The Russian, the Panic, and the Railroad
Dickey, Alfred. "The Russian, the Panic, and the Railroad." Bellman Magazine, 10 December 1910, 1573-1578.
|"He had little more than the clothes
on his back."
The pictures hung together there
Beside the old door's architrave:
A little girl with yellow hair,
A beldam tottering to her grave.
"Grandmother and grandchild?" I said.
Without a change of glance or tone,
My cicerone shook his head:
"The child was mother to the crone."
—Reginald Wright Kauffman
He wrote his name "Kopanieczs" but he pronounced it "Kopan,"
and even those who object most decidedly to "rapt" and
"helth" and the other fiats of Theodore, Andrew, and Brander,
will probably concede that this is a case for the reformed spelling.
In his circle of society, however, even the small child addressed
its elders by their first names, and he will therefore not be in
the least offended if we forget that he has a surname and know him
only as Kunrad.
Kunrad's blood was a rare strain of German Russian. Several generations
ago, a colony of sturdy Germans moved to a selected locality in
Russia, where they acquired farms upon a plan somewhat similar to
the American homestead. The privilege of acquiring land was soon
cut off and the immigration ceased, but the original colony and
its descendants remained, intermarrying to some extent with the
natives, and has always been highly prosperous. But the short-sighted
Russian policy left it no means of expansion and for many years
the younger sons and other surplus population have been coming to
America. Their place of settlement here is a curious problem for
the geographer. The hundredth meridian has drawn them almost like
a straight bar magnet and they occupy a strip of territory, only
a few miles wide, extending North and South through a good portion
of the Dakotas. These settlers are generally called Russians and,
like Kunrad, many of them have acquired outlandish names and the
Greek religion. But they all speak German with reasonable purity
and decidedly resemble the Germans in their careers of industry
"Not the man to go on a pleasure
journey without his family."
Among the most prosperous of all these was Kunrad. He worked hard
and farmed as if farming was the one thing to be thought of in this
world or hereafter, and in material prosperity he certainly had
his reward. In 1894 he had little more than the clothes on is back;
in 1907 he owned eight hundred acres, was well supplied with beasts
of beef and burden, and with the necessary children and machinery.
But this success brought with it a tendency to luxury. First it
was a rural telephone, then a phonograph, then Dan Patch at the
Minnesota state fair, and finally visions of palms and oranges and
the Golden Gate began to form a definite purpose in his mind. Many
of his neighbors had been in California, others were planning to
go, and the literature distributed by the railroads was certainly
tempting to a man who had never, except his brief dip in entering
America, been South of the forty-sixth parallel.
During several years' hunting I had become as well acquainted with
Kunrad as his doubtful English and my almost impossible German would
permit, and my acquaintance also extended to Kafija, his wife, and
to his numerous and steadily increasing family of children. As to
the names of these latter, if Kunrad had consulted a lexicon and
an encyclopedia he could not have done more wonderful things. I
never pretended to learn them all, but I remember enough to give
assurance that Hrynko, Theresia, and Thorothea were only among the
milder specimens. When, in that fatal panic year of 1907, our usual
party undertook to do its share in preventing the too rapid increase
of prairie chickens, we made headquarters for a few days in Kunrad's
barn. And those of us who felt the nearest microbe proof suffered
ourselves occasionally to be enticed into the house.
Here, all innocent of the trouble I was laying up for myself, I
told Kunrad as much about western travel as our different languages
would allow. Kunrad was not the man to go on a pleasure trip without
his family; Kafija and the other nine impossibles were to go with
him. By the letter of the railroad rules three would pay full fare,
four half fare, and two would go free. I explained that he could
easily take two of his full fares as half fares and his two youngest
half fares could ride free. He seemed at that time fully convinced,
but I discovered later that his Russian fear of the law prevailed
and he had even bought a half fare for little Vladislasia, who was
only a month past five years old. As the sequel will show, the railroad
company, when the test came, showed anything but appreciation of
this virtuous honesty. I ended my advice with the pious lie that
I hoped I should see him in California. This was in early September.
