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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter VIII. “Out and About"

MY son’s fruit ranch is situated about five miles from Los Angeles, in the neighbourhood of the village of Florence. Florence is but a straggling hamlet, and what there is save the glorious sky above it to entitle it to the name of the Tuscan capital it would be hard to say. There is no want of roads in these parts, for the whole country is laid out in rectangles, and usually at every half mile there are roads, broad and tree-lined, crossing each other at right angles. The quantity is ample, the quality—une autre close. Near town the roads are properly built, but a few miles out they know nothing of road-metal, but consist simply of the native soil; and where there is much traffic, they are beaten and pounded in the drought of summer into sheer beds of dust. In winter, when the dust has become mud, the residents turn out and mend their ways by shovelling the mud from the sides on to the middle. At other times an effort will occasionally be made to contend with the dust by spreading straw over it, or eucalyptus leaves, or any other available rubbish. But really, when you consider all that the settlers have had to do, the wonder is that they have roads at all. I remember travelling some years ago on a stage-coach between lnversnaid and Loch Katrine in company with some Americans, who were in a boastful vein, and disposed to run down everything in Scotland. Compared with America, the lakes were small, the mountains low, the horses poor, the stage-coach paltry. “Well, gentlemen," I said, “you will admit we have better roads." — “Little thanks to you," was the reply; “you have had two thousand years to make them."

The country about Florence, as in many other places, is mostly laid out in vineyards and orchards. Some are large, covering hundreds of acres, but most of them are from five or ten acres upwards. The Nadeau vineyard, for example, is a large one. The first owner made money in the freight transportation or carrying business—conveying goods over the desert before the days of the railway—a rough and risky business in those days. Buying land cheap, he acquired a large quantity, of which his family now reap the benefit. The country is too fat, and fertile to have much picturesque beauty, but the range of mountains in the horizon is always grand. The charm is in the climate. It is quite luxurious to find day after day the most, glorious weather—a blue sky without a cloud, and in the evening that tender “after-glow" that seems to breathe the spirit of heaven. The vegetation is wonderfully rich. A very little labour and care will secure a most beautiful garden. Roses flowering all the year round, white lilies of incomparable purity, bushes of carnations with hundreds of flowers on each, marguerites with thousands, geraniums like trees, a hedge of blazing sunflowers twelve feet high, annuals in richest bloom, made, our little cottage appear a corner of paradise. It was such a contrast to Edinburgh gardens, where all the labour you can expend is so little productive. The flowers seemed to say, just stick us in the ground and give us a drop of water—it’s all we ask.

I was favourably impressed with the people who own and cultivate the farms and orchards in the neighbourhood. Of course there were exceptions, but take them all in ail they were respectable, serious, and neighbourly — people that would not see a neighbour in trouble without hauling a helping hand. At Florence there is a little Methodist church, with a very worthy and earnest minister. When J preached, the whole neighbourhood seemed to turn out, and there was a happy family feeling pervading the assembly. At Vernon, in another direction, there is a Congregational church, the minister of it a devout, cultivated, and very agreeable man. Here I was even more at home. In these places people for the most part seem to be church going, though there is a proportion of the careless and unbelieving. There are superior schools at both places. At Vernon, a new school was in the course of erection—a large and handsome building, that in our country would have cost from £1,500 to £2,000. It must always be said in honour of Americans that they do not starve their schools.

