Roughing It De Luxe By Irvin S. Cobb
Roughing It De Luxe By Irvin S. Cobb
Author of "Back Home," "The Escape of Mr. Trimm," "Cobb's Anatomy," "Cobb's Bill of Fare," etc.
Illustrated by John T. McCutcheon
New York George H. Doran Company
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
TO GEORGE H. DORAN, ESQ. MY FRIEND AND STILL MY PUBLISHER; MY PUBLISHER AND STILL MY FRIEND
THE TIME TABLE
PAGE A PILGRIM CANONIZED 15 RABID AND HIS FRIENDS 55 HOW DO YOU LIKE THE CLIMATE? 97 IN THE HAUNT OF THE NATIVE SON 135 LOOKING FOR LO 175
PAGE By common consent we had named them Clarence and Clarice Frontispiece Evidently he believed the conspiracy against him was widespread 21 There was not a turkey trotter in the bunch 35 He'd garner in some fellows that wasn't sheep-herders 61 Because a man has a soul is no reason he shouldn't have an appetite 73 He was a regular moving picture cowboy and gave general satisfaction 87 The boy who sells you a paper and the youth who blackens your shoes both show solicitude 101 Out from under a rock somewhere will crawl a real estate agent 115 He felt that he was properly dressed for the time, the place and the occasion 127 Even the place where the turkey trot originated was trotless and quiet 143 The woman nearest the wall has on her furs—it is always cool in the shade 155 It's a great thing out there to be a native son 169 Each Navajo squaw weaves on an average nine thousand blankets a year 179 As she leveled the lens a yell went up from somewhere 193 As the occupants spilled sprawlingly through the gap, a front tire exploded with a loud report 207
A PILGRIM CANONIZED
A Pilgrim Canonized
IT is generally conceded that the Grand Canon of Arizona beggars description. I shall therefore endeavor to refrain from doing so. I realize that this is going to be a considerable contract. Nearly everybody, on taking a first look at the Grand Canon, comes right out and admits its wonders are absolutely indescribable—and then proceeds to write anywhere from two thousand to fifty thousand words, giving the full details. Speaking personally, I wish to say that I do not know anybody who has yet succeeded in getting away with the job.
In the old days when he was doing the literature for the Barnum show, Tody Hamilton would have made the best nominee I can think of. Remember, don't you, how when Tody started in to write about the elephant quadrille you had to turn over to the next page to find the verb? And almost any one of those young fellows who write advertising folders for the railroads would gladly tackle the assignment; in fact, some of them already have—but not with any tumultuous success.
In the presence of the Grand Canon, language just simply fails you and all the parts of speech go dead lame. When the Creator made it He failed to make a word to cover it. To that extent the thing is incomplete. If ever I run across a person who can put down on paper what the Grand Canon looks like, that party will be my choice to do the story when the Crack of Doom occurs. I can close my eyes now and see the headlines: Judgment Day a Complete Success! Replete with Incident and Abounding in Surprises—Many Wealthy Families Disappointed—Full Particulars from our Special Correspondent on the Spot!
Starting out from Chicago on the Santa Fe, we had a full trainload. We came from everywhere: from peaceful New England towns full of elm trees and oldline Republicans; from the Middle States; and from the land of chewing tobacco, prominent Adam's apples and hot biscuits—down where the r is silent, as in No'th Ca'lina. And all of us—Northerners, Southerners, Easterners alike—were actuated by a common purpose—we were going West to see the country and rough it—rough it on overland trains better equipped and more luxurious than any to be found in the East; rough it at ten-dollar-a-day hotels; rough it by touring car over the most magnificent automobile roads to be found on this continent. We were a daring lot and resolute; each and every one of us was brave and blithe to endure the privations that such an expedition must inevitably entail. Let the worst come; we were prepared! If there wasn't any of the hothouse lamb, with imported green peas, left, we'd worry along on a little bit of the fresh shad roe, and a few conservatory cucumbers on the side. That's the kind of hardy adventurers we were!
Conspicuous among us was a distinguished surgeon of Chicago; in fact, so distinguished that he has had a very rare and expensive disease named for him, which is as distinguished as a physician ever gets to be in this country. Abroad he would be decorated or knighted. Here we name something painful after him and it seems to fill the bill just as well. This surgeon was very distinguished and also very exclusive. After you scaled down from him, riding in solitary splendor in his drawing room, with kitbags full of symptoms and diagnoses scattered round, we became a mixed tourist outfit. I would not want to say that any of the persons on our train were impossible, because that sounds snobbish; but I will say this—some of them were highly improbable.
There was the bride, who put on her automobile goggles and her automobile veil as soon as we pulled out of the Chicago yards and never took them off again—except possibly when sleeping. I presume she wanted to show the rest of us that she was accustomed to traveling at a high rate of speed. If the bridegroom had only bethought him to carry one of those siren horns under his arm, and had tooted it whenever we went around a curve, the illusion would have been complete.
There was also the middle-aged lady with the camera habit. Any time the train stopped, or any time it behaved as though it thought of stopping, out on the platform would pop this lady, armed with her little accordion-plaited camera, with the lens focused and the little atomizer bulb dangling down, all ready to take a few pictures. She snapshotted watertanks, whistling posts, lunch stands, section houses, grade crossings and holes in the snowshed—also scenery, people and climate. A two-by-four photograph of a mountain that's a mile high must be a most splendid reminder of the beauties of Nature to take home with you from a trip.
There was the conversational youth in the Norfolk jacket, who was going out West to fill an important vacancy in a large business house—he told us so himself. It was a good selection, too. If I had a vacancy that I wanted filled in such a way that other people would think the vacancy was still there, this youth would have been my candidate.
And finally there was the corn-doctor from a town somewhere in Indiana, who had the upper berth in Number Ten. It seemed to take a load off his mind, on the second morning out, when he learned that he would not have to spend the day up there, but could come down and mingle with the rest of us on a common footing; but right up to the finish of the journey he was uncertain on one or two other points. Every time a conductor came through—Pullman conductor, train conductor or dining-car conductor—he would hail him and ask him this question: "Do I or do I not have to change at Williams for the Grand Canon?" The conductor—whichever conductor it was—always said, Yes, he would have to change at Williams. But he kept asking them—he seemed to regard a conductor as a functionary who would deliberately go out of his way to mislead a passenger in regard to an important matter of this kind. After a while the conductors took to hiding out from him and then he began cross-examining the porters, and the smoking-room attendant, and the baggageman, and the flagmen, and the passengers who got aboard down the line in Colorado and New Mexico.
At breakfast in the dining car you would hear his plaintive, patient voice lifted. "Yes, waiter," he would say; "fry 'em on both sides, please. And say, waiter, do you know for sure whether we change at Williams for the Grand Canon?" He put a world of entreaty into it; evidently he believed the conspiracy against him was widespread. At Albuquerque I saw him leading off on one side a Pueblo Indian who was peddling bows and arrows, and heard him ask the Indian, as man to man, if he would have to change at Williams for the Grand Canon.
When he was not worrying about changing at Williams he showed anxiety upon the subject of the proper clothes to be worn while looking at the Grand Canon. Among others he asked me about it. I could not help him. I had decided to drop in just as I was, and then to be governed by circumstances as they might arise; but he was not organized that way. On the morning of the last day, as we rolled up through the pine barrens of Northern Arizona toward our destination, those of us who had risen early became aware of a terrific struggle going on behind the shrouding draperies of that upper berth of his. Convulsive spasms agitated the green curtains. Muffled swear words uttered in a low but fervent tone filtered down to us. Every few seconds a leg or an arm or a head, or the butt-end of a suitcase, or the bulge of a valise, would show through the curtains for a moment, only to be abruptly snatched back.
Speculation concerning the causes of these strange manifestations ran—as the novelists say—rife. Some thought that, overcome with disappointment by the discovery that we had changed at Williams in the middle of the night, without his knowing anything about it, he was having a fit all alone up there. Presently the excitement abated; and then, after having first lowered his baggage, our friend descended to the aisle and the mystery was explained. He had solved the question of what to wear while gazing at the Grand Canon. He was dressed in a new golf suit, complete—from the dinky cap to the Scotch plaid stockings. If ever that man visits Niagara, I should dearly love to be on hand to see him when he comes out to view the Falls, wearing his bathing suit.
Some of us aboard that train did not seem to care deeply for the desert; the cactus possibly disappointed others; and the mesquit failed to give general satisfaction, though at a conservative estimate we passed through nine million miles of it. A few of the delegates from the Eastern seaboard appeared to be irked by the tribal dancing of the Hopi Indians, for there was not a turkey-trotter in the bunch, the Indian settlements of Arizona being the only terpsichorean centers in this country to which the Young Turk movement had not penetrated yet. Some objected to the plains because they were so flat and plainlike, and some to the mountains because of their exceedingly mountainous aspect; but on one point we all agreed—on the uniform excellence of the dining-car service.
