Up in the mountains of Northern California lies an old Spanish mission turned hacienda. It was carved out of the live rock by Indian slave labor well before the name 'California' was thought of. A bit east of Big Bar a winding road leads north, into the rough country. Where Big French Creek Road abruptly turns back on itself a rough trail continues deeper, deeper into the mountains.
Eventually the trail stops before a wall of hand-fitted dark stone blocks, five stories tall. It reeks of age and--something else. The glass windows in the openings shout of anachronism. A broad stone arch leads into the gloom from the bright June sunshine. Once inside the air seems cooler. What appears to be an old stable has been refitted into a large open garage. Heavy stone pillars stand in rows, shouldering the immense weight of the stories above.
At one side a short hallway leads to a modern framed door, replete with latch, lock and brass knocker. I sat in the silence listening to my truck's engine tick and cool. Home. I was finally home. I unlocked and opened the door, feeling the cooler air from within the building surround me. A short hallway opened up into a coat room. Four coat trees and a bench seat made it feel busy. Another door led on. A whitewashed (or at least white painted) vaulted ceiling gave an airy feeling to the huge room even though the lighting was dim. The polished stone floor was dotted with rugs that were dwarfed by the proportions of the floor. Heavy, dark mission tables stood at the walls. I looked carefully for a light switch and found nothing. Instead, several of the tables bore molded glass kerosene lamps, replete with match boxes. The reservoirs were dry. The room had four entrances, excluding the one which I had entered through. It was dominated by a huge, broad dining table that could easily seat twenty, perhaps twenty four. The ends of the room were bordered by serving tables and a large butler's pantry. Four huge chandeliers hung up out of the way, near the ceiling. A fireplace large enough to be called an inglenook gave the room a focus. It lay directly across from the entryway. Four high windows lit the room. It was deathly silent.
The place seemed to breathe. I could feel air currents surge back and forth in a slow, stately dance. I continued on to the left, which according to the rudimentary set of plans that I had been given should take me to the kitchens. The echoes of my footsteps that followed me seemed to shift in tone as I walked down the hallway. Shortly it opened into another chamber, this one tall, long and well-lit by high clestory windows and two more tall, broad windows on either side of another door at the far end of the room. The beams of light illuminated dust motes slowly drifting in the still air. It would certainly need an electric fan or two to make the kitchen comfortable while cooking. A mid-sized gas range, a clothes washer, a dryer, an upright refrigerator and a freezer sat in niches the far end of the room. The near end boasted a long elevated fireplace replete with swing arms and cast iron furniture. Two deep stone ovens had been built into the flue over the firebox. The electrical appliances all appeared to be from the seventies. A huge work table had space for six people to comfortably work around it. A deep soapstone double sink was built into the counter and had a hot 'n cold water tap above it. At the far end sat a square table with four chairs, all next to a broad, high window with a deep counter covered in wood. It was the most comfortable place I'd seen so far.
The papers I'd been given along with the deed stated that a propane generator shed sat outside the back door of the kitchen. I had trucked in four big hundred-pound propane torpedoes which still waited in the trailer parked in the garage. Once I wrapped my head around the place I'd have to get them moved and hooked up, then get the generator running. Otherwise I'd not have any running water or refrigeration for the fresh food patiently waiting for me in my truck.
I'd bought the place because I wanted to get away from people. Writing is a solitary vocation, or at least it is for me. The price had been insanely cheap. The property had been on and off the market for almost forty years and the bank was damned tired of carrying the place on their books. Nobody seemed willing or able to keep it over three months at a time. I wasn't much of a betting fellow but I thought that I could do better than that. It was sold 'as-is', furnished. A full set of plans for the place simply didn't exist anymore. All I had was a rough sketch to go by. Supposedly behind the structure lay a large garden or field that had grown wild. The deed said twelve acres of tillable land with natural irrigation. I somehow doubted that 'twelve acres' claim. It was probably overgrown with woody brush and trees after all that time.
