The Ears of Twenty Americans, by Gertrude
Forties, Stories of Old California
"God of my soul! Do not speak of hope to me. Hope? For what are those
three frigates, swarming with a horde of foreign bandits, creeping about
our bay? For what have the persons of General Vallejo and Judge Leese
been seized and imprisoned? Why does a strip of cotton, painted with a
gaping bear, flaunt itself above Sonoma? Oh, abomination! Oh, execrable
profanation! Mother of God, open thine ocean and suck them down! Smite
them with pestilence if they put foot in our capital! Shrivel their
fingers to the bone if they dethrone our Aztec Eagle and flourish their
stars and stripes above our fort! O California! That thy sons and thy
daughters should live to see thee plucked like a rose by the usurper!
And why? Why? Not because these piratical Americans have the right to
one league of our land; but because, Holy Evangelists! they want it! Our
lands are rich, our harbours are fine, gold veins our valleys, therefore
we must be plucked. The United States of America are mightier than
Mexico, therefore they sweep down upon us with mouths wide open. Holy
God! That I could choke but one with my own strong fingers. Oh!" Doña
Eustaquia paused abruptly and smote her hands together,—"O that I were
a man! That the women of California were men!"
On this pregnant morning of July seventh, eighteen hundred and
forty-six, all aristocratic Monterey was gathered in the sala of Doña
Modeste Castro. The hostess smiled sadly. "That is the wish of my
husband," she said, "for the men of our country want the Americans."
"And why?" asked one of the young men, flicking a particle of dust from
his silken riding jacket. "We shall then have freedom from the constant
war of opposing factions. If General Castro and Governor Pico are not
calling Juntas in which to denounce each other, a Carillo is pitting his
ambition against an Alvarado. The Gringos will rule us lightly and bring
us peace. They will not disturb our grants, and will give us rich prices
for our lands—"
"Oh, fool!" interrupted Doña Eustaquia. "Thrice fool! A hundred years
from now, Fernando Altimira, and our names will be forgotten in
California. Fifty years from now and our walls will tumble upon us
whilst we cook our beans in the rags that charity—American charity—has
flung us! I tell you that the hour the American flag waves above the
fort of Monterey is the hour of the Californians' doom. We have lived in
Arcadia—ingrates that you are to complain—they will run over us like
ants and sting us to death!"
"That is the prediction of my husband," said Doña Modeste. "Liberty,
Independence, Decency, Honour, how long will they be his watch-words?"
"Not a day longer!" cried Doña Eustaquia, "for the men of California are
"Cowards! We? No man should say that to us!" The caballeros were on
their feet, their eyes flashing, as if they faced in uniform the navy of
the United States, rather than confronted, in lace ruffles and silken
smallclothes, an angry scornful woman.
"Cowards!" continued Fernando Altimira. "Are not men flocking about
General Castro at San Juan Bautista, willing to die in a cause already
lost? If our towns were sacked or our women outraged would not the
weakest of us fight until we died in our blood? But what is coming is
for the best, Doña Eustaquia, despite your prophecy; and as we cannot
help it—we, a few thousand men against a great nation—we resign
ourselves because we are governed by reason instead of by passion. No
one reverences our General more than Fernando Altimira. No grander man
ever wore a uniform! But he is fighting in a hopeless cause, and the
fewer who uphold him the less blood will flow, the sooner the struggle
Doña Modeste covered her beautiful face and wept. Many of the women
sobbed in sympathy. Bright eyes, from beneath gay rebosas or delicate
mantillas, glanced approvingly at the speaker. Brown old men and women
stared gloomily at the floor. But the greater number followed every
motion of their master-spirit, Doña Eustaquia Ortega.
She walked rapidly up and down the long room, too excited to sit down,
flinging the mantilla back as it brushed her hot cheek. She was a woman
not yet forty, and very handsome, although the peachness of youth had
left her face. Her features were small but sharply cut; the square
chin and firm mouth had the lines of courage and violent emotions, her
piercing intelligent eyes interpreted a terrible power of love and hate.
But if her face was so strong as to be almost unfeminine, it was frank
Doña Eustaquia might watch with joy her bay open and engulf the hated
Americans, but she would nurse back to life the undrowned bodies flung
upon the shore. If she had been born a queen she would have slain in
anger, but she would not have tortured. General Castro had flung his hat
at her feet many times, and told her that she was born to command. Even
the nervous irregularity of her step to-day could not affect the extreme
elegance of her carriage, and she carried her small head with the
imperious pride of a sovereign. She did not speak again for a moment,
but as she passed the group of young men at the end of the room her eyes
flashed from one languid face to another. She hated their rich breeches
and embroidered jackets buttoned with silver and gold, the lace
handkerchiefs knotted about their shapely throats. No man was a man who
did not wear a uniform.
Don Fernando regarded her with a mischievous smile as she approached him
a second time.
"I predict, also," he said, "I predict that our charming Doña Eustaquia
will yet wed an American—"
"What!" she turned upon him with the fury of a lioness. "Hold thy
prating tongue! I marry an American? God! I would give every league of
my ranchos for a necklace made from the ears of twenty Americans. I
would throw my jewels to the pigs, if I could feel here upon my neck
the proof that twenty American heads looked ready to be fired from the
cannon on the hill!"
Everybody in the room laughed, and the atmosphere felt lighter. Muslin
gowns began to flutter, and the seal of disquiet sat less heavily upon
careworn or beautiful faces. But before the respite was a moment old a
young man entered hastily from the street, and throwing his hat on the
floor burst into tears.
"What is it?" The words came mechanically from every one in the room.
The herald put his hand to his throat to control the swelling muscles.
"Two hours ago," he said, "Commander Sloat sent one Captain William
Mervine on shore to demand of our Commandante the surrender of the town.
Don Mariano walked the floor, wringing his hands, until a quarter of an
hour ago, when he sent word to the insolent servant of a pirate-republic
that he had no authority to deliver up the capital, and bade him go to
San Juan Bautista and confer with General Castro. Whereupon the American
thief ordered two hundred and fifty of his men to embark in boats—do
not you hear?"
A mighty cheer shook the air amidst the thunder of cannon; then another,
Every lip in the room was white.
"What is that?" asked Doña Eustaquia. Her voice was hardly audible.