It is a powerfully hard thing for a man to project his personality across the grave. In making their wills and providing for the carrying on of their pet enterprises a number of our richest men have endeavored from time to time to disprove this; but, to date, the percentage of successes has not been large. So far as most of us are concerned the burden of proof shows that in this regard we are one with the famous little dog whose name was Rover—when we die, we die all over. Every big success represents the personality of a living man; rarely ever does it represent the personality of a dead man.
The original Fred Harvey is dead—has been dead, in fact, for several years; but his spirit goes marching on across the southwestern half of this country. Two thousand miles from salt water, the oysters that are served on his dining cars do not seem to be suffering from car-sickness. And you can get a beefsteak measuring eighteen inches from tip to tip. There are spring chickens with the most magnificent bust development I ever saw outside of a burlesque show; and the eggs taste as though they might have originated with a hen instead of a cold-storage vault. If there was only a cabaret show going up and down the middle of the car during meals, even the New York passengers would be satisfied with the service, I think.
There is another detail of the Harvey system that makes you wonder. Out on the desert, in a dead-gray expanse of silence and sagebrush, your train halts at a junction point that you never even heard of before. There is not much to be seen—a depot, a 'dobe cabin or so, a few frame shacks, a few natives, a few Indians and a few incurably languid Mexicans—and that is positively all there is except that, right out there in the middle of nowhere, stands a hotel big enough and handsome enough for Chicago or New York, built in the Spanish style, with wide patios and pergolas—where a hundred persons might perg at one time—and gay-striped awnings. It is flanked by flower-beds and refreshingly green strips of lawn, with spouting fountains scattered about.
You go inside to a big, spotlessly bright dining room and get as good a meal as you can get anywhere on earth—and served in as good style, too. To the man fresh from the East, such an establishment reminds him vividly of the hurry-up railroad lunch places to which he has been accustomed back home—places where the doughnuts are dornicks and the pickles are fossils, and the hard-boiled egg got up out of a sick bed to be there, and on the pallid yellow surface of the official pie a couple of hundred flies are enacting Custard's Last Stand. It reminds him of them because it is so different. Between Kansas City and the Coast there are a dozen or more of these hotels scattered along the line.
And so, with real food to stay you and one of Tuskegee's bright, straw-colored graduates to minister to your wants in the sleeper, you come on the morning of the third day to the Grand Canon in northern Arizona; you take one look—and instantly you lose all your former standards of comparison. You stand there gazing down the raw, red gullet of that great gosh-awful gorge, and you feel your self-importance shriveling up to nothing inside of you. You haven't an adjective left to your back. It makes you realize what the sensations would be of one little microbe lost inside of Barnum's fat lady.
I think my preconceived conception of the Canon was the same conception most people have before they come to see it for themselves—a straight up-and-down slit in the earth, fabulously steep and fabulously deep; nevertheless merely a slit. It is no such thing.
Imagine, if you can, a monster of a hollow approximately some hundreds of miles long and a mile deep, and anywhere from ten to sixteen miles wide, with a mountain range—the most wonderful mountain range in the world—planted in it; so that, viewing the spectacle from above, you get the illusion of being in a stationary airship, anchored up among the clouds; imagine these mountain peaks—hundreds upon hundreds of them—rising one behind the other, stretching away in endless, serried rank until the eye swims and the mind staggers at the task of trying to count them; imagine them splashed and splattered over with all the earthly colors you ever saw and a lot of unearthly colors you never saw before; imagine them carved and fretted and scrolled into all shapes—tabernacles, pyramids, battleships, obelisks, Moorish palaces—the Moorish suggestion is especially pronounced both in colorings and in shapes—monuments, minarets, temples, turrets, castles, spires, domes, tents, tepees, wigwams, shafts.
Imagine other ravines opening from the main one, all nuzzling their mouths in her flanks like so many sucking pigs; for there are hundreds of these lesser canyons, and any one of them would be a marvel were they not dwarfed into relative puniness by the mother of the litter. Imagine walls that rise sheer and awful as the Wrath of God, and at their base holes where you might hide all the Seven Wonders of the Olden World and never know they were there—or miss them either. Imagine a trail that winds like a snake and climbs like a goat and soars like a bird, and finally bores like a worm and is gone.
Imagine a great cloud-shadow cruising along from point to point, growing smaller and smaller still, until it seems no more than a shifting purple bruise upon the cheek of a mountain, and then, as you watch it, losing itself in a tiny rift which at that distance looks like a wrinkle in the seamed face of an old squaw, but which is probably a huge gash gored into the solid rock for a thousand feet of depth and more than a thousand feet of width.
Imagine, way down there at the bottom, a stream visible only at certain favored points because of the mighty intervening ribs and chines of rock—a stream that appears to you as a torpidly crawling yellow worm, its wrinkling back spangled with tarnished white specks, but which is really a wide, deep, brawling, rushing river—the Colorado—full of torrents and rapids; and those white specks you see are the tops of enormous rocks in its bed.
Imagine—if it be winter—snowdrifts above, with desert flowers blooming alongside the drifts, and down below great stretches of green verdure; imagine two or three separate snowstorms visibly raging at different points, with clear, bright stretches of distance intervening between them, and nearer maybe a splendid rainbow arching downward into the great void; for these meteorological three-ring circuses are not uncommon at certain seasons.
Imagine all this spread out beneath the unflawed turquoise of the Arizona sky and washed in the liquid gold of the Arizona sunshine—and if you imagine hard enough and keep it up long enough you may begin, in the course of eight or ten years, to have a faint, a very faint and shadowy conception of this spot where the shamed scheme of creation is turned upside down and the very womb of the world is laid bare before our impious eyes. Then go to Arizona and see it all for yourself, and you will realize what an entirely inadequate and deficient thing the human imagination is.
It is customary for the newly arrived visitor to take a ride along the edge of the canyon—the rim-drive, it is called—with stops at Hopi Point and Mohave Point and Pima Point, and other points where the views are supposed to be particularly good. To do this you get into a smart coach drawn by horses and driven by a competent young man in a khaki uniform. Leaving behind you a clutter of hotel buildings and station buildings, bungalows and tents, you go winding away through a Government forest reserve containing much fine standing timber and plenty more that is not so fine, it being mainly stunted pinon and gnarly desert growths.
Presently the road, which is a fine, wide, macadamized road, skirts out of the trees and threads along the canyon until it comes to a rocky flange that juts far over. You climb out there and, instinctively treading lightly on your tiptoes and breathing in syncopated breaths, you steal across the ledge, going slowly and carefully until you pause finally upon the very eyelashes of eternity and look down into that great inverted muffin-mold of a canyon.
You are at the absolute jumping-off place. There is nothing between you and the undertaker except six-thousand feet, more or less, of dazzling Arizona climate. Below you, beyond you, stretching both ways from you, lie those buried mountains, the eternal herds of the Lord's cattlefold; there are scars upon their sides, like the marks of a mighty branding iron, and in the distance, viewed through the vapor-waves of melting snow, their sides seem to heave up and down like the flanks of panting cattle. Half a mile under you, straight as a man can spit, are gardens of willows and grasses and flowers, looking like tiny green patches, and the tents of a camp looking like scattered playing cards; and there is a plateau down there that appears to be as flat as your hand and is seemingly no larger, but actually is of a size sufficient for the evolutions of a brigade of cavalry.
When you have had your fill of this the guide takes you and leads you—you still stepping lightly to avoid starting anything—to a spot from which he points out to you, riven into the face of a vast perpendicular chasm above a cave like a monstrous door, a tremendous and perfect figure seven—the house number of the Almighty Himself. By this I mean no irreverence. If ever Jehovah chose an earthly abiding-place, surely this place of awful, unutterable majesty would be it. You move a few yards farther along and instantly the seven is gone—the shift of shadow upon the rock wall has wiped it out and obliterated it—but you do not mourn the loss, because there are still upward of a million things for you to look at.
And then, if you have timed wisely the hour of your coming, the sun pretty soon goes down; and as it sinks lower and lower out of titanic crannies come the thickening shades, making new plays and tricks of painted colors upon the walls—purples and reds and golds and blues, ambers and umbers and opals and ochres, yellows and tans and tawnys and browns—and the canyon fills to its very brim with the silence of oncoming night.
You stand there, stricken dumb, your whole being dwarfed yet transfigured; and in the glory of that moment you can even forget the gabble of the lady tourist alongside of you who, after searching her soul for the right words, comes right out and gives the Grand Canon her cordial indorsement. She pronounces it to be just perfectly lovely! But I said at the outset I was not going to undertake to describe the Grand Canon—and I'm not. These few remarks were practically jolted out of me and should not be made to count in the total score.