I walked through the garden door, taking in the broad expanse of paved patio and the tumultuous garden that had flourished on its own through the decades of neglect. I could tell that it was early June from the stages of growth. I saw corn, tomatoes, green beans and what appeared to be melon vines. To one side I saw the little purple and yellow flowers of several potato vines. Closer to the patio an herb garden lay in the sun. I heard the pleasant sounds of water flowing over rock coming from the right side rock wall. I began walking in that direction but found my access blocked by a small wetlands. Whatever natural supply of water that was there seemed to have backed up over a small area. Returning to the patio I spotted a small stand-alone stone building some sixty feet from the rear wall of the hacienda. Upon investigating I found my generator and propane tank cache. There were two green painted five-gallon kerosene carriers there as well. The fuel within was so old that I'd never try to use any of it in a lamp. It would make a good starter for the fireplaces though. Two of the four propane tanks were full. Using the wrench I found on a nearby shelf I proceeded to do the bottle exchange thing. Then I cracked open the master feed valve and, after several attempts, managed to get the engine working. After it came up to speed and was running smoothly I cut in the generator. It had a good muffler as all I heard was a subdued purr. Now I had to find the water heater.
It was back to the kitchen for me. I began opening every door I could find. Near the outer wall I found the water heater. I got down on my hands and knees to light the thing. I struggled to my feet then made sure all the proper valves were either open or closed. The kitchen sink faucet was sputtering out water so I closed those valves as well. Then I let my ears guide me around the first floor to find the bathroom. The doorway furthest from the kitchen led to a hallway. Several doors guarded who knew what. The sound of running water came from the first door on the left. It was a full-sized facility with a big cast iron claw-footed tub. Someone had mounted a hand shower to the wall above the tub and wrapped it in a shower curtain hung by a suspended oval rod. The toilet reservoir was filling properly and the valves of the sink were closed. That was enough for me. I headed back to the kitchen to sit down for a while. I had a bad hip and needed to coddle it occasionally. I'd been T-boned in a traffic accident in north Los Angeles a few years before. It had left me with permanent joint damage and no family. I opened the cold water tap until it ran clear then rinsed out a glass and took it to the table. I took three Advil then sat patiently waiting for them to take effect.
Soon enough the ache faded into the background. I slowly made my way back to the truck to begin unpacking. First came my cart I'd packed to move everything, then the perishables. The refrigerator and the freezer were humming away nicely while chilling off their enclosures. I emptied my cooler into the 'fridge then set up the ice trays in the freezer and washed out a pitcher to hold cold water. That fit nicely into the 'fridge door. I rinsed out my cooler and took it back to the truck. I'd need it the next time I wanted to purchase meat or frozen goods in town. The cleaning supplies came in as well as a box of white goods, to be distributed between the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. I next searched for a bedroom on the first floor. I was in luck! It was next to the bathroom. I used a hand truck which I'd brought to move the propane cylinders to get the old musty mattress and box spring out to the garage. The found rugs and linens went into the washing machine while I wiped down the room and its closet. Then I muscled in my new mattress and box spring. I topped it with a sheet and blanket from my stores then finished it off with my pillow. There. I had a place to sleep.
A bit deeper into the structure from the main hall lay the living room, or library. It had a big diamond-leaded glass window that looked out over the rear garden. It was comfortably furnished in heavy, dark pieces with minimal padding. One wall was filled with glass-faced bookshelves. Across from there was a small fireplace with a Franklin stove mounted in the firebox. Beside it was a four-wheeled cart half full of firewood. A metal box sat on the floor next to the Franklin. I guessed that it held newspaper and kindling. Things were getting complicated. I needed to write down my shopping list.
I fished my briefcase out of the truck and retreated to the kitchen. I made some canned chicken soup and a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch. After cleaning up I set up my sat-phone on the broad bottom sill of the window next to the garden door. There were power outlets here and there about the room. I also set up my laptop, plugged it in and got it booted up. Then I attached the data cable leading between the sat-phone and my computer. There. While everything was shaking down I opened up a spiral bound notebook and started taking notes.
