Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his
life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then—the glory—so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.
I don’t know how it will
be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform.
When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking
and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective
entered our economics, our politics,
and even our
religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God.
This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I
fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents
preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept
of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that
the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion,
which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for this is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.
understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates
us from the
uncreative beasts. If the glory
can be killed, we are lost.
Adam Trask grew up in grayness, and the curtains of his life were like dusty cobwebs, and his days a slow file of half-sorrows and sick dissatisfactions, and then, through Cathy, the glory came to him.
It doesn’t matter that
Cathy was what I have called a monster. Perhaps we can’t understand Cathy, but on the other hand we are capable of many things in all directions, of great virtues and great sins. And who in his mind has not probed the black water?
Maybe we all have in us
a secret pond where evil and ugly things germinate and
grow strong. But this culture is fenced, and the swimming brood climbs up only to fall back. Might it not be that in the dark pools of some men the evil grows strong enough to wriggle over the fence and swim free? Would not such a man be our monster, and are we not related to him in our hidden water? It would be absurd
if we did not
understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.
Whatever Cathy may have been, she set off the
glory in Adam. His spirit rose
flying and released him from fear and bitterness and rancid memories. The glory lights up the world and changes it the way a star shell changes a battleground. Perhaps Adam did not see Cathy at all, so lighted was she by his eyes.
Burned in his mind was an image
of beauty and
tenderness, a sweet and holy girl,
thinking, clean and loving, and that image was Cathy to her husband, and nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam’s Cathy.
She said she did not
want to go to California and he did not listen, because his Cathy took his arm and started first. So bright was his glory that he did not notice the sullen pain in his brother, did not see the glinting in his brother’s eyes. He sold his share of the farm to Charles, for less than it was worth, and with that and his half of his father’s money he was free and rich.
The brothers were
strangers now. They shook hands at the station, and Charles watched the train pull out and rubbed his scar. He went to the inn, drank four
quick whiskies, and climbed the stairs to the top floor. He paid the girl and then could not perform. He cried in her arms until she put him out.
He raged at his farm, forced it, added to it, drilled and trimmed, and his boundaries extended. He took no rest, no recreation, and he became rich without pleasure and respected without friends.
Adam stopped in New York long enough to buy
clothes for himself and Cathy before they climbed on the train which bore them across the continent. How they happened to go to the Salinas Valley is very easy to understand.
In that day the railroads
—growing, fighting among themselves,
increase and to dominate— used every means to increase their traffic. The companies not only advertised in the newspapers,
they issued booklets and broadsides
describing and picturing the beauty and richness of the West. No claim was too extravagant—wealth
was unlimited. The Southern
Pacific Railroad, headed by the wild energy of Leland Stanford,
had begun to
dominate the Pacific Coast not only in transportation but in politics. Its rails extended down the valleys. New towns sprang up, new sections were opened and populated, for the company
had to create
customers to get custom. The long Salinas Valley was part of the exploitation.
Adam had seen and studied a fine color broadside which set forth the valley as that region
which heaven unsuccessfully imitated. After reading the literature, anyone who did not want to settle in the Salinas Valley was crazy.
Adam did not rush at his purchase. He bought a rig and drove around, meeting the earlier comers, talking of soil and water, climate and crops, prices and facilities. It was not speculation with Adam.
He was here to settle, to found a home, a family, perhaps a dynasty.
Adam drove exuberantly from farm to farm, picked up dirt and crumbled it in his fingers, talked and planned and dreamed. The people of the valley liked him and were glad he had come to live
there, for they recognized a man of substance.
He had only one worry, and that was for Cathy. She was not well. She rode
around the country with him, but she was listless. One morning she complained of feeling ill and stayed in her room in the King City hotel while Adam drove into the country. He returned at about five in the afternoon to find her nearly dead from loss of blood. Luckily Adam found Dr. Tilson at his supper and dragged him from his roast beef. The doctor made a quick examination, inserted a packing, and turned to Adam. “Why don’t you wait downstairs?” he suggested.
“Is she all right?”
“Yes. I’ll call you pretty soon.”
Adam patted Cathy’s shoulder, and she smiled up at him.