Having seen the canyon—or a little bit of it—from the top, the next thing to do is to go down into it and view it from the sides and the bottom. Most of the visitors follow the Bright Angel Trail which is handily near by and has an assuring name. There are only two ways to do the inside of the Grand Canon—afoot and on mule-back. El Tovar hotel provides the necessary regalia, if you have not come prepared—divided skirts for the women and leggings for the men, a mule apiece and a guide to every party of six or eight.
At the start there is always a lot of nervous chatter—airy persiflage flies to and fro and much laughing is indulged in. But it has a forced, strained sound, that laughter has; it does not come from the heart, the heart being otherwise engaged for the moment. Down a winding footpath moves the procession, with the guide in front, and behind him in single file his string of pilgrims—all as nervous as cats and some holding to their saddle-pommels with death-grips. Just under the first terrace a halt is made while the official photographer takes a picture; and when you get back he has your finished copy ready for you, so you can see for yourself just how pale and haggard and wall-eyed and how much like a typhoid patient you looked.
The parade moves on. All at once you notice that the person immediately ahead of you has apparently ridden right over the wall of the canyon. A moment ago his arched back loomed before you; now he is utterly gone. It is at this point that some tourists tender their resignations—to take effect immediately. To the credit of the sex, be it said, the statistics show that fewer women quit here than men. But nearly always there is some man who remembers where he left his umbrella or something, and he goes back after it and forgets to return.
In our crowd there was one person who left us here. He was a circular person; about forty per cent of him, I should say, rhymed with jelly. He climbed right down off his mule. He said:
"I'm not scared myself, you understand, but I've just recalled that my wife is a nervous woman. She'd have a fit if she knew I was taking this trip! I love my wife, and for her sake I will not go down this canyon, dearly as I would love to." And with that he headed for the hotel. I wanted to go with him. I wanted to go along with him and comfort him and help him have his chill, and if necessary send a telegram for him to his wife—she was in Pittsburgh—telling her that all was well. But I did not. I kept on. I have been trying to figure out ever since whether this showed courage on my part, or cowardice.
Over the ridge and down the steep declivity beyond goes your mule, slipping a little. He is reared back until his rump almost brushes the trail; he grunts mild protests at every lurching step and grips his shoecalks into the half-frozen path. You reflect that thousands of persons have already done this thing; that thousands of others—men, women and children—are going to do it, and that no serious accident has yet occurred—which is some comfort, but not much. The thought comes to you that, after all, it is a very bright and beautiful world you are leaving behind. You turn your head to give it a long, lingering farewell, and you try to put your mind on something cheerful—such as your life insurance. Then something happens.
The trail, that has been slanting at a downward angle which is a trifle steeper than a ship's ladder, but not quite so steep perhaps as a board fence, takes an abrupt turn to the right. You duck your head and go through a little tunnel in the rock, patterned on the same general design of the needle's eye that is going to give so many of our prominent captains of industry trouble in the hereafter. And as you emerge on the lower side you forget all about your life-insurance papers and freeze to your pommel with both hands, and cram your poor cold feet into the stirrups—even in warm weather they'll be good and cold—and all your vital organs come up in your throat, where you can taste them. If anybody had shot me through the middle just about then he would have inflicted only a flesh wound.
You have come out on a place where the trail clings to the sheer side of the dizziest, deepest chasm in the known world. One of your legs is scraping against the everlasting granite; the other is dangling over half a mile of fresh mountain air. The mule's off hind hoof grates and grinds on the flinty trail, dislodging a fair-sized stone that flops over the verge. You try to look down and see where it is going and find you haven't the nerve to do it—but you can hear it falling from one narrow ledge to another, picking up other boulders as it goes until there must be a fair-sized little avalanche of them cascading down. The sound of their roaring, racketing passage grows fainter and fainter, then dies almost out, and then there rises up to you from those unutterable depths a dull, thuddy little sound—those stones have reached the cellar! Then to you there comes the pleasing reflection that if your mule slipped and you fell off and were dashed to fragments, they would not be large, mussy, irregular fragments, but little teeny-weeny fragments, such as would not bring the blush of modesty to the cheek of the most fastidious.
Only your mule never slips off! It is contrary to a mule's religion and politics, and all his traditions and precedents, to slip off. He may slide a little and stumble once in a while, and he may, with malice aforethought, try to scrape you off against the outjutting shoulders of the trail; but he positively will not slip off. It is not because he is interested in you. A tourist on the canyon's rim a simple tourist is to him and nothing more; but he has no intention of getting himself hurt. Instinct has taught that mule it would be to him a highly painful experience to fall a couple of thousand feet or so and light on a pile of rocks; and therefore, through motives that are purely selfish, he studiously refrains from so doing. When the Prophet of old wrote, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him," and so on, I judge he had reference to a mule on a narrow trail.
My mule had one very disconcerting way about him—or, rather, about her, for she was of the gentler sex. When she came to a particularly scary spot, which was every minute or so, she would stop dead still. I concurred in that part of it heartily. But then she would face outward and crane her neck over the fathomless void of that bottomless pit, and for a space of moments would gaze steadily downward, with a despondent droop of her fiddle-shaped head and a suicidal gleam in her mournful eyes. It worried me no little; and if I had known, at the time, that she had a German name it would have worried me even more, I guess. But either the time was not ripe for the rash act or else she abhorred the thought of being found dead in the company of a mere tourist, so she did not leap off into space, but restrained herself; and I was very grateful to her for it. It made a bond of sympathy between us.
On you go, winding on down past the red limestone and the yellow limestone and the blue sandstone, which is green generally; past huge bat caves and the big nests of pack-rats, tucked under shelves of Nature's making; past stratified millions of crumbling seashells that tell to geologists the tale of the salt-water ocean that once on a time, when the world was young and callow, filled this hole brim full; and presently, when you have begun to piece together the tattered fringes of your nerves, you realize that the canyon is even more wonderful when viewed from within than it is when viewed from without. Also, you begin to notice now that it is most extensively autographed.
Apparently about every other person who came this way remarked to himself that this canyon was practically completed and only needed his signature as collaborator to round it out—so he signed it and after that it was a finished job. Some of them brought down colored chalk and stencils, and marking pots, and paints and brushes, and cold chisels to work with, which must have been a lot of trouble, but was worth it—it does add so greatly to the beauty of the Grand Canon to find it spangled over with such names as you could hear paged in almost any dollar-a-day American-plan hotel. The guide pointed out a spot where one of these inspired authors climbed high up the face of a white cliff and, clinging there, carved out in letters a foot long his name; and it was one of those names that, inscribed upon a register, would instinctively cause any room clerk to reach for the key to an inside one, without bath. I regret to state that nothing happened to this person. He got down safe and sound; it was a great pity, too.
By the Bright Angel Trail it is three hours on a mule to the plateau, where there are green summery things growing even in midwinter, and where the temperature is almost sultry; and it is an hour or so more to the riverbed, down at the very bottom. When you finally arrive there and look up you do not see how you ever got down, for the trail has magically disappeared; and you feel morally sure you are never going to get back. If your mule were not under you pensively craning his head rearward in an effort to bite your leg off, you would almost be ready to swear the whole thing was an optical illusion, a wondrous dream. Under these circumstances it is not so strange that some travelers who have been game enough until now suddenly weaken. Their nerves capsize and the grit runs out of them like sand out of an overturned pail.
All over this part of Arizona they tell you the story of the lady from the southern part of the state—she was a school teacher and the story has become an epic—who went down Bright Angel one morning and did not get back until two o'clock the following morning; and then she came against her will in a litter borne by two tired guides, while two others walked beside her and held her hands; and she was protesting at every step that she positively could not and would not go another inch; and she was as hysterical as a treeful of chickadees; her hat was lost, and her glasses were gone, and her hair hung down her back, and altogether she was a mournful sight to see.
Likewise the natives will tell you the tale of a man who made the trip by crawling round the more sensational corners upon his hands and knees; and when he got down he took one look up to where, a sheer mile above him, the rim of the canyon showed, with the tall pine trees along its edge looking like the hairs upon a caterpillar's back, and he announced firmly that he wished he might choke if he stirred another step. Through the miraculous indulgence of a merciful providence he was down, and that was sufficient for him; he wasn't going to trifle with his luck. He would stay down until he felt good and rested, and then he would return to his home in dear old Altoona by some other route. He was very positive about it. There were two guides along, both of them patient and forbearing cowpunchers, and they argued with him. They pointed that there was only one suitable way for him to get out of the canyon, and that was the way by which he had got into it.
"The trouble with you fellows," said the man, "is that you are too dad-blamed technical. The point is that I'm here, and here I'm going to stay."
"But," they told him, "you can't stay here. You'd starve to death like that poor devil that some prospectors found in that gulch yonder—turned to dusty bones, with a pack rat's nest in his chest and a rock under his head. You'd just naturally starve to death."
"There you go again," he said, "importing these trivial foreign matters into the discussion. Let us confine ourselves to the main issue, which is that I am not going back. This rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I," he said, or words to that effect.
