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[143]

Chapter 15: Bay of San Francisco.

A long and narrow inland sea, about the size and volume of Lake Leman, open to the ocean by an avenue called the Golden Gate; a stretch of water locked within the arms of picturesque and sunny hills, with islets sprinkled up and down, as Angel Island, Alcatraz, and Yerba Buena, round the cliffs of which skim flocks of gulls and pelicans; the inner shores all marsh and meadow, falling backward to the feet of mountain chains; shores not only rich in woods, in springs, in pastures, but adorned at every jutting point by villages of saintly name; a group of white frame houses, partly hidden by a fringe of cypresses and gum trees,--such is the Bay of San Francisco, as her lines are swept from Belmont Hill.

The lordship of this inland sea is written on her face, as plainly as the legend on a map. The [144] villages of saintly names, San Rafael, Santa Clara, San Leandro, and the rest, all nestle near the water's edge, while on the higher grounds, among the creeks and caions, nearly all the settlements have English names. Searsville, Crystal Springs, and School House Station, cover Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Bruno on these western heights, while Dublin, Danville, and Lafayette cover San Lorenzo, San Antonio, and San Pablo on those eastern heights. White settlers seize the water edges in all places where a pier is wanted or a factory can be built. They clasp the Bay in railway lines, adorn the tide with sailing ships, pollute the shore with smoking chimneys, bridge the narrows with ferry boats. Where water pays, they hug the shore, defying chills and fevers for the sake of gain ; but these White settlers never linger in the swamps, like Mexicans and Half-breeds, merely because the gourds grow quickly and the fish is cheap.

Driven by a stronger spirit than any nati-ve knows, they search the hills and ravines, fastening on soils which no Mexican ever dreamt of bringing under rake and plough. They search the passes through and through ; here tapping at the rock for [145] ore, there burrowing in the earth for coal. Unscared by sullen soil and nipping air, the Yankee Boys and Sydney Ducks ascend the loftiest peaks and crown them with their English names. Such names are records. Each peak in front of us-Master's Hill, Mount Hamilton, Mount Day, Mount Lewis, Mount Wallace-tells a story of ascent and ownership. Red Mountain is a British height, Cedar Mountain is a British height. Behind us tower Mine Hill, Mount Bache, and Black Mountain. Nearly all the passes in these alplets have the same great legend written in their names. Between us and the San Joaquin river, three passes cut the range, and these three clefts are known as Corral Hollow Pass, Patterson's Pass, and Livermore Pass. The pass from Clayton down to Black Diamond is called Kirker's Pass.

These citadels and avenues of nature are in Anglo-Saxon hands.

At Belmont we are lodged with William C. Ralston, one of the magnates of this bay; once a carpenter planing deals, then a cook on board a steamer, afterwards a digger at the mines, now the president of a bank, and one of the princes of finance. [146]

“Come to Belmont; give you a rest, and do you good,” cries the magnate. We accept, for not to see Belmont is not to see the Bay of San Francisco.

Ten years since, Belmont was a rocky cafion, cleaving a mountain side, so choked with spectral oaks and cedars that the mixed bloods called it the Devil's Glen. Coyotes and foxes hung about the woods, and Indian hunters, following elk and antelope, lit their fires around the springs. No track led up the ravine, for no civilised man yet dreamt of making it his home. To-day Belmont is like a valley on Lake Zurich. A road sweeps up the glen as smooth as any road in Kent. The forests have been tamed to parks. A pretty chalet peeps out here and there, with lawns and gardens trimmed in English taste. Five or six villas crown the knolls and nestle in the tress. Geraniums are in flower, and roses bloom on arch and wall. Sheep dot the sward, and cattle wander to the creeks. A chapel and a school arrest the eye. On every side there is a sense of home.

Our villa is a frame house, built in showy Californian style; a new order of architecture, with a touch of Moorish taste, and not a little Chinese [147] fantasy. A portico, too big for the villa, opens into sunny rooms, with inlaid floors and gaily decorated walls. Much wicker-work is used in chairs and ottomans. Bright curtains hang from gilded poles. Pianos, tables, shelves are all of yellow satin wood, veined with crimson streaks, a wood of Californian growth. An open gallery, lighted from above, serves for a public room. A glazed arcade runs round the villa, flooding it with sunshine, which is teased and petted through Venetian blinds. The wealth of colour is enhanced by Roman photographs in broad black frames. Nothing could be lighter than our chambers, nothing could be sweeter than the gardens on which they give. Vineries and conservatories lie in rear, and run on either flank below the limbs of ancient oaks. The lawns and shrubberies are perfect, and the country round the villa wears the aspect of a park.

Our host has made himself an earthly paradise at Belmont, but an earthly paradise in which calmer mortals than himself will bask. I like the man and hope the best for him ; yet noticing his restless eye and paling brow, I cannot help feeling that with all his jollity and briskness William C. Ralston [148] is the victim of his enterprise, the slave of his success.

