The grass covering the surrounding hills still showed traces of green from the recent rainy season. The driver said the annual display of wildflowers was past its peak, but they were still impressive.
Later on in the weekend, Jubal counted twenty guests in all, which he gathered was not a particularly large number for a weekend. He had no idea who most of them were.
The ride along the winding, unpaved private road was notable for several things, among them the signs that seemed to show up every fifty yards or so:
ANIMALS HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY
“The largest private zoo in the world,” Jubal’s dad informed his family, in an almost-reverent tone.
There were frequent stops while cattle gates were opened in front of the vehicles and closed after them, and once a delay of several minutes when a water buffalo appeared out of the mist and refused to yield the necessary width of road.
At last a final set of gates was passed, and the small caravan of limos pulled up at the foot of a span of white stairs, with the enormous bulk of Casa Grande looming mistily above them.
They were officially welcomed to the Enchanted Hill by a motherly looking woman who introduced herself as the head housekeeper, and began at once to speak of practical things like mealtimes, and the chances of a visitor’s getting lost, an accident not necessarily limited to the out-of-doors; it appeared that the chances of losing one’s way inside Casa Grande were not trivial.
While the housekeeper was still talking, there appeared a lean fellow of average size, wearing nondescript khakis, who looked to be somewhere in his late thirties. The housekeeper introduced him as Captain Murray, head of security. Captain Murray beamed on them all briefly, rather shyly Jubal thought, and took himself away. Then the housekeeper gently conveyed the fact that the enormous wealth of treasure with which the owner and his guests were now surrounded had to have a watchful eye kept on it, just on general principles. No one here would be so insulting as to suggest (horrid thought!) that any guest might have an overwhelming urge to appropriate a souvenir.
Among the bits of information conveyed in the welcome lecture was the fact that Mr. Hearst liked to refer to his castle on a hill and its surrounding territory as the Ranch. Naturally other people had taken to calling it that also, though most of them tended to smile when they used the term.
And indeed it turned out to be unlike any ranch that Jubal, newly arrived from Colorado, had ever seen, heard of, or dreamt about—he would have bet no one had ever imagined a place like this. Despite the fact that there was a real cattle ranch—altogether apart from the zoo of exotic animals, and the aviary of fifteen hundred birds—on the land surrounding the castle. Something like a hundred thousand acres altogether, if Jubal’s Dad had got his numbers right.
Their bedrooms were adjoining, in Casa del Mar. Most of the guests were put up in the main house, where there were almost forty bedrooms, so even a large party was unlikely to feel crowded.
All very interesting. But it didn’t take Jubal long to decide that the most interesting aspect of the weekend was going to be Esther.
Actually Esther Summerson was only her screen name. The publicity handout Jubal had glanced at, when his father picked it up somewhere and brought it home, said the name was taken from some character in a Charles Dickens novel, when a rousing musical version of Bleak House was being planned. There was talk that Hearst might be going to finance the film, as he had so many others. Somehow the young girl’s real name was never mentioned in the handout, or at their first meeting, and Jubal supposed that maybe it didn’t matter any more.
Jubal, who sometimes tuned in on his parents when they whispered about the situation between themselves, gathered that Hearst had probably been hoping to get the big part in Bleak House for his long-time girlfriend Marion Davies. She was a well-known actress who had starred in half a dozen movies, and might have done very well in Hollywood even had the hundreds of Hearst newspapers not supported her and puffed her achievements outrageously at every opportunity. But at this stage in her career Miss Davies seemed reluctant to do a musical, and the old man had finally allowed himself to be convinced that she was now too grown-up for the part. “Grown-up” was his word for her situation. She herself was ready to admit that she was well past thirty, and forty was probably more like it.
She was a sweet lady, though, nice-looking though her shape was no longer quite that of a teenager, and with nothing the least bit stuffy about her. She’d made a special effort to put young Jubal Doors at ease when he arrived with his parents on Friday afternoon.
Marion Davies sized up young Jubal with a single glance and moved to take him under her wing at once. At the first opportunity she got him off away from everyone else for a little private talk. When they were on the far side of the swimming pool from everyone else, they might as well have been in another county.
She spoke with an occasional stammer that had somehow become an endearing help rather than a hindrance to her career. “Look, kid, don’t let these movie people awe you. You’ll see some faces here that you’ll—you’ll recognize because you’ve seen ’em on a big screen, but so what? They put on their pants one leg at a time just the way you and I do. Remember, if someone took a c-camera and put your face on the big screen, it would look just as big as theirs.”
“You’re a movie star too, Miss Davies,” he’d said impulsively. He knew that, as everyone did, though he’d only actually seen one of her films, Operator 13, which had just come out last year. That was only because comedies weren’t really the kind of show he liked.
Somehow in talking with this lady Jubal had already got the feeling that he need not be on guard, that it would be all right to just blurt out whatever came into his head. The fact that she stuttered and stammered from time to time only made her more approachable.
And Marion was delighted. “There you go! See? Sure, I-I’ve been in a couple of movies, but that don’t mean you have to be scared of me. Here you are, talk—talking to me just like anyone else.”
“Thanks, Miss Davies.”
“Call me Marion. Now where’s this girl Esther Whatshername? I hope you and her can get along. Sure you will.”
Mr. Hearst himself was a big man, gray-haired and obviously getting well up in years, a lot older than Marion, with a long, straight nose and a piping voice so surprisingly tiny that some people almost burst out laughing when they first heard it coming from his huge frame. No one at San Simeon was laughing, though. Jubal had heard it whispered that this was the man who had actually started the Spanish-American War, back around the turn of the century, though how he might have done that Jubal had no idea.
Mr. Hearst kept his gaze fixed on Marion Davies whenever she was in sight. Not as if he we’re suspicious, or worried, but just in a kind of appreciation. Obviously there was a special relationship between them. He shook hands with Jubal as if welcoming some important business partner, giving him a full minute of undivided attention.
Despite the efforts made to put him at ease, Jubal had inevitably been somewhat awed by the first recognizable big-screen faces he encountered, those of Errol Flynn and the lesser-known David Niven. But thanks to the inoculation administered by Miss Davies, the feeling hadn’t lasted long.
Jubal’s disenchantment was helped along by the fact that he did not seem to exist at all in the eyes of Esther Summerson, when she finally showed up. Their train had been delayed, and of course there was nothing to be done about that. Her parents, even more nervous than Jubal’s, seemed irritated by her attitude. Jubal wasn’t the only one she tended to ignore. Esther’s thoughts and feelings were obviously far away from San Simeon, but who knew where? She had already played midsized roles in a couple of pictures, but she wasn’t a big star, and not very recognizable, but everyone at the Ranch that weekend seemed to take it for granted that she was going to be.
Esther in. person was brittle and keen-looking, not like the image she generally projected on the screen.
Jubal and Esther were introduced on the evening of their respective arrivals, and after a few minutes’ general conversation the girl and boy had been left more or less alone in Casa Grande’s billiard room. The room itself was just about enough to leave you speechless; one of the housekeepers, probably trying to be entertaining, had been telling Jubal how all the visible surfaces in this and practically all the other chambers in the house had once been part of several different rooms in Europe.