Dr. Tilson closed the
door behind him and came back to the bed. His face was red with anger. “Why did you do it?”
Cathy’s mouth was a thin tight line. “Does
know you are pregnant?” Her head moved slowly from side to side.
“What did you do it with?”
She stared up at him.
He looked around the room. He stepped to the bureau and picked up a knitting needle. He shook it
in her face. “The old offender
—the old criminal,” he said. “You’re a fool. You’ve nearly killed
haven’t lost your baby. I suppose you took things too, poisoned yourself, inserted camphor,
pepper. My God! Some of the things you women do!”
Her eyes were as cold as glass.
He pulled a chair up
beside her bed. “Why don’t you want to have the baby?” he asked softly. “You’ve got a good husband. Don’t you
love him? Don’t you intend to speak to me at all? Tell me, damn it! Don’t turn mulish.”
Her lips did not move
and her eyes did not flicker. “My dear,” he said,
“can’t you see? You must not destroy life. That’s the one thing gets me crazy. God knows I lose patients because I don’t know enough. But I try—I always try. And then I see a deliberate killing.” He talked rapidly on. He dreaded the sick silence between his sentences.
puzzled him. There was something inhuman about her. “Have you met Mrs. Laurel? She’s wasting and crying for a baby. Everything she has or can get she would give to have a baby, and you
—you try to stab yours with a knitting needle. All right,” he cried, “you won’t speak—you don’t have to. But I’m going to tell you. The baby is safe.
Your aim was bad. And I’m telling
going to have that baby. Do you know what the law in this state has to say about abortion? You don’t have to answer, but you listen to me! If this happens again, if you
lose this baby and I have any reason to suspect monkey business, I will charge you, I will testify against you, and I will see you punished. Now I hope you have sense enough to believe me, because I mean it.”
Cathy moistened her lips with a little pointed tongue. The cold went out of her eyes and a weak sadness took its place. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry. But you don’t understand.”
“Then why don’t you tell
me?” His anger
disappeared like mist. “Tell me, my dear.”
“It’s hard to tell. Adam
is so good, so strong. I am— well, I’m tainted. Epilepsy.” “Not you!”
“No, but my grandfather and my father—and my brother.” She covered her eyes with her hands. “I couldn’t bring that to my husband.”
“Poor child,” he said.
“My poor child. You can’t be certain.
It’s more than
probable that your baby will be fine and healthy. Will you promise me not to try any more tricks?”
“All right then. I won’t
tell your husband what you did. Now lie back and let me see if the bleeding’s stopped.”
In a few minutes he
closed his satchel and put the knitting needle in his pocket. “I’ll
tomorrow morning,” he said.
Adam swarmed on him
as he came down the narrow stairs into the lobby. Dr.
Tilson warded off a flurry of “How is she? Is she all right? What caused it? Can I go up?”
“Whoa, hold up—hold up.” And he used his trick,
his standard joke. “Your wife is sick.”
“She has the only good sickness there is—” “Doctor—”
“Your wife is going to have a baby.” He brushed past Adam and left him staring. Three men sitting around the stove grinned at him. One of them observed dryly, “If it was me now—
why, I’d invite a few, maybe three, friends to have a drink.” His hint was wasted. Adam bolted clumsily up the narrow stairs.
narrowed to the Bordoni ranch a few miles south of King City, almost equidistant, in fact, between San Lucas
and King City.
The Bordonis had nine hundred acres left of a grant of ten thousand acres which had come to Mrs. Bordoni’s great-grandfather from the Spanish crown. The Bordonis were Swiss, but Mrs. Bordoni was the daughter and heiress of a Spanish family that had settled in the Salinas Valley in very early times. And as happened with most of the old families, the land slipped away. Some was lost in gambling, some chipped off for taxes, and some acres torn off like coupons to buy luxuries—a horse, a diamond, or a pretty woman. The nine hundred remaining acres were the core of the original
Sanchez grant, and the best of it too. They straddled the river and tucked into the foothills on both sides, for at this point the valley narrows and then opens out again. The original Sanchez house was still usable. Built of adobe, it stood in a tiny opening in the foothills, a miniature valley
fed by a precious ever-running spring of sweet water. That of course was
why the first Sanchez had built his seat there. Huge live oaks shaded the valley, and the earth had a richness and a greenness foreign to this part of the country. The walls of the low house were four feet thick, and the round pole rafters were tied on with rawhide ropes which had
been put on wet. The hide shrank and pulled joist and rafter tight together, and the leather ropes became hard as iron and nearly imperishable. There is only one drawback to this building method. Rats will gnaw at the hide if they are let.
