When we reached our hotel we found The Babe patiently awaiting us. His complexion was slightly the worse for wear, but his eyes were as blue as ever and almost as guileless. How wide they opened when he listened to our story! How indignant he waxed when he learned that we had condemned him, the son of an archdeacon, as an opium fiend. However, he was very penitent, and returned with us to the ranch, where he dug post-holes for a couple of months, and behaved like a model babe. Ajax wrote to the archdeacon, and in due season The Babe returned to England, where he wisely enlisted as a trooper in a smart cavalry regiment, a corps that his grandfather had commanded. The pipeclay was in his marrow, and he became in time rough-riding sergeant of the regiment. I am told that soon he will be offered a commission.
This story contains two morals: both so obvious that they need not be recorded.
Of the many queer characters who took up land in the brush hills near our ranch none excited greater tongue-wagging than the Baron. The squatters called him the Baron. He signed his name—I had to witness his signature—Rene Bourgueil.
The Baron built himself a bungalow on a small hill overlooking a pretty lake which dried up in summer and smelled evilly. Also, he spent money in planting out a vineyard and orchard, and in making a garden. What he did not know about ranching in Southern California would have filled an encyclopaedia, but what he did know about nearly everything else filled us and our neighbours with an ever-increasing amazement and curiosity.
Why did such a man bury himself in the brush hills of San Lorenzo County?
More, he was past middle-age: sixty-five at least, not a sportsman, nor a naturalist, but obviously a gentilhomme, with the manners of one accustomed to the best society.
Of society, however, he spoke mordant words—
“Soziety in Europe, to-day,” he said to me, shortly after his arrival, “ees a big monkey-house, and all ze monkeys are pulling each ozer’s tails. I pull no tails, moi, and I allow no liberties to be taken wiz my person.”
About a month later the Baron was dining with us, and I reminded him of what he had said. He laughed, shrugging his shoulders.
“Mon cher, ze monkeys in your backwoods are more— diable!—moch more aggr-r-ressive zan ze monkeys in ze old world.”
“They pull tails there,” said Ajax, “but here they pull legs as well— eh?”
The Baron smiled ruefully, sticking out a slender, delicately formed foot and ankle.
“Yes,” he said thoughtfully, “old man Dumble, he pull my leg.”
The Dumbles were neighbours of the Baron, and their sterile acres marched with his. John Jacob Dumble’s word might be as good or better than his bond, but neither was taken at par. It was said of him that he preferred to take cash for telling a lie rather than credit for telling the truth. Dumble, as we knew, had sold the Baron one horse and saddle, one Frisian-Holstein cow, and an incubator. The saddle gave the horse a sore back, the horse fell down and broke its knees, the cow dried up in a fortnight, and the incubator cooked eggs to perfection, but it wouldn’t incubate them.