Abbildungen der Seite

able suffusion of glory created from the phoenix-pile of the dying sun. Here it lies almost as treeless as some rich old clover-mead; yonder, its luxuriant smooth grasses give way to a dense wood of cedars, oaks, and pines. Not a l%ing creature, either man or beast, breaks the visible silence of this inmost paradise; but for ourselves, standing at the precipice, petrified, as it were, rock on rock, the great world might well be running back in stone - and - grassy dreams to the hour when God had given him as yet but two daughters, the crag and the clover. We were breaking into the sacred closet of Nature's selfexamination. What if, on considering herself, she should of a sudden, and us-ward unawares, determine to begin the throes of a new cycle,—spout up remorseful lavas from her long-hardened conscience, and hurl us all skyward in a hot concrete with her unbosomed sins? Earth below was as motionless as the ancient heavens above, save for the shining serpent of the Merced, which silently to our ears threaded the middle of the grass, and twinkled his burnished back in the sunset wherever for a space he glided out of the shadow of woods.

To behold this Promised Land proved quite a different thing from possessing it. Only the siUcros of the Andes, our mules, horses, and selves, can understand how much like a nightmare of endless roofwalking was the descent down the face of the precipice. A painful and most circuitous dug-way, where our animals had constantly to stop, lest their impetus should tumble them headlong, all the way past steeps where the mere thought of a side-fall was terror, brought us in the twilight to a green meadow, ringed by woods, on the banks of the Merced.

Here we pitched our first Yo-Semite camp,—calling it "Camp Rattlesnake," after a pestilent little beast of that tribe which insinuated itself into my blankets, but was disposed of by my artist comrade before it had inflicted its fatal wound upon me. Removing our packs and saddles, we dismissed their weary bearers to the deep green meadow, with no farther qualification to their license than might be found in ropes seventy feet long fastened to deepdriven pickets. We soon got together dead wood and pitchy boughs enough to kindle a roaring fire,— made a kitchen table by wedging logs between the trunks of a three-forked tree, and thatching these with smaller sticks, — selected a cedar-canopied piece of flat sward near the fire for our bed-room, and as high up as we could reach despoiled our fragrant baldacchini for the mattresses. I need not praise to any woodsman the quality of a sleep on evergreen-strewings.

During our whole stay in the Valley, most of us made it our practice to rise with the dawn, and, immediately after a bath in the ice-cold Merced, take abreakfast which might sometimes fail in the gamedepartment, but was an invariable success, considered, as slapjacks and coffee. Then the loyal nephew of the Secesh Governor and the testamentary guardian' of the orphan mules brought our horses up from: picket; then the artists with their camp-stools and' color-boxes, the sages with their goggles, nets, botanyboxes, and bug-holders, the gentlemen of elegant leisure with their naked eyes and a fish-rod or a gun, alii rode away whither they listed, firing back Parthian shots of injunction about the dumpling in the grousefricassee.

Sitting in their divine workshop, by a little after sunrise our artists began labor in that only method which can ever make a true painter or a living landscape, — eofor-studies on the spot; and though I can not here speak of their results, I will assert that during their seven weeks' camp in the Valley they learned more and gained greater material for future triumphs than they had gotten in all their lives before at the feet of the greatest masters. Meanwhile the other two vaguely divided orders of gentlemen and sages were sight-seeing, whipping the covert or the pool with various success for our next day's dinner, or hunting specimens of all kinds, — Agassizing, so to speak.

I cannot praise the Merced to that vulgar, yet extensive class of sportsmen with whom fishing means nothing but catching fish. To that select minority of illuminati who go trouting for intellectual culture, because they cannot hear Booth or a sonata of Beethoven's.— who write rhapsodies of much fire and many pages on the divine superiority of the curve of an hyperbola over that of a parabola in the cast of a fly,— who call three little troutlings "a splendid day's sport, me boy!" because those rash and ill-advised infants have been deceived by a feather-bug which never would have been of any use to them, instead of a real worm which would — let me say that we, who can make prettier curves and deceive larger game in a dancing-party at home, did not go to the Yo-Semite for that kind of sport. When I found that the best bait or fly caught only half a dozen trout in an afternoon, — and those the dull, black, California kind, with lined sides, but no spots, — I gave over bothering the unambitious burghers of the flood with invitations to a rise in life, and took to the meadows with a butterfly-net.

My experience teaches that no sage (or gentleman) should chase the butterfly on horseback. You are liable to put your net over your horse's head instead of the butterfly's. The butterfly keeps rather ahead of the horse. You may throw your horse when you mean to throw the net. The idea is a romantic one; it carries you back to the days of chivalry, when court butterflies were said to have been netted from the saddle,—but it carries you nowhere else in particular, unless perhaps into a small branch of the Merced, where you don't want to go. Then, too, if you slip down and leave your horse standing while you steal on a giant PapiUo which is sucking the deer-weed in such a sweet spot for a cast, your horse (perhaps' he has heard of the 'French general who said, "Asses and savans to the centre!") may discover that he also is a sage, and retire to botanize while you are butterflying,—a contingency which entails your wading the Merced after him five several times, and finally going back to camp in wet disgust to procure another horse and a lariat. An experience faintly hinted at in the above suggestions soon convinced me that the great arm of the service in butterfly warfare is infantry. After I had turned myself into a modest Retiarius, I had no end to success. Mariposa County is rightly named. The honey of its groves and meadows is sucked by some of the largest, the most magnificent, and most widely varied butterflies in the world.

At noon those of us who came back to camp had a substantial dinner out- of our abundant stores, reinforced occasionally with grouse, quail, or pigeons, contributed by the sportsmen. The artists mostly dined d. la fourchette, in their workshop, — something in a pail being carried out to them at noon by our Infant Phenomenon. He was a skeleton of thinness, and an incredibly gaunt mustang was the one which invariably carried the lunch; so we used to call the boy, when we saw him coming, " Death on the Pailhorse." At evening, when the artists returned, half an hour was passed in a "private view" of their day's studies; then came another dinner, called a supper; then the tea-kettle was emptied into a pan, and brush-washing with talk and pipes led the rest of the genial way to bed-time.

In his charming "Peculiar," Epes Sargent has given us an episode called the "Story of Estelle." It is the greatest of compliments to him that I could get thoroughly interested in her lover, when he bore the name of one of the most audacious and picaresque mortals I ever knew,—our hired man, who sold us— our— But hear my episode: it is


Vance. The cognomen of the loyal nephew with the Secesh uncle. I will be brief. Our stores began to fail. One morning we equipped Vance with a horse, a pack-mule to lead behind him, a list of purchases, and eighty golden dollars, bidding him goodspeed on the trail to Mariposa. He was to return laden with all the modern equivalents for corn, wine, and oil, on the fifth or sixth day from his departure. Seven days glided by, and the material for more slapjacks with them. We grew perilously nigh our bagbottoms.

One morning I determined to save the party from

« ZurückWeiter »