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Volume 5022

P. J. Monahan: Girl from Hollywood - FP same as DJAce edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976
Part 2 by
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Custer Pennington and his girl, Grace, have just rescued a young calf from the clutches of a flock of vultures spiraling high overhead near Jackknife Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains on the Ranch del Ganado.  Anyone who has ever ventured into the mountains of the California coastal range can speak of the wonderful green beauty in the springtime and the stifling heat and drab brown withering grass in the summer.  We are not told yet what time of the year this part of the story is occurring, but ERB has said nothing of the heat so we cannot be sure it is summer.  So, let us learn a little more about Rancho del Ganado and its remarkable similarity with the real Rancho Tarzana.  In this section we will review and analyze Chapter Two.

        The man bent his lips to hers again, and her arms stole about his neck.  The calf, in the meantime, perhaps disgusted by such absurdities, had scampered off to try his brand-new legs again, with the result that he ran into a low bush, turned a somersault, and landed on his back.  The mother, still doubtful of the intentions of the newcomers, to whose malevolent presence she may have attributed the accident, voiced a perturbed low; whereupon there broke from the vicinity of the live oak a deep note, not unlike the rumbling of distant thunder.
        The man looked up.
        “I think we’ll be going,” he said.  “The Emperor has issued an ultimatum.”
        “Or a bull, perhaps,” Grace suggested, as they walked quickly toward her horse.
        “Awful!” he commented, as he assisted her into the saddle.
        Then he swung to his own.
        The Emperor moved majestically toward them, his nose close to the ground.  Occasionally he stopped, pawing the earth and throwing dust upon his broad back.
        “Doesn’t he look wicked?” cried the girl.  “Just look at those eyes!”
        “He’s just an old bluffer,” replied the man.  “However, I’d rather have you in the saddle, for you can’t always be sure just what they’ll do.  We must call his bluff, though; it would never do to run from him – might give him bad habits.”
        He rode toward the advancing animal, breaking into a canter as he drew near the bull, and striking his booted leg with a quirt.
        “Hi, there, you old reprobate!  Beat it!” he cried.
        The bull stood his ground with lowered head and rumbled threats until the horseman was almost upon him; then he turned quickly aside as the rider went past.
        “That’s better,” remarked Custer, as the girl joined him.
        “You’re not a bit afraid of him, are you, Custer?  You’re not afraid of anything.”
        “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” he demurred.  “I learned a long time ago that most encounters consist principally of bluff.  Maybe I’ve grown to be a good bluffer.  Anyhow, I’m a better bluffer than the Emperor.  If the rascal had only known it, he could have run me ragged.”
ERB enjoyed playing poker but may not have been as good a bluffer as he believed since he lost a lot of money at it as well as playing the real estate market.  We have been given another name, that of the Emperor, the fully squired son of the King of Ganado.  ERB loved animals and hence the name-giving.  He hated people that trained animals with cruelty and violence, for he knew that treating them kindly but firmly was the key to success.

There used to be a bull pen across Barstow Avenue in Fresno where I lived as a boy and we used to take a short-cut through his pasture.  I got to see him in action once, pawing the ground, grunting loudly, just before he rushed us.  We had to run like hell and climb over an electrified barbed wire fence to barely escape him.  I thought it was thrilling at the time.