I needed a cleaning crew to come out and give the whole place a good working over. All the linens and rugs had to be cleaned. All the J-traps in any un-used bathrooms had to be filled with mineral oil. The first floor also needed a thorough cleaning that required more effort than I was willing to expend. I wanted four face cords of firewood to be stacked in the garage, a couple of electric fans delivered, some gardening tools and a half dozen big five gallon containers of kerosene. I still had my books in storage with the rest of my clothing. The kitchen larder had to be filled as well. I wasn't going to accept living anywhere without access to a barbecue grill either. I ordered a middle-of-the-road Weber kettle along with a two hundred pounds of charcoal. I had the desire for and the money to pay for a broad pergola over part of the back patio. Some sturdy outdoor furniture would make me happy. I'd probably live more outside than inside during nice weather. Looking ahead I'd need more bedding, more propane and plenty of toilet paper. The mountains of northern California definitely were known for snow during the winter.
I copied off a Google map of the area, then drew in the trail to the place. I sent off my requests for service and PDFs of the map to the various companies which I'd contacted before locating the place. I put my invasion plans in place. The troop commanders were put on notice, the construction battalion notified and the logistics requests were activated. The deliveries would start rolling in the next day starting with my Pea Pod grocery order. A cleaning team would pay me a visit the next three days after that. Then my books and small furnishings were scheduled to appear. Next the contractor would show up with a load of wood to build the pergola. Then the outdoor furniture, barbecue grill and charcoal would be delivered. I'd made arrangements with the contractor to deliver four more propane torpedoes and haul away the empties, as well as to haul away the old bedding.
I had a filling dinner made out of a small can of corned beef hash, a fried egg and two pieces of buttered toast. I washed up and went to bed. The silence of the place disturbed me at first but eventually I got to sleep.
In the morning I stretched while in bed, feeling as if I had settled in like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. After showering I put on a pair of sweat pants and headed over to the kitchen barefooted for a cup of tea. The stones felt comfortable beneath my feet. I took it outside along with a kitchen chair to sit and watch the wildlife. It was still a bit cool out but the morning mist had evaporated. The sound of the water cascading over the rocks made a wonderful background. The place was so quiet that it was getting to me. I was starting at the least sound. I decided to get an eight day mantle clock with chimes for the living room and a little radio for the kitchen. Hopefully I could bring in a station or two with all the mountains around me.
Next I tested how well the oven thermostat tracked. I made a couple loaves of wheat bread. I'd pretty well know what the oven temperature was by how long the loaves took to bake. It was as close to its stated temperature as was practical considering my elevation was over five thousand feet. Somehow I felt that the house felt happy with my blending in.
I was happy to hear their horn's beep when the peapod truck drove up. For an extra twenty they were nice enough to stack everything on the kitchen table. I spent that afternoon finding places for all the food, after I got the refrigerator and freezer stocked. I stacked their plastic boxes in the garage to be picked up on their next delivery.
The cleaning crew found the place. The stairwell lay at the furthest end away from the kitchen, behind another innocuous door across from the bathroom. I'd specified that they'd have to bring brooms, dust mops, oil and dust cloths because only the kitchen had electricity. There were so many rugs to clean that they agreed to take them all back to the city and have a professional service take care of them. When they left I slowly made my way up to the top floor to inspect the place. It was the first time I'd seen anything other than the ground floor.
It was empty. There were low heavy side boards along the hallway with lamps on them, but that was all. I walked up to the closest table. It had three drawers five fingers deep and roughly a foot square. I pulled open the rightmost drawer. It glided out as if the runners had been freshly waxed. Within I found a one quart glass bottle with a ground glass top and a box of matches. I pulled the top off the bottle and took a cautious sniff, confirming my guess. I smelled kerosene. I carefully capped it again and put it away. I found it curious that there were large open rooms with huge windows yet no toilet or bathing facilities on that level.
