Back across the square drifted a strange figure. With difficulty we recognized it as the erstwhile Slim. He had no hat. His hair stuck out in all directions. One eye was puffing shut, blood oozed from a cut in his forehead and dripped from his damaged nose. One shirt sleeve had been half torn from its parent at the shoulder. But, most curious of all, Slim’s face was evenly marked by a perpendicular series of long, red scratches as though he had been dragged from stem to stern along a particularly abrasive gravel walk. Slim seemed quite calm.
His approach was made in a somewhat strained silence. At length there spoke a dry, sardonic voice.
“Well,” said it, “did you kill Beck?”
“Naw!” replied Slim’s remains disgustedly, “the son of a gun wouldn’t fight!”
We reached my friend’s ranch just about dusk. He met me at the yard gate.
“Well!” he said, heartily. “I’m glad you’re here! Not much like the old days, is it?”
I agreed with him.
“Journey out is dull and uninteresting now. But compared to the way we used to do it, it is a cinch. Just sit still and roll along.”
I disagreed with him—mentally.
“The old order has changed,” said he.
“Yes,” I agreed, “now it’s one yard of calico.”
THE NEW AND THE OLD
The old ranching days of California are to all intents and purposes past and gone. To be sure there remain many large tracts supporting a single group of ranch buildings, and over which the cattle wander “on a thousand hills.” There are even a few, a very few—like the ranch of which I am going to write—that are still undivided, still game haunted, still hospitable, still delightful. But in spite of these apparent exceptions, my first statement must stand. About the large tracts swarm real estate men, eager for the chance to subdivide into small farms—and the small farmers pour in from the East at the rate of a thousand a month. No matter how sternly the old land-lords set their faces against the new order of things, the new order of things will prevail; for sooner or late old land-lords must die, and the heirs have not in them the spirit of the ancient tradition. This is, of course, best for the country and for progress; but something passes, and is no more. So the Chino ranch and more recently Lucky Baldwin’s broad acres have yielded.
And even in the case of those that still remain intact, whose wide hills and plains graze thousands of head of cattle; whose pastures breed their own cowhorses; whose cowmen, wearing still with a twist of pride the all-but-vanished regalia of their all-but-vanished calling, refuse to drop back to the humdrum status of “farm hands on a cow ranch”; even here has entered a single element powerful enough to change the old to something new. The new may be better—it is certainly more convenient—and perhaps when all is said and done we would not want to go back to the old. But the old is gone. One single modern institution has been sufficient to render it completely of the past. That institution is the automobile.