The California excursions closed with the last day of October.
Kunrad threshed early and by herculean efforts he and his sons,
Hrynko and Ziemovicz, succeeded in marketing the crop. And on October
27, all unconscious that there even was such an institution as the
Knickerbocker Trust Company, they brought their plowing to a close,
turned their animals over to their good neighbor, Kanski Gryeskowiak,
and on the fatal morning of October 28, 1907, the entire family
of eleven, with the most eager anticipations of California, drove
in to Ariosto. Their anticipations met a sudden check. Kunrad went
to the Ariosto National Bank to draw a large roll of greenbacks
and was told that ten dollars was all that he might have. The banks
had quit paying currency that very morning. The cashier talked German
but his parrot-like explanation, "We shall be glad to accommodate
you with a certified check or with a draft on Minneapolis or New
York," gave Kunrad's feelings no more relief than would a quotation
of the first four lines of the Anneid.
"Tell him to camp there."
Down in Dakota City that fatal morning I was having numerous troubles
of my own, and a hurry-up call on the long distance `phone did not
tend to soothe my seething nerves.
"Hello," said a female voice, "this is the operator
at Ariosto and I'm talking for Kunrad Kopan. He says to tell you
he's come in here all ready to start to California and the bank
won't give him his money and he wants to know what to do."
Just at that minute I was feeling anything but amiable at banks
and bankers myself, and a feeling of fiendish joy seized upon me
at this quick opportunity for revenge upon the banking tribe.
"Tell him," I bawled into the telephone: "The way
to get his money is to stay right by the bank. Tell him to take
his wife and all the children into the bank and camp there. Tell
him to hang right onto the president all day and night, follow him
everywhere he goes, go home with him when he goes to dinner, hang
onto him like his own shadow and keep demanding his money all the
time he does it. Tell him to have his boy Hrynko do the same thing
with the cashier, hang right onto him and never let him get away.
Have his boy Ziemie hang onto the bookkeeper the same way and if
there's a stenographer let Anastasia hang onto her. Tell him to
have his wife and the other children stay in the bank and never
leave it; bring in bologna, cheese and crackers for them to eat
in there and if they have any lunch with `em with garlic in it be
sure and eat that. And don't any of them get out till they're put
out by main force. Tell him to hang on and hang on and I think that
the bank'll get sick of it before long and give him his money."
I hung up the telephone and fled, but the telephone girl apparently
did more than justice in translating my injunctions. And Kunrad
and family showed the greatest respect for my advice. They actually
stayed in the bank all night. And after seeing them eat three meals
there, which they were none too careful in cleaning up, and after
having his footsteps dogged like a member of the chain gang, the
president weakened and counted out the bills.
This happy result, however, was only accomplished half an hour
before train time of the second day. Making out nine California
tickets is no small undertaking for a country ticket agent. The
train was held several minutes to complete them and the Ariosto
agent heaved a sigh of relief when he saw his eleven Russians safely
departing. But his relief was soon turned to horror. He had made
a mistake of one little figure and, instead of $327.25, he had only
collected the sum of $227.25. And then the wires were hot until
the conductor received this message: "Kunrad Kopan and party
short one hundred dollars in paying for tickets. Take up tickets
and hold till he pays."
The conductor followed instructions, asked to see the tickets,
and then demanded a hundred dollars for their return. The reason
for this was not at all understood by Kunrad, who was rapidly reaching
the conclusion that a band of wicked men was in league to prevent
his trip to California, and he arrived in Dakota City in a frame
of mind towards corporations which would have filled the heart of
an Oklahoma politician with joy. The connection between trains was
close and by the time Kunrad found my office the train in which
he should have gone West was already pulling out. The controversy
itself proved easily settled. Mr. Redfield, the Dakota City agent,
showed clearly what the amount should have been. Kunrad counted
his money and found his original supply was diminished by only $227.25,
and though he still showed some signs of doubt he paid the hundred
and recovered his tickets. And I breathed easy in the assurance
that the evening's Occidental Limited would carry Kunrad and his
Pandora's box of troubles beyond my jurisdiction.