        As they rode up the side of the basin, the man’s eyes moved constantly from point to point, now noting the conditions of the pasture grasses, or again searching the more distant hills.  Presently they alighted upon a thin, wavering line of brown, which zigzagged down the opposite side of the basin from a clump of heavy brush that partially hid a small ravine, and crossed the meadow ahead of them.
        “There’s a new trail, Grace, and it don’t belong there.  Let’s go and take a look at it.”
It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to suspect that this trail was created by the people making the noises on the ranch late the night before.  Can’t you just vividly see the new trail as it makes its mark in the waving grass.  Custer is a serious land owner and wants to solve the mystery of the horsemen in the night and the new trail.
        They rode ahead until they reached the trail, at a point where it crossed the bottom of the basin and started up the side they had been ascending.  The man leaned above his horse’s shoulder and examined the trampled turf.
        “Horses,” he said.  “I thought so, and it’s been used a lot this winter.  You can see even now where the animals slipped and floundered after the heavy rains.” “But you don’t run horses in this pasture, do you?” asked the girl.
        “No; and we haven’t run anything in it since last summer.  This is the only bunch in it, and they were just turned in about a week ago.  Anyway the horses that made this trail were mostly shod.  Now what in the world is anybody going up there for?”  His eyes wandered to the heavy brush into which the trail disappeared upon the opposite rim of the basin.  “I’ll have to follow that up tomorrow – it’s too late to do it today.”
        “We can follow it the other way, toward the ranch,” she suggested.
        They found the trail wound up the hillside and crossed the hogback in heavy brush, which, in many places, had been cut away to allow the easier passage of a horseman.
        “Do you see,” asked Custer, as they drew rein at the summit of the ridge, “that although the trail crosses here in plain sight of the ranch house, the brush would absolutely conceal a horseman from the view of any one at the house?  It must run right down into Jackknife Canyon.  Funny none of us have noticed it, for there’s scarcely a week that the trail isn’t ridden by some of us!”
        As they descended into the canyon, they discovered why that end of the new trail had not bee noticed.  It ran deep and well marked through the heavy brush of a gully to a place where the brush commenced to thin, and there it branched into a dozen dim trails that joined and blended with the old, well worn cattle paths of the hillside.
        “Somebody’s might foxy,” observed the man; “but I don’t see what it’s all about.  The days of cattle runners and bandits are over.”
        “Just imagine!” exclaimed the girl.  “A real mystery in our old, lazy hills!”
I don’t know that rustling has gone that much out of style nowadays.  I live in an area that raises a lot of cattle and one of my first cases as a Criminal Defense Attorney had to do with a Hispanic family that had stolen a calf that was discovered in the trunk of their car after a routine traffic stop.  They hadn’t killed the calf and it made a lot of noise in the trunk.  The husband was charged with felony rustling, but I him off with a misdemeanor and probation since the judge understood that when times are tough you gotta eat.
        The man rode in silence and in thought.  A herd of pure-bred Herefords, whose value would have ransomed half the crowned heads remaining in Europe, grazed in the several pastures that ran far back into those hills; and back there somewhere that trail led, but for what purpose?  No good purpose, he was sure, or it had not been so cleverly hidden.
        As they came to the trail which they called the Camino Corto, where it commenced at the gate leading from the old goat corral, the man jerked his thumb toward the west along it.
        “They must come and go this way,” he said.
        “Perhaps they’re the ones mother and I have heard passing at night,” suggested the girl.  “If they are, they come right through your property, below the house – not this way.”
        He opened the gate from the saddle, and they passed through, crossing the barranco, and stopping for a moment to look at the pigs and talk with a herdsman. Then they rode on toward the ranch house, a half mile farther down the widening canyon.  It stood upon the summit of a low hill, the declining sun transforming its plastered walls, its cupolas, the sturdy arches of its arcades, into the semblance of a Moorish castle.
