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Land of Little Rain - Mary Austin

Jimville: A Bret Harte Town

When Mr. Harte found himself with a fresh palette and his particular local color fading from the West, he did what he considered the only safe thing, and carried his young impression away to be worked out untroubled by any newer fact. He should have gone to Jimville. There he would have found cast up on the ore-ribbed hills the bleached timbers of more tales, and better ones.

You could not think of Jimville as anything more than a survival, like the herb-eating, bony-cased old tortoise that pokes cheerfully about those borders some thousands of years beyond his proper epoch. Not that Jimville is old, but it has an atmosphere favorable to the type of a half century back, if not "forty-niners," of that breed. It is said of Jimville that getting away from it is such a piece of work that it encourages permanence in the population; the fact is that most have been drawn there by some real likeness or liking. Not however that I would deny the difficulty of getting into or out of that cove of reminder, I who have made the journey so many times at great pains of a poor body. Any way you go at it, Jimville is about three days from anywhere in particular. North or south, after the railroad there is a stage journey of such interminable monotony as induces forgetfulness of all previous states of existence.

The road to Jimville is the happy hunting ground of old stage-coaches bought up from superseded routes the West over, rocking, lumbering, wide vehicles far gone in the odor of romance, coaches that Vasquez has held up, from whose high seats express messengers have shot or been shot as their luck held. This is to comfort you when the driver stops to rummage for wire to mend a failing bolt. There is enough of this sort of thing to quite prepare you to believe what the driver insists, namely, that all that country and Jimville are held together by wire.

First on the way to Jimville you cross a lonely open land, with a hint in the sky of things going on under the horizon, a palpitant, white, hot land where the wheels gird at the sand and the midday heaven shuts it in breathlessly like a tent. So in still weather; and when the wind blows there is occupation enough for the passengers, shifting seats to hold down the windward side of the wagging coach. This is a mere trifle. The Jimville stage is built for five passengers, but when you have seven, with four trunks, several parcels, three sacks of grain, the mail and express, you begin to understand that proverb about the road which has been reported to you. In time you learn to engage the high seat beside the driver, where you get good air and the best company. Beyond the desert rise the lava flats, scoriae strewn; sharp-cutting walls of narrow canons; league-wide, frozen puddles of black rock, intolerable and forbidding. Beyond the lava the mouths that spewed it out, ragged-lipped, ruined craters shouldering to the cloud-line, mostly of red earth, as red as a red heifer. These have some comforting of shrubs and grass. You get the very spirit of the meaning of that country when you see Little Pete feeding his sheep in the red, choked maw of an old vent, a kind of silly pastoral gentleness that glozes over an elemental violence. Beyond the craters rise worn, auriferous hills of a quiet sort, tumbled together; a valley full of mists; whitish green scrub; and bright, small, panting lizards; then Jimville.

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