The quality of life changed for Bill, now that he was living at Rancho Del Paso. It was different from that life he had known South of the Slot. He had to admit he was happier for the change, too.
John Mackey, the tall, straight, strong superintendent, made the difference. A solid man he was, as anyone knew who saw his face furrowed with years of wind and sun and kindness, Mr. Mackey made certain not one note of harshness crept into the training of those princes and queens of the pacing and trotting world which came under his efficient, ranch management. He watched over the expansive acres, the six hundred brood mares and forty stallions, with such paternal devotion that the instant one was missing he would seek him out by name. He was just a solicitous about his men, too, and just as careful that they lived well-ordered lives. As well ordered as cowboys and horsemen can ever live!
Bill thought the Arcade, as the settlement was called, seemed to take on the same kind of atmosphere of the rolling acres that stretched onward over the rectangular miles where young colts scampered at play, bringing strength to their lengthening bodies and supple limbs.
Gradually, rowdyism became a thing unknown to Bill as he fell into the routine of life as it was carried on in the twenty-four big red barns, the bunkhouses and residences that were grouped together to house the horses, their groomsmen, and the trainers. All the wild life that Mr. Mackey permitted within the confines of this breeding farm were the fleet-footed deer that roamed within the network of fences that divided the ranch and the giant barns from the paddocks and pastures, or perhaps a marauding grizzly bear or a wild canary or linnet or mocking bird.
Now, as Bill led a more isolated, self-concentrated life, with long hours alone in the saddle, he became absorbed in many things that hadn't filled his mind before. He thought of his destiny for one thing, the destiny of his friends in the city, of his life hereafter, too, even the immortality of his soul. In his youthful brain, he tried to clarify all these things and more. But he tried to avoid thinking if the destiny that had been placed upon him when he was a lad, the destiny he had accepted, when life was full of laughs and values and God.
Standing there in the fenced-in paddock, carpeted in crinkly green, he watched the awkward infants, standing uncertainly on four legs. "Little do you know that you'll be 'edicated' as carefully as any boy or gairl," he said. "But for certain, it's me pleasure to watch you graze and gallop, scudding the hills as far as the eye can see. An' little do ye know that I watch the very ground under yer feet to be certain you can stand the shock of the hard earth to yer young muscles and tendons. Oh 'tis fair luck you have."
When subjects deeply touched his emotions, he always slipped back into speech that was closer to his homeland, although since coming to California he prided himself he was fast losing his thick brogue. He listened to other people talk and tried to imitate their speech. Someday, he hoped, he would not be recognized as an alien; no more would he be a stranger in America!
Each day was filled with sweet tenderness as he cared for the little weanlings, but it only increased the longing in his soul, and a hunger in his mind to enjoy a close-knit family life centered around a hearth once more. He thought of his sister Annie. Soon he would have saved enough money to send for her to come to America.
Before long, little ruffles of green became splotched with wild mustard. When Bill rode along the banks of the rivulets which crossed in and out of the pastures, he noticed how they swelled to where they had become almost rivers. He noticed the yearlings were losing their shaggy coats, too, and were looking more like the aristocrats they were.
The yellow fields turned to beige and he accompanied the fine racers to the Kentucky Derby, and later the American Derby in Chicago and saw Ben Ali win. He felt a distinct proudness in the part he had taken in the victory!
When he returned, the growth of the wildflowers had been cut down by the torrid sun, the grass had turned brown, the snow-capped Sierras, that had watched him working over his young animals all spring, were now hidden by summer's haze. Not a leaf or a twig, nothing stirred in the sweating heat of July. The sun was white hot under his black Stetson and the earth below was the color of a dun horse.
In the evenings now, he read constantly, by kerosene lamplight. He was gradually adding many fine words to his vocabulary. He read all the books in Mr. Mackey's library, books on horses, the veterinarian books, and novels too - Thackeray and Charles Dickens. And with his reading, he became more aware of the social evils of that whole, huge world of which he had always been a part. Small wonder he had made a happy retreat to Del Paso! He knew too well of the tremendous and awful truth in the pages of Dickens. Many times it seemed the English author had been writing of his own days of desperate loneliness in an English workhouse. Even now his life ached with the memory of it. It was something he could not scratch out of his mind. He became conscious of the evil within him, too. His own sins filled him with horror. He wished he could vomit them out of his soul. But there was no way.
So he read and read and read, hoping to find something he could latch onto that would erase the isolation he had always felt except for those few years in the Sandwich Islands. He read out of naked need, looking for one crumb of truth that would satisfy this insatiate hunger in his heart, the wisdom for which he searched.
The enormous dazzle of the sun knifed under him in the swelter of August and the sweat streamed from under the inner band of his broad-brimmed hat. But he didn't mind the heat, nor the glare, nor the sweat. Life was still better here than it had been in the cool mist of the Big City with its rot and its filth and its ugliness. Not what he wanted but better than what he had had before.
The dinner bell sounded and he strode up to the cook-house.
"Mr. Mackey wants a word with you," someone called to him. When he joined the fifty-three-year-old manager, he was holding a letter in his hand. "I know how much you have enjoyed your work here, Bill," he began. "I don't have to tell you how pleased I have been with you. The performance of the horses speaks for that. But Mr. Haggin has a request from a friend in Monterey County he can't turn down. I'm hoping you'll be back as soon as you can come. It isn't every man I can trust to conduct our horses East." He watched Bill's face for he was afraid Bill might not want to go, but he saw no disappointment there. "Maybe this young man, accustomed to traveling over the world as he had, never did stay in one place," he thought.
Bill said nothing.
"Will you go?" Mackey pressed him.
"That I will, sir. For certain I will be back. Yes, I will be back. I am glad to be of service to your Mr. Peregrini in Monterey, but it's sad I am to be leaving the books."
"The books?" Mackey was surprised at this for he had never had a trainer who took such keen personal delight both in each little weanling and in each new book. Bill knew to an ounce of milk what those capricious youngsters took. He knew where the dam would find the best grass to produce that milk, too. And in leaving, he only spoke of missing books he had read in the office each evening.
"Then prepare to leave for Gonzales as soon as possible," Mr. Mackey concluded.
"Gonzales? It is to Gonzales I am going?" Bill's interest perked up instantly, for the California Blooded Horse Association had a race track there and Bill hoped someday he would have the good fortune to train horses there.
"From Gonzales, you could easily be sent to our Stockdale Ranch in Bakersfield before heading back to Del Paso. We have four thousand blooded animals there in need of your expert knowledge."
"Agreed," Bill said with a smiling face. "There's a Mrs. Cochrane, a woman I worked for in San Francisco, who has a ranch at Madrone and I promised her I'd give her a hand on some vicious animals if I ever got to her neighborhood. Would you mind me keeping that obligation first. Mr. Mackey?"
"Certainly not! I respect a man who keeps his word."
To Chapter Five
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