I have but one superstition: that the unexpected always happens.
If we can but think out a calamity, we can rest assured that that
calamity in that way will not happen. If I had taken time to think
out the possible preventives, I therefore insist that Kunrad would
have departed that night and saved me the ocean of troubles which
followed. The train came in, the prize train of the Pacific railroads,
beautiful with its gorgeous cars and electric lights. I watched
the observation car with its mystic illuminated symbol glide away;
and then I returned to earth again. There were Kunrad and Kafija
and the inevitable thirteen--or could it only have been nine?--children
standing disconsolately on the platform. The train had been loaded
to the guards, there was not room for one more, not to think of
eleven. Again I braved Mr. Redfield in his lair.
"We can never add extra equipment to the Occidental,"
he explained. "They can't haul more than eight cars and make
the schedule. But the express tomorrow morning will have room for
all of them."
"The conductor followed instructions."
I led Kunrad to the cheapest hotel, made a bargain for two rooms
for the eleven, and went home to dream of Kunrad being saddled upon
me like the Old Man of the Sea during the remainder of my natural
or unnatural life. After breakfast I made an excuse to drive down
the river, and thus be invisible till I heard the express pulling
out. Then I sought my office, debating whether I should choose formaldehyde
or sulphur candles with which to fumigate, and there, with Banquo's
ghost beaten by at least two appearances, was the inevitable Kunrad,
with the same look of abused perplexity upon is face. His misfortunes
had made rapid inroads upon his English; with difficulty I made
out that the trouble of last night had been repeated. The express
also had been full to the last man, and the tribe of Kopanieczs
was again denied admission. Again I invaded Mr. Redfield and started
to deliver a philippic that would have made the ancient orators
"Hold on," Redfield interrupted. "It's all his own
fault. I told him myself that he couldn't get on the sleeper section,
that the second section would be along in about twenty minutes,
and when it came I went out myself to see that they got on. His
family were all on the platform but he wasn't and they wouldn't
get on without him. I guess he must have gone off to find a drink
somewhere in this prohibition town."
And then the horror of it dawned upon me. It was no drink that
Kunrad had sought but just my stupid self, and he had stolidly waited
in my office, and I had remained away dodging him, till the second
section was gone. And I had the eleven specters to haunt me for
"He'll have to stay till tomorrow," Redfield interposed,"for
I know he can't get on the Occidental tonight; and you want to be
sure he gets started tomorrow morning, for it's positively the last
train that'll take those excursion tickets."
The next morning I abandoned every semblance of my own business.
I made it my whole duty to watch Kunrad and his tribe and see that
none of them strayed. The first section came. It contained the sleepers
and two day coaches, and, as expected, there was no room for Kunrad.
In almost breathless suspense I was waiting for the second section,
when suddenly I heard an ominous remark which caused me to hurl
myself again at Mr. Redfield.
"No," he said, "it isn't the passenger section that's
wrecked. It's just a freight train in between. They think they can
get the track clear in four hours. The second section ought to be
here by three o'clock."
I walked around the block to collect my thoughts. This was my last
chance. I must heed my superstition and anticipate every calamity
which could prevent Kunrad's going. And so I thought them out: that
Kunrad would find some whisky and get drunk; that seven-year old
Alathea would wander to the river and fall from the bridge; that
a runaway horse would hit Visniviecki; that--well, every possible
calamity except just the one that did happen. At twenty minutes
past two Mrs. Kopan was seized with the most violent illness. The
technique of the doctor's diagnosis did not interest me. I did not
even inquire whether there was a probability of a fatal result.
Enough were the terrible words: "She must be put to bed right
away and I think it will be ten days at least before it will be
safe to travel."
Josh Billings is reported to have said, "There's just one
good thing about tight boots, they make a man forget all his other
troubles." This happy function Kunrad performed for me during
the critical days of the great panic. Other men worried over money
matters, but Kunrad left me no time. And the esteemed president
of the Ariosto National Bank had his unconscious revenge. Kunrad's
hungry family did not eat bologna and other choice viands in my
office and there were a few times that he did not follow me home,
but generally he attended me with a persistency that ought to erase
Mary's lamb from the schoolbooks. To his two subjects of trouble,
his wife and the railroad tickets, was presently added a third,
the auction sale, to which we shall come in due course. As far as
Kafija was concerned, she did nothing after her first seizure to
complicate the situation. She recovered steadily and was ready to
travel upon the tenth day, exactly as the doctor had predicted.