The old house seemed to have grown out of the earth, and it was lovely. Bordoni used it for a cow barn. He was a Swiss, an immigrant, with his national passion for cleanliness. He distrusted the thick mud walls and built a frame house some distance away, and his cows put their heads out the deep recessed windows of the old Sanchez house.
The Bordonis were
childless, and when the wife died in ripe years a lonely longing for his Alpine past fell on her husband. He wanted to sell the ranch and go
home. Adam Trask
refused to buy in a hurry, and Bordoni was asking a big price and using the selling method of pretending not to care whether he sold or not. Bordoni knew Adam was going to buy his land long before Adam knew it.
Where Adam settled he intended to stay and to have
his unborn children stay. He was afraid he might buy one place and then see another he liked better, and all the time the
Sanchez place was
drawing him. With the advent of Cathy, his life extended long and pleasantly ahead of him. But he went through all the motions of carefulness.
He drove and rode and walked over every foot of the land. He put a post-hole auger down through the subsoil to test and feel and smell the under earth. He inquired about the small wild plants of field and riverside and hill. In damp places he knelt down
and examined the game tracks in the mud, mountain lion and deer, coyote and wild cat, skunk and raccoon, weasel and rabbit, all overlaid with the pattern of quail tracks. He threaded among willows and sycamores and wild blackberry vines in the riverbed, patted the trunks of live oak and scrub oak, madrone, laurel, toyon.
Bordoni watched him with squinting eyes and
poured tumblers of red wine squeezed from the grapes of his small hillside vineyard. It was Bordoni’s pleasure to get a little drunk every afternoon. And Adam, who had never tasted wine, began to like it. Over and over he asked
Cathy’s opinion of the place. Did she like it? Would she be happy there? And he didn’t listen to her noncommittal answers. He thought that she linked
arms with his
enthusiasm. In the lobby of the King City hotel he talked to the men who gathered around the stove and read the papers sent down from San Francisco.
“It’s water I
about,” he said one evening. “I wonder how deep you’d have to go to bring in a well.”
A rancher crossed his denim knees. “You ought to go see Sam Hamilton,” he said. “He knows more about water than anybody around here. He’s a water witch and a well-digger too. He’ll tell you. He’s put down half the wells in this part of the valley.”
chuckled. “Sam’s got a real legitimate
interested in water. Hasn’t got a goddam drop of it on his own place.”
“How do I find him?” Adam asked.
“I’ll tell you what. I’m going out to have him make some angle irons. I’ll take you with me if you want.
You’ll like Mr. Hamilton. He’s a fine man.”
“Kind of a comical
genius,” his companion said.
They went to the Hamilton ranch
in Louis Lippo’s
buckboard—Louis and Adam Trask. The iron straps rattled around in the box, and a leg of venison, wrapped in wet burlap to keep it cool, jumped around on top of the iron. It was customary in that day to take some substantial lump of
food as a present when you went calling on a man, for you had to stay to dinner unless you wished to insult his house. But a few guests could set back the feeding plans for the week if you did not build up what you destroyed. A quarter of pork or a rump of beef would do. Louis had cut down the venison and Adam provided a bottle of whisky.
“Now I’ll have to tell you,”
Louis said. “Mr.
Hamilton will like that, but Mrs. Hamilton has got a skunner on it. If I was you I’d leave it under the seat, and
when we drive around to the shop, why, then you can get it out. That’s what we always do.”
“Doesn’t she let her husband take a drink?” “No bigger than a bird,” said Louis. “But she’s got
brassbound opinions. Just you leave the bottle under the seat.”
