Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

and the coast. I don't recollect ever having been better pleased with the look of Uncle Sam's cavalry uniform than we were, upon coming up with the squad and finding it a detachment of our own men sent out to chastise the savages. That night we reached a ranch called the “American,” —and certainly its title was none too ambitious, for it had the whole horizon to itself, and to all appearance might have been the only house on the Continent. It was a place unvisited of fresh meat and ignorant of gridirons; but we were tired enough, after the first day of our return to the saddle, to sleep soundly in a bed of tea-tray dimensions, and under what appeared to be a casual selection from a hamper of soiled pocket handkerchiefs, when we had dispatched the first of that long series of suppers on fried pork and green-serpentine saleratus-biscuits which stretched between us and the northern edge of Oregon. Though the month was September, the heat in the middle of the day upon the broad, rolling plains we now had to traverse was as oppressive as an Eastern July. During our whole horseback journey, therefore, we made it our custom to rise as soon after dawn as possible, breakfast, travel a stage of fifteen or twenty miles, make a long midday halt in some pleasant nook, and push on twenty miles further before we unsaddled for the night. We were just now enabled to make this second stage the most leisurely and the longest of the two,-for the moon was still in all the glory of its California brightness and plenitude, and to have travelled by moonlight between the Sacramento and Mount Shasta is one of the prominent memories of a life-time. No patriotic attachment is demanded to make the Californian say with the Irishman, that his country's full moon is twice as large and splendid as any other's. Phenomenally, at least, the bare facts support him. At noon of the day on which we left the American Ranch, we came up a rugged hill into the settlement of Shasta. This town is a mining depot of some importance, chiefly memorable to us for some excellent pie, made out of the California apple-melon, in wonderful imitation of the Eastern green-apple tart, and a charge of five dollars and a half in gold made by the great Californian Express Company for bringing a color-box (heavy as a small valise) from Red Bluffs, whither we had let it go on by boat. Why this should have left a memorable impression on our minds it would be hard to say; for, although the demand was somewhat more than the stage employed by the Express Company would have charged to take either one of us the same distance, accompanied by a heavy trunk, we should by this time have acquired sufficient familiarity with extortion from the Compamy's officials to have paid very quietly a bill of fifty dollars for the same service, and then dismissed the trifling matter from our minds. But indignation at swindles is sometimes cumulative. At the town of Shasta we left the main wagon road, —finding that it passed a long way from the most important point on our itinerary, the base of Shasta Peak. By striking across the country six miles to the small settlement of Buckeye, we intersected a route little travelled, but far more picturesque, and leading directly to the great object of our longings. On the way to Buckeye we again encountered the Sacramento, here dwindled to a narrow mountain stream, with bold, precipitous banks and a rock bottom, a smooth and deep, but rapid current, and full of trout and salmon. We crossed it on a rope-ferry, and climbed the steeps on the other side, but did not leave it. Thenceforward to Shasta Peak we were never out of its neighborhood.

By this détour of ours we came into a country better wooded and watered than any through which we had been travelling. When the sun left us, we found the moonlight so seductive that we pushed on late into the evening, -making our all-night halt at a ranchman's whose name had been given us by some passing native, who praised his accommodations unboundedly, but proved much more of a friend to him than to ourselves. It is a duty to visit the afflicted. It is a misfortune, not a crime, to have a wife and six children, the latter all under twelve years of age. It is a still greater and no less irresponsible calamity to have them all prostrated by chills-and-fever, yet forbidden to yield to its depressing influence by the stimulus of several million healthy fleas. Ignorance, not willfulness, may be at the causal bottom of a batch of bread which is half saleratus, and a stew of venerable hens which is one third feathers. Nor can we regard it as other than a beneficent arrangement in the grand scheme of Nature's laws, that a pack of noble hounds should pass the hours of slumber around our humble casement in the free indulgence of a liberty distinctly authorized by the sacred Watts, as follows: —

“Let dogs delight to bark,” etc.

Still, I think public opinion will sustain me in the view that the much afflicted family were not agreeable to pass the night with.

This is the place for a useful financial statement. Everything on our present trip cost a dollar. Bed for one, i. e. one's share of a bed for two,-supper, — each horse's forage,—breakfast,-every several item, a dollar. No matter how afflicted the family, saleratusy the bread, loud the dogs, nothing was furnished under the dollar. When people happen to have enough dollars, this becomes comic. It reminded us of the Catskill Mountain House, where in specie times everything (after hotel bills) was twenty-five cents, – from getting a waiter to look at you, to having the Falls tipped up for you and spilt over. The day's journey between the afflicted family and Dog Creek, where we stopped the third night, is such an affluent remembrance of beauty that I feel glad while I write about it. We started under circumstances somewhat tedious. Nobody was going toward Mount Shasta with so much as a pack-mule. The father of the afflicted family labored under the blight of his surroundings, and after severe thought gave up the task of attempting to recall when anybody had been going toward Mount Shasta. It was also too much for him to calculate when anybody would be going. We paid him his dollars, – wished that his shadow might never be less, which it couldn't very well, unless the ague can dance on a mathematical line, – and set out with the color-box carried alternately before us on our pommels. It had been our béte noire from the time five dollars and fifty cents ransomed it at Shasta. We now began to wonder whether the Express Company also had carried it on a pommel,—in which case we thought we could forgive the Express Company. The morning was sultry, and as we started our horses forth upon a walk,-for the box could not stand jolting,-we looked forward to a tiresome day. As we went on, Nature seemed determined to kiss us out of the sulks. Just as we broke into fresh grumbles, which we wanted to indulge, and our horses into fresh trots, which we desired, but could not tolerate, we entered some lovely glen, musical with tinkling springs, its walling banks tapestried with the richest velvet of deep-green grass, brocaded with spots of leaf-filtered sunshine. When we began to swelter, we came into the dense shadow of great oaks, or caught the balmiest wind in the world through aromatic pine and cedar vistas along the crown of some lofty ridge. It was impossible to be vexed with the step-mother, Fate, when the fingers of our mother, Nature, were straying through our hair. To drive away the last elf of ill-humor, and make us thenceforth agree to regard the box as an ornamental appendage which we were good-natured enough to let each other enjoy by turns, Pitt River, the last fork of the Upper Sacramento, came glancing into our landscape, the very perfection of fluent freedom and gladness. Every rod of the journey along its west bank disclosed a new picture. The misty blue mountains of the range toward Shasta Peak formed the abiding background of every view. Steep, fir-battlemented banks of one generic form, but endless variety in the beauty of the tree forms and groups which rose from their glacis, mile after mile, framed in some new loveliness of light-and-shadow flecked bend, deep sepia-dark pool, singing shallow, or brawling rapid of the clear stream. Eagles were sailing, like a placid thought in a large heart, far over our heads in the intimacy of a spotless sky; the great

« ZurückWeiter »