But what could be done about the railroad tickets? This critical
question I urged upon Redfield, who looked doubtful and said he
would wire the general passenger agent for instructions. The answer
came next day; the tickets could not be used. After much persuasion
Redfield sent in a long telegram of my dictation:
Kopan bought nine tickets October 29 Ariosto to
Los Angeles. Carter made mistake figuring cost tickets charged hundred
dollars too little. Smithson took up tickets on Northern train to
collect hundred causing party miss first connection. Subsequent
train loaded so party could not get on. Wife taken too sick to travel
just before arrival train of thirty-first. Party threatens damage
suit because our arbitrary action taking up tickets and preventing
him starting as expected. Under circumstances can you not honour
tickets when wife is well.
But this modern tyrant, like Pharaoh of old, remained stiff-necked
in his folly; his heart was hardened and he would not let the people
go. His answer was cold and decisive:
"Interstate commerce law very strict. Absolutely
impossible to honour tickets for Kopan and family."
Then I told Kunrad it was time to consult a lawyer. The Honourable
Adolphus Wolbert was our best jury lawyer and was especially successful
in damage suits against the railroad company. It was even hinted
that he had been known to prove, to the satisfaction of the jury,
things that never happened. Some moral persons may say that I should
have directed Kunrad elsewhere, but Wolbert was the best lawyer
and, moreover, was the only good lawyer who spoke German. Besides,
I must plead guilty of a consuming desire that the general passenger
agent be taught a lesson. Mr. Wolbert noted the facts and made Kunrad
remember much more than I had before understood of the violence
and insult which accompanied the taking up of the tickets.
"I led Kunrad to the cheapest
"Looks like a good case," the lawyer advised. "You
better bring in your three biggest children and let me buzz them."
A little deft coaching made the memories of the children everything
that could be desired, and Wolbert expressed increased assurance,
but wished to study the case a few days before giving final advice.
His confidence was contagious and I felt better than any day since
Kunrad missed his third train.
But my relief was of short duration. The very next morning the
shadow of the almost forgotten Knickerbocker Trust Company again
darkened our paths and the panic sent the case off at a deadly tangent,
the auction sale. Kunrad's appearance that morning was much later
than usual, but when he came the habitual look of trouble was replaced
by one of triumphant joy.
"Ah," I said to myself, "the general passenger agent
has had a lucid interval and decided to avoid damage suits and let
But Kunrad was not thinking of general passenger agents. "Koom,"
he said, "see vaht ist heer."
I followed, speechless. What would happen now? "Heer"
proved to be an empty lot two blocks away, and there were Hrynko
and Ziemovicz guarding a motley assemblage of what the lawyers call
personal property. There were four large, heavy, healthy workhorses,
two sleek, fat Hereford cows, two half-grown calves, three four-year-old
Shorthorn steers, a farm wagon, a spring wagon, an incalculable
tangle of harness, a cream separator, a perfectly gorgeous piece
of parlor furniture with seating capacity for three, and an organ.
Kunrad pointed with more pride than I have ever seen a father show
over his first-born son.
"Mr. Wolbert noted the facts."
"Alles," he boasted with a grin of superlative Russian
glee, "alles, tree hundert tventy tollar."
It took much good German and bad English for Kunrad to explain
what had happened, and then I had to fill out several details from
the auctioneer. Wandering about the earth, seeking amusement for
himself and trouble for me, Kunrad chanced upon this auction sale.
The property described above, with many other articles equally useless
to a California pilgrim, had belonged to an elderly Irishman recently
deceased. The executor had advertised the property at auction, specifying
"cash on the spot" for all sales. But here the panic intervened
and the cash on the spot was sealed up in the vaults of the banks.