One floor down presented me with an identical room pattern and similar tables punctuating the walls between the doors. This left me with two more floors to explore.
The next floor was quite different. The hallway ceiling was hung with four simple hoop-shaped chandeliers each bearing eight candles. I found that each side table bore a box of candles and a box of matches. A pole-mounted candle snuffer rested near each windlass which led up to the pulleys supporting the ironwork. I was surprised that the ropes had not given way over time. I'd have to get them all replaced by good sash cord. A common dry toilet was built into each end of the hallway and the rooms were smaller. Still, they were unheated and would no doubt be uncomfortably cold in the depths of winter. Each door had a single letter of the alphabet carved into its surface and painted black.
The floor below was designed in a more modern fashion. Each room had a four-poster bed. The bed hangings had been taken away to be cleaned, but I could see the rings from which they had hung. A table and comfortable chair sat in each room giving a person a place to read, write and possibly eat. A clothes press, a chest of drawers and a blanket chest stood against the walls. A small bathroom was attached to each bedroom as well. Kerosene lamps were in evidence. I counted twelve bedrooms on the second floor. Perhaps the third floor was designed as it was for live-in help? Who knew as the last time any masonry work was done to the place was over a hundred and fifty years before. Supposedly the structure had been standing nearly five hundred years.
Once back down to the kitchen I had a sandwich for a late lunch and started a small pork roast for dinner. I sat thinking about the hacienda as a whole. Some things were missing. Where was the canning larder? the smoke house? Where were the garden tools kept? There had to be a bunker somewhere for firewood. Where was it? Colonial Spaniards were notorious wine drinkers. Where was the wine cellar? Was there a brewery?
The old kerosene lanterns weren't very bright and produced a lot of smoke. I'd been exposed to Aladdin lanterns with ring burners and mantles. I wanted a few for the place. They required an ultra-pure fuel but there was no other way I knew of to get the equivalent of a sixty-five watt bulb out of a kerosene lamp. I ordered a mantle clock, six footed-style Aladdin lamps with shades, sixty gallons of fuel for them, a couple of electric desk lamps for the kitchen and a desktop radio. Arranging for their delivery was harder than placing the order. I'd make a request with my contractor to get a delivery box installed at the foot of the trail, at the main road.
My books and clothing arrived! The rest of my day was taken up by shelving books and hanging what needed to be hung. I binned what needed washing and called it a day. I ate dinner to the sound of the washing machine chewing its cud.
Friday arrived, bringing with it a brief shower followed by a cloudy day. The contractor showed up with his team, driving a surplus military 4x4 and towing a heavy covered trailer. They got to work framing up the pergola and getting the footings in place. They had to drill between the stones to drive in lead anchors. I was happy to take delivery of my grill, the charcoal, a few garden tools, the patio furniture and the propane torpedoes. As per our agreement he hauled away my accumulated trash, the old bedding and the empty propane tanks. He suggested that I invest in a snowmobile before the end of October and that I stock at least a thousand pounds of propane for the winter as I didn't know the demand the old pile of rocks would place on my supply. After looking the place over he agreed to plumb and install small propane heaters in the bedroom, the bathroom, the library and the kitchen.
I spent the weekend exploring the fields and garden. I found an orchard! There were apples and pears. However, the trees were in desperate need of a good trimming. It was too late in the year to do a proper job. The trees were quite old yet they were covered in buds from the blossoms. I needed to find the larder and perhaps buy some cases of Mason jars. I did some preliminary trimming of broken, rubbing and diseased branches, crossing branches and vertical suckers.
I found what must have been an ancient set of strip fields bordered in rock. I found some volunteer crops in wheat, millet, barley and oats. The discovery of a bed of wild strawberries made me smile. I didn't know if the bushes I found were hazelnut or not--I'd have to watch them as the seasons progressed.
I spent some time with a hoe weeding the garden. I attempted to train the tomato, potato and melon vines away from each other. I spotted some cucumber vines in there too. What a mess!