They left the valley road and drove into the worn and rutted hills over a set of wheel tracks gulleyed by the winter rains. The horses
strained into their collars and the buckboard rocked and swayed. The year had not been kind to the hills, and already in June they were dry and
the stones showed
through the short, burned feed. The wild oats had headed out barely six inches above the ground, as though with knowledge that if they didn’t make seed quickly they wouldn’t get to seed at all. “It’s not likely looking country,” Adam said. “Likely?
Trask, it’s country that will break a man’s heart and eat him up. Likely! Mr. Hamilton has a sizable piece and he’d of starved to death on it with all those children. The ranch don’t feed them. He does all
kinds of jobs, and his boys are starting to bring in something now. It’s a fine family.”
Adam stared at a line of
dark mesquite that peeked out of a draw. “Why in the world would he settle on a place like this?”
Louis Lippo, as does
every man, loved to interpret, to a stranger particularly, if no native was present to put up an argument. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “Take me—my father was Italian. Came here after the trouble but he brought a little money. My place isn’t very big but it’s nice. My father bought it. He picked it out. And take you— I don’t know how you’re
fixed and wouldn’t ask, but they say you’re trying to buy the old Sanchez place and Bordoni never gave anything away. You’re pretty well fixed or you couldn’t even ask about it.”
“I’m comfortably off,” said Adam modestly. “I’m talking the long way around,” said Louis. “When
Mr. and Mrs.
Hamilton came into the valley they didn’t have a pot to piss in. They had to take what was left—government land that nobody else wanted. Twenty-five acres of it won’t keep a cow alive even in
good years, and they say the coyotes move away in bad years. There’s people say they don’t know how the Hamiltons lived. But of course Mr. Hamilton went right to work—that’s how they lived. Worked as a hired hand till he got his threshing machine built.”
“Must have made a go of it. I hear of him all over.” “He made a go of it all right. Raised nine children.
I’ll bet he hasn’t got four bits laid away. How could he?”
One side of the
buckboard leaped up, rolled over a big round stone, and
dropped down again. The horses were dark with sweat and lathered under the collar and britching.
“I’ll be glad to talk to him,” said Adam. “Well, sir, he raised one fine crop—he had good
children and he raised them fine. All doing well—maybe except Joe. Joe—he’s the youngest—they’re
about sending him to college, but all the rest are doing fine. Mr. Hamilton can be proud.
The house is just on the other side of the next rise. Don’t forget and bring out that whisky—she’ll freeze you to the ground.”
dry earth was
ticking under the sun and the crickets rasped. “It’s real godforsaken country,” said Louis.
“Makes me feel mean,” said Adam.
“How’s that?” “Well, I’m fixed so I
don’t have to live on a place like this.”
“Me too, and I don’t feel mean. I’m just goddam glad.”
When the buckboard topped the rise Adam could
look down on the little cluster of buildings which composed the Hamilton seat—a house with many lean-tos, a cow shed, a shop, and a wagon
shed. It was a dry and sun-eaten sight—no big trees and a small hand-watered garden.
Louis turned to Adam,
and there was just a hint of hostility in his tone. “I want to put you straight on one or two
There’s people that when they see Samuel Hamilton the first time might get the idea he’s full of bull. He don’t talk like other people. He’s an Irishman. And he’s all full of plans—a hundred plans a day. And he’s all full of hope. My Christ, he’d have to be to live on
remember this—he’s a fine worker, a good blacksmith, and some of his plans work out. And I’ve heard him talk about things that were going to happen and they did.”
Adam was alarmed at
the hint of threat. “I’m not a man to run another man down,” he said, and he felt that suddenly Louis thought of him as a stranger and an enemy.
“I just wanted you to get it straight. There’s some
people come in from the East and they think if a man hasn’t got a lot of money he’s no good.”
“I wouldn’t think of—”
“Mr. Hamilton maybe
hasn’t got four bits put away, but he’s our people and he’s as good as we got. And he’s raised
the nicest family
you’re likely to see. I just want you to remember that.”
Adam was on the point
of defending himself and then he said, “I’ll remember.
Thanks for telling me.” Louis faced around front again. “There he is—see, out by the shop? He must of heard us.”
“Has he got a beard?” Adam asked, peering. “Yes, got a nice beard. It’s
turning white fast,
beginning to grizzle up.”