So insisting, he sat down, putting his own firm base against the said rock, and prepared to become a permanent resident. He was a grown man and the guides were less gentle with him than they had been with the lady school teacher. They roped his arms at the elbows and hoisted him upon a mule and tied his legs together under the mule's belly, and they brought him out of there like a sack of bran—only he made more noise than any sack of bran has ever been known to make.
Coming back up out of the Grand Canon is an even more inspiring and amazing performance than going down. But by now—anyhow this was my experience, and they tell me it is the common experience—you are beginning to get used to the sensation of skirting along the raw and ragged verge of nothing. Narrow turns where, going down, your hair pushed your hat off, no longer affright you; you take them jauntily—almost debonairly. You feel that you are now an old mountain-scaler, and your soul begins to crave for a trip with a few more thrills to the square inch in it. You get your wish. You go down Hermit Trail, which its middle name is thrills; and there you make the acquaintance of the Hydrophobic Skunk.
The Hydrophobic Skunk is a creature of such surpassing accomplishments and vivid personality that I feel he is entitled to a new chapter. The Hydrophobic Skunk will be continued in our next.
RABID AND HIS FRIENDS
Rabid and His Friends
THE Hydrophobic Skunk resides at the extreme bottom of the Grand Canon and, next to a Southern Republican who never asked for a Federal office, is the rarest of living creatures. He is so rare that nobody ever saw him—that is, nobody except a native. I met plenty of tourists who had seen people who had seen him, but never a tourist who had seen him with his own eyes. In addition to being rare, he is highly gifted.
I think almost anybody will agree with me that the common, ordinary skunk has been most richly dowered by Nature. To adorn a skunk with any extra qualifications seems as great a waste of the raw material as painting the lily or gilding refined gold. He is already amply equipped for outdoor pursuits. Nobody intentionally shoves him round; everybody gives him as much room as he seems to need. He commands respect—nay, more than that, respect and veneration—wherever he goes. Joy-riders never run him down and foot passengers avoid crowding him into a corner. You would think Nature had done amply well by the skunk; but no—the Hydrophobic Skunk comes along and upsets all these calculations. Besides carrying the traveling credentials of an ordinary skunk, he is rabid in the most rabidissimus form. He is not mad just part of the time, like one's relatives by marriage—and not mad most of the time, like the old-fashioned railroad ticket agent—but mad all the time—incurably, enthusiastically and unanimously mad! He is mad and he is glad of it.
We made the acquaintance of the Hydrophobic Skunk when we rode down Hermit Trail. The casual visitor to the Grand Canon first of all takes the rim drive; then he essays Bright Angel Trail, which is sufficiently scary for his purposes until he gets used to it; and after that he grows more adventurous and tackles Hermit Trail, which is a marvel of corkscrew convolutions, gimleting its way down this red abdominal wound of a canyon to the very gizzard of the world.
Alongside the Hermit, traveling the Bright Angel is the same as gathering the myrtles with Mary; but the civil engineers who worked out the scheme of the Hermit and made it wide and navigable for ordinary folks were bright young men. They laid a wall along its outer side all the way from the top to the bottom. Now this wall is made of loose stones racked up together without cement, and it is nowhere more than a foot or a foot and a half high. If your mule ever slipped—which he never does—or if you rolled off on your own hook—which has not happened to date—that puny little wall would hardly stop you—might not even cause you to hesitate. But some way, intervening between you and a thousand feet or so of uninterrupted fresh air, it gives a tremendous sense of security. Life is largely a state of mind, anyhow, I reckon.
As a necessary preliminary to going down Hermit Trail you take a buckboard ride of ten miles—ten wonderful miles! Almost immediately the road quits the rocky, bare parapet of the gorge and winds off through the noble, big forest that is a part of the Government reserve. Jays that are twice as large and three times as vocal as the Eastern variety weave blue threads in the green background of the pines; and if there is snow upon the ground its billowy white surface is crossed and criss-crossed with the dainty tracks of coyotes, and sometimes with the broad, furry marks of the wildcat's pads. The air is a blessing and the sunshine is a benediction.
Away off yonder, through a break in the conifers, you see one lone and lofty peak with a cap of snow upon its top. The snow fills the deeper ravines that furrow its side downward from the summit so that at this distance it looks as though it were clutched in a vast white owl's claw; and generally there is a wispy cloud caught on it like a white shirt on a poor man's Monday washpole. Or, huddled together in a nest formation like so many speckled eggs, you see the clutch of little mottled mountains for which nobody seems to have a name. If these mountains were in Scotland, Sir Walter Scott and Bobby Burns would have written about them and they would be world-famous, and tourists from America would come and climb their slopes, and stand upon their tops, and sop up romance through all their pores. But being in Arizona, dwarfed by the heaven-reaching ranges and groups that wall them in north, south and west, they have not even a Christian name to answer to.
Anon—that is to say, at the end of those ten miles—you come to the head of Hermit Trail. There you leave your buckboard at a way station and mount your mule. Presently you are crawling downward, like a fly on a board fence, into the depths of the chasm. You pass through rapidly succeeding graduations of geology, verdure, scenery and temperature. You ride past little sunken gardens full of wild flowers and stunty fir trees, like bits of Old Japan; you climb naked red slopes crowned with the tall cactus, like Old Mexico; you skirt bald, bare, blistered vistas of desolation, like Old Perdition. You cross Horsethief's Trail, which was first traced out by the moccasined feet of marauding Apaches and later was used by white outlaws fleeing northward with their stolen pony herds.
You pass above the gloomy shadows of Blythe's Abyss and wind beneath a great box-shaped formation of red sandstone set on a spindle rock and balancing there in dizzy space like Mohammed's coffin; and then, at the end of a mile-long jog along a natural terrace stretching itself midway between Heaven and the other place, you come to the residence of Shorty, the official hermit of the Grand Canon.
Shorty is a little, gentle old man, with warped legs and mild blue eyes and a set of whiskers of such indeterminate aspect that you cannot tell at first look whether they are just coming out or just going back in. He belongs—or did belong—to the vast vanishing race of old-time gold prospectors. Halfway down the trail he does light housekeeping under an accommodating flat ledge that pouts out over the pathway like a snuffdipper's under lip. He has a hole in the rock for his chimney, a breadth of weathered gray canvas for his door and an eighty-mile stretch of the most marvelous panorama on earth for his front yard. He minds the trail and watches out for the big boulders that sometimes fall in the night; and, except in the tourist season, he leads a reasonably quiet existence.
Alongside of Shorty, Robinson Crusoe was a tenement-dweller, and Jonah, weekending in the whale, had a perfectly uproarious time; but Shorty thrives on a solitude that is too vast for imagining. He would not trade jobs with the most potted potentate alive—only sometimes in mid-summer he feels the need of a change stealing over him, and then he goes afoot out into the middle of Death Valley and spends a happy vacation of five or six weeks with the Gila monsters and the heat. He takes Toby with him.
Toby is a gentlemanly little woolly dog built close to the earth like a carpet sweeper, with legs patterned crookedly—after the model of his master's. Toby has one settled prejudice: he dislikes Indians. You have only to whisper the word "Injun" and instantly Toby is off, scuttling away to the highest point that is handy. From there he peers all round looking for red invaders. Not finding any he comes slowly back, crushed to the earth with disappointment. Nobody has ever been able to decide what Toby would do with the Indians if he found them; but he and Shorty are in perfect accord. They have been associated together ever since Toby was a pup and Shorty went into the hermit business, and that was ten years ago. Sitting cross-legged on a flat rock like a little gnome, with his puckered eyes squinting off at space, Shorty told us how once upon a time he came near losing Toby.
"Me and Toby," he said, "was over to Flagstaff, and that was several years ago. There was a saloon man over there owned a bulldog and he wanted that his bulldog and Toby should fight. Toby can lick mighty nigh any dog alive; but I didn't want that Toby should fight. But this here saloon man wouldn't listen. He sicked his bulldog on to Toby and in about a minute Toby was taking that bulldog all apart.
"This here saloon man he got mad then—he got awful mad. He wanted to kill Toby and he pulled out his pistol. I begged him mighty hard please not to shoot Toby—I did so! I stood in front of Toby to protect him and I begged that man not to do it. Then some other fellows made him put up his gun, and me and Toby came on away from there." His voice trailed off. "I certainly would 'a' hated to lose Toby. We set a heap of store by one another—don't we, dog?" And Toby testified that it was so—testified with wriggling body and licking tongue and dancing eyes and a madly wagging stump tail.
As we mounted and jogged away we looked back, and the pair of them—Shorty and Toby—were sitting there side by side in perfect harmony and perfect content; and I could not help wondering, in a country where we sometimes hang a man for killing a man, what would have been adequate punishment for a brute who would kill Toby and leave Shorty without his partner! In another minute, though, we had rounded a jagged sandstone shoulder and they were out of sight.
