By Henry Herbert Knibbs

Through the San Fernando Valley, toward the hills of Calabasas runs that old royal road, El Camino Real, of the early Mission days. And now replicas of old Mission bells, each suspended in solitary dignity from a rusted iron rod, mark intervals along the dusty way, once just a narrow trail worn by the patient feet of that gentle and great padre, Junípero Serra, — a trail from the San Gabriel Valley to the very shores of Monterey.

Yes, a narrow trail then, but, even then, to him it was broad in its potential significance of the dawn of Grace upon the mountain shores of Heaven's lost garden, California.

Not far from one iron-posted bell in the valley, El Camino Real falters, to find, eventually, its lazy way round the low foothills, as though reluctant to lift its winding length over the sharp pitch of the Canajo Pass, beyond.

Near this lone bell there is another road, a mere offspring of the old El Camino Real, but it runs quickly from its gray and patient sire. Branching south in hurried turns and multiple windings it climbs the rolling hills, ever dodging the rude-piled masses of rock, with scattered brush between, but forever aspiring courageously through the mountain sage and sunshine toward its ultimate green rest in the shadowy hills.

In the sweet sage is heard the drone of bees, much like the hum of a far city. The thinning, acrid air is tinged with the faint fragrance of sunburnt shrubs and grasses.

With the sinuous avoidings of a baffled snake the road turns and turns again upon itself until its earlier promise of high adventuring seems doubtful. As often as not it climbs a semi-barren dun stretch of sunbaked earth dotted with stubby cacti — passes these dwarfed grotesques, and attempts again the narrowing crest of the cañon-wall, only to swing abruptly back to the field of cacti again, gaining but little in its upward trend.

Impatient, it finally plunges dizzily round a sharp, outstanding angle of rock and down into the unexpected enchantment of Moonstone Cañon. Here the gaunt cliffs rise to host great wild gardens, draped with soft rose and poignant red amid drowsy undertones of gray and green and gold. Dots of vivid colors flame and fade and pass to ledges of dank, vine-clad rock and drifts of chipped shale as the road climbs yet again.

At the next turn are the indistinct voices of water, commingling in a monotone — and the road abruptly ceases to be, as the cool silver of a mountain stream cuts through it, with seemingly inconsequential meanderings, but with the soft arrogance of a power too great to be denied. And the indistinct voices, left behind, fade to unimaginable sounds as the stream patters down its gravelly course, chuckling with contented glee beyond all measure with its own delusions of adventuring.

Patiently the road takes up its way, moving in easier sweeps through a widening valley, but forever climbing.

Again and again, fetlock deep across it runs the stream, gently persistent and forever murmuring its happy soliloquies.

Here and there the road passes quickly through a blot of shade, — a group of wide-spreading live-oaks, — and reappears, gray-white and hot in the sun.

And then, with its high ambition fulfilled, the road recovers from its last climbing sweep round the base of a shouldering hill and runs straight and smooth to its ultimate green rest in the shade of the sycamores. Beyond these two huge-limbed warders of the mountain ranch gate, there is a flower-bordered way, but it is the road no longer.

The mountain ranch takes its name from the cañon below. It is the Moonstone Ranch, the home of Louise, whose ancestors, the Lacharmes, grew roses in old France.

Among the many riders to and from the ranch, there is one, a great, two-fisted, high-complexioned man, whose genial presence is ever welcome. He answers to many names. To the youngsters he is "Uncle Jack," — usually with an exclamation. The foreman of the Moonstone Ranch  seldom calls him anything more dignified than "Red."

Louise does sometimes call him
— quite affectionately, of course —

Read the whole book now.


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