"They have raised the American flag upon the Custom-house," said the
For a moment no one moved; then as by one impulse, and without a word,
Doña Modeste Castro and her guests rose and ran through the streets to
the Custom-house on the edge of the town.
In the bay were three frigates of twenty guns each. On the rocks, in the
street by the Custom-house and on its corridors, was a small army of men
in the naval uniform of the United States, respectful but determined.
About them and the little man who read aloud from a long roll of paper,
the aristocrats joined the rabble of the town. Men with sunken eyes who
had gambled all night, leaving even serape and sombrero on the gaming
table; girls with painted faces staring above cheap and gaudy satins,
who had danced at fandangos in the booths until dawn, then wandered
about the beach, too curious over the movements of the American squadron
to go to bed; shopkeepers, black and rusty of face, smoking big pipes
with the air of philosophers; Indians clad in a single garment of
calico, falling in a straight line from the neck; eagle-beaked old
crones with black shawls over their heads; children wearing only a smock
twisted about their little waists and tied in a knot behind; a few
American residents, glancing triumphantly at each other; caballeros,
gay in the silken attire of summer, sitting in angry disdain upon their
plunging, superbly trapped horses; last of all, the elegant women in
their lace mantillas and flowered rebosas, weeping and clinging to each
other. Few gave ear to the reading of Sloat's proclamation.
Benicia, the daughter of Doña Eustaquia, raised her clasped hands, the
tears streaming from her eyes. "Oh, these Americans! How I hate them!"
she cried, a reflection of her mother's violent spirit on her sweet
Doña Eustaquia caught the girl's hands and flung herself upon her neck.
"Ay! California! California!" she cried wildly. "My country is flung to
its knees in the dirt."
A rose from the upper corridor of the Custom-house struck her daughter
full in the face.
The same afternoon Benicia ran into the sala where her mother was lying
on a sofa, and exclaimed excitedly: "My mother! My mother! It is not
so bad. The Americans are not so wicked as we have thought. The
proclamation of the Commodore Sloat has been pasted on all the walls of
the town and promises that our grants shall be secured to us under the
new government, that we shall elect our own alcaldes, that we shall
continue to worship God in our own religion, that our priests shall
be protected, that we shall have all the rights and advantages of the
"Stop!" cried Doña Eustaquia, springing to her feet. Her face still
burned with the bitter experience of the morning. "Tell me of no more
lying promises! They will keep their word! Ay, I do not doubt but they
will take advantage of our ignorance, with their Yankee sharpness! I
know them! Do not speak of them to me again. If it must be, it must; and
at least I have thee." She caught the girl in her arms, and covered the
flower-like face with passionate kisses. "My little one! My darling!
Thou lovest thy mother—better than all the world? Tell me!"
The girl pressed her soft, red lips to the dark face which could express
such fierceness of love and hate.
"My mother! Of course I love thee. It is because I have thee that I do
not take the fate of my country deeper heart. So long as they do not put
their ugly bayonets between us, what difference whether the eagle or the
stars wave above the fort?"
"Ah, my child, thou hast not that love of country which is part of my
soul! But perhaps it is as well, for thou lovest thy mother the more. Is
it not so, my little one?"
"Surely, my mother; I love no one in the world but you."
Doña Eustaquia leaned back and tapped the girl's fair cheek with her
"Not even Don Fernando Altimira?"
"No, my mother."
"Nor Flujencio Hernandez? Nor Juan Perez? Nor any of the caballeros who
serenade beneath thy window?"
"I love their music, but it comes as sweetly from one throat as from
Her mother gave a long sigh of relief. "And yet I would have thee marry
some day, my little one. I was happy with thy father—thanks to God he
did not live to see this day—I was as happy, for two little years, as
this poor nature of ours can be, and I would have thee be the same. But
do not hasten to leave me alone. Thou art so young! Thine eyes have yet
the roguishness of youth; I would not see love flash it aside. Thy mouth
is like a child's; I shall shed the saddest tears of my life the day
it trembles with passion. Dear little one! Thou hast been more than a
daughter to me; thou hast been my only companion. I have striven to
impart to thee the ambition of thy mother and the intellect of thy
father. And I am proud of thee, very, very proud of thee!"
Benicia pinched her mother's chin, her mischievous eyes softening. "Ay,
my mother, I have done my little best, but I never shall be you. I am
afraid I love to dance through the night and flirt my breath away better
than I love the intellectual conversation of the few people you think
worthy to sit about you in the evenings. I am like a little butterfly
sitting on the mane of a mountain lion—"
"Tush! Tush! Thou knowest more than any girl in Monterey, and I am
satisfied with thee. Think of the books thou hast read, the languages
thou hast learned from the Señor Hartnell. Ay, my little one, nobody
but thou wouldst dare to say thou cared for nothing but dancing and
flirting, although I will admit that even Ysabel Herrera could scarce
rival thee at either."
"Ay, my poor Ysabel! My heart breaks every night when I say a prayer for
her." She tightened the clasp of her arms and pressed her face close to
her mother's. "Mamacita, darling," she said coaxingly, "I have a big
favour to beg. Ay, an enormous one! How dare I ask it?"
"Aha! What is it? I should like to know. I thought thy tenderness was a
"Ay, mamacita! Do not refuse me or it will break my heart. On Wednesday
night Don Thomas Larkin gives a ball at his house to the officers of the
American squadron. Oh, mamacita! mamacita! darling! do, do let me go!"
"Benicia! Thou wouldst meet those men? Válgame Dios! And thou art a
child of mine!"
She flung the girl from her, and walked rapidly up and down the room,
Benicia following with her little white hands outstretched. "Dearest
one, I know just how you feel about it! But think a moment. They have
come to stay. They will never go. We shall meet them everywhere—every
night—every day. And my new gown, mamacita! The beautiful silver
spangles! There is not such a gown in Monterey! Ay, I must go. And they
say the Americans hop like puppies when they dance. How I shall laugh
at them! And it is not once in the year that I have a chance to speak
English, and none of the other girls can. And all the girls, all the
girls, all the girls, will go to this ball. Oh, mamacita!"
Her mother was obliged to laugh. "Well, well, I cannot refuse you
anything; you know that! Go to the ball! Ay, yi, do not smother me! As
you have said—that little head can think—we must meet these insolent
braggarts sooner or later. So I would not—" her cheeks blanched
suddenly, she caught her daughter's face between her hands, and bent her
piercing eyes above the girl's soft depths. "Mother of God! That could
not be. My child! Thou couldst never love an American! A Gringo! A
Protestant! Holy Mary!"