All round this inland sea, the life is rich and strong: rich as the native fruit, strong as the native wine.

A Californian, fat and rosy as John Bull, his English ancestor, holds forth a grasp of welcome to his thin and bilious Yankee brother; pointing to a palm tree, heavy with the dates that are to round that stranger out with flesh. If he had only time to eat and sleep, a Californian would be always fat, but where is the Californian who has time to either eat or sleep?

The people living on this sunny sea, are seldom in a state that country curates would describe as wholesome. Too much sun is in the sky, too much wind is on the hill. Warm air expands the lungs and frets the nerves. Men eat too fast, and drink too deep, and work too long. How loud they speak, how hard they drive! At every turn you catch high words and mark the passage of swift feet. Under the shadow of Lone Mountain lies a racecourse, where bankers and judges hold trotting matches, and wiry little ponies are excited by [149] voice and lash into the pace that kills. That racecourse lying in the shadow of a grave-yard is a type of California in her ordinary mood.

The towns and villages on this bay not only teem with life, but life in a most strained and febrile state. No one is calm. No man sits down to smoke the pipe of peace; no day seems long enough for the labour to be wrought. All men and women aim at emphasis. An actor rants, a preacher roars, a singer screams. Such talk as suits a London diningroom sounds tame, such colours as beseem a London dancing room look dull. The pulses of society beat too high for ordinary men and ordinary times. A storm seems beating overhead, a battle raging in our front. If we would live, we need to be alert and prompt. A citizen bolts his dinner, gulps his whisky, puffs his cigarettes, and hurries off, as though he heard a bugle call. He sits at table with a loaded pistol in his pocket; he fingers his bowie-knife while asking a friend to drink. Suspicion is a habit of his mind. If quick to see offence, he is no less quick to bury the offence in blood. A rian will shoot his brother for a jest. Here is a case not many days old. A luckless wit described his neighbour in one of the [150] papers as dining at What Cheer House and picking his tooth at the Grand Hotel; about the same thing as saying of a man in London that he boards in Leicester Square and hangs about the door at Long's. The wit was shot next morning in a public road.

A writer has no easy time; his reader craves excitement, and he has to feed this passion for dramatic scenes. Each line he writes must tell a tale. Each wood must be in capitals. If a writer has no news, he must invent a lie. One journal is advertised as bold and spicy, and is true to the device. It deals with all, spares none. Editors are always armed; reporters must be steady shots. A man who cannot shoot and stab had better not indulge himself with pen and ink. A sufferer burns a pinch of powder in the nostrils of these editors now and then, but such a fact is thought too trivial for report, unless, as in a recent case, a journalist shoots some passer-by instead of winging his brother to the land of souls. One afternoon a gentleman was standing near me on a terrace, looking at some birds and seals. Knowing the gentleman by repute, I asked my neighbour:

“ Is not that Mr?” [151] “ Yes.”

“Then introduce me.”

“ Hum!” says my friend, an Oxford man, “ it is a little awkward. We have not seen each other lately; not that we have quarrelled; but the last time we met he fired in my face.”

“Fired in your face?”

“Well, we exchanged shots. No harm was done. So long as we avoid each other, things are smooth; but if we spoke, blood might be shed.”

Men and women in California are hearty and open in the highest sense. You are at home in every house, in every club, in every public place. Your face is an introduction, your colour a credential. California is a land of treats and drives, of drinks and dinners. What a host of clubs we have in every town, and what excellent suppers they provide! Here hospitality is king. Shall we forget our forenoons at a country house, our afternoons on a race-course, our evenings at a club? Never, till we have ceased to claim our share in the untameable vitality of our common race.

These jovial denizens must have their moral as they have their physical stimulants. One day they [152] go wild about a vein of silver ore; next day they forget their silver in the details of a robbery on the Pacific train. Now they expand their hearts on a trotting match between two famous colts; anon they give up their emotion to a murder in the street. Excitement they must have.

A special man, like Ralston, our host at Belmont, tries to guard himself by a denial of such pleasures as his fortune brings within his reach. He dares not drink a glass of wine. At dinner, a servant puts a pint of milk before him with his fish, and pours some drops of lime-water into his mug. A glass of wine may leave a headache, and a headache means some loss of time. Time is a talent that he dares not waste. His billiard-hall is spacious, but he must not venture on a game. He brings tobacco from Havana, but he fears to soothe his brain with a cigar. His house and park are but an hour's ride from his office, yet he only comes to see them once a week. Dining quickly, and tossing off three pints of milk, he rises early, leaves his guests, and goes to bed. Next morning he is up at four, consulting grooms, trotting through woods, and visiting farms and water-works. At ten we see him for a moment, [153] as we break our fast; at one he puts us in a drag and sends us out; at three we meet him on a hill above San Mateo, where he is damming a creek and building a town; at five, he jumps into the train, his holiday spent, and hastens to his office in San Francisco, having done a full week's work in fourand-twenty hours--a type of the White conquerors who expend their lives in carrying on the fight!

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