Shall we now make a little excursion of ten or twelve miles in the direction of the mountains, and become acquainted with Pasadena? It is a nourishing town, only seven years of age, with a population estimated at 11,000. There is not much of the appearance of town about it—only a street or two, the rest being suburbs, dotted all over with villas and cottages. It is more a winter than a summer residence; in fact, that huge hotel, the Raymond, dominating the town from a commanding height, shuts up its five hundred apartments in summer, and takes in guests in winter only. The. winter climate is splendid for invalids. The hotel is named after a brotherhood that, like Cook and Son in England, organize excursions, and labour to make travelling easy. Pasadena is a choice spot, having many families in easy circumstances, whom the charm of its winter climate has induced to settle there. Like most other places, it has its proportion of Scotsmen. I met them in dozens in the very large and handsome Presbyterian church where I officiated. Sauntering along the principal street, I observed a store called “The Bon-Accord Emporium,” or some such name. My heart gave a little leap at the word “Bon-Accord,” the motto of my native city. I went up to the owner and said, “Mr. Brobner, are you not, like myself, from Aberdeen?”—“Yes,” he said. “Did you know my father, an elder of the Free Church in Turriff?” I knew him more than forty years ago, having been then minister in a neighbouring parish; and in those days, just after the Disruption of the Church, every man who was so useful as Mr. Brebner was honoured by us all.

From one of our friends in Pasadena we got a little chapter of family history which shows vividly how some men get on. A relation of my friend’s, with an ailment of the throat, had come with his wife from one of the middle states in search of health. Their means were small, and before they could make up their minds what to do, or where to settle, everything was spent. Thereupon, in order to get daily bread, the wife had to resort to teaching in Los Angeles, and by this means she kept the family alive. A friend sent him eighteen hundred dollars to invest; he became the borrower, and undertook to pay something like eighteen per cent, interest upon the loan. He bought seven acres at Pasadena, improving them with his own hand, and by-and-by selling at a considerable profit, which enabled him to repay the loan and buy other fifteen acres. These in like manner he improved, and was able to sell at a profit, and from this he went on till he has now very extensive property and ample means. But let no man reckon on repeating such an experiment. It succeeded simply because the gentleman came in the very nick of time. We hear much of successful cases of this sort; but many a man, just as laborious and persevering, has struggled and struggled and failed, because he lost the tide which bore the other to fortune. Success is blazoned abroad; failure, though far more frequent, lurks concealed.

With another friend we made an interesting excursion among the mountains, having our picnic in a beautiful canyon in the Sierra. Our more immediate object was to call on a gentleman named Brown, son of the famous John Brown of Harper’s Ferry, who lost his life in the cause of the slave, and has, most deservedly, been a hero with the negroes ever since. It was a difficult matter to get up the steep pass, for the roads were very rough and the day was very hot. And Mr. Brown’s shanty was high up among the mountains—why so high it was hard to tell. Such as the road was it had been constructed with much hard manual labour by him and a brother recently dead, in whose memory a tombstone had just been erected on the crest of a neighbouring height. Unfortunately we did not find Mr. Brown at home, and we had to content ourselves with carrying off two magnificent stems of Yucca yloviosa from the mountain side. We regretted much that we had not seen him, for he is said personally to be a most interesting man, and he could have told us many things about his father. Near to his house, and built on land that once belonged to him, is a sanitarium, presided over by a lady-doctor. This lady we afterwards met in a railway-car a long way off. She told us much of the singularly unselfish and benevolent character of the two brothers, who seemed to lead such a recluse life. I cannot repeat what was not meant for the public, and might be distasteful to the man in whose praise it was uttered. But it surpassed the old story of the dying Sir Philip Sydney handing his cup of water to the common soldier beside him, with the remark, “Thy necessity is greater than mine.” Poor though these Browns were, when they had any money it was wretched negroes and Mexicans that got the benefit of it. One seemed to understand better the character of the father—how he came to be such a friend to the slave, and how the slave had such an affection and veneration for him. And I remembered an anecdote of the Jubilee Singers which I had heard told by the late excellent and amiable Lord Ardmillan. In a drawing-room where the Jubilee Singers were giving a performance, he was struck with the heartiness with which they sang “John Brown.” He went up to one of them and said, “You seem to have a great regard for John Brown.”—“Yes,” said the young man with emphasis; “and well we may. He died for us.” And then, as if fearing that he had used too sacred an expression, fitted in its full reach only for another application, he added quietly, “But there was Another that died for us all.”

