Two boys sitting in a boat half a mile from the shore, and sheltered by a ridge of rocks from the tremendous swell of the vast Pacific Ocean, which to north and south curled over in great glistening billows upon the sand—in the former instance, to scoop it out, carry it back, and then throw it up farther away; in the latter, to strike upon sheer rocks and fly up in silver spray with a low deep sound as of muttered thunder. Away to the west there was the great plain of smooth damasked silver, lost at last in a faint haze, and all so bright that the eyes ached and were dazzled by its sheen. To the east, the bright-looking port of San Geronimo, with a few ships, and half-a-dozen long, black, red-funnelled screw-steamers at anchor; beyond them wharves and warehouses, and again beyond these the houses of the little town, with a few scattered white villas rising high on terrace and shelf of the steep cliffs. The place looked bright and attractive seen from the distance, but dry and barren. Nothing green rested and refreshed the eye. No trees, no verdant slope of lawn or field; nothing but sand in front, glittering rock behind. Everything suggested its being a region where no rain fell.
But, all the same, it had its beauty. More, its grandeur, for apparently close at hand, though miles away in the clear distance, rose the great Sierra—the mighty range of mountains, next to the Himalayas the highest in the world—and seeming to rise suddenly like a gigantic wall right up into the deep blue sky, cloudless, and dazzling with the ice and snow.
The two boys, both of them, though fair by nature, tanned now of a warm reddish brown, were of about the same age, and nearly the same physique; and as now they twisted the stout lines they had been holding round the thole pins of the boat, which softly rose and fell with a pleasant lulling motion, the first who had spoken unfastened the neck-button of his shirt.