splash upon the
thicket and the overhanging rock. You would have said a
conflagration, or at the least a roaring forge; and behold,
it was but a candle. Or perhaps it was yet more strange to
see the procession moving bedwards round the corner of the
house, and up the plank that brought us to the bedroom door;
under the immense spread of the starry heavens, down in a
crevice of the giant mountain these few human shapes, with
their unshielded taper, made so disproportionate a figure in
the eye and mind. But the more he is alone with nature, the
greater man and his doings bulk in the consideration of his
fellow-men. Miles and miles away upon the opposite hilltops,
if there were any hunter belated or any traveller who
had lost his way, he must have stood, and watched and
wondered, from the time the candle issued from the door of
the assayer's office till it had mounted the plank and
disappeared again into the miners' dormitory.

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