Chapter 3 The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs

As the two young men climbed the hill to the big house, a few minutes later, they found the elder Pennington standing at the edge of the driveway that circled the hill top, looking out toward the wide cañon and the distant mountains. In the nearer foreground lay the stable and corrals of the saddle horses, the hen house with its two long alfalfa runways, and the small dairy barn accommodating the little herd of Guernseys that supplied milk, cream, and butter for the ranch. A quarter of a mile beyond, among the trees, was the red-roofed “cabin” where the unmarried ranch hands ate and slept, near the main corrals with their barns, outhouses, and sheds.

In a hilly pasture farther up the cañon the black and iron gray of Percheron brood mares contrasted with the greening hillsides of spring. Still farther away, the white and red of the lordly figure of the Emperor stood out boldly upon the summit of the ridge behind Jackknife Cañon.

The two young men joined the older, and Custer put an arm affectionately about his father’s shoulders.

“You never tire of it,” said the young man.

“I have been looking at it for twenty-two years, my son,” replied the elder Pennington, “and each year it has become more wonderful to me. It never changes, and yet it is never twice alike. See the purple sage away off there, and the lighter spaces of wild buckwheat, and here and there among the scrub oak the beautiful pale green of the manzanita—scintillant jewels in the diadem of the hills! And the faint haze of the mountains that seem to throw them just a little out of focus, to make them a perfect background for the beautiful hills which the Supreme Artist is placing on his canvas to-day. An hour from now He will paint another masterpiece, and to-night another, and forever others, with never two alike, nor ever one that mortal man can duplicate; and all for us, boy, all for us, if we have the hearts and the souls to see!”

“How you love it!” said the boy.

“Yes, and your mother loves it; and it is our great happiness that you and Eva love it, too.”

The boy made no reply. He did love it; but his was the heart of youth, and it yearned for change and for adventure and for what lay beyond the circling hills and the broad, untroubled valley that spread its level fields below “the castle on the hill.”

“The girls are dressing for a swim,” said the older man, after a moment of silence. “Aren’t you boys going in?”

“The girls” included his wife and Mrs. Evans, as well as Grace, for the colonel insisted that youth was purely a physical and mental attribute, independent of time. If one could feel and act in accord with the spirit of youth, one could not be old.

“Are you going in?” asked his son.

“Yes, I was waiting for you two.”

“I think I’ll be excused, sir,” said Guy. “The water is too cold yet. I tried it yesterday, and nearly froze to death. I’ll come and watch.”

The two Penningtons moved off toward the house, to get into swimming things, while young Evans wandered down into the water gardens. As he stood there, idly content in the quiet beauty of the spot, Allen came down the steps, his check in his hand. At sight of the boy he halted behind him, an unpleasant expression upon his face.

Evans, suddenly aware that he was not alone, turned and recognized the man.

“Oh, hello, Allen!” he said.

“Young Pennington just canned me,” said Allen, with no other return of Evans’s greeting.

“I’m sorry,” said Evans.

“You may be sorrier!” growled Allen, continuing on his way toward the cabin to get his blankets and clothes.

For a moment Guy stared after the man, a puzzled expression knitting his brows. Then he slowly flushed, glancing quickly about to see if any one had overheard the brief conversation between Slick Allen and himself.

A few minutes later he entered the inclosure west of the house, where the swimming pool lay. Mrs. Pennington and her guests were already in the pool, swimming vigorously to keep warm, and a moment later the colonel and Custer ran from the house and dived in simultaneously. Though there was twenty-six years’ difference in their ages, it was not evidenced by any lesser vitality or agility on the part of the older man.

Colonel Custer Pennington had been born in Virginia fifty years before. Graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and West Point, he had taken a commission in the cavalry branch of the service. Campaigning in Cuba, he had been shot through one lung, and shortly after the close of the war he was retired for disability, with rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1900 he had come to California, on the advice of his physician in the forlorn hope that he might prolong his sufferings a few years more.

For two hundred years the Penningtons had bred fine men, women, and horses upon the same soil in the State whose very existence was inextricably interwoven with their own. A Pennington leave Virginia? Horrors! Perish the thought! But Colonel Custer Pennington had had to leave it or die, and with a young wife and a two-year-old boy he couldn’t afford to die. Deep in his heart he meant to recover his health in distant California and then return to the land of his love; but his physician had told a mutual friend, who was also Pennington’s attorney, that “poor old Cus” would almost undoubtedly be dead inside of a year.

And so Pennington had come West with Mrs. Pennington and little Custer, Jr., and had found the Rancho del Ganado run down, untenanted, and for sale. A month of loafing had left him almost ready to die of stagnation, without any assistance from his poor lungs; and when, in the course of a drive to another ranch, he had happened to see the place, and had learned that it was for sale, the germ had been sown.

He judged from the soil and the water that Ganado was not well suited to raise the type of horse that he knew best, and that he and his father and his grandfathers before them had bred in Virginia; but he saw other possibilities. Moreover, he loved the hills and the cañons from the first; and so he had purchased the ranch, more to have something that would temporarily occupy his mind until his period of exile was ended by a return to his native State, or by death, than with any idea that it would prove a permanent home.

The old Spanish American house had been remodeled and rebuilt. In four years he had found that Herefords, Berkshires, and Percherons may win a place in a man’s heart almost equal to that which a thoroughbred occupies. Then a little daughter had come, and the final seal that stamps a man’s house as his home was placed upon “the castle on the hill.”

His lung had healed—he could not tell by any sign it gave that it was not as good as ever—and still he stayed on in the land of sunshine, which he had grown to love without realizing its hold upon him. Gradually he had forgotten to say “when we go back home”; and when at last a letter came from a younger brother, saying that he wished to buy the old place in Virginia if the Custer Penningtons did not expect to return to it, the colonel was compelled to face the issue squarely.

They had held a little family council—the colonel and Julia, his wife, with seven-year-old Custer and little one-year-old Eva. Eva, sitting in her mother’s lap, agreed with every one. Custer, Jr., burst into tears at the very suggestion of leaving dear old Ganado.

“And what do you think about it, Julia?” asked the colonel.

“I love Virginia, dear,” she had replied; “but I think I love California even more, and I say it without disloyalty to my own State. It’s a different kind of love.”

“I know what you mean,” said her husband. “Virginia is a mother to us, California a sweetheart.”

And so they stayed upon the Rancho del Ganado.