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On the Frontier


ON THE FRONTIER
BRET HARTE
CONTENTS
AT THE MISSION OF SAN CA RMEL
A BLUE GRASS PENELOPE
LEFT OUT ON LONE S TA R MOUNTA IN
AT THE MISSION OF SAN CA RMEL
PROLOGUE
It was noon of the 10th of August, 1838. The monotonous coast line
between Monterey and San Diego had set its hard outlines against
the steady glare of the Californian sky and the metallic glitter of
the Pacific Ocean. The weary succession of rounded, dome-like
hills obliterat ed all sense of distanc e; the rare whaling vessel or
still rarer trader, drifting past, saw no change in these rusty
undulations, barren of distinguishing peak or headland, and bald of
wooded crest or timbered ravine. The withered ranks of wild oats
gave a dull procession of uniform color to the hills, unbroken by
any relief of shadow in their smooth, round curves. As far as the
eye could reach, sea and shore met in one bleak monotony, flecked
by no passing cloud, stirred by no sign of life or motion. E ven
sound was absent; the Angelus, rung from the invisible Mission
tower far inland, was driven back again by the steady northwest
trades, that for half the year had swept the coast line and left it
abraded of all umbrage and color.
But even this monotony soon gave way to a change and anot her
monotony as uniform and depressing. The western horizon, slowly
contracting before a wall of vapor, by four o’clock had become a
mere cold, steely strip of sea, into whic h gradually the northern
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trend of the coast faded and was lost. As the fog stole with soft
step southward, all distance, space, character, and locality again
vanished; the hills upon which the sun still shone bore the same
monotonous outlines as those just wiped into space. Last of all,
before the red sun sank like the descending host, it gleamed upon
the sails of a trading vessel close in shore. It was the last
ob ject visible. A damp breath breat hed upon it, a soft hand passed
over the slate, the sharp pencilling of the picture faded and
became a confused gray cloud.
The wind and waves, too, went down in the fog; the now invisible
and hushed breakers occasionally sent the surf over the sand in a
quick whisper, with grave intervals of silence, but with no
continuous murmur as before. In a curving bight of the shore the
creaking of oars in their rowlocks began to be distinctly heard,
but the boat itself, although apparently only its length from the
sands, was invisible.
”Steady, now; way enough.” The voice came from the sea, and was
low, as if unc onsciously aected by the fog. ”Silence!”
The sound of a keel grating the sand was followed by the order,
”Stern all!” from the invisible speaker.
”Shall we beach her?” asked another vague voice.
”Not yet. Hail again, and all together.”
”Ah hoy–oi–oi–oy!”
There were four voices, but the hail appeared weak and ineectual,
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