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The Valley of the Moon (Book III Chapter17)

2006-08-22 19:35

  Book III Chapter XVII

  South they held along the coast, hunting, fishing, swimming, and horse-buying. Billy shipped his purchases on the coasting steamers. Through Del Norte and Humboldt counties they went, and through Mendocino into Sonoma ——counties larger than Eastern states——threading the giant woods, whipping innumerable trout-streams, and crossing countless rich valleys. Ever Saxon sought the valley of the moon. Sometimes, when all seemed fair, the lack was a railroad, sometimes madrono and manzanita trees, and, usually, there was too much fog.

  “We do want a sun-cocktail once in a while,” she told Billy.

  “Yep,” was his answer. “Too much fog might make us soggy. What we're after is betwixt an' between, an' we'll have to get back from the coast a ways to find it.”

  This was in the fall of the year, and they turned their backs on the Pacific at old Fort Ross and entered the Russian River Valley, far below Ukiah, by way of Cazadero and Guerneville. At Santa Rosa Billy was delayed with the shipping of several horses, so that it was not until afternoon that he drove south and east for Sonoma Valley.

  “I guess we'll no more than make Sonoma Valley when it'll be time to camp,” he said, measuring the sun with his eye. “This is called Bennett Valley. You cross a divide from it and come out at Glen Ellen. Now this is a mighty pretty valley, if anybody should ask you. An' that's some nifty mountain over there.”

  “The mountain is all right,” Saxon adjudged. “But all the rest of the hills are too bare. And I don't see any big trees. It takes rich soil to make big trees.”

  “Oh, I ain't sayin' it's the valley of the moon by a long ways. All the same, Saxon, that's some mountain. Look at the timber on it. I bet they's deer there.”

  “I wonder where we'll spend this winter,” Saxon remarked.

  “D'ye know, I've just been thinkin' the same thing. Let's winter at Carmel. Mark Hall's back, an' so is Jim Hazard. What d'ye say?”

  Saxon nodded.

  “Only you won't be the odd-job man this time.”

  “Nope. We can make trips in good weather horse-buyin',” Billy confirmed, his face beaming with self-satisfaction. “An' if that walkin' poet of the Marble House is around, I'll sure get the gloves on with 'm just in memory of the time he walked me off my legs——”

  “Oh! Oh!” Saxon cried. “Look, Billy! Look!”

  Around a bend in the road came a man in a sulky, driving a heavy stallion. The animal was a bright chestnut-sorrel, with cream-colored mane and tail. The tail almost swept the ground, while the mane was so thick that it crested out of the neck and flowed down, long and wavy. He scented the mares and stopped short, head flung up and armfuls of creamy mane tossing in the breeze. He bent his head until flaring nostrils brushed impatient knees, and between the fine-pointed ears could be seen a mighty and incredible curve of neck. Again he tossed his head, fretting against the bit as the driver turned widely aside for safety in passing. They could see the blue glaze like a sheen on the surface of the horse's bright, wild eyes, and Billy closed a wary thumb on his reins and himself turned widely. He held up his hand in signal, and the driver of the stallion stopped when well past, and over his shoulder talked draught-horses with Billy.

  Among other things, Billy learned that the stallion's name was Barbarossa, that the driver was the owner, and that Santa Rosa was his headquarters.

  “There are two ways to Sonoma Valley from here,” the man directed. “When you come to the crossroads the turn to the left will take you to Glen Ellen by Bennett Peak—— that's it there.”

  Rising from rolling stubble fields, Bennett Peak towered hot in the sun, a row of bastion hills leaning against its base. But hills and mountains on that side showed bare and heated, though beautiful with the sunburnt tawniness of California.

  “The turn to the right will take you to Glen Ellen, too, only it's longer and steeper grades. But your mares don't look as though it'd bother them.”

  “Which is the prettiest way?” Saxon asked.

  “Oh, the right hand road, by all means,” said the man. “That's Sonoma Mountain there, and the road skirts it pretty well up, and goes through Cooper's Grove.”

  Billy did not start immediately after they had said good-by, and he and Saxon, heads over shoulders, watched the roused Barbarossa plunging mutinously on toward Santa Rosa.

  “Gee!” Billy said. “I'd like to be up here next spring.

  At the crossroads Billy hesitated and looked at Saxon.

  “What if it is longer?” she said. “Look how beautiful it is——all covered with green woods; and I just know those are redwoods in the canyons. You never can tell. The valley of the moon might be right up there somewhere. And it would never do to miss it just in order to save half an hour.”

  They took the turn to the right and began crossing a series of steep foothills. As they approached the mountain there were signs of a greater abundance of water. They drove beside a running stream, and, though the vineyards on the hills were summer-dry, the farmhouses in the hollows and on the levels were grouped about with splendid trees.

  “Maybe it sounds funny,” Saxon observed; “but I 'm beginning to love that mountain already. It almost seems as if I d seen it before, somehow, it's so all-around satisfying——oh!”

  Crossing a bridge and rounding a sharp turn, they were suddenly enveloped in a mysterious coolness and gloom. All about them arose stately trunks of redwood. The forest floor was a rosy carpet of autumn fronds. Occasional shafts of sunlight, penetrating the deep shade, warmed the somberness of the grove. Alluring paths led off among the trees and into cozy nooks made by circles of red columns growing around the dust of vanished ancestors——witnessing the titantic dimensions of those ancestors by the girth of the circles in which they stood.

  Out of the grove they pulled to the steep divide, which was no more than a buttress of Sonoma Mountain. The way led on through rolling uplands and across small dips and canyons, all well wooded and a-drip with water. In places the road was muddy from wayside springs.

  “The mountain's a sponge,” said Billy. “Here it is, the tail-end of dry summer, an' the ground's just leakin' everywhere.”

  “I know I've never been here before,” Saxon communed aloud. “But it's all so familiar! So I must have dreamed it. And there's madronos!——a whole grove! And manzanita! Why, I feel just as if I was coming home…… Oh, Billy, if it should turn out to be our valley.”

  “Plastered against the side of a mountain?” he queried, with a skeptical laugh.

  “No; I don't mean that. I mean on the way to our valley. Because the way——all ways——to our valley must be beautiful. And this; I've seen it all before, dreamed it.”

  “It's great,” he said sympathetically. “I wouldn't trade a square mile of this kind of country for the whole Sacramento Valley, with the river islands thrown in and Middle River for good measure. If they ain't deer up there, I miss my guess. An' where they's springs they's streams, an' streams means trout.”

  They passed a large and comfortable farmhouse, surrounded by wandering barns and cow-sheds, went on under forest arches, and emerged beside a field with which Saxon was instantly enchanted. It flowed in a gentle concave from the road up the mountain, its farther boundary an unbroken line of timber. The field gl

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