I took my time carefully tending the herb garden. I was happy to find some of my favorites, such as dill, chives, basil, parsely and a straggly rosemary bush that probably needed replacing. I even found a very sorry-looking bay laurel tree. I'd have to get some geraniums and sage growing next spring. Maybe even a couple more bay laurel bushes. I gave the vegetables and herbs a good watering as the ground appeared powdery.
I grilled a burger for dinner and started a small batch of vinegar slaw in the refrigerator. I needed a shower so I binned my dirty clothes and used a few gallons of water getting clean.
I got a call from my agent. He wondered how the move was going. He'd voiced a few objections to my moving out of the city but I considered it a blessing rather than an inconvenience. I promised to take a few digital pictures of the place and send them along once I dug out my camera.
I found the larder! The door was surrounded by water as the wetlands had encroached on the far end of the patio. I called my contractor and described the problem. He said that he'd get someone out in chest waders right away to clear the water flow and check for structural damage. I was turning into quite the profit center for him.
Within a week the crack in the rock which drained the stream had been cleared and the murky water slowly began to recede. Temporary rock was laid around the larder door. We used flashlights to explore what was within. A long low chamber had been cut out of the living rock leaving stone shelves cut into the walls like some bizarre vegetarian sepulchre. It appeared as if nobody had entered the place in ages. The glass jars were all sealed with wax caps, as had been done before the invention of the screw top lid. Everything was rancid, gone black or dried up. I asked the man that came out to help me get rid of all the old jars. I'd buy new canning stock to work with.
A wooden door closed off the end of the larder. I lifted the latch and found myself deep within the house in some sort of blocked off or hidden hallway. It came to an abrupt end. On the left side was another hallway cut into the stone. On the right was a wood wall with what appeared to be a sliding door in it, much like a pocket door but with no facing to hide the workings. I opened the door to find myself looking at the first floor bathroom door. The door I had just opened was hidden in the wainscoting beneath the stairway. This was getting more interesting day by day.
I closed the hidden door and we backtracked our way out to the garden entrance. It took him the rest of the day to haul everything out with a wheelbarrow. Once he swept and shoveled out the debris I propped open the outer door to let the sun and breeze do their job. I spent the next few days shovelling mud and debris off of that end of the patio. Then I scrubbed it clean with a heavy push broom and buckets full of warm water. My shipments arrived of the electric lamps, the radio, the Aladdin lamps and fuel, and the mantle clock. Lehman's also sent me a calendar. I tacked it to the refrigerator with a magnet.
Finally I yielded to temptation. Early one morning I went back to investigate what lay deep within the mountain, carved out centuries before. There was no latch holding the hidden door. It was held closed by the angle of the track so as to allow gravity to do the work. After a certain point the track leveled off so the door remained open once pushed aside. I lit one of my new lanterns and began exploring. To the left I found the firewood bunker that I'd been searching for. It was close to twenty feet by twenty feet by twelve feet high. I made a note to myself to purchase a balloon-tired cart to move my firewood out of the garage and inside, once it arrived. The room currently held nearly five short cords of wood that were totally desiccated--dry and hard as hell. It should burn furiously. I wondered if there was another concealed door to the rear of the building to allow the room to be filled without parading through the main dining room.
To the right lay another room. It was closed with a heavy door. It featured a low ceiling and was quite cool, being carved from the solid rock of the mountain. An entire wall was covered in huge barrels raised up on stands. Six long racks held hundreds of bottles. Thick sheets of dust and cobwebs covered everything. Another note to self--purchase a battery-operated vacuum cleaner with a soft brush head and a good dust filter. No, scratch that. Find an auction house that employed a wine conservator and get someone out here. Fast. Let THEM deal with the filth. Just for the hell of it, I picked a bottle that felt as if it still had liquid within it. I brushed away the clinging mat of debris and took it out with me.
