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Stories in Light and Shadow

The Man And The Mountain
He was such a large, strong man that, when he first set foot in the little
parallelogram I called my garden, it seemed to shrink to half its size and become
preposterous. But I noticed at the same time that he was holding in the open
palm of his huge hand the roots of a violet, with such infinite tenderness and
delicacy that I would have engaged him as my gardener on the spot. But this
could not be, as he was already the proud proprietor of a market-garden and
nursery on the outskirts of the suburban Californian town where I lived. He would,
however, come for two days in the week, stock and look after my garden, and
impart to my urban intellect such horticultural hints as were necessary. His name
was "Rutli," which I presumed to be German, but which my neighbors rendered
as "Rootleigh," possibly from some vague connection with his occupation. His
own knowledge of English was oral and phonetic. I have a delightful recollection
of a bill of his in which I was charged for "fioletz," with the vague addition of
"maine cains." Subsequent explanation proved it to be "many kinds."
Nevertheless, my little garden bourgeoned and blossomed under his large,
protecting hand. I became accustomed to walk around his feet respectfully when
they blocked the tiny paths, and to expect the total eclipse of that garden-bed on
which he worked, by his huge bulk. For the tiniest and most reluctant rootlet
seemed to respond to his caressing paternal touch; it was a pretty sight to see
his huge fingers tying up some slender stalk to its stick with the smallest thread,
and he had a reverent way of laying a bulb or seed in the ground, and then gently
shaping and smoothing a small mound over it, which made the little inscription on
the stick above more like an affecting epitaph than ever. Much of this gentleness
may have been that apology for his great strength, common with large men; but
his face was distinctly amiable, and his very light blue eyes were at times wistful
and doglike in their kindliness. I was soon to learn, however, that placability was
not entirely his nature.
The garden was part of a fifty vara lot of land, on which I was simultaneously
erecting a house. But the garden was finished before the house was, through
certain circumstances very characteristic of that epoch and civilization. I had
purchased the Spanish title, the only LEGAL one, to the land, which, however,
had been in POSSESSION of a "squatter." But he had been unable to hold that
possession against a "jumper,"—another kind of squatter who had entered upon
it covertly, fenced it in, and marked it out in building sites. Neither having legal
rights, they could not invoke the law; the last man held possession. There was no
doubt that in due course of litigation and time both these ingenuous gentlemen
would have been dispossessed in favor of the real owner,—myself,—but that
course would be a protracted one. Following the usual custom of the locality, I
paid a certain sum to the jumper to yield up peaceably HIS possession of the
land, and began to build upon it. It might be reasonably supposed that the