Then enters the hero. Even while they stood dismayed, gazing at each other across the clay, he appeared with a mud sled and took them all across for 50 cents a passenger and $1 if you had a bundle.
Now, I believe it. Didn’t I see the man who had been there and paid his four-bits to cross? Imagine, if you can, though, trying to make those Yankees around the corner store believe that there was a town where one had to pay 50 cents to cross a narrow country road in a mud sled.
I believed a man who told me a story down in Kern County last summer. We were riding over the desert and I asked the stage driver the name of a low yellow bush that grows down there. He was an interesting fellow, that stage driver, who had been a buccaroo all his life and apparently knew all about the sage brush country. And when he didn’t know he was not lacking in an answer. I like a man like that. Answer, I say, whether you know or not.
He said with great assurance that the little, low, yellow bush was “Mexican saddle blanket” or “Tinder bush,” this last because it burns like tinder in the fall of the year.
“Why, that bush is so dry,” he said, “that once when I lighted it to cook my bacon for breakfast it traveled so fast that by the time my bacon was cooked I was five miles from camp.”
I laughed — I couldn’t help it when I imagined that six-footer traveling across the desert with a frying pan over that low bush. I laughed because it was so real to me, but he misunderstood, and said so sort of hurt, “Don’t you believe me?”
And I told him I did. And I did. And I do. Five miles isn’t a great distance to travel over the desert after one’s bacon.
Mr. Mazzini will never be rich. He takes too much time for philosophy and gossiping with the women, and he loves a joke too well, and his heart is too kind. He is a universal type, as old as the world is old, Theocritus knew him well.
“You pick me out some good cantaloupes,” I said with deadly tact, and Mr. Mazzini answered that it couldn’t be done and that melons were like men, that there was no sure way of picking them out for their kindness of heart. Then he took time over the melons to tell me how his mother in Italy, who was evidently something of a match-maker, had gotten fooled on a young man who was both “laze” and “steenge” in his youth but who made a very good husband.
One day it was figs, and I was strong for the nice appearing ones, but Mr. Mazzini told me a lot about figs and chose me some that were lop-sided from packing. What delicious figs they were, all stored with sunshine and sweetness and flavor just as he had told me. Mr. Mazzini owns his own store, and yet when he throws in a few extra, as he always does, because they are soft or a little specked, he will wink and glance slyly around just as though he were putting one over on the boss.