They drove past the
frame house and saw Mrs. Hamilton looking out the window at them, and they drew up in front of the shop where Samuel stood waiting for them.
Adam saw a big man, bearded like a patriarch, his graying hair stirring in the air like thistledown. His cheeks above his beard were pink where the sun had burned his Irish skin. He wore a clean blue shirt, overalls, and a leather apron. His sleeves were rolled up, and his muscular arms were clean
too. Only his hands were blackened from the forge. After a quick glance Adam came back to the eyes, light blue and filled with a young delight. The wrinkles around them were drawn in radial lines inward by laughter. “Louis,” he said, “I’m
glad to see you. Even in the sweetness of our little heaven here, we like to see our friends.” He smiled at Adam, and Louis said, “I brought Mr. Adam Trask to see you.
He’s a stranger from down east, come to settle.”
“I’m glad,” said Samuel. “We’ll shake another time. I wouldn’t soil your hand with these forge hooks.”
“I brought some strap
iron, Mr. Hamilton. Would you make some angles for me? The whole frame of my header bed is fallen to hell.” “Sure I will, Louis. Get down, get down. We’ll put the horses to the shade.” “There’s a piece of
venison behind, and Mr.
Trask brought a
Samuel glanced toward
the house. “Maybe we’ll get out the ‘little something’ when we’ve got the rig behind the shed.”
Adam could hear the singing lilt of his speech and yet could detect no word
pronounced in a strange manner except perhaps in sharpened i‘s and l‘s held high on the tongue.
“Louis, will you out-span your team? I’ll take the vension in. Liza will be glad.
She likes a venison stew.” “Any of the young ones home?”
“Well, no, they aren’t. George and Will came home for the week-end, and they all went last night to a dance up Wild Horse Canyon at the Peach
They’ll come trooping back by dusk. We lack a sofa because of that. I’ll tell you later—Liza
vengeance on them—it was Tom did it. I’ll tell you later.”
He laughed and started
toward the house, carrying the wrapped deer’s haunch. “If you want you can bring the ‘little something’ into the shop, so you don’t let the sun glint on it.”
They heard him calling
as he came near the house. “Liza, you’ll never guess. Louis Lippo has brought a piece of venison bigger than you.”
Louis drove in back of
the shed, and Adam helped
him take the horses out, tie up the tugs, and halter them in the shade. “He meant that about the sun shining on the bottle,” said Louis.
“She must be a holy terror.”
“No bigger than a bird but she’s brassbound.” “ ‘Out-span,’ ” Adam
said. “I think I’ve heard it said that way, or read it.”
Samuel rejoined them in
the shop. “Liza will be happy if you will stay to dinner,” he said.
“She didn’t expect us,” Adam protested.
“Hush, man. She’ll make some extra dumplings for the stew. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Give me your
straps, Louis, and let’s see how you want them.”
He built a chip fire in the black square of the forge and pulled a bellows breeze on it and then fed wet coke over with his fingers until it glowed. “Here, Louis,” he said, “wave your wing on my fire. Slow, man, slow and even.” He laid the strips of iron on the glowing coke. “No, sir, Mr. Trask, Liza’s used to cooking for nine starving children. Nothing can startle her.” He tongued the
iron to more
advantageous heat, and he laughed. “I’ll take that last
back as a holy lie,” he said. “My wife is rumbling like round stones in the surf. And I’ll caution the both of you not to mention the word ‘sofa.’ It’s a word of anger and sorrow to Liza.”
“You said something about it,” Adam said. “If you knew my boy
Tom, you’d understand it better, Mr. Trask. Louis knows him.”
“Sure I know him,” Louis said.
Samuel went on, “My Tom is a hell-bent boy.
Always takes more on his plate than he can eat. Always plants more than he can harvest. Pleasures too much, sorrows too much. Some
people are like that. Liza thinks I’m like that. I don’t know what will come to Tom. Maybe greatness, maybe the noose—well, Hamiltons have been hanged before. And I’ll tell you about that sometime.” “The
suggested politely. “You’re right. I do, and
Liza says I do, shepherd my words like rebellious sheep. Well, came the dance at the Peach Tree school and the boys, George, Tom, Will, and Joe, all decided to go. And of course the girls were asked.