The bargains that resulted were rare indeed. The sight of a good
span of mules going for fifty dollars was too much for Kunrad. His
California money burned in his stockings too hot to remain. He bid
in more than a thousand dollars' worth of property for three hundred
and twenty. One of the teams alone should recoup his entire investment.
But why call me? Did he expect me to care for four-year-olds and
impossible parlor furniture while he took a holiday in California?
Upon this point he gave me instant relief. He expected to drive
the property home. But he did ask something which at that time seemed
harder than entertaining a cow or a cream separator on my front
porch. I must find the currency to replace what he had spent. But
this bridge need not be crossed until the versatile Mr. Wolbert
had found means to melt the heart of the railroad company or break
the backbone of its resistance.
During Kunrad's absence I was in great anxiety, and when he returned
I was in almost breathless suspense till I could learn what new
trouble had befallen him. His smile reassured me. He had kept one
team, the cream separator and the parlor furniture; the other property
he had sold to his neighbors for "seven hundert fahrty tollar."
But none of his customers had any money in their pockets or hosiery.
They could only give their checks and notes.
And now for Mr. Wolbert's final decision.
"That passenger department," he advised, "has polly-wogs
in its cerebellum. There's about one chance in five hundred that
anything'll happen to them under the interstate commerce law, while
we stand four good chances in five of a good big damage judgment
against them. They have worried Mrs. Kopan into a critical illness
(this cause of her complaint was new to me but Mr. Wolbert made
the statement with convincing assurance); they have kept the family
here at high expense for more than ten days--(the entire tribe had
lived upon about fifteen dollars, but I could see Wolbert proving
three hundred dollars to the jury). But this is only a starter.
You must attach the doctor's certificate to your tickets, get on
the train, and let them put you off by force. Don't fight them but
just let them actually push every one of you off, and then we'll
have them just where we want them. If they throw you off at Leeford
or Farmville, I wouldn't take three thousand dollars for my half
of the judgements we'll get. But I'm afraid they'll never be put
off. The case is simply too good to be true."
I differed materially from Mr. Wolbert in my definition of what
was too good to be true, but I did not permit my skepticism to interfere
with Kunrad's start. Kafija would be ready to travel tomorrow and
it was my stern duty to find the greenbacks. Here I had a turn of
good luck, for my banker had told me privately that, if I came to
a place where I "simply must have" currency, he would
supply me with a little. Getting rid of Kunrad was certainly a case
of "simply must have" and with great secrecy I smuggled
through the back door of the bank sixteen twenty-dollar bills.
I had expected a thrill of great joy when I saw Kunrad and his
tribe safely upon the train, but this was now overshadowed by a
sickening presentiment that five or six hours would see them come
trailing back. Just as this fatal period was expiring I met the
obliging Mr. Redfield.
"What's become of your Russians?" he inquired.
"They all started West this morning," I told him.
"What! Did they buy new tickets?"
"Not while the walking back to town is good. They're going
to try it on the old ones."
"They are?" he exclaimed. "Then they'll just get
put off the train."
"I guess that's just what they want," I explained. "They
went to Wolbert and now they're following his advice. He thinks
your bosses are a set of chumps. He says it'll make the easiest
damage suit he's had in five years."
"Between you and me," admitted Redfield, "I have
about the same idea myself, but it's not my funeral."
The evening passed. Two trains, numerous road vehicles, and some
pedestrians came out of the dreaded West. I looked every minute
for Kunrad. But again the expected calamity did not happen. He did
not come that day or the next or the next. Finally came a postal
card from Spokane:
"We are hier. He hass not anybody komm to put us off jet.
Kafija very gutt."
I lost no time in communicating this news to Mr. Redfield. To my
astonishment it made him furiously angry. His remarks concerning
the general passenger department might have lost him his position
if I had been a tale-bearer.
"Alles, t'ree hundert tventy tollar!"
"It puts me in a confounded false position," he stormed.
"I tell your people they can't go, that it's absolutely impossible,
and then he lets them go, and you all think I'm a bad liar and a
I suggested that we waylay the conductor who took the tickets and
find out just how it happened.