About that time Johnny, our guide, felt moved to speech, and we hearkened to his words and hungered for more, for Johnny knows the ranges of the Northwest as a city dweller knows his own little side street. In the fall of the year Johnny comes down to the Canon and serves as a guide a while; and then, when he gets so he just can't stand associating with tourists any longer, he packs his warbags and journeys back to the Northern Range and enjoys the company of cows a spell. Cows are not exactly exciting, but they don't ask fool questions.
A highly competent young person is Johnny and a cowpuncher of parts. Most of the Canon guides are cowpunchers—accomplished ones, too, and of high standing in the profession. With a touch of reverence Johnny pointed out to us Sam Scovel, the greatest bronco buster of his time, now engaged in piloting tourists.
"Can he ride?" echoed Johnny in answer to our question. "Scovel could ride an earthquake if she stood still long enough for him to mount! He rode Steamboat—not Young Steamboat, but Old Steamboat! He rode Rocking Chair, and he's the only man that ever did do that and not be called on in a couple of days to attend his own funeral."
This day he told us about one Tom, who lived up in Wyoming, where Johnny came from. It appeared that in an easier day Tom was hired by some cattle men to thin out the sheep herders who insisted upon invading the public ranges. By Johnny's account Tom did the thinning with conscientious attention to detail and gave general satisfaction for a while; but eventually he grew careless in his methods and took to killing parties who were under the protection of the game laws. Likewise his own private collection of yearlings began to increase with a rapidity which was only to be accounted for on the theory that a large number of calves were coming into the world with Tom's brand for a birthmark. So he lost popularity. Several times his funeral was privily arranged, but on each occasion was postponed owing to the failure of the corpse to be present. Finally he killed a young boy and was caught and convicted, and one morning they took him out and hanged him rather extensively.
"Tom was mighty methodical," said Johnny. "He got five hundred a head for killing sheep herders—that was the regular tariff. Every time he bumped one off he'd put a stone under his head, which was his private mark—a kind of a duebill, as you might say. And when they'd find that dead herder with the rock under his head they'd know there was another five hundred comin' to Tom on the books; they always paid it, too. Once in a while, though, he'd cut loose in a saloon and garner in some fellows that wasn't sheep herders. There was quite a number that thought Tom acted kind of ungentlemanly when he was drinkin'."
We went on and on at a lazy mule-trot, hearing the unwritten annals of the range from one who had seen them enacted at first hand. Pretty soon we passed a herd of burros with mealy, dusty noses and spotty hides, feeding on prickly pears and rock lichens; and just before sunset we slid down the last declivity out upon the plateau and came to a camp as was a camp!
This was roughing it de luxe with a most de-luxey vengeance! Here were three tents, or rather three canvas houses, with wooden half-walls; and they were spick-and-span inside and out, and had glass windows in them and doors and matched wooden floors. The one that was a bedroom had gay Navajo blankets on the floor, and a stove in it, and a little bureau, and a washstand with white towels and good lathery soap. And there were two beds—not cots or bunks, but regular beds—with wire springs and mattresses and white sheets and pillowslips. They were not veteran sheets and vintage pillowslips either, but clean and spotless ones. The mess tent was provided with a table with a clean cloth to go over it, and there were china dishes and china cups and shiny knives, forks and spoons. Every scrap of this equipment had been brought down from the top on burro packs. The Grand Canon is scenically artistic, but it is a non-producing district. And outside there was a corral for the mules; a canvas storehouse; hitching stakes for the burros; a Dutch oven, and a little forge where the guides sometimes shoe a mule. They aren't blacksmiths; they merely have to be. Bill was in charge of the camp—a dark, rangy, good-looking young leading man of a cowboy, wearing his blue shirt and his red neckerchief with an air. He spoke with the soft Texas drawl and in his way was as competent as Johnny.
The sun, which had been winking farewells to us over the rim above, dropped out of sight as suddenly as though it had fallen into a well. From the bottom the shadows went slanting along the glooming walls of the gorges, swallowing up the yellow patches of sunlight that still lingered near the top like blacksnakes swallowing eggs. Every second the colors shifted and changed; what had been blue a moment before was now purple and in another minute would be a velvety black. A little lost ghost of an echo stole out of a hole and went straying up and down, feebly mocking our remarks and making them sound cheap and tawdry.
Then the new moon showed as a silver fish, balancing on its tail and arching itself like a hooked skipjack. In a purpling sky the stars popped out like pinpricks and the peace that passes all understanding came over us. I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to say that, in my opinion, David Belasco has never done anything in the way of scenic effects to beat a moonrise in the Grand Canon.
I reckon we might have been there until now—my companion and I—soaking our souls in the unutterable beauty of that place, only just about that time we smelled something frying. There was also a most delectable sputtering sound as of fat meat turning over on a hot skillet; but just the smell alone was a square meal for a poor family. The meeting adjourned by acclamation. Just because a man has a soul is no reason he shouldn't have an appetite.
That Johnny certainly could cook! Served on china dishes upon a cloth-covered table, we had mounds of fried steaks and shoals of fried bacon; and a bushel, more or less, of sheepherder potatoes; and green peas and sliced peaches out of cans; and sourdough biscuits as light as kisses and much more filling; and fresh butter and fresh milk; and coffee as black as your hat and strong as sin. How easy it is for civilized man to become primitive and comfortable in his way of eating, especially if he has just ridden ten miles on a buckboard and nine more on a mule and is away down at the bottom of the Grand Canon—and there is nobody to look on disapprovingly when he takes a bite that would be a credit to a steam shovel!
Despite all reports to the contrary, I wish to state that it is no trouble at all to eat green peas off a knifeblade—you merely mix them in with potatoes for a cement; and fried steak—take it from an old steak-eater—tastes best when eaten with those tools of Nature's own providing, both hands and your teeth. An hour passed—busy, yet pleasant—and we were both gorged to the gills and had reared back with our cigars lit to enjoy a third jorum of black coffee apiece, when Johnny, speaking in an offhand way to Bill, who was still hiding away biscuits inside of himself like a parlor prestidigitator, said:
"Seen any of them old hydrophobies the last day or two?"
"Not so many," said Bill casually. "There was a couple out last night pirootin' round in the moonlight. I reckon, though, there'll be quite a flock of 'em out tonight. A new moon always seems to fetch 'em up from the river."
Both of us quit blowing on our coffee and we put the cups down. I think I was the one who spoke.
"I beg your pardon," I asked, "but what did you say would be out tonight?"
"We were just speakin' to one another about them Hydrophoby Skunks," said Bill apologetically. "This here Canon is where they mostly hang out and frolic 'round."
I laid down my cigar, too. I admit I was interested.
"Oh!" I said softly—like that. "Is it? Do they?"
"Yes," said Johnny. "I reckin there's liable to be one come shovin' his old nose into that door any minute. Or probably two—they mostly travels in pairs—sets, as you might say."
"You'd know one the minute you saw him, though," said Bill. "They're smaller than a regular skunk and spotted where the other kind is striped. And they got little red eyes. You won't have no trouble at all recognizin' one."
It was at this juncture that we both got up and moved back by the stove. It was warmer there and the chill of evening seemed to be settling down noticeably.
"Funny thing about Hydrophoby Skunks," went on Johnny after a moment of pensive thought—"mad, you know!"
"What makes them mad?" The two of us asked the question together.
"Born that way!" explained Bill—"mad from the start, and won't never do nothin' to get shut of it."
"Ahem—they never attack humans, I suppose?"
"Don't they?" said Johnny, as if surprised at such ignorance. "Why, humans is their favorite pastime! Humans is just pie to a Hydrophoby Skunk. It ain't really any fun to be bit by a Hydrophoby Skunk neither." He raised his coffee cup to his lips and imbibed deeply.
"Which you certainly said something then, Johnny," stated Bill. "You see," he went on, turning to us, "they aim to catch you asleep and they creep up right soft and take holt of you—take holt of a year usually—and clamp their teeth and just hang on for further orders. Some says they hang on till it thunders, same as snappin' turtles. But that's a lie, I judge, because there's weeks on a stretch down here when it don't thunder. All the cases I ever heard of they let go at sun-up."
"It is right painful at the time," said Johnny, taking up the thread of the narrative; "and then in nine days you go mad yourself. Remember that fellow the Hydrophoby Skunk bit down here by the rapids, Bill? Let's see now—what was that hombre's name?"
"Williams," supplied Bill—"Heck Williams. I saw him at Flagstaff when they took him there to the hospital. That guy certainly did carry on regardless. First he went mad and his eyes turned red, and he got so he didn't have no real use for water—well, them prospectors don't never care much about water anyway—and then he got to snappin' and bitin' and foamin' so's they had to strap him down to his bed. He got loose though."
"Broke loose, I suppose?" I said.
"No, he bit loose," said Bill with the air of one who would not deceive you even in a matter of small details.
"Do you mean to say he bit those leather straps in two?"