I dusted it off outside and attempted to make out the faint brown label in the light of the sun. It apparently was an estate bottle port bottled in seventeen twenty something. The exterior of the cork was dry and brittle so my expectations quickly went down. I used a two-tined corkscrew that had been specifically designed for brittle corks to ease out the offending bit of oak bark. I wiped down the mouth of the bottle and poured a bit into a wetted juice glass. It smelled fruity. Success! I took a sip and was blasted by the taste of fruit put up over two hundred and fifty years ago. I smiled. My agent was the biggest wine snob I knew. I was going to blow his little mind.
I called Jeremy. "Dude, you've got to get up here, as fast as you can."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's really wrong ... it's just that I've discovered something so incredible that I thought of you first."
"Can it wait until the weekend?"
"No. I've already opened the bottle. It might go off by then."
"Bottle? What kind of bottle?"
"It's a wine bottle. Listen closely, Jeremy. Estate bottled in seventeen twenty something. I can't make out the last number."
"I'll be there as soon as I can pack a suitcase."
"Jeremy! Bring king sized sheets and a pillow. my linens are not dependable." <<click>>.
I grinned my evil little grin. That put the fox among the hens. I supposed that I'd best dig out my camera and try to bring up the image. I also wanted to photograph the labels on the casks and get a few shots of the cellar as a whole. The heat from a few lanterns for a few minutes shouldn't destabilize anything if I kept them away from the containers. I didn't want to jostle any of the bottles though. One bad shock could crack or perforate cork that old. Now, I wondered. Were there any brandies down there?
With all that wine available undoubtedly they owned the serving ware to treat it with respect. I examined the serving tables at that end of the dining room one by one. I found two that opened up into stemware pantries and another that held the house silver. The linen tablecloths were in shreds. Ah, well. I made a note to buy a couple red-and-white check tablecloths for the kitchen. I found a large beef steak in the freezer that would serve well as a roast. I browned it, covered it with a can of consomme and set it in the oven with a lid over it to braise. It would be ready by the time Jeremy found the place. In the mean time I filled a couple kerosene lamps. The Pea Pod shopping service people ran a 24x7 operation so I called in an order including my tablecloths, a dozen cases of quart-sized Ball canning jars, the lids, rings and canning kit to get prepared for the fruit trees to come ripe. I also ordered a pound of cinnamon and a handful of nutmegs. All my business was taken care of for the time being.
Jeremy took a bite of the beef, then a sip of the wine. I grinned as I watched his eyes roll back in his head. What was humorous was HE WASN'T FAKING A THING. The man was overcome with joy. I fed him a couple of soda crackers and a fresh cold glass of water, then gave him a room temperature glass of the wine. I had a small glass poured over ice, Philistine that I am. I always thought that Porto tasted vaguely of raisins. That day completely turned my head around. I tasted apples, black cherries and hints of tobacco. I closed my eyes and savored it.
We finished off the bottle and the steak, then cleaned up our mess. I set the pot to soak while we played about with some simple image enhancement software analyzing the photographs I'd taken of the cask labels, the label from the bottle of port and the photos taken of the cellar in toto. The bottle that we had consumed was bottled in 1722 after twenty years in the cask, according to the label. The labels from the barrels were impossible to make out--they'd been written in some sort of vintner's shorthand that probably went to the grave with the cellar master. I didn't find a desk down there so locating his ledger promised a dismal chance of success.
Jeremy knew a wine conservator that had a reputation for bringing along the best percentage of bottles from long neglected wineries and cellars. I loaned him my sat-phone to contact him as there wasn't a cell phone made that could contact the outside world from the hacienda. He made arrangements to fly into Redding and take a helicopter to Big Bar with his two partners for the weekend. We set up Jeremy with a room for the night on the second floor and I left him a flashlight. While setting up his room and the toilet I was reminded that the place didn't cater to visitors very well. I resolved to do a few things to ameliorate that. I made a note in my journal to investigate long-burning candles and LED night lights that were driven by 9-volt batteries.