"I never heard anything about any interstate commerce law,"
said that official. "Nobody gave me any new orders. It's always
been our rule to take run out excursion tickets when there's a doctor's
certificate attached, so I took these. I guess it's all right down
below, for I turned them in over a week ago and I haven't heard
Six months later I rode with the same conductor. I asked him if
he had ever had any trouble about the affair.
"Not a peep," he said, "and I'm still doing the
same thing. I had two cases on the spring excursions that I turned
in the other day, and they went without a word. I guess the G.P.A.
was givin' Redfield a little hot air just to tone up his circulation."
"Well," I said to myself, "for ways that are dark
and tricks that are vain, the general passenger agent is peculiar."
Needless to say nobody has ever prosecuted the railroad company
under the interstate commerce law.
The Kopans greatly enjoyed their visit in the Far West, but I took
the utmost pains that their oft-expressed wish to see me there should
not be gratified. I consulted the authorities for the most inaccessible
resort in California and was told of Warner's Hot Springs, a most
beautiful spot far up towards the summit of the San Jacinto mountains
back of San diego, where the scenery is more charming than upon
any of the beaten paths, and where neither railroad nor Russian
has ever penetrated. I found the locality even better than it had
been advertised and enjoyed my winter vacation in complete peace.
There is, however, one small regret. I would almost have risked
discovery to be hidden and watch Kunrad at one of the Japanese auctions
in Los Angeles. The Russian and the Jap pitted again, and this time
I am almost constrained to believe that the Russian would have won.
Alfred E. Dickey.
A gentleman in Massachusetts of eighty-two years of age attributes
his long life and most everything else about him that is at all prosperous
entirely to the fact that he has never shaved. Shaving, in his view,
is a waste of time and money and he calculates that he has saved two
thousand, four hundred dollars, simply by letting his beard grow,
while he declares passionately: "Just suppose everybody would
give it up. Think what a difference it would make. The barbers in
Massachusetts alone could dig a forty mile canal in a year."
Yes, but suppose the barbers had no ambition to dig. Anyhow, we
know just as good a way to save money as that--give up cigars, or
do with only two meals a day, or wear clothes made of newspaper,
and at the end of the year we should find ourselves just as short
of money as usual. Then again, can this hirsute person produce the
two thousand, four hundred dollars that he has saved by carefully
putting away fifteen cents a day in a stocking or other receptacle?
The money must all be accurately labeled or we shan't believe it.
In the Irrigated Land, by Margaret Adelaide Wilson
The heart of the irrigated ranch is the weir box. On our ranch
it stands at the entrance under a weeping willow and sends its arteries,
the flumes, down the sloping hillside to the oranges, the alfalfa,
the distant stretches of grain, measuring to each water according
to its needs.
To it, in turn, water is doled out from the hill flume--not daily,
but at stated intervals, under the jurisdiction of the colleague
rulers of our kingdom, the day and night zanjeros. For in this country
where fortune, comfort, even life itself, depends on it, water is
not a thing to lie at the mercy of the anarchist multitude. It must
be measured to each man in turn, with care that none is wasted;
and the hand that deals it out must be unswayed by partiality or
self-interest. Through every hour of the twenty-four you may see
the zanjeros skimming the miles of dusty road from ranch to ranch,
unlocking a gate here and another there, wherever it is a man's
"run," as they say. Then for the span of a day and a night
the thirsty crops on that man's land drink and revel in the joy
The sound of running water is pleasant to the ears in any country.
But no one can fully understand the delight of it who has not listened
to it in desert places. We have come to look forward with eagerness
to the fifteenth of the month, when our turn for irrigating comes.
The veranda on which we sleep is very near the weir box. In spring
and fall we are courting a last nap before sunrise when the zanjero's
horse gallops into our dreams. Deliciously half conscious, we hear
the heavy gate swing open on the hill, and come back to the waking
world on the tide of a gurgling, joyous stream, that beats against
the measuring boards and dashes impetuously down to the parched
land below. One comes to the day with new zest, accompanied by such
music. However hot it is, however tiresome the task, our minds wander
into pleasant ways, catching here some remnant of dreams, there
the half-forgotten memory of days by other waters; and through it
all holding the sense of cool shadows and growing things.