Benicia threw back her head and gave a long laugh—the light rippling
laugh of a girl who has scarcely dreamed of lovers. "I love an American?
Oh, my mother! A great, big, yellow-haired bear! When I want only to
laugh at their dancing! No, mamacita, when I love an American thou shalt
have his ears for thy necklace."
Thomas O. Larkin, United States Consul to California until the
occupation left him without duties, had invited Monterey to meet the
officers of the Savannah, Cyane, and Levant, and only Doña Modeste
Castro had declined. At ten o'clock the sala of his large house on the
rise of the hill was thronged with robed girls in every shade and device
of white, sitting demurely behind the wide shoulders of coffee-coloured
dowagers, also in white, and blazing with jewels. The young matrons were
there, too, although they left the sala at intervals to visit the room
set apart for the nurses and children; no Montereña ever left her little
ones at home. The old men and the caballeros wore the black coats and
white trousers which Monterey fashion dictated for evening wear; the
hair of the younger men was braided with gay ribbons, and diamonds
flashed in the lace of their ruffles.
The sala was on the second floor; the musicians sat on the corridor
beyond the open windows and scraped their fiddles and twanged their
guitars, awaiting the coming of the American officers. Before long the
regular tramp of many feet turning from Alvarado Street up the little
Primera del Este, facing Mr. Larkin's house, made dark eyes flash, lace
and silken gowns flutter. Benicia and a group of girls were standing by
Doña Eustaquia. They opened their large black fans as if to wave back
the pink that had sprung to their cheeks. Only Benicia held her head
saucily high, and her large brown eyes were full of defiant sparkles.
"Why art thou so excited, Blandina?" she asked of a girl who had grasped
her arm. "I feel as if the war between the United States and Mexico
"Ay, Benicia, thou hast so gay a spirit that nothing ever frightens
thee! But, Mary! How many they are! They tramp as if they would go
through the stair. Ay, the poor flag! No wonder—"
"Now, do not cry over the flag any more. Ah! there is not one to compare
with General Castro!"
The character of the Californian sala had changed for ever; the blue and
gold of the United States had invaded it.
The officers, young and old, looked with much interest at the faces,
soft, piquant, tropical, which made the effect of pansies looking
inquisitively over a snowdrift. The girls returned their glances with
approval, for they were as fine and manly a set of men as ever had faced
death or woman. Ten minutes later California and the United States were
Mr. Larkin presented a tall officer to Benicia. That the young man was
very well-looking even Benicia admitted. True, his hair was golden, but
it was cut short, and bore no resemblance to the coat of a bear; his
mustache and brows were brown; his gray eyes were as laughing as her
"I suppose you do not speak any English, señorita," he said helplessly.
"No? I spik Eenglish like the Spanish. The Spanish people no have
difficult at all to learn the other langues. But Señor Hartnell he
say it no is easy at all for the Eenglish to spik the French and the
Spanish, so I suppose you no spik one word our langue, no?"
He gallantly repressed a smile. "Thankfully I may say that I do not,
else would I not have the pleasure of hearing you speak English. Never
have I heard it so charmingly spoken before."
Benicia took her skirt between the tips of her fingers and swayed her
graceful body forward, as a tule bends in the wind.
"You like dip the flag of the conqueror in honey, señor. Ay! We need
have one compliment for every tear that fall since your eagle stab his
beak in the neck de ours."
"Ah, the loyal women of Monterey! I have no words to express my
admiration for them, señorita. A thousand compliments are not worth one
Benicia turned swiftly to her mother, her eyes glittering with pleasure.
"Mother, you hear! You hear!" she cried in Spanish. "These Americans are
not so bad, after all."
Doña Eustaquia gave the young man one of her rare smiles; it flashed
over her strong dark face, until the light of youth was there once more.
"Very pretty speech," she said, with slow precision. "I thank you, Señor
Russell, in the name of the women of Monterey."
"By Jove! Madam—señora—I assure you I never felt so cut up in my
life as when I saw all those beautiful women crying down there by the
Custom-house. I am a good American, but I would rather have thrown the
flag under your feet than have seen you cry like that. And I assure you,
dear señora, every man among us felt the same. As you have been good
enough to thank me in the name of the women of Monterey, I, in behalf of
the officers of the United States squadron, beg that you will forgive
Doña Eustaquia's cheek paled again, and she set her lips for a moment;
then she held out her hand.
"Señor," she said, "we are conquered, but we are Californians; and
although we do not bend the head, neither do we turn the back. We have
invite you to our houses, and we cannot treat you like enemies. I will
say with—how you say it—truth?—we did hate the thought that you
come and take the country that was ours. But all is over and cannot
be changed. So, it is better we are good friends than poor ones;
and—and—my house is open to you, señor."
Russell was a young man of acute perceptions; moreover, he had heard
of Doña Eustaquia; he divined in part the mighty effort by which good
breeding and philosophy had conquered bitter resentment. He raised the
little white hand to his lips.
"I would that I were twenty men, señora. Each would be your devoted
"And then she have her necklace!" cried Benicia, delightedly.
"What is that?" asked Russell; but Doña Eustaquia shook her fan
threateningly and turned away.
"I no tell you everything," said Benicia, "so no be too curiosa. You no
dance the contradanza, no?"
"I regret to say that I do not. But this is a plain waltz; will you not
give it to me?"
Benicia, disregarding the angry glances of approaching caballeros, laid
her hand on the officer's shoulder, and he spun her down the room.
"Why, you no dance so bad!" she said with surprise. "I think always the
Americanos dance so terreeblay."
"Who could not dance with a fairy in his arms?"
"What funny things you say. I never been called fairy before."
"You have never been interpreted." And then, in the whirl-waltz of that
day, both lost their breath.
When the dance was over and they stood near Doña Eustaquia, he took the
fan from Benicia's hand and waved it slowly before her. She laughed
"You think I am so tired I no can fan myself?" she demanded. "How queer
are these Americanos! Why, I have dance for three days and three nights
and never estop."
"Si, señor. Oh, we estop sometimes, but no for long. It was at Sonoma
two months ago. At the house de General Vallejo."
"You certainly are able to fan yourself; but it is no reflection upon
your muscle. It is only a custom we have."
