Authors: Harry Sinclair Drago
HARRY SINCLAIR DRAGO
Lanham â¢ Boulder â¢ New York â¢ Toronto â¢ Plymouth, UK
Published by M. Evans
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Copyright Â© The Macaulay Company 1924
First paperback edition 2014
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014940370
ISBN: 978-1-59077-428-1 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-429-8 (electronic)
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Printed in the United States of America
MY OWN THREE
WINNIE, BARBARA AND TOM
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FOLLOWING THE GRASS
up among the Cantabrian foothills there is a
a sealed valley. One enters and leaves it by a rocky trail that winds its way to the rim of the surrounding country by means of many tortuous grades. To the north, opposite the spot where the trail emerges from the valley, tower the grim, treeless, snow-capped Pyre-neesâthe great Basque barrier which armies and adventuring princes have assailed in vain.
It is a goodly country. There, for nine centuries or more, men have tilled the soil and herded their flocks; no one among them rich, and no one poor; bending the knee never to king or potentate. Seldom, indeed, have they even made a promise of allegiance to any ruler, and then only with such reservations as left them free men and the makers of their own laws and the keepers of their souls.
This day a man toiled up the trail which led to the outside world. He paused at the rim and let his pack sink to the ground. He was a mere boy, for all that his body was man-grown. His name was Angel Irosabal.
He was the eldest of ten sons, and yet, until to-day, he had never been out of the valley. This was equally true of his brothers. That Angel fared forth into strange lands to-day was only because he was turning his back forever on the valley of his fathers.
Since childhood he had worn the sleeveless sheepskin jerkin and leather breeches of the herder. He was in holiday garb to-dayârough homespun woven from the fleece of the sheep he himself had guarded, and fashioned to his figure by his mother's skilled hands.
Angel knew that as he proceeded through the valleys to come his attire alone would proclaim that some momentous event impended. And with good reason. Yet, surely, neither Angel nor his fellows could foresee that the business he was about was to change the course of history. Still, no less a thing was to come from it.
Take your map and place your finger upon the Bay of Biscay. You will see where the rocky coast of Biscay Provinceâold Vizcayaâturns back the surging tides. Nestling beside it is Alava, and beyond, to the north, hard-pressed by the Pyrenees and the Cantabrians, you will find GuipÃºscoa. It is a far-distant country, remote from the affairs of the world (or it was, then, in I860), but during the previous year word of the new world had filtered into its up-land valleys.
The New WorldâCalifornia! There was magic in its very name. Gold was hidden in its hillsides and streams; its wide valleys were rich, fertile beyond anything GuipÃºscoa knew. Rumor had it that those valleys only awaited the coming of man to be made to bloom as had the lowland gardens of Valencia.
It was a land where one rancho was larger than all of GuipÃºscoaâlarger than all three of the Basque provinces put together! And men were their own masters there. They made their own laws!
Gray-haired Bonafacio, Angel's father, had whispered that tale to his sons. They had asked him many questions, for they knew that the soil of the
was almost exhausted. They had need of a new land; but the father had allowed a full year to pass before announcing his decision.
The time had come. One of them must go forth in search of a new country. When he had found itâbe it California or South Americaâthe rest would followâall but the head and the youngest son of each family. This, so that their seed should not be lost to their native land.
They had heard him in silence, knowing that Angel, as the eldest, would be the one to go. Sober-faced, the boy had accepted his responsibility. A day of feasting had followedâseveral whole sheep had been roasted upon the spits; tankards had been filled with smoldering
That was yesterday. This morning, Angel had taken up his pack and kissed his mother good-by. With his brothers to bear him company he had set off across the valley to where the trail began. There, in the gray dawn, a dry-eyed girl had met them. His brothers had turned back then, and Angel, left alone with the girl, had taken her in his arms and kissed her.
Both knew it was good-by; but there had been no tears. Angel would have held himself shamed had tears dimmed his eyes. Tears were for Catalans and Andalusians and other soft peoples of the plains. He was a Basque.
The girl was like him in this; not within the memory of man had a foreign taint crept into her blood. And so, although her heart was breaking, she had smiled bravely. It is the Basque way.
Even now, as Angel gazed down at the whitewashed
of the Irosabals, his face was unmarred by emotion. He was an heroic figure as he stood there, tall, gaunt, with his hand shielding his eyes as he stared across the valley, his wind-tanned, copper-colored cheeks reflecting the rays of the westering sun.
Patiently his eyes swept the
until he located the landmarks of his boyhood. Old memories rushed to him and the minutes dragged by before he lowered his hand. From his pocket he took a blue magpie feather. When he had it firmly secured to a small rock he hurled it out into space, knowing that it would fall not far from where the trail began. It was the signal they had agreed on which should tell the girl that he had reached the top.
Picking up his pack, he turned his face toward Bilboa and the west. Spain was to know him no more. Later, for a brief two weeks, he loitered in Vera Cruz and Parral. In Mexico his Basque tongue was unknown, and so, by force of circumstance, he had recourse to Spanish, a “second” language, which he spoke with greater elegance than Mexicans had been wont to hear.
Angel took no pride in this accomplishment. Spanish had long been the language of business in the Basque Provinces, where, strangely, it had attained a degree of purity unknown outside of Seville. Hence, the boy's use of it was natural. In itself, it was a trivial matter. And yet, it was materially to affect his future life and the lives of those who were to follow in his footsteps.
El Camino Real
âthe king's highwayâwas still the great thoroughfare to California. In Parral Angel purchased a horse and joined a wagon-train bound for Los Angeles and Monterey. He went armed, as did his fellows, for even as late as I86I the road led through a wild country.
America's attention was far from the Southwest. The great battles of the Civil War were being fought, and although the war touched the lives of those along the border, and volunteers for both sides were not wanting, it was with the problems which the war brought, rather than with the war itself, that the frontier was concerned. Their old enemies, the Apaches and the Teguas, had sensed the relaxing of the restraining hand to which they had submitted. If history does not record those turbulent days in the Southwest it is only because they were concurrent with events of far greater importance east of the Mississippi.
Angel was essentially a fighting-man. The days that followed were to his liking. As the wagon-train moved north tales of the great battles came with increasing frequency. Had the boy been free to do as he pleased he surely would have turned his back on California. But the war was not for him.