George and Will and Joe, poor simple boys, each asked one lady friend, but Tom—he
took too big a helping as usual. He asked two Williams sisters, Jennie and Belle. How many screw holes do you want, Louis?”
“Five,” said Louis. “All right. Now I must
tell you, Mr. Trask, that my Tom has all the egotism and self-love of a boy who thinks he’s ugly. Mostly lets himself go fallow, but comes a celebration and he garlands himself like a maypole, and he glories like spring flowers. This takes him quite a piece of time. You notice the wagon house was empty?
George and Will and Joe started early and not so beautiful as Tom. George took the rig, Will had the
buggy, and Joe got the little two-wheeled cart.” Samuel’s blue
eyes shone with
pleasure. “Well then, Tom came out as shy and shining as a Roman emperor and the only thing left with wheels was a hay rake, and you can’t take even one Williams sister on that. For good or bad, Liza was taking her nap. Tom sat on the steps and thought it out. Then I saw him go to the shed and hitch up two horses and take the doubletree off the hay rake. He wrestled the sofa out of the house and ran a fifth-chain under the legs— the fine goose-neck horsehair
sofa that Liza loves better than anything. I gave it to her to rest on before George was born. The last I saw, Tom went dragging up the hill, reclining at his ease on the sofa to get the Williams girls. And, oh, Lord, it’ll be worn thin as a wafer from scraping by the time he gets it back.” Samuel put down his tongs and placed his hands on his hips the better to laugh. “And Liza has the smoke of brimstone coming out her nostrils. Poor Tom.”
Adam said, smiling,
“Would you like to take a little something?”
“That I would,” said
Samuel. He accepted the bottle and took a quick swallow
of whisky and
passed it back.
Irish word—whisky, water of life—and so it is.”
He took the red straps to
his anvil and punched screw holes in them and bent the angles with his hammer and the forked sparks leaped out. Then he dipped the iron hissing into his half-barrel of black water. “There you are,” he said and threw them on the ground.
“I thank you,” said
Louis. “How much will that
“The pleasure of your company.”
“It’s always like that,” Louis said helplessly. “No, when I put your
new well down you paid my price.”
“That reminds me—Mr. Trask here is thinking of buying the Bordoni place— the old Sanchez grant—you remember?”
“I know it well,” said Samuel. “It’s a fine piece.” “He was asking about water, and I told him you knew more about that than anybody around here.” Adam passed the bottle, and Samuel took a delicate sip and wiped his mouth on
his forearm above the soot. “I haven’t made up my mind,” said Adam. “I’m just asking some questions.” “Oh, Lord, man, now you’ve put your foot in it.
They say it’s a dangerous thing to question an Irishman because he’ll tell you. I hope you know what you’re doing when you issue me a license to talk. I’ve heard two ways of looking at it. One says the silent man is the wise man and the other that a man without words is a man without thought. Naturally I favor the second—Liza says to a fault. What do you want to know?”
“Well, take the Bordoni place. How deep would you
have to go to get water?” “I’d have to see the spot
—some places thirty feet, some places a hundred and fifty, and in some places clear to the center of the world.” “But you could develop water?”
“Nearly every place
except my own.” “I’ve heard you have a lack here.”
“Heard? Why, God in
heaven must have heard! I’ve screamed it loud enough.”
“There’s a four-hundred-acre piece beside the river.
Would there be water under it?”
“I’d have to look. It seems to me it’s an odd
valley. If you’ll hold your patience close, maybe I can tell you a little bit about it, for I’ve looked at it and poked my stinger down into it. A hungry man gorges with his mind—he does indeed.” Louis Lippo said, “Mr.
Trask is from New England. He plans to settle here. He’s been west before though—in the army, fighting Indians.” “Were you now? Then
it’s you should talk and let me learn.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not? God help my family and my neighbors if I had fought the Indians!”
“I didn’t want to fight
them, sir.” The “sir” crept in
without his knowing it. “Yes, I can understand
that. It must be a hard thing to kill a man you don’t know and don’t hate.”
“Maybe that makes it easier,” said Louis. “You have a point,
Louis. But some men are friends with the whole world in their hearts, and there are others that hate themselves and
spread their hatred
around like butter on hot bread.”