"Then I think much better you no have the custom. You no look like a man
at all when you fan like a girl."
He handed her back the fan with some choler.
"Really, señorita, you are very frank. I suppose you would have a man
lie in a hammock all day and roll cigaritos."
"Much better do that than take what no is yours."
"Which no American ever did!"
"Excep' when he pulled California out the pocket de Mexico."
"And what did Mexico do first? Did she not threaten the United States
with hostilities for a year, and attack a small detachment of our troops
with a force of seven thousand men—"
"No make any difference what she do. Si she do wrong, that no is excuse
for you do wrong."
Two angry young people faced each other.
"You steal our country and insult our men. But they can fight, Madre de
Dios! I like see General Castro take your little Commodore Sloat by the
neck. He look like a little gray rat."
"Commodore Sloat is a brave and able man, Miss Ortega, and no officer in
the United States navy will hear him insulted."
"Then much better you lock up the ears."
"My dear Captain Russell! Benicia! what is the matter?"
Mr. Larkin stood before them, an amused smile on his thin intellectual
face. "Come, come, have we not met to-night to dance the waltz of peace?
Benicia, your most humble admirer has a favour to crave of you. I would
have my countrymen learn at once the utmost grace of the Californian.
Dance El Jarabe, please, and with Don Fernando Altimira."
Benicia lifted her dainty white shoulders. She was not unwilling to
avenge herself upon the American by dazzling him with her grace and
beauty. Her eye's swift invitation brought Don Fernando, scowling, to
her side. He led her to the middle of the room, and the musicians played
the stately jig.
Benicia swept one glance of defiant coquetry at Russell from beneath
her curling lashes, then fixed her eyes upon the floor, nor raised them
again. She held her reed-like body very erect and took either side of
her spangled skirt in the tips of her fingers, lifting it just enough
to show the arched little feet in their embroidered stockings and satin
slippers. Don Fernando crossed his hands behind him, and together they
rattled their feet on the floor with dexterity and precision, whilst the
girls sang the words of the dance. The officers gave genuine applause,
delighted with this picturesque fragment of life on the edge of the
Pacific. Don Fernando listened to their demonstrations with sombre
contempt on his dark handsome face; Benicia indicated her pleasure by
sundry archings of her narrow brows, or coquettish curves of her red
lips. Suddenly she made a deep courtesy and ran to her mother, with a
long sweeping movement, like the bending and lifting of grain in the
wind. As she approached Russell he took a rose from his coat and threw
it at her. She caught it, thrust it carelessly in one of her thick
braids, and the next moment he was at her side again.
Doña Eustaquia slipped from the crowd and out of the house. Drawing a
reboso about her head she walked swiftly down the street and across the
plaza. Sounds of ribaldry came from the lower end of the town, but the
aristocratic quarter was very quiet, and she walked unmolested to the
house of General Castro. The door was open, and she went down the long
hall to the sleeping room of Doña Modeste. There was no response to her
knock, and she pushed open the door and entered. The room was dimly lit
by the candles on the altar. Doña Modeste was not in the big mahogany
bed, for the heavy satin coverlet was still over it. Doña Eustaquia
crossed the room to the altar and lifted in her arms the small figure
"Pray no more, my friend," she said. "Our prayers have been unheard, and
thou art better in bed or with thy friends."
Doña Modeste threw herself wearily into a chair, but took Doña
Eustaquia's hand in a tight clasp. Her white skin shone in the dim
light, and with her black hair and green tragic eyes made her look like
a little witch queen, for neither suffering nor humiliation could bend
that stately head.
"Religion is my solace," she said, "my only one; for I have not a brain
of iron nor a soul of fire like thine. And, Eustaquia, I have more cause
to pray to-night."
"It is true, then, that José is in retreat? Ay, Mary!"
"My husband, deserted by all but one hundred men, is flying southward
from San Juan Bautista. I have it from the wash-tub mail. That never is
"Ingrates! Traitors! But it is true, Modeste—surely, no?—that our
general will not surrender? That he will stand against the Americans?"
"He will not yield. He would have marched upon Monterey and forced them
to give him battle here but for this base desertion. Now he will go to
Los Angeles and command the men of the South to rally about him."
"I knew that he would not kiss the boots of the Americans like the rest
of our men! Oh, the cowards! I could almost say to-night that I like
better the Americans than the men of my own race. They are Castros! I
shall hate their flag so long as life is in me; but I cannot hate the
brave men who fight for it. But my pain is light to thine. Thy heart is
wrung, and I am sorry for thee."
"My day is over. Misfortune is upon us. Even if my husband's life is
spared—ay! shall I ever see him again?—his position will be taken
from him, for the Americans will conquer in the end. He will be
Commandante-General of the army of the Californias no longer, but—holy
God!—a ranchero, a caballero! He at whose back all California has
galloped! Thou knowest his restless aspiring soul, Eustaquia, his
ambition, his passionate love of California. Can there be happiness for
such a man humbled to the dust—no future! no hope? Ay!"—she sprang to
her feet with arms uplifted, her small slender form looking twice its
height as it palpitated against the shadows, "I feel the bitterness of
that spirit! I know how that great heart is torn. And he is alone!"
She flung herself across Doña Eustaquia's knees and burst into violent
Doña Eustaquia laid her strong arm about her friend, but her eyes were
more angry than soft. "Weep no more, Modeste," she said. "Rather, arise
and curse those who have flung a great man into the dust. But comfort
thyself. Who can know? Thy husband, weary with fighting, disgusted with
men, may cling the closer to thee, and with thee and thy children forget
the world in thy redwood forests or between the golden hills of thy
Doña Modeste shook her head. "Thou speakest the words of kindness, but
thou knowest José. Thou knowest that he would not be content to be as
other men. And, ay! Eustaquia, to think that it was opposite our own
dear home, our favourite home, that the American flag should first have
been raised! Opposite the home of José Castro!"
"To perdition with Frémont! Why did he, of all places, select San Juan
Bautista in which to hang up his American rag?"
"We never can live there again. The Gabilan Mountains would shut out the
very face of the sun from my husband."
"Do not weep, my Modeste; remember thy other beautiful ranchos. Dios de
mi alma!" she added with a flash of humour, "I revere San Juan Bautista
for your husband's sake, but I weep not that I shall visit you there no
more. Every day I think to hear that the shaking earth of that beautiful
valley has opened its jaws and swallowed every hill and adobe. God grant
that Frémont's hair stood up more than once. But go to bed, my friend.
