The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version
Notes By Flood And Field
PART I--IN THE FIELD
It was near the close of an October day that I began to be disagreeably conscious of the
Sacramento Valley. I had been riding since sunrise, and my course through the
depressing monotony of the long level landscape affected me more like a dull dyspeptic
dream than a business journey, performed under that sincerest of natural phenomena--a
California sky. The recurring stretches of brown and baked fields, the gaping fissures in
the dusty trail, the hard outline of the distant hills, and the herds of slowly moving cattle,
seemed like features of some glittering stereoscopic picture that never changed. Active
exercise might have removed this feeling, but my horse by some subtle instinct had long
since given up all ambitious effort, and had lapsed into a dogged trot.
It was autumn, but not the season suggested to the Atlantic reader under that title. The
sharply defined boundaries of the wet and dry seasons were prefigured in the clear
outlines of the distant hills. In the dry atmosphere the decay of vegetation was too rapid
for the slow hectic which overtakes an Eastern landscape, or else Nature was too practical
for such thin disguises. She merely turned the Hippocratic face to the spectator, with the
old diagnosis of Death in her sharp, contracted features.
In the contemplation of such a prospect there was little to excite any but a morbid fancy.
There were no clouds in the flinty blue heavens, and the setting of the sun was
accompanied with as little ostentation as was consistent with the dryly practical
atmosphere. Darkness soon followed, with a rising wind, which increased as the shadows
deepened on the plain. The fringe of alder by the watercourse began to loom up as I urged
my horse forward. A half- hour's active spurring brought me to a corral, and a little
beyond a house, so low and broad it seemed at first sight to be half- buried in the earth.
My second impression was that it had grown out of the soil, like some monstrous
vegetable, its dreary proportions were so in keeping with the vast prospect. There were no
recesses along its roughly boarded walls for vagrant and unprofitable shadows to lurk in
the daily sunshine. No projection for the wind by night to grow musical over, to wail,
whistle, or whisper to; only a long wooden shelf containing a chilly-looking tin basin and
a bar of soap. Its uncurtained windows were red with the sinking sun, as though
bloodshot and inflamed from a too-long unlidded existence. The tracks of cattle led to its
front door, firmly closed against the rattling wind.
To avoid being confounded with this familiar element, I walked to the rear of the house,
which was connected with a smaller building by a slight platform. A grizzled, hard-faced
old man was standing there, and met my salutation with a look of inquiry, and, without
speaking, led the way to the principal room. As I entered, four young men who were
reclining by the fire slightly altered their attitudes of perfect repose, but beyond that
betrayed neither curiosity nor interest. A hound started from a dark corner with a growl,
but was immediately kicked by the old man into obscurity, and silenced again. I can't tell