"No, sir; he couldn't reach them," explained Bill, "so he bit the bed in two. Not in one bite, of course," he went on. "It took him several. I saw him after he was laid out. He really wasn't no credit to himself as a corpse."
I'm not sure, but I think my companion and I were holding hands by now. Outside we could hear that little lost echo laughing to itself. It was no time to be laughing either. Under certain circumstances I don't know of a lonelier place anywhere on earth than that Grand Canon.
Presently my friend spoke, and it seemed to me his voice was a mite husky. Well, he had a bad cold.
"You said they mostly attack persons who are sleeping out, didn't you?"
"That's right, too," said Johnny, and Bill nodded in affirmation.
"Then, of course, since we sleep indoors everything will be all right," I put in.
"Well, yes and no," answered Johnny. "In the early part of the evening a hydrophoby is liable to do a lot of prowlin' round outdoors; but toward mornin' they like to get into camps—they dig up under the side walls or come up through the floor—and they seem to prefer to get in bed with you. They're cold-blooded, I reckin, same as rattlesnakes. Cool nights always do drive 'em in, seems like."
"It's going to be sort of coolish to-night," said Bill casually.
It certainly was. I don't remember a chillier night in years. My teeth were chattering a little—from cold—before we turned in. I retired with all my clothes on, including my boots and leggings, and I wished I had brought along my earmuffs. I also buttoned my watch into my lefthand shirt pocket, the idea being if for any reason I should conclude to move during the night I would be fully equipped for traveling. The door would not stay closely shut—the doorjamb had sagged a little and the wind kept blowing the door ajar. But after a while we dozed off.
It was one-twenty-seven A.M. when I woke with a violent start. I know this was the exact time because that was when my watch stopped. I peered about me in the darkness. The door was wide open—I could tell that. Down on the floor there was a dragging, scuffling sound, and from almost beneath me a pair of small red eyes peered up phosphorescently.
"He's here!" I said to my companion as I emerged from my blankets; and he, waking instantly, seemed instinctively to know whom I meant. I used to wonder at the ease with which a cockroach can climb a perfectly smooth wall and run across the ceiling. I know now that to do this is the easiest thing in the world—if you have the proper incentive behind you. I had gone up one wall of the tent and had crossed over and was in the act of coming down the other side when Bill burst in, his eyes blurred with sleep, a lighted lamp in one hand and a gun in the other.
I never was so disappointed in my life because it wasn't a Hydrophobic Skunk at all. It was a pack rat, sometimes called a trade rat, paying us a visit. The pack or trade rat is also a denizen of the Grand Canon. He is about four times as big as an ordinary rat and has an appetite to correspond. He sometimes invades your camp and makes free with your things, but he never steals anything outright—he merely trades with you; hence his name. He totes off a side of meat or a bushel of meal and brings a cactus stalk in; or he will confiscate your saddlebags and leave you in exchange a nice dry chip. He is honest, but from what I can gather he never gets badly stuck on a deal.
Next morning at breakfast Johnny and Bill were doing a lot of laughing between them over something or other. But we had our revenge! About noon, as we were emerging at the head of the trail, we met one of the guides starting down with a couple that, for the sake of convenience, we had christened Clarence and Clarice. Shorty hailed us.
"How's everything down at the camp?" he inquired.
"Oh, all right!" replied Bill—"only there's a good many of them Hydrophoby Skunks pesticatin' about. Last night we seen four."
Clarence and Clarice crossed startled glances, and it seemed to me that Clarice's cheek paled a trifle; or it may have been Clarence's cheek that paled. He bent forward and asked Shorty something, and as we departed full of joy and content we observed that Shorty was composing himself to unload that stock horror tale. It made us very happy.
By common consent we had named them Clarence and Clarice on their arrival the day before. At first glance we decided they must have come from Back Bay, Boston—probably by way of Lenox, Newport and Palm Beach; if Harvard had been a co-educational institution we should have figured them as products of Cambridge. It was a shock to us all when we learned they really hailed from Chicago. They were nearly of a height and a breadth, and similar in complexion and general expression; and immediately after arriving they had appeared for the ride down the Bright Angel in riding suits that were identical in color, cut and effect—long-tailed, tight-buttoned coats; derby hats; stock collars; shiny top boots; cute little crops, and form-fitting riding trousers with those Bartlett pear extensions midships and aft—and the prevalent color was a soft, melting, misty gray, like a cow's breath on a frosty morning. Evidently they had both patronized the same tailor.
He was a wonder, that tailor. Using practically the same stage effects, he had, nevertheless, succeeded in making Clarence look feminine and Clarice look masculine. We had gone down to the rim to see them off. And when they passed us in all the gorgeousness of their city bridle-path regalia, enthroned on shaggy mules, behind a flock of tourists in nondescript yet appropriate attire, and convoyed by a cowboy who had no reverence in his soul for the good, the sweet and the beautiful, but kept sniggering to himself in a low, coarse way, we felt—all of us—that if we never saw another thing we were amply repaid for our journey to Arizona.
The exactly opposite angle of this phenomenon was presented by a certain Eastern writer, a member, as I recall, of the Jersey City school of Wild West story writers, who went to Arizona about two years ago to see if the facts corresponded with his fiction; if not he would take steps to have the facts altered—I believe that was the idea. He reached El Tovar at Grand Canon in the early morning, hurried at once to his room and presently appeared attired for breakfast. Competent eyewitnesses gave me the full details. He wore a flannel shirt that was unbuttoned at the throat to allow his Adam's apple full sweep, a hunting coat, buckskin pants and high boots, and about his waist was a broad belt supporting on one side a large revolver—one of the automatic kind, which you start in to shooting by pulling the trigger merely and then have to throw a bucket of water on it to make it stop—and on the other side, as a counterpoise, was a buck-handled bowie knife such as was so universally not used by the early pioneers of our country.
As he crossed the lobby, jangling like a milk wagon, he created a pronounced impression upon all beholders. The hotel is managed by an able veteran of the hotel business, assisted by a charming and accomplished wife; it is patronized by scientists, scholars and cosmopolitans, who come from all parts of the world to see the Grand Canon; and it is as up-to-the-minute in its appointments and service as though it fronted on Broadway, or Chestnut Street, or Pennsylvania Avenue.
Our hero careened across the intervening space. On reaching the dining room he snatched off his coat and, with a gesture that would have turned Hackett or Faversham as green with envy as a processed stringbean, flung it aside and prepared to enter. It was plain that he proposed to put on no airs before the simple children of the desert wilds. He would eat his antelope steak and his grizzly b'ar chuck in his shirt-sleeves, the way Kit Carson and Old Man Bridger always did.
The young woman who presides over the dining room met him at the door. In the cool, clarified accents of a Wellesley graduate, which she is, she invited him to have on his things if he didn't mind. She also offered to take care of his hardware for him while he was eating. He consented to put his coat back on, but he clung to his weapons—there was no telling when the Indians might start an uprising. Probably at the moment it would have deeply pained him to learn that the only Indian uprising reported in these parts in the last forty years was a carbuncle on the back of the neck of Uncle Hopi Hooligan, the gentle copper-colored floorwalker of the white-goods counter in the Hopi House, adjacent to the hotel!
However, he stayed on long enough to discover that even this far west ordinary human garments make a most excellent protective covering for the stranger. Many of the tourists do not do this. They arrive in the morning, take a hurried look at the Canon, mail a few postal cards, buy a Navajo blanket or two and are out again that night. Yet they could stay on for a month and make every hour count. To begin with, there is the Canon, worth a week of anybody's undivided attention. Within easy reach are the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forests—thousands of acres of trees turned to solid agate. If these things were in Europe they would be studded thick with hotels and Americans by the thousand would flock across the seas to look at them. There are cliff-dwellers' ruins older than ancient Babylon and much less expensive.
The reservations of the Hopis and the Navajos, most distinctive of all the Southern tribes, are handy, while all about stretches a big Government reserve full of natural wonders and unnatural ones, too—everything on earth except a Lover's Leap. There are unexcelled facilities for Lover's Leaps, too—thousands of appropriate places are within easy walking distance of the hotel; but no lover ever yet cared to leap where he would have to drop five or six thousand feet before he landed. He'd be such a mussy lover; no satisfaction to himself then—or to the undertaker, either.
However, as I was saying, most of the tourists run in on the morning train and out again on the evening train. To this breed belonged a youth who dropped in during our stay; I think he must have followed the crowd in. As he came out from breakfast I chanced to be standing on the side veranda and I presume he mistook me for one of the hired help. This mistake has occurred before when I was stopping at hotels.
"My friend," he said to me in the patronizing voice of an experienced traveler, "is there anything interesting to see round here at this time of day?"
Either he had not heard there was a Grand Canon going on regularly in that vicinity or he may have thought it was open only for matinees and evenings. So I took him by the hand and led him over to the curio store and let him look at the Mexican drawnwork. It seemed to satisfy him, too—until by chance he glanced out of a window and discovered that the Canon was in the nature of a continuous performance.