I'd inherited some notes about the place written in the form of a spiral notebook. It had been written by the last fellow to do any major improvements to the place. Jeff Sanders wrote that for some unknown reason AC light bulbs blew out without fail within four hours of installation anywhere outside the kitchen. My flashlight worked well for me during the hours I'd explored with it, and my little battery powered clock seemed to survive nicely beside my bed. I had an idea to try some 12-volt DC lights, be they incandescent or LEDs and see how they fared. I wanted that damned garage lit up as well.
Also, the various upper floors had to be isolated from the first floor if I wasn't going to heat them. The stair well would act as a cold air sink and make the ground floor uninhabitable without goose down underwear. Not being a Canadian citizen I didn't regard this as a viable solution. I was going to talk to my contractor about putting in frames and heavy double doors at each floor where they met the stairwell.
I also wanted the man to send out a team to drill out some wiring chases for me. No doubt he could run 12-volt DC lines then put in some switches and lighting fixtures. We'd no doubt want to get a decorator and an architect involved to do a handsome yet unobtrusive job. I expected it to cost quite a bit if the scope encompassed electrifying the wall sconces and chandeliers on the first three floors, as well as putting some lights into the bathroom, the master bedroom, the stair well and perhaps the larder. First, though, I needed a 12-volt DC feed brought into the kitchen to a distribution box and a line laid into the library to see if a reading light would survive for a week or so.
That night I had the first of many realistic dreams. I dreamt that I sat at the large dinner table with a very old man. He wore his silver hair in two braids and was dressed in deerskins. Upon waking I couldn't remember what we spoke of, but I did remember that we easily talked back and forth for some time. He patted my shoulder and smiled as the dream concluded.
Come the morning I made cinnamon rolls for my guest, followed by fresh coffee. Nothing perfumes the air quite like fresh baked goods. It makes a place smell inviting and comfortable. Before showing Jeremy the cellar I warned him not to touch anything as the corks were so delicate that the gentlest shock could ruin the delicate balance that held a bottle's contents inviolate after all their years in the cellar. Later I gave him a guided tour of the gardens, orchards and fields. He certainly was not as comfortable with the out-of-doors as I was. Poor Jeremy was a dyed-in-the-wool city boy. For him, meat and vegetables came in little sanitary packages in shrink-wrap coverings. Plucking a fresh tomato from the vine or a succulent pear from the tree were positively alien to him. God knows what he'd do if confronted with the business end of a dairy cow.
I called my contractor and requested that he pay me a visit. This time he'd want an architect and a surveying team to come along. I wanted a goddamned measured floor plan for my beast of a hacienda.
My Pea Pod order came in. I thought that the table looked better with a tablecloth. It certainly added a note of color to the kitchen. I'd have to invest in some colorful artwork soon. It would be another month or more before I needed to worry about canning anything so all the Ball jars and accessories went into the cold pantry.
I could see Jeremy visibly relax as he spent time on the rear patio and in my library. I was surprised that he didn't complain about the lack of electricity or the various tools our society uses that rely on said power. He got his daily fix of news off the Internet each morning. This seemed to satisfy his addiction and appease his conscience. He didn't bother me in the afternoons as I found myself starting to write again.
The next morning Jeremy approached me after breakfast. "Vic, I found another door." That certainly got my attention. "Where?" He led me to a panel in the stairwell between the first and second floors. "Watch this." He pressed his palms against a broad panel and slid it sideways. It was reminiscent of the hidden door I'd originally found on the first floor. Within was a long gallery filled with loose hay. A chute led down, probably to the garage which had replaced the stables. I said, "This has all got to go. It's a fire hazard, if nothing else." I wondered how the hell someone got it all in there!
I spent the day pushing sideways on every large wall panel that I could find. I managed to find one more hidden door between the fourth and fifth floor. It was an armory filled with knives, spears, swords and bucklers or shields. Suddenly the floor plans of the top two floors made much more sense--they were fighting salles! My hacienda was not designed and built as a monastery or a mission. It was a school. The large stable made more sense as well. A gentleman owned a horse or a string of horses and only a gentleman would pursue an education involving the sword. The third floor was probably intended to be classrooms. There was still a question as to where the cooks, servants and teachers slept. The old place still hid some secrets from me. I was not anxious--it was a tease or a puzzle, waiting for me to unravel its clues.