It seems as if in this country the water had a thousand new and
exquisite voices. There is the drip of it through the old boards
of the weir, upon the eager little plants and flowers that fringe
its borders; the hurry and rush of it as it tumbles down the narrow
flumes, its mimic roar as of cascades when it pours through the
little gates into the plowed furrows of the level land. These, perhaps,
are the voices of waters in all countries, and these chiefly speak
to us during the day. But at night, when we steal out to take a
last look at our possessions, other voices rise, which, though almost
inaudible to the ear of the sense, are yet heart shaking in their
beauty. That still, brown stream among the orange trees, so unruffled
in its progress that it mirrors, with scarcely a blur, the drooping
branch, the slender rim of moon: it has seemed silent enough all
day, yet now it rustles like the silken garments of fairies to the
bending ear. And down yonder in the alfalfa, where Ignacio with
his shovel and lantern plods up and down like a Will-o'-the-Wisp
in harness, what a strange song the water is singing him! How it
creeps among the tired, too-early blossomed heads of alfalfa with
a low, pervading sigh, a whispered protest against the reaper who
waits the perfection of their flower. As it spreads in tiny wavelets
over the field there is a mysterious stirring of the air, a murmur
that beats with delicate insistence upon the ear, penetrating even
Ignacio's Indian soul with a vague sense of uneasiness: "The
water talks," he said to us once. And he whistles softly to
the dog, coaxing him to his side in a desire for companionship before
Even when we are not irrigating, the weir box is a place of beauty.
The hill flume leads straight down from the mountains and runs all
through the rainless months; and through its iron gate our weir
box gets a gentle seepage that keeps a clear pool always within
its square white walls. The frogs sing their ancient melodies here
in the spring evenings, floating on the measuring boards and puffing
out their throats until they almost overweigh the tiny bodies. Minnows
dart to and fro across the gravelly bottom and mocking birds, road
runners and bright-eyed towhees tilt up and down upon its rim and
drink. The earth is always wet and cool around it; mint grows here
as fresh and fair as in an English garden. There is a luxurious
tuft of wire grass at the upper corner, kept from too riotous a
growth by the zanjero's horse. Alfileria spreads its fernlike leaves
over the little hillocks, while its faithful needles follow the
wheeling sun. Even a fragrant foxglove blooms here in lonely glory,
wisely concluding that it could do better as a free lance than by
staying with its conventional sisters of the garden. And the weeping
willow droops is slender branches over all.
Once we almost lost this pleasant spot. A cloudburst in the mountains
broke the main flume, and for weeks we did not have any water. The
pool in our weir box dwindled and grew stagnant and rank of odor.
The minnows died and floated on top, bloated and formless, things
of horror. The birds came there no more to drink; even the thirsty
dogs shunned it. It grieved us to watch the grass searing in the
sun, and to see how the vagabond foxglove drooped and sickened.
And it was with a sense of great relief that we wakened one night
to hear once more the far-off murmur of the hill flume, and knew
that the poor, dependent children of our weir box were saved.
Now the grace of a new association has fallen upon the place. We
were sitting under the peppers, waiting for the mountain breeze
that comes softly down after the sunset of our burning summer days,
when Sasaki slipped up from the garden. His brown face was pale
with heat and weariness as he paused to rest by the weir. The pure
outline of the hill was against the western sky; overhead the slenderest
of moons mirrored itself in the quiet surface of the pool; the supple,
ethereal branches of the willow swayed in the first breath of the
evening breeze. Everywhere were long sweeps of line, and pale lights
banding the shadows. He gazed in silence a little toward the West,
then turned to us with wistful eyes. "When the sun has gone
to bed and I stand here it make me sad," he said softly. He
comprehended it all in a gesture of unconscious pathos. "Now
it make my heart think of Japan." Margaret Adelaide Wilson.
Reprinted with permission of The Bellman Magazine.