The same week there arrived a party of six or eight Easterners who yearned to see some of those real genuine Wild Western characters such as they had met so often in a film. The manager trotted out a troupe of trail guides for them—all ex-cowboys; but they, being merely half a dozen sunburned, quiet youths in overalls, did not fill the bill at all. The manager hated to have his guests depart disappointed. Privately he called his room clerk aside and told him the situation and the room clerk offered to oblige.
The room clerk had come from Ohio two years before and was a mighty accommodating young fellow. He slipped across to the curio store and put on a big hat and some large silver spurs and a pair of leather chaps made by one of the most reliable mail-order houses in this country. Thus caparisoned, he mounted a pony and came charging across the lawn, uttering wild ki-yis and quirting his mount at every jump. He steered right up the steps to the porch where the delighted Easterners were assembled, and then he yanked the pony back on his haunches and held him there with one hand while with the other he rolled a brown-paper cigarette—which was a trick he had learned in a high-school frat at Cincinnati—and altogether he was the picture of a regular moving-picture cowboy and gave general satisfaction.
If the cowboys are disappointing in their outward aspect, however, Captain Jim Hance is not. The captain is the official prevaricator of the Grand Canon. It is probably the only salaried job of the sort in the world—his competitors in the same line of business mainly work for the love of it. He is a venerable retired prospector who is specially retained by the Santa Fe road for the sole purpose of stuffing the casual tourist with the kind of fiction the casual tourist's system seems to crave. He just moons round from spot to spot, romancing as he goes.
Two of the captain's standbys have been advertised to the world. One of them deals with the sad fate of his bride, who on her honeymoon fell off into the Canon and lodged on a rim three hundred feet below. "I was two days gettin' down to the poor little thing," he tells you, "and then I seen both her hind legs was broke." Here the captain invariably pauses and looks out musingly across the Canon until the victim bites with an impatient "What happened then?" "Oh, I knew she wouldn't be no use to me any more as a bride—so I shot her!" The other tale he saves up until some tenderfoot notices the succession of blazes upon the treetrunks along one of the forest trails and wants to know what made those peculiar marks upon the bark all at the same height from the earth. Captain Hance explains that he himself did it—with his elbows and knees—while fleeing from a war party of Apaches.
His newest one, though—the one he is featuring this year—is, in the opinion of competent judges, the gem of the Hance collection. It concerns the fate of one Total Loss Watkins, an old and devoted friend of the captain. As a preliminary he leads a group of wide-eared, doe-eyed victims to the rim of the Canon. "Right here," he says sorrowfully, "was where poor old Total slipped off one day. It's two thousand feet to the first ledge and we thought he was a gone fawnskin, sure! But he had on rubber boots, and he had the presence of mind to light standing up. He bounced up and down for two days and nights without stoppin', and then we had to get a wingshot to kill him in order to keep him from starvin' to death."
The next stop will be Southern California, the Land of Perpetual Sunshine—except when it rains!
HOW DO YOU LIKE THE CLIMATE?
How Do You Like the Climate?
ONCE upon a time a stranger went to Southern California; and when he was asked the customary question—to wit: "How do you like the climate?" he said: "No, I don't like it!" So they destroyed him on the spot. I have forgotten now whether they merely hanged him on the nearest tree or burned him at the stake; but they destroyed him utterly and hid his bones in an unmarked grave.
History, that lying jade, records that when Balboa first saw the Pacific he plunged breast-deep into the waves, drew his sword and waved it on high, probably using for that purpose the Australian crawl stroke; and then, in that generous and carefree way of the early discoverers, claimed the ocean and all points west in the name of his Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Cutup, or Pedro the Impossible, or whoever happened to be the King of Spain for the moment. Personal investigation convinces me that the current version of the above incident was wrong.
What Balboa did first was to state that he liked the climate better than any climate he'd ever met; was perfectly crazy about it, in fact, and intended to sell out back East and move West just as soon as he could get word home to his folks; after which, still following the custom of the country, he bought a couple of Navajo blankets and some moccasins with blue beadwork on the toes, mailed a few souvenir postcards to close friends, and had his photograph taken showing him standing in the midst of the tropical verdure, with a freshly picked orange in his hand. And if he waved his sword at all it was with the idea of forcing the real-estate agents to stand back and give him air. I am sure that these are the correct details, because that is what every round-tripper does upon arriving in Southern California; and, though Balboa finished his little jaunt of explorations at a point some distance below the California state line, he was still in the climate belt. Life out there in that fair land is predicated on climate; out there climate is capitalized, organized and systematized. Every native is a climate booster; so is every newcomer as soon as he has stuck round long enough to get the climate habit, which is in from one to three days. They talk climate; they think climate; they breathe it by day; they snore it by night; and in between times they live on it. And it is good living, too—especially for the real-estate people and the hotel-keepers.
Southern Californians brag of their climate just as New York brags of its wickedness and its skyscrapers, and as Richmond brags of its cooking and its war memories. I don't blame them either; the California climate is worth all the brags it gets. Back East in the wintertime we have weather; out in Southern California they never have weather—nothing but climate. For hours on hours a native will stand outdoors, with his hat off and his head thrown back, inhaling climate until you can hear his nostrils smack. And after you've been on the spot a day or two you're doing the same thing yourself, for, in addition to being salubrious, the California climate is catching.
Just as soon as you cross the Arizona line you discover that you have entered the climate belt. As your train whizzes past the monument that marks the boundary an earnest-minded passenger leans over, taps you on the breastbone and informs you that you are now in California, and wishes to know, as man to man, whether you don't regard the climate as about the niftiest article in that line you ever experienced! At the hotel the young lady of the telephone switchboard, who calls you in the morning, plugs in the number of your room; and when you drowsily answer the bell she informs you that it is now eight-thirty and—What do you think of the climate? The boy who sells you a paper and the youth who blackens your shoes both show solicitude to elicit your views upon this paramount subject.
At breakfast the waiter finds out—if he can—how you like the climate before finding out how you like your eggs. When you pay your bill on going away the clerk somehow manages to convey the impression that the charges have been remarkably moderate considering what you have enjoyed in the matter of climate. Punching your round-trip ticket on the train starting East, the conductor has a few well-merited words to speak on behalf of the climate of the Glorious Southland, the same being the favorite pet name of the resident classes for the entire lower end of the state of California.
Everybody is doing it, including press, pulpit and general public. The weather story—beg pardon, the climate story—is the most important thing in the daily paper, especially if a blizzard has opportunely developed back East somewhere and is available for purposes of comparison. At Los Angeles, which is the great throbbing heart of the climate belt, I went as a guest to a stag given at the handsome new clubhouse of a secret order renowned the continent over for its hospitality and its charities. We sat, six or seven hundred of us, in a big assembly hall, smoked cigars and drank light drinks, and witnessed some corking good sparring bouts by non-professional talent. There were two or three ministers present—fine, alert representatives of the modern type of city clergymen. When eleven o'clock came the master of ceremonies announced the toast, To Our Absent Brothers! and called upon one of those clergymen to respond to it.
The minister climbed up on the platform—a tall man, with a thick crop of hair and a profile as clean cut as a cameo and as mobile as an actor's, the face of a born orator. He could talk, too, that preacher! In language that was poetic without being sloppy he paid a tribute to the spirit of fraternity that fairly lifted us out of our chairs. Every man there was touched, I think—and deeply touched; no man who believed in the brotherhood of man, whether he practiced it or not, could have listened unmoved to that speech. He spoke of the absent ones. Some of them he said had answered the last rollcall, and some were stretched upon the bed of affliction, and some were unavoidably detained by business in the East; and he intimated that those in the last category who had been away for as long as three weeks wouldn't know the old place when they got back!—Applause.
This naturally brought him round to the subject of Los Angeles as a city of business and homes. He pointed out its marvelous growth—quoting freely from the latest issue of the city directory and other reliable authorities to prove his figures; he made a few heartrousing predictions touching on its future prospects, as tending to show that in a year or less San Francisco and other ambitious contenders along the Coast would be eating at the second table; he peopled the land clear back to the mountains with new homes and new neighbors; and he wound up, in a burst of vocal glory, with the most magnificent testimonial for the climate I ever heard any climate get. Did he move his audience then? Oh, but didn't he move them, though! Along toward the close of the third minute of uninterrupted cheering I thought the roof was gone.
On the day after my arrival I made one very serious mistake; in fact, it came near to being a fatal one. I met a lady, and naturally right away she asked me the customary opening question. Every conversation between a stranger and a resident begins according to that formula. Still it seemed to me an inopportune hour for bringing up the subject. It was early in March and the day was one of those days which a greenhorn from the East might have been pardoned for regarding as verging upon the chilly—not to say the raw. Also, it seemed to be raining. I say it seemed to be raining, because no true Southern Californian would admit any actual defects in the climatic arrangements. If pressed he might concede that ostensibly an infinitesimal percentage of precipitation was descending, and that apparently the mercury had descended a notch or two in the tube. Further than that, in the absence of the official reports, he would not care to commit himself.