“I’d rather you told me about this land,” Adam said uneasily, for a sick picture of
piled-up bodies came into his
“What time is it?”
Louis stepped out and looked at the sun. “Not past ten o’clock.”
“If I get started I have no self-control. My son Will says I talk to trees when I can’t
vegetable.” He sighed and sat down on a nail keg. “I said it was a strange valley, but maybe that’s because I was born in a green place. Do you find it strange, Louis?”
“No, I never been out of it.”
“I’ve dug into it plenty,” Samuel
went on under it—maybe still is going on. There’s an ocean bed underneath, and below that another world. But that needn’t bother a farming man. Now, on top is good soil, particularly on the flats. In the upper valley it is light and sandy, but mixed in with that, the top sweetness of the hills that washed down on it in the winters. As you go north the valley widens out, and the soil gets blacker and heavier and perhaps richer.
It’s my belief that marshes were there once, and the roots of centuries rotted into the soil and made it black and fertilized it. And when you
turn it up, a little greasy clay mixes and holds it together. That’s from about Gonzales north to the river mouth. Off to the sides, around Salinas and Blanco and Castroville and
Moss Landing, the
marshes are still there. And when one day those marshes are drained off, that will be the richest of all land in this red world.”
“He always tells what it
will be like someday,” Louis threw in.
“Well, a man’s mind
can’t stay in time the way his body does.”
“If I’m going to settle
here I need to know about how and what will be,” said Adam. “My children, when I have them, will be on it.”
Samuel’s eyes looked
over the heads of his friends, out of the dark forge to the yellow sunlight. “You’ll have to know that under a good part of the valley, some places deep and others pretty near the surface, there’s a layer called hard-pan. It’s a clay, hard-packed, and it feels greasy too. Some places it is only a foot thick, and more in others. And this hard-pan resists water. If it were not there the winter rains would go soaking down and dampen the earth, and in the summer it would rise up to the roots
again. But when the earth above the hard-pan is soaked full, the rest runs fresheting off or stands rotting on top.
And that’s one of the main curses of our valley.” “Well, it’s a pretty good place to live, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is, but a man
can’t entirely rest when he knows it could be richer. I’ve thought that if you could drive thousands of holes through it to let the water in, it might solve it. And then I tried something with a few sticks of dynamite. I punched a hole through the hard-pan and blasted. That broke it up and the water could get down. But, God in heaven, think of the amount of dynamite! I’ve
read that a Swede—the same man who invented dynamite
—has got a new explosive stronger and safer Maybe that might be the answer.”
Louis said half
derisively and half with admiration,
thinking about how to change things. He’s never satisfied with the way they are.” Samuel smiled at him.
“They say men lived in trees one time. Somebody had to get dissatisfied with a high limb or your feet would not be touching flat ground now.” And then he laughed again. “I
can see myself sitting on my dust heap making a world in my mind as surely as God created this one. But God saw this world. I’ll never see mine except—this way. This will be a valley of great richness one day. It could feed the world, and maybe it will. And happy people will live here, thousands and thousands—” A cloud seemed to come over his eyes and his face set in sadness and he was silent. “You make it sound like
a good place to settle,” Adam said. “Where else could I raise my children with that coming?”
Samuel went on,
“There’s one thing I don’t understand.
blackness on this valley. I don’t know what it is, but I can feel it. Sometimes on a white blinding day I can feel it cutting off the sun and squeezing the light out of it like a sponge.” His voice rose.
violence on this valley. I don’t know—I don’t know. It’s as though some old ghost haunted it out of the dead ocean below and troubled the air with unhappiness. It’s as secret as hidden sorrow. I
don’t know what it is, but I see it and feel it in the people here.”
Adam shivered. “I just remembered I promised to get back early. Cathy, my wife, is going to have a baby.”
“But Liza’s getting ready.”
“She’ll understand when you tell her about the baby. My wife is feeling poorly. And I thank you for telling me about the water.” “Have I depressed you with my rambling?”
“No, not at all—not at
all. It’s Cathy’s first baby and she’s miserable.”
Adam struggled all night
with his thoughts and the next day he drove out and shook hands with Bordoni and the Sanchez place was his.