And again we rode softly for miles over greensward through the cattle, at a gentle fox trot, so as not to disturb them. At several points stood great blue herons, like sentinels, decorative as a Japanese screen, absolutely motionless. The Captain explained that they were “fishing” for gophers; and blessed them deeply. Sometimes our mounts splashed for a long distance through water five or six inches shallow. Underneath the surface we could see the short green grass of the turf that thus received its refreshment. Then somewhere near, silhouetted against the sky or distant mountains, on the slight elevation of the irrigation ditch bank, we were sure to see some of the irrigation Chinamen. They were strange, exotic figures, their skins sunburned and dark, their queues wound around their heads; wearing always the same uniform of blue jeans cut China-fashion, rubber boots, and the wide, inverted bowl Chinese sun hat of straw. By means of shovels wherewith to dig, and iron bars wherewith to raise and lower flood gates, they controlled the artificial rainfall of the region. So accustomed did the ducks become to these amphibious people that they hardly troubled themselves to get out of the way, and were utterly careless of how near they flew. Uncle Jim once disguised himself as an irrigation Chinaman and got all kinds of shooting—until the ducks found him out. Now they seem able to distinguish accurately between a Chinaman with a long shovel and a white man with a shotgun, no matter how the latter is dressed. Ducks, tame and wild, have a lot of sense. It must bore the former to be forced to associate with chickens.
Over in the orchard, of a thousand acres or so, were many more Orientals, and hundreds of wild doves. These Chinese were all of the lower coolie orders, and primitive, not to say drastic in their medical ideas. One evening the Captain heard a fine caterwauling and drum beating over in the quarters, and sallied forth to investigate. In one of the huts he found four men sitting on the outspread legs and arms of a fifth. The latter had been stripped stark naked. A sixth was engaged in placing live coals on the patient’s belly, while assorted assistants furnished appropriate music and lamentation. The Captain put a stop to the proceedings and bundled the victim to a hospital where he promptly died. It was considered among Chinese circles that the Captain had killed him by ill-timed interference!
Everywhere we went, and wherever a small clump of trees or even large brush offered space, hung the carcasses of coyotes, wildcats, and lynx. Some were quite new, while others had completely mummified in the dry air of these interior plains. These were the trophies of the professional “varmint killer,” a man hired by the month. Of course it would be only too easy for such an official to loaf on his job, so this one had adopted the unique method of proving his activity. Everywhere the Captain rode he could see that his man had been busy.