One thing more before we leave Pasadena—it is a temperance town. I believe there is a part of it to which this remark does not apply, being under another regulation, but prohibition reigns in the original Pasadena. Not, I believe, by decree of the people, but as one of the conditions under which the city was originally established. It is not a place for testing prohibition, because, though the sale of drink is illegal within its borders, drink can be got so easily from neighbouring places. Still, there are no saloons in Pasadena. And as there are no saloons, there is no disorder or crime or open wretchedness. Nor does the reign of prohibition seem to have the least effect in driving away immigrants or retarding the prosperity of the place. Few communities have advanced so quickly or prospered so much. And it is far more likely that families will be drawn to settle there by the peace and prosperity which prevail in the absence of saloons, than that they will shake their heads and turn from it in horror because it affords no facility for the unwholesome excitements of alcohol.

Another trip in a different direction brings us to Ontario, in the San Bernardino valley, about forty miles in a southeastern direction. We pass through Pomona, a rising and prosperous town, and find Ontario a much smaller community, but with some interesting features. It was “made” by two brothers from Canada—hence its name—who determined to spare nothing to turn it into a most attractive and enjoyable place of abode. Among other things which they did was to lay out a fine avenue, originally seven miles long, now nine. Four rows of trees line the avenue; in the centre of the trees there is a tram-car road, and on either side a carriage drive. It was intended that all along this avenue land should be sold in allotments, and thus a great community created. To a certain extent this has been done. I believe the brothers found their means unequal to the undertaking, and that the property has now passed into other hands. That it will ultimately succeed admits, we think, of little doubt; for the neighbourhood is very beautiful, and the dryness of the climate, free from the sea-fogs nearer the coast, is admirably adapted for fruit. The drying of grapes and other fruits can be carried on splendidly here. Another place in the neighbourhood, Riverside, has even finer capabilities for fruit.

But our chief reason for coming here was to visit a young friend, the son of an esteemed minister, who had recently bought land and settled in the neighbourhood of the railway station next after Ontario, Cucamonga. Readers may get some idea of how settlers from the old country get on from a description of this place. We had sent a card intimating our visit the day before; but letters have to wait there for their chance of delivery, and we were not expected. We walked from the station, and were happy to find our friend, along with a comrade who lived with him, at home. A wooden house, almost unfurnished, but with excellent capabilities, would have been quite comfortable but for the myriads of flies that covered the windows and buzzed about everywhere, and could by no means be got rid of. Our welcome was cordiality itself, the only regret being that it was dinner-time and there was no dinner. But being “right smart,” and put to his wits, our host managed in a few minutes to provide for us abundantly and most creditably. Then a walk through the ranch to see the recently-planted vineyard. Our host’s enthusiasm was delightful as he pointed out how well the plants had struck, and even of those that had not yet struck there was no cause to despair. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and every young ranchman looks out on a wonderful future. May it be realized and more! I have great confidence in the future of Ontario, and I think my friend’s prospects are good; all the more that his principles are of the kind to guide him well.

In the afternoon we had a drive over the whole countryside. It is not a very difficult task to reclaim land in those parts, for in its natural condition it is not occupied by anything very difficult to remove. In fact, the chief enemy of the farmer there is the sunflower. It is beautiful to see the yellow blaze covering a great stretch of land—beautiful to all but the farmer, who finds that do what he may he cannot get quit of it. The ground is generally level, and if the rabbits could be shut out, and more water provided, the produce would be wonderful. All over this Ontario region we see fruit trees abounding and flourishing. Not only the vine and the orange, but the lemon, the olive, and many other species. Our drive embraced miles of the great avenue, till at last we ranched the hotel. We left our friends after a very exhilarating day, glad to have got the opportunity of seeing settlers in the earliest stage of their undertaking, and thankful to find them in such good spirits notwithstanding the drawbacks of their wilderness life.

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