I urge the reader to download the pictures of Rancho Tarzana at ERBzine 1041-1045 to get a precise idea of what ERB is describing.  The reader will instantly see that Rancho del Ganado is indeed an exact replica of Rancho Tarzana.  Once this idea is crystal clear, is it any wonder that ERB wished to preserve it for posterity?  Other than that, we learn the name of another trail, Camino Corto, and that a herdsman takes care of the pigs on the ranch.
At the foot of the hill they dismounted at the saddle horse stable, tied their horses, and ascended the long flight of rough concrete steps toward the house.  As they rounded the wild sumac bush at the summit, they were espied by those sitting in the patio, around three sides of which the house was built.
        “Oh, here they are now!” exclaimed Mrs. Pennington.  “We were so afraid that Grace would ride right on home, Custer.  We had just persuaded Mrs. Evans to stay for dinner.  Guy is coming too.”
        “Mother, you here, too?” cried the girl.  “How nice and cool it is in here. It would save a lot of trouble if we brought our things, mother.”
        “We are hoping that at least one of you will, very soon,” said Colonel Pennington, who had risen, and now put an arm affectionately about the girl’s shoulders.
        “That’s what I’ve been telling her again this afternoon,” said Custer; “but instead she wants to –”
        The girl turned toward him with a little frown and shake of her head.
        “You’d better run down and tell Allen that we won’t use the horses until after dinner,” she said.
        He grimaced good-naturedly and turned away.
        “I’ll have him take Senator home,” he said.  “I can drive you and your mother down in the car, when you leave.”
        As he descended the steps that wound among the umbrella trees, taking on their new foilage, he saw Allen examining the Apache’s shoes.  As he neared them, the horse pulled away from the man, his suddenly lowered hoof striking Allen’s instep.  With an oath the fellow stepped back and swung a vicious kick to the animal’s belly.  Almost simultaneously a hand fell heavily upon his shoulder. He was jerked roughly back, whirled about, and sent spinning a dozen feet away, where he stumbled and fell.  As he scrambled to his feet, white with rage, he saw the younger Pennington before him.
        “Go to the office and get your time,” ordered Pennington.
        “I’ll get you first, you son of a –”
        A hard fist connecting suddenly with his chin put a painful period to his sentence before it was completed, and stopped his mad rush.
Here we discover that Grace and Guy have a last name: Evans.  And you have to hand it to ERB.  Not only did Custer’s fist put a period to the end of Slick’s sentence, he also managed to precisely suggest the last word of the sentence without saying it, getting one up on the censors again.  Custer had been right about Slick not liking horses.  And all it took was one kick at the Apache to fire his ass on the spot.
        “I’d be more careful of my conversation, Allen, if I were you,” said Pennington quietly.  “Just because you’ve been drinking is no excuse for that.
        Now go up to the office as I told you to.”
        He had caught the odor of whisky as he jerked the man past him.
        “You goin’ to can me for drinkin’ – you?” demanded Allen.
        “You know what I’m canning you for.  You know that’s the one thing that don’t go on Ganado.  You ought to get what you gave the Apache, and you’d better beat it before I lose my temper and give it to you!”
        The man rose slowly to his feet.  In his mind he was revolving his chances of successfully renewing his attack; but presently his judgment got the better of his desire and his rage.  He moved off slowly up the hill toward the house.  A few yards, and he turned.
        “I ain’t goin’ to forget this, you – you –” “Be careful!” Pennington admonished.
        “Nor you ain’t goin’ to ferget it, neither, you foxtrottin’ dude!”
Wow, what an insult!  A “foxtrottin’ dude!”  Was this a real insult in the day?  Was it supposed to suggest that Custer was a wuss because he danced the foxtrot.  And to be called a “dude” on a cattle ranch must have been very low back then, in spite of its Big Lebowski fame nowadays.
        Allen turned again to the ascent of the steps.  Pennington walked to the Apache and stroked his muzzle.
        “Old boy,” he crooned, “there don’t anybody kick you and get away with it, does there?”
        Halfway up, Allen stopped and turned again.
        “You think you’re the whole cheese, you Penningtons, don’t you?” he called back.  “With all your money an’ your fine friends!  Fine friends, yah!  I can put one of ‘em where he belongs any time I want – the darn bootlegger!  That’s what he is.  You wait – you’ll see!”
        “A-ah beat it!” sighed Pennington wearily.