You never saw such touching loyalty anywhere! Those scoffing neighbors of Noah who kept denying on there was going to be any flood right up to the moment when they went down for the third time were rank amateurs alongside a seasoned resident of Los Angeles. I was newly arrived, however, and I hadn't acquired the ethics yet; and, besides, I had contracted a bad cold and had been taking a number of things for it and for the moment was, as you might say, full of conflicting emulsions. So, in reply to this lady's question, I said it occurred to me that the prevalent atmospheric conditions might for the nonce stand a few trifling alterations without any permanent ill effects.
I repeat that this was a mistake; for this particular lady was herself a recent arrival, and of all the incurable Californians, the new ones are the most incurable. She gave me one look—but such a look! From a reasonably solid person I became first a pulp and then a pap; and then, reversing the processes of creation as laid down in Genesis, first chapter, and first to fifth verses, I liquefied and turned to gas, and darkness covered me, and I became void and without form, and passed off in the form of a vapor, leaving my clothes inhabited only by a blushing and embarrassed emptiness. When the outraged lady abated the intensity of her scornful gaze and I painfully reassembled my astral body out of space and projected it back into my earthly tenement again, I found I'd shrunk so in these various processes that nothing I wore fitted me any longer.
I shall never commit that error again. I know better now. If I were a condemned criminal about to die on a gallows at the state penitentiary, I would make the customary announcement touching on my intention of going straight to Heaven—condemned criminals never seem to have any doubt on that point—and then in conclusion I would add that after Southern California, I knew I wouldn't care for the climate Up There. Then I would step serenely off into eternity, secure in the belief that, no matter how heinous my crime might have been, all the local papers would give me nice obituary notices.
I'd be absolutely sure of the papers, because the papers are the last to concede that there ever was or ever will be a flaw in the climate anywhere. In a certain city out on the Coast there is one paper that refuses even to admit that a human being can actually expire while breathing the air of Southern California. It won't go so far as to say that anybody has died—"passed away" is the term used. You read in its columns that Medulla Oblongata, the Mexican who was kicked in the head by a mule last Sunday afternoon, has passed away at the city hospital; or that, during yesterday's misunderstanding in Chinatown between the Bing Bangs and the Ok Louies, two Tong men were shot and cut in such a manner that they practically passed away on the spot. When I was there I traveled all one day over the route of an unprecedented cold snap that had happened along a little earlier and mussed up the citrus groves; and, though I will not go so far as to say that the orange crop had died or that it had been killed, it did look to me as though it had passed away to a considerable extent.
This sort of visitation, however, doesn't occur often; in fact, it never had occurred before—and the chances are it never will occur again. Next to taxes and the high cost of living, I judge the California climate to be about the most dependable institution we have in this country—yes, and one of the most satisfactory, too. To its climate California is indebted for being the most extravagantly beautiful spot I've seen on this continent. It isn't just beautiful in spots—it is beautiful all over; it isn't beautiful in a sedate, reserved way—there is a prodigal, riotous, abandoned spendthriftiness to its beauty.
I don't know of anything more wonderful than an automobile ride through one of the fruit valleys in the Mission country. In one day's travel—or, at most, two—you can get a taste of all the things that make this farthermost corner of the United States at once so diversified and so individual—sky-piercing mountain and mirage-painted desert; seashore and upland; ranch lands, farm lands and fruit lands; city and town; traces of our oldest civilization and stretches of our newest; wilderness and jungle and landscape garden; the pines of the snows, the familiar growths of the temperate zone, the palms of the tropics; and finally—which is California's own—the Big Trees. All day you may ride and never once will your eye rest upon a picture that is commonplace or trumpery.
Going either North or South, your road lies between mountains. To the eastward, shutting out the deserts from this domain of everlasting summer, are the Sierras—great saw-edged old he-mountains, masculine as bulls or bucks, all rugged and wrinkled, bearded with firs and pines upon their jowls, but bald-headed and hoar with age atop like the Prophets of old. But the mountains of the Coast Range, to the westward, are full-bosomed and maternal, mothering the valleys up to them; and their round-uddered, fecund slopes are covered with softest green. Only when you come closer to them you see that the garments on their breasts are not silky-smooth as they looked at a distance, but shirred and gored, gathered and smocked. I suppose even a lady mountain never gets too old to follow the fashions!
Now you pass an orchard big enough to make a hundred of your average Eastern orchards; and if it be of apples or plums or cherries, and the time be springtime, it is all one vast white bridal bouquet; but if it be of almonds or peaches the whole land, maybe for miles on end, blazes with a pink flame that is the pinkest pink in the world—pinker than the heart of a ripe watermelon; pinker than the inside of a blond cow.
Here is a meadowland of purest, deepest green; and flung across it, like a streak of sunshine playing hooky from Heaven, is a slash of wild yellow poppies. There, upon a hillside, stands a clump of gnarly, dwarfed olives, making you think of Bible times and the Old Testament. Or else it is a great range, where cattle by thousands feed upon the slopes. Or a crested ridge, upon which the gum trees stand up in long aisles, sorrowful and majestic as the funereal groves of the ancient Greeks—that is, provided it was the ancient Greeks who had the funereal groves.
Or, best of all and most striking in its contrasts, you will see a hill all green, with a nap on it like a family album; and right on the top of it an old, crumbly gray mission, its cross gleaming against the skyline; and, down below, a modern town, with red roofs and hipped windows, its houses buried to their eaves in palms and giant rose bushes, and huge climbing geraniums, and all manner of green tropical growths that are Nature's own Christmas trees, with the red-and-yellow dingle-dangles growing upon them. Or perhaps it is a gorge choked with the enormous redwoods, each individual tree with a trunk like the Washington Monument. And, if you are only as lucky as we were, up overhead, across the blue sky, will be drifting a hundred fleecy clouds, one behind the other, like woolly white sheep grazing upon the meadows of the firmament.
Everywhere the colors are splashed on with a barbaric, almost a theatrical, touch. It's a regular backdrop of a country; its scenery looks as though it belonged on a stage—as though it should be painted on a curtain. You almost expect to see a chorus of comic-opera brigands or a bevy of stage milkmaids come trooping out of the wings any minute. Who was the libelous wretch who said that the flowers of California had no perfume and the birds there had no song? Where we passed through tangled woods the odors distilled from the wild flowers by the sun's warmth were often almost suffocating in their sweetness; and in a yellow-tufted bush on the lawn at Coronado I came upon a mocking-bird singing in a way to make his brother minstrel of Mobile or Savannah feel like applying for admission to a school of expression and learning the singing business all over again.
At the end of the valley—top end or bottom end as the case may be—you come to a chain of lesser mountains, dropped down across your path like a trailing wing of the Indians' fabled thunder-bird, vainly trying to shut you out from the next valley. You climb the divide and run through the pass, with a brawling river upon one side and tall cliffs upon the other; and then all of a sudden the hills magically part and you are within sight—almost within touch—of the ocean; for in this favored land the mountains come right down to the sea and the sea comes right up to the mountains. It may be upon a tiny bay that you have emerged, with the meadows sloping straight to tidemark, and out beyond the wild fowl feeding by the kelp beds.
Or perhaps you have come out upon a ragged, rugged headland, crowned belike with a single wind-twisted tree, grotesquely suggesting a frizzly chicken; and away below, straight and sheer, are the rocks rising out of the water like the jaws of a mangle. Down there in that ginlike reef Neptune is forever washing out his shirt in a smother of foamy lather. And he has spilled his bluing pot, too—else how could all the sea be so blue? On the outermost rocks the sea-lions have stretched themselves, looking like so many overgrown slugs; and they lie for hours and sun themselves and bellow—or, at least, I am told they do so on occasion. There was unfortunately no bellowing going on the day I was there.
The unearthly beauty of the whole thing overpowers you. The poet that lives in nearly every human soul rouses within you and you feel like withdrawing to yon dense grove or yon peaked promontory to commune with Nature. But be advised in season. Restrain yourself! Carefully refrain! Do not do so! Because out from under a rock somewhere will crawl a real-estate agent to ask you how you like the climate and take a dollar down as first payment on a fruit ranch, or a suburban lot, or a seaside villa—or something.
Climate did it and he can prove it. Only he doesn't have to prove it—you admit it. I had never seen the Mediterranean when I went West; but I saw the cypresses of Del Monte, and the redwood grove in the canyon just below Harry Leon Wilson's place, down past Carmel-by-the-Sea; and that was sufficient. I had no burning yearning to see Naples and die, as the poet suggested. I felt that I would rather see Monterey Bay again on a bright March day and live!