Look, I will put you there." As if Doña Modeste were an infant, she
undressed and laid her between the linen sheets with their elaborate
drawn work, then made her drink a glass of angelica, folded and laid
away the satin coverlet, and left the house.
She walked up the plaza slowly, holding her head high. Monterey at that
time was infested by dogs, some of them very savage. Doña Eustaquia's
strong soul had little acquaintance with fear, and on her way to General
Castro's house she had paid no attention to the snarling muzzles thrust
against her gown. But suddenly a cadaverous creature sprang upon her
with a savage yelp and would have caught her by the throat had not a
heavy stick cracked its skull. A tall officer in the uniform of the
United States navy raised his cap from iron-gray hair and looked at her
with blue eyes as piercing as her own.
"You will pardon me, madam," he said, "if I insist upon attending you to
your door. It is not safe for a woman to walk alone in the streets of
Monterey at night."
Doña Eustaquia bent her head somewhat haughtily. "I thank you much,
señor, for your kind rescue. I would not like, at all, to be eaten by
the dogs. But I not like to trouble you to walk with me. I go only to
the house of the Señor Larkin. It is there, at the end of the little
street beyond the plaza."
"My dear madam, you must not deprive the United States of the pleasure
of protecting California. Pray grant my humble request to walk behind
you and keep off the dogs."
Her lips pressed each other, but pride put down the bitter retort.
"Walk by me, if you wish," she said graciously. "Why are you not at the
house of Don Thomas Larkin?"
"I am on my way there now. Circumstances prevented my going earlier."
His companion did not seem disposed to pilot the conversation, and he
continued lamely, "Have you noticed, madam, that the English frigate
Collingwood is anchored in the bay?"
"I saw it in the morning." She turned to him with sudden hope. "Have
they—the English—come to help California?"
"I am afraid, dear madam, that they came to capture California at the
first whisper of war between Mexico and the United States; you know that
England has always cast a covetous eye upon your fair land. It is said
that the English admiral stormed about the deck in a mighty rage to-day
when he saw the American flag flying on the fort."
"All are alike!" she exclaimed bitterly, then controlled herself.
"You—do you admeer our country, señor? Have you in America something
more beautiful than Monterey?"
The officer looked about him enthusiastically, glad of a change of
topic, for he suspected to whom he was talking. "Madam, I have never
seen anything more perfect than this beautiful town of Monterey. What
a situation! What exquisite proportions! That wide curve of snow-white
sand about the dark blue bay is as exact a crescent as if cut with a
knife. And that semicircle of hills behind the town, with its pine and
brush forest tapering down to the crescent's points! Nor could anything
be more picturesque than this scattered little town with its bright red
tiles above the white walls of the houses and the gray walls of the
yards; its quaint church surrounded by the ruins of the old presidio;
its beautiful, strangely dressed women and men who make this corner of
the earth resemble the pages of some romantic old picture-book—"
"Ay!" she interrupted him. "Much better you feel proud that you conquer
us; for surely, señor, California shall shine like a diamond in the very
centre of America's crown." Then she held out her hand impulsively.
"Mucho gracias, señor—pardon—thank you very much. If you love my
country, señor, you must be my friend and the friend of my daughter. I
am the Señora Doña Eustaquia Carillo de Ortega, and my house is there
on the hill—you can see the light, no? Always we shall be glad to see
He doffed his cap again and bent over her hand.
"And I, John Brotherton, a humble captain in the United States navy,
do sincerely thank the most famous woman of Monterey for her gracious
hospitality. And if I abuse it, lay it to the enthusiasm of the American
who is not the conqueror but the conquered."
"That was very pretty—speech. When you abuse me I put you out the door.
This is the house of Don Thomas Larkin, where is the ball. You come in,
no? You like I take your arm? Very well"
And so the articles of peace were signed.
"Yes, yes, indeed, Blandina," exclaimed Benicia, "they had no chance at
all last night, for we danced until dawn, and perhaps they were afraid
of Don Thomas Larkin. But we shall talk and have music to-night, and
those fine new tables that came on the last ship from Boston must not be
"Well, if you really think—" said Blandina, who always thought exactly
as Benicia did. She opened a door and called:—
"Well, my sister?"
A dreamy-looking young man in short jacket and trousers of red silk
entered the room, sombrero in one hand, a cigarito in the other.
"Flujencio, you know it is said that these 'Yankees' always 'whittle'
everything. We are afraid they will spoil the furniture to-night; so
tell one of the servants to cut a hundred pine slugs, and you go down
to the store and buy a box of penknives. Then they will have plenty to
amuse themselves with and will not cut the furniture."
"True! True! What a good idea! Was it Benicia's?" He gave her a glance
of languid adoration. "I will buy those knives at once, before I forget
it," and he tossed the sombrero on his curls and strode out of the
"How dost thou like the Señor Lieutenant Russell, Benicia?"
Benicia lifted her chin, but her cheeks became very pink.
"Well enough. But he is like all the Americans, very proud, and thinks
too well of his hateful country. But I shall teach him how to flirt. He
thinks he can, but he cannot."
"Thou canst do it, Benicia—look! look!"
Lieutenant Russell and a brother officer were sauntering slowly by and
looking straight through the grated window at the beautiful girls in
their gayly flowered gowns. They saluted, and the girls bent their
slender necks, but dared not speak, for Doña Francesca Hernandez was in
the next room and the door was open. Immediately following the American
officers came Don Fernando Altimira on horseback. He scowled as he saw
the erect swinging figures of the conquerors, but Benicia kissed the
tips of her fingers as he flung his sombrero to the ground, and he
galloped, smiling, on his way.
That night the officers of the United States squadron met the society of
Monterey at the house of Don Jorje Hernandez. After the contradanza, to
which they could be admiring spectators only, much to the delight of the
caballeros, Benicia took the guitar presented by Flujencio, and letting
her head droop a little to one side like a lily bent on its stalk by the
breeze, sang the most coquettish song she knew. Her mahogany brown hair
hung unconfined over her white shoulders and gown of embroidered silk
with its pointed waist and full skirt. Her large brown eyes were
alternately mischievous and tender, now and again lighted by a sudden
flash. Her cheeks were pink; her round babylike arms curved with all the
grace of the Spanish woman. As she finished the song she dropped her
eyelids for a moment, then raised them slowly and looked straight at
"By Jove, Ned, you are a lucky dog!" said a brother officer. "She's the
prettiest girl in the room! Why don't you fling your hat at her feet, as
these ardent Californians do?"
[Illustration: "RUSSELL CROSSED THE ROOM AND SAT BESIDE BENICIA."]
"My cap is in the next room, but I will go over and fling myself there
Russell crossed the room and sat down beside Benicia.
"I should like to hear you sing under those cypresses out on the ocean
about six or eight miles from here," he said to her. "I rode down the
coast yesterday. Jove! what a coast it is!"
"We will have a merienda there on some evening," said Doña Eustaquia,
who sat beside her daughter. "It is very beautiful on the big rocks to
watch the ocean, under the moonlight."
"Good! You will not forget that?"
She smiled at his boyishness. "It will be at the next moon. I promise."
Benicia sang another song, and a half-dozen caballeros stood about
her, regarding her with glances languid, passionate, sentimental,
reproachful, determined, hopeless. Russell, leaning back in his chair,
listened to the innocent thrilling voice of the girl, and watched her
adorers, amused and stimulated. The Californian beauty was like no other
woman he had known, and the victory would be as signal as the capture of
Monterey. "More blood, perhaps," he thought, "but a victory is a poor
affair unless painted in red. It will do these seething caballeros good
to learn that American blood is quite as swift as Californian."
As the song finished, the musicians began a waltz; Russell took the
guitar from Benicia's hand and laid it on the floor.
"This waltz is mine, señorita," he said.
"I no know—"
"Señorita!" said Don Fernando Altimira, passionately, "the first waltz
is always mine. Thou wilt not give it to the American?"
"And the next is mine!"
"And the next contradanza!"
The girl's faithful retinue protested for their rights. Russell could
not understand, but he translated their glances, and bent his lips to
Benicia's ear. That ear was pink and her eyes were bright with roguish
"I want this dance, dear señorita. I may go away any day. Orders may
come to-morrow which will send me where I never can see you again. You
can dance with these men every night of the year—"
"I give to you," said Benicia, rising hurriedly. "We must be hospitable
to the stranger who comes to-day and leaves to-morrow," she said in
Spanish to the other men. "I have plenty more dances for you."
After the dance, salads and cakes, claret and water, were brought to the
women by Indian girls, who glided about the room with borrowed grace,
their heads erect, the silver trays held well out. They wore bright red
skirts and white smocks of fine embroidered linen, open at the throat,
the sleeves very short. Their coarse hair hung in heavy braids; their
bright little eyes twinkled in square faces scrubbed until they shone
"Captain," said Russell to Brotherton, as the men followed the host into
the supper room, "let us buy a ranch, marry two of these stunning
girls, and lie round in hammocks whilst these Western houris bring us
aguardiente and soda. What an improvement on Byron and Tom Moore! It
is all so unhackneyed and unexpected. In spite of Dana and Robinson I
expected mud huts and whooping savages. This is Arcadia, and the women
are the most elegant in America."
"Look here, Ned," said his captain, "you had better do less flirting and
more thinking while you are in this odd country. Your talents will get
rusty, but you can rub them up when you get home. Neither Californian
men nor women are to be trifled with. This is the land of passion, not
of drawing-room sentiment."
"Perhaps I am more serious than you think. What is the matter?" He spoke
to a brother officer who had joined them and was laughing immoderately.
"Do you see those Californians grinning over there?" The speaker
beckoned to a group of officers, who joined him at once. "What job do
you suppose they have put up on us? What do you suppose that mysterious
table in the sala means, with its penknives and wooden sticks? I thought
it was a charity bazaar. Well, it is nothing more nor less than a trick
to keep us from whittling up the furniture. We are all Yankees to them,
you know. Preserve my Spanish!"
The officers shouted with delight. They marched solemnly back into the
sala, and seating themselves in a deep circle about the table,
whittled the slugs all over the floor, much to the satisfaction of the
After the entertainment was over, Russell strolled about the town. The
new moon was on the sky, the stars thick and bright; but dark corners
were everywhere, and he kept his hand on his pistol. He found himself
before the long low house of Doña Eustaquia Ortega. Not a light
glimmered; the shutters were of solid wood. He walked up and down,
trying to guess which was Benicia's room.
"I am growing as romantic as a Californian," he thought; "but this
wonderful country pours its colour all through one's nature. If I
could find her window, I believe I should serenade her in true Spanish
fashion. By Jove, I remember now, she said something about looking
through her window at the pines on the hill. It must be at the back of
the house, and how am I going to get over that great adobe wall? That
gate is probably fastened with an iron bar—ah!"
He had walked to the corner of the wall surrounding the large yard
behind and at both sides of Doña Eustaquia's house, and he saw,
ascending a ladder, a tall figure, draped in a serape, its face
concealed by the shadow of a sombrero. He drew his pistol, then laughed
at himself, although not without annoyance. "A rival; and he has got
ahead of me. He is going to serenade her."
The caballero seated himself uncomfortably on the tiles that roofed the
wall, removed his sombrero, and Russell recognized Fernando Altimira. A
moment later the sweet thin chords of the guitar quivered in the quiet
air, and a tenor, so fine that even Russell stood entranced, sang to
Benicia one of the old songs of Monterey:—
Una mirada un suspiro,
Una lagrima querida,
Es balsamo à la herida
Que abriste en mi corazón.
Por esa lagrima cara
Objeto de mi termina,
Yo te amé bella criatura
Desde que te vi llorar.
Te acuerdas de aquella noche
En que triste y abatida
Una lagrima querida
Vi de tus ojos brotar.
Although Russell was at the base of the high wall he saw that a light
flashed. The light was followed by the clapping of little hands. "Jove!"
he thought, "am I really jealous? But damn that Californian!"
Altimira sang two more songs and was rewarded by the same
demonstrations. As he descended the ladder and reached the open street
he met Russell face to face. The two men regarded each other for a
moment. The Californian's handsome face was distorted by a passionate
scowl; Russell was calmer, but his brows were lowered.
Altimira flung the ladder to the ground, but fire-blooded as he was, the
politeness of his race did not desert him, and his struggle with English
flung oil upon his passion.
"Señor," he said, "I no know what you do it by the house of the Señorita
Benicia so late in the night. I suppose you have the right to walk in
the town si it please yourself."
"Have I not the same right as you—to serenade the Señorita Benicia? If
I had known her room, I should have been on the wall before you."
Altimira's face flushed with triumph. "I think the Señorita Benicia
no care for the English song, señor. She love the sweet words of her
country: she no care for words of ice."
Russell smiled. "Our language may not be as elastic as yours, Don
Fernando, but it is a good deal more sincere. And it can express as much
"You love Benicia?" interrupted Altimira, fiercely.
"I admire the Señorita Ortega tremendously. But I have seen her twice
only, and although we may love longer, we take more time to get there,
perhaps, than you do."
"Ay! Dios de mi vida! You have the heart of rock! You chip it off in
little pieces, one to-day, another to-morrow, and give to the woman. I,
señor, I love Benicia, and I marry her. You understand? Si you take her,
I cut the heart from your body. You understand?"
"I understand. We understand each other." Russell lifted his cap. The
Californian took his sombrero from his head and made a long sweeping
bow; and the two men parted.
On the twenty-third of July, Commodore Sloat transferred his authority
to Commodore Stockton, and the new commander of the Pacific squadron
organized the California Battalion of Mounted Riflemen, appointing
Frémont major and Gillespie captain. He ordered them South at once to
intercept Castro. On the twenty-eighth, Stockton issued a proclamation
in which he asserted that Mexico was the instigator of the present
difficulties, and justified the United States in seizing the
Californias. He denounced Castro in violent terms as an usurper, a
boasting and abusive chief, and accused him of having violated every
principle of national hospitality and good faith toward Captain Frémont
and his surveying party. Stockton sailed for the South the same day
in the Congress, leaving a number of officers to Monterey and the
indignation of the people.
"By Jove, I don't dare to go near Doña Eustaquia," said Russell to
Brotherton. "And I'm afraid we won't have our picnic. It seems to me the
Commodore need not have used such strong language about California's
idol. The very people in the streets are ready to unlimb us; and as for
the peppery Doña—"
"Speak more respectfully of Doña Eustaquia, young man," said the older
officer, severely. "She is a very remarkable woman and not to be spoken
slightingly of by young men who are in love with her daughter."
"God forbid that I should slight her, dear Captain. Never have I so
respected a woman. She frightens the life out of me every time she
flashes those eyes of hers. But let us go and face the enemy at once,
like the brave Americans we are."
"Very well." And together they walked along Alvarado Street from the
harbour, then up the hill to the house of Doña Eustaquia.
That formidable lady and her daughter were sitting on the corridor
dressed in full white gowns, slowly wielding large black fans, for the
night was hot. Benicia cast up her eyes expressively as she rose and
courtesied to the officers, but her mother merely bent her head; nor did
she extend her hand. Her face was very dark.
Brotherton went directly to the point.
"Dear Doña Eustaquia, we deeply regret that our Commodore has used such
harsh language in regard to General Castro. But remember that he has
been here a few days only and has had no chance to learn the many noble
and valiant qualities of your General. He doubtless has been prejudiced
against him by some enemy, and he adores Frémont:—there is the trouble.
He resents Castro's treating Frémont as an enemy before the United
States had declared its intentions. But had he been correctly informed,
he undoubtedly would have conceived the same admiration and respect for
your brave General that is felt by every other man among us."
Doña Eustaquia looked somewhat mollified, but shook her head sternly.
"Much better he took the trouble to hear true. He insult all
Californians by those shemful words. All the enemies of our dear General
be glad. And the poor wife! Poor my Modeste! She fold the arms and raise
the head, but the heart is broken."
"Jove! I almost wish they had driven us out! Dear señora—" Russell and
Benicia were walking up and down the corridor—"we have become friends,
true friends, as sometimes happens—not often—between man and woman.
Cease to think of me as an officer of the United States navy, only as a
man devoted to your service. I have already spent many pleasant hours
with you. Let me hope that while I remain here neither Commodore
Stockton nor party feeling will exclude me from many more."
She raised her graceful hand to her chin with a gesture peculiar to her,
and looked upward with a glance half sad, half bitter.
"I much appreciate your friendship, Capitan Brotherton. You give me much
advice that is good for me, and tell me many things. It is like the
ocean wind when you have live long in the hot valley. Yes, dear friend,
I forget you are in the navy of the conqueror."
"Mamacita," broke in Benicia's light voice, "tell us now when we can
have the peek-neek."
"Castro," said Russell, lifting his cap, "peace be with thee."
The great masses of rock on the ocean's coast shone white in the
moonlight. Through the gaunt outlying rocks, lashed apart by furious
storms, boiled the ponderous breakers, tossing aloft the sparkling
clouds of spray, breaking in the pools like a million silver fishes.
High above the waves, growing out of the crevices of the massive rocks
of the shore, were weird old cypresses, their bodies bent from the
ocean as if petrified in flight before the mightier foe. On their gaunt
outstretched arms and gray bodies, seamed with time, knobs like human
muscles jutted; between the broken bark the red blood showed. From
their angry hands, clutching at the air or doubled in imprecation, long
strands of gray-green moss hung, waving and coiling, in the night wind.
Only one old man was on his hands and knees as if to crawl from the
field; but a comrade spurned him with his foot and wound his bony hand
about the coward's neck. Another had turned his head to the enemy,
pointing his index finger in scorn, although he stood alone on high.
All along the cliffs ran the ghostly army, sometimes with straining
arms fighting the air, sometimes thrust blankly outward, all with life
quivering in their arrested bodies, silent and scornful in their defeat.
Who shall say what winter winds first beat them, what great waves first
fought their deathless trunks, what young stars first shone over them?
They have outstood centuries of raging storm and rending earthquake.
Tradition says that until convulsion wrenched the Golden Gate apart the
San Franciscan waters rolled through the long valleys and emptied into
the Bay of Monterey. But the old cypresses were on the ocean just
beyond; the incoming and the outgoing of the inland ocean could not
trouble them; and perhaps they will stand there until the end of time.
Down the long road by the ocean rode a gay cavalcade. The caballeros had
haughtily refused to join the party, and the men wore the blue and gold
of the United States.
But the women wore fluttering mantillas, and their prancing
high-stepping horses were trapped with embossed leather and silver. In a
lumbering "wagon of the country," drawn by oxen, running on solid wheels
cut from the trunks of trees, but padded with silk, rode some of the
older people of the town, disapproving, but overridden by the impatient
enthusiasm of Doña Eustaquia. Through the pine woods with their softly
moving shadows and splendid aisles, out between the cypresses and rocky
beach, wound the stately cavalcade, their voices rising above the
sociable converse of the seals and the screeching of the seagulls
spiking the rocks where the waves fought and foamed. The gold on the
shoulders of the men flashed in the moonlight; the jewels of the women
sparkled and winked. Two by two they came like a conquering army to the
rescue of the cypresses. Brotherton, who rode ahead with Doña Eustaquia,
half expected to see the old trees rise upright with a deep shout of
When they reached a point where the sloping rocks rose high above surf
and spray, they dismounted, leaving the Indian servants to tether the
horses. They climbed down the big smooth rocks and sat about in groups,
although never beyond the range of older eyes, the cypresses lowering
above them, the ocean tearing through the outer rocks to swirl and
grumble in the pools. The moon was so bright, its light so broad and
silver, they almost could imagine they saw the gorgeous mass of colour
in the pools below.
"You no have seaweed like that in Boston," said Benicia, who had a
comprehensive way of symbolizing the world by the city from which she
got many of her clothes and all of her books.
"Indeed, no!" said Russell. "The other day I sat for hours watching
those great bunches and strands that look like richly coloured chenille.
And there were stones that looked like big opals studded with vivid
jewels. God of my soul, as you say, it was magnificent! I never saw such
brilliant colour, such delicate tints! And those great rugged defiant
rocks out there, lashed by the waves! Look at that one; misty with spray
one minute, bare and black the next! They look like an old castle which
has been battered down with cannon. Captain, do you not feel romantic?"
"I feel that I never want to go into an art gallery again. No wonder the
women of California are original."
"Benicia," said Russell, "I have tried in vain to learn a Spanish song.
But teach me a Spanish phrase of endearment. All our 'darlings' and
'dearests' are too flat for California."
"Bueno; I teach you. Say after me: Mi muy querida prima. That is very
"Que—What is it in English?"
"My—very—darling—first. It no sound so pretty in English."
"It does very well. My—very—darling—first—if all these people were
not about us, I should kiss you. You look exactly like a flower."
"Si you did, Señor Impertinencio, you get that for thanks."
Russell jumped to his feet with a shout, and shook from his neck a
little crab with a back like green velvet and legs like carven garnet.
"Did you put that crab on my neck, señorita?"
A sulky silence of ten minutes ensued, during which Benicia sent little
stones skipping down into the silvered pools, and Russell, again
recumbent, stared at the horizon.
"Si you no can talk," she said finally, "I wish you go way and let Don
Henry Tallant come talk to me. He look like he want."
"No doubt he does; but he can stay where he is. Let me kiss your hand,
Benicia, and I will forgive you."
Benicia hit his mouth lightly with the back of her hand, but he captured
it and kissed it several times.
"Your mustache feels like the cat's," said she.
He flung the hand from him, but laughed in a moment. "How sentimental
you are! Making love to you is like dragging a cannon uphill! Will you
not at least sing me a love-song? And please do not make faces in the
Benicia tossed her spirited head, but took her guitar from its case and
called to the other girls to accompany her. They withdrew from their
various flirtations with audible sighs, but it was Benicia's merienda,
and in a moment a dozen white hands were sweeping the long notes from
Russell moved to a lower rock, and lying at Benicia's feet looked
upward. The scene was all above him—the great mass of white rocks,
whiter in the moonlight; the rigid cypresses aloft; the beautiful faces,
dreamy, passionate, stolid, restless, looking from the lace mantillas;
the graceful arms holding the guitars; the sweet rich voices threading
through the roar of the ocean like the melody in a grand recitativo; the
old men and women crouching like buzzards on the stones, their sharp
eyes never closing; enfolding all with an almost palpable touch, the
warm voluptuous air. Now and again a bird sang a few notes, a strange
sound in the night, or the soft wind murmured like the ocean's echo
through the pines.
The song finished. "Benicia, I love you," whispered Russell.
"We will now eat," said Benicia. "Mamma,"—she raised her voice,—"shall
I tell Raphael to bring down the supper?"
The girl sprang lightly up the rocks, followed by Russell. The Indian
servants were some distance off, and as the young people ran through a
pine grove the bold officer of the United States squadron captured the
Californian and kissed her on the mouth. She boxed his ears and escaped
to the light.
Benicia gave her orders, Raphael and the other Indians followed her with
the baskets, and spread the supper of tomales and salads, dulces and
wine, on a large table-like rock, just above the threatening spray; the
girls sang each in turn, whilst the others nibbled the dainties Doña
Eustaquia had provided, and the Americans wondered if it were not a
vision that would disappear into the fog bearing down upon them.
A great white bank, writhing and lifting, rolling and bending, came
across the ocean slowly, with majestic stealth, hiding the swinging
waves on which it rode so lightly, shrouding the rocks, enfolding the
men and women, wreathing the cypresses, rushing onward to the pines.
"We must go," said Doña Eustaquia, rising. "There is danger to stay. The
lungs, the throat, my children. Look at the poor old cypresses."
The fog was puffing through the gaunt arms, festooning the rigid hands.
It hung over the green heads, it coiled about the gray trunks. The stern
defeated trees looked like the phantoms of themselves, a long silent
battalion of petrified ghosts. Even Benicia's gay spirit was oppressed,
and during the long ride homeward through the pine woods she had little
to say to her equally silent companion.
Doña Eustaquia seldom gave balls, but once a week she opened her salas
to the more intellectual people of the town. A few Americans were ever
attendant; General Vallejo often came from Sonoma to hear the latest
American and Mexican news in her house; Castro rarely had been absent;
Alvarado, in the days of his supremacy, could always be found there, and
she was the first woman upon whom Pio Pico called when he deigned to
visit Monterey. A few young people came to sit in a corner with Benicia,
but they had little to say.
The night after the picnic some fifteen or twenty people were gathered
about Doña Eustaquia in the large sala on the right of the hall; a few
others were glancing over the Mexican papers in the little sala on the
left. The room was ablaze with many candles standing, above the heads
of the guests, in twisted silver candelabra, the white walls reflecting
their light. The floor was bare, the furniture of stiff mahogany and
horse-hair, but no visitor to that quaint ugly room