That night I dreamed of the old Indian again. This time we walked through the orchards and gardens as we spoke. He obviously cared for the plants as he knelt and caressed them as we walked. He showed me where the stream broke free of the rock and flowed down the valley, keeping all the plants and wildlife fresh, sweet and wet. There were several springs that contributed to the stream. We tasted each one of them and commented on their sweet water.
Early in the morning while the mists still covered the valley I went out with a pail to harvest fresh strawberries. I picked them until my hip started complaining. Back at the garden I found a few ripe cucumbers and some bulb onions. The radishes were ready so I harvested a small bowl full. The mustard greens were fresh and crisp so I brought in some of them as well. Once inside I washed up then baked off a batch of powder biscuits. I asked Jeremy to pick up two fresh chickens, a couple dozen fresh eggs, a quart of buttermilk and a couple quarts of heavy cream while picking up our guests. A nice salad, baked chicken and strawberry shortbread for desert should satisfy my guests.
On towards evening Jeremy returned with Augustine and Phil, his aid. I butterflied the chickens and started them in the oven over high heat to rush dinner. The fresh salad went over well. I served the chicken with candied carrots and vinegar coleslaw. Everyone liked the dessert, especially when finished with a drizzle of honey and freshly whipped cream.
Jeremy and I set up our visitors in two more suites on the second floor. Then I cleaned up the kitchen and retired for the night.
My dreams were strange. I didn't talk to the old Indian. I saw figures. One stayed with me. It was a small circle surrounded by a square, surrounded by a triangle surrounded by a circle. I had no idea why it was so important but I knew that it was. I drew it in my journal.
While Augustine and his helper cleaned the cellar and began to inventory the bottles Ron, my contractor, showed up with a team of surveyors. They had a tripod, a laptop and an ultrasonic measuring gizmo that let them shoot precise measurements quickly. They quickly (within one morning) produced a 3-D plot of the building which they copied to a memory key for me in.DXF format. [.DXF is the original native Autocad format.] I expected that I'd have to go into Redding to buy some software to analyze the plots they'd made. I took down their phone number in case I made any further discoveries. Dinner that night was a long-braised rolled pork roast accompanied by dilled potatoes.
Augustine suggested an auction. Perhaps twenty to twenty six percent of the bottles had failed over time. The rest were possibly the finest collection of bottled wines and brandies that he'd ever seen. I reserved a dozen bottles of the port and a dozen bottles of the brandies that he'd uncovered and released the rest for auction. It took the better part of two weeks to case up the bottles in our old found hay and ship them out to his auction house. The cellar certainly looked barren afterwards. I had Ron come in and paint all but the floor and barrels in white after all the furor had died down. That cleaned the place up so nicely that I had him paint the ceilings of the coatroom, main hall, kitchen and the rest of the first floor as well. Even the larder got a coat of paint. It brightened up the place tremendously.
Ron built my doors isolating each floor. They were built of heavily figured hardwood and were quite thick.
I had a set of wine racks built along the walls of the cellar to hold my admittedly tiny collection. I had a vintner come in to sample and evaluate what was in the wine tuns lining the wall. Of the twelve casks four were dry, two held a good quality wine vinegar and six held a vin ordinaire that had been held much too long yet were perfectly drinkable. With his help I decanted over sixty gallons and siphoned the rest into two tuns. At his prompting I bought several hundred gallons of fresh red grape squeezings and filled four of the tuns with new batches of raw wine. I didn't tell him but I bought twenty pounds of food grade sucrose and distributed it among two of the four working tuns. I sold off half the wine vinegar and refilled the casks with my 'vin ordinaire', hoping that the 'mother' was still alive.