        Mounting the Apache, he led Grace’s horse along the foot of the hill toward the smaller ranch house of their neighbor, some half mile away.  Humming a little tune, he unsaddled Senator, turned him into his corral, saw that there was water in his trough, and emptied a measure of oats into his manger, for the horse had cooled off since the afternoon ride.  As neither of the Evans ranch hands appeared, he found a piece of rag and wiped off the Senator's bit, turned the saddle blankets wet side up to dry, and then, leaving the stables, crossed the yard to mount the Apache.
        A young man in riding clothes appeared simultaneously from the interior of the bungalow, which stood a hundred feet away.  Crossing the wide porch, he called to Pennington.
        “Hello there, Penn!  What are you doing?” he demanded.
        “Just brought Senator in – Grace is up at the house.  You’re coming up there, too, Guy.”
        “Sure, but come in here a second.  I’ve got something to show you.”
        Pennington crossed the yard and entered the house behind Grace’s brother, who conducted him to his bedroom.  Here young Evans unlocked a closet, and, after rummaging behind some clothing, emerged with a bottle, the shape and dimensions of which were once as familiar in the land of the free as the benign countenance of Lydia E. Pinkham.
        “It’s the genuine stuff, Penn, too!” he declared.
        Pennington smiled.
        “Thanks, old fellow, but I’ve quit,” he said.
        “Quit!” exclaimed Evans.
        “But think of it, man – aged eight years in the wood, and bottled in bond before July 1, 1919.  The real thing, and as cheap as moonshine – only six beans a quart.  Can you believe it?”
I had to google Lydia E. Pinkham to see who she was.  It seems that she developed a very popular menstrual cramp remedy, a vegetable compound called a women’s tonic, her picture on every jar of her patent medicine.  ERB lived with his wife and daughter for many years and likely had many causes to view Lydia’s picture.  I looked up “Bonded Liquor” in Collier’s Encyclopedia, and found this handy definition:
“Bonded whiskey, or ‘bottled in bond’ whiskey, is not necessarily a better whiskey than any other.  The terms refer to a government taxation provision by which distillers need not pay excise on their whiskey while it is maturing, provided it is unblended, i.e., either straight rye or bourbon, is of 100 proof alcoholic strength and is kept at least four years in a United States bonded warehouse.  The tax is paid when the whiskey is withdrawn from the bonded premises.  Bonded whiskey carries the date of its distillation and of its bottling on the green seal around the cork or stopper.”  – Vol. 12 (1958), page 421.
This scene reminds me of the movie Soylent Green, where Charlton Heston gives Edward G. Robinson a piece of fresh steak he stole from a murder victim’s house and Robinson acts like he has just seen the Second Coming.  To a drinker, several years into Prohibition – note ERB’s ironic mention of the land of the free – a bottle of bonded whiskey would resemble such a vision of ecstasy.  I believe the eight years in the wood refers to the time it spent in a barrel before it was bottled.  Is Guy the person Allen said he could do in at any time for bootlegging?
        “I cannot,” admitted Pennington.  “Your conversation listens phoney.”
        “But it’s truth.  You may have quit, but one little snifter of this won’t hurt you.  Here’s this bottle already open just try it”; and he proffered the bottle and a glass to the other.
        “Well, it’s pretty hard to resist anything that sounds as good as this does,” remarked Pennington.  “I guess one won’t hurt me any.”  He poured himself a drink and took it.  “Wonderful!” he ejaculated.
        “Here,” said Evans, diving into the closet once more.  “I got you a bottle, too, and we can get more.”
        Pennington took the bottle and examined it, almost caressingly.
        “Eight years in the wood!” he murmured.  “I’ve got to take it, Guy.  Must have something to hand down to posterity.”  He drew a bill fold from his pocket and counted out six dollars.
        “Thanks,” said Guy.  “You’ll never regret it.”
I mean, after all, what can possibly go wrong?  We can easily see Custer taking the first step off the wagon, if he even really got on board.  Oh, well, time for dinner.

We will deal with Chapters Three and Four in the next installment.

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Read The Girl From Hollywood Text in ERBzine
See the ERBzine Bibliography Entry


 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Pt. I: Ch. 1 Pt. II: Ch. 2 Pt. III: Ch. 3/4 Pt. IV: Ch. 5 Pt. V: Ch. 6/7 Pt. VI: Ch. 8/9/10 Pt. VII: Ch. 11/12
Pt. VIII: Ch. 13/14 Pt. IX: Ch. 15 Pt. X: Ch. 16 Pt. XI: Ch. 17/18 Pt. XII: Ch. 19/20 Pt. XIII: Ch. 21 Pt. XIV: Ch. 22/23
Pt. XV: Ch. 24/25 Pt. XVI: Ch. 26/27/28 Pt. XVII: Ch. 29/30/31 Pt. XVIII: Ch. 32/33 Pt. XIX: Ch. 34 Pt. XX: Ch. 35 Pt. XXI: Ch. 36/37


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