Part Two
Chapter II
 

All next day the train puffed over the snow-blown plains. There was little in the prospect, save an inspiration to thankfulness that the cars were warm and comfortable. Bob and Welton spent the morning going over their plans for the new country. After lunch, which in the manner of trans-continental travellers they stretched over as long a period as possible, they again repaired to the smoking car. Baker hailed them jovially, waving a stubby forefinger at vacant seats.

"Say, do Populists grow whiskers, or do whiskers make Populists?" he demanded.

"Give it up," replied Welton promptly. "Why?"

"Because if whiskers make Populists, I don't blame this state for going Pop. A fellow'd have to grow some kind of natural chest protector in self-defence. Look at that snow! And thirty dollars will take you out where there's none of it, and the soil's better, and you can see something around you besides fresh air. Why, any one of these poor pinhead farmers could come out our way, get twenty acres of irrigated land, and in five years--"

"Hold on!" cried Bob, "you haven't by any chance some of that real estate for sale--or a sandbag?"

Baker laughed.

"Everybody gets that way," said he. "I'll bet the first five men you meet will fill you up on statistics."

He knew the country well, and pointed out in turn the first low rises of the prairie swell, and the distant Rockies like a faint blue and white cloud close down along the horizon. Bob had never seen any real mountains before, and so was much interested. The train laboured up the grades, steep to the engine, but insignificant to the eye; it passed through the canons to the broad central plateau. The country was broken and strange, with its wide, free sweeps, its sage brush, its stunted trees, but it was not mountainous as Bob had conceived mountains. Baker grinned at him.

"Snowclad peaks not up to specifications?" he inquired. "Chromos much better? Mountain grandeur somewhat on the blink? Where'd you expect them to put a railroad--out where the scenery is? Never mind. Wait till you slide off 'Cape Horn' into California."

The cold weather followed them to the top of the Sierras. Snow, dull clouds, mists and cold enveloped the train. Miles of snowsheds necessitated keeping the artificial light burning even at midday. Winter held them in its grip.

Then one morning they rounded the bold corner of a high mountain. Far below them dropped away the lesser peaks, down a breathless descent. And from beneath, so distant as to draw over themselves a tender veil of pearl gray, flowed out foothills and green plains. The engine coughed, shut off the roar of her exhaust. The train glided silently forward.

"Now come to the rear platform," Baker advised.

They sat in the open air while the train rushed downward. From the great drifts they ran to the soft, melting snow, then to the mud and freshness of early spring. Small boys crowded early wild-flowers on them whenever they stopped at the small towns built on the red clay. The air became indescribably soft and balmy, full of a gentle caress. At the next station the children brought oranges. A little farther the foothill ranches began to show the brightness of flowers. The most dilapidated hovel was glorified by splendid sprays of red roses big as cabbages. Dooryards of the tiniest shacks blazed with red and yellow. Trees and plants new to Bob's experience and strangely and delightfully exotic in suggestion began to usurp the landscape. To the far Northerner, brought up in only a common-school knowledge of olive trees, palms, eucalyptus, oranges, banana trees, pomegranates and the ordinary semi-tropical fruits, there is something delightful and wonderful in the first sight of them living and flourishing in the open. When closer investigation reveals a whole series of which he probably does not remember ever to have heard, he feels indeed an explorer in a new and wonderful land. After a few months these things become old stories. They take their places in his cosmos as accustomed things. He is then at some pains to understand his visitor's extravagant interest and delight over loquats, chiramoyas, alligator pears, tamarinds, guavas, the blooming of century plants, the fruits of chollas and the like. Baker pointed out some of these things to Bob.

"Winter to summer in two jumps and a hop," said he. "The come-on stuff rings the bell in this respect, anyway. Smell the air: it's real air. 'Listen to the mocking bird.'"

"Seriously or figuratively?" asked Bob. "I mean, is that a real mocking bird?"

"Surest thing you know," replied Baker as the train moved on, leaving the songster to his ecstasies. "They sing all night out here. Sounds fine when you haven't a grouch. Then you want to collect a brick and drive the darn fowl off the reservation."

"I never saw one before outside a cage," said Bob.

"There's lots of things you haven't seen that you're going to see, now you've got out to the Real Thing," said Baker. "Why, right in your own line: you don't know what big pine is. Wait till you see the woods out here. We've got the biggest trees, and the biggest mountains, and the biggest crops and the biggest--."

"Liars," broke in Bob, laughing. "Don't forget them."

"Yes, the biggest liars, too," agreed Baker. "A man's got to lie big out here to keep in practice so he can tell the plain truth without straining himself."

Before they changed cars to the Valley line, Baker had a suggestion to make.

"Look here," said he, "why don't you come and look at the tall buildings? You can't do anything in the mountains yet, and when you get going you'll be too busy to see California. Come, make a pasear. Glad to show you the sights. Get reckless. Take a chance. Peruse carefully your copy of Rules for Rubes and try it on."

"Go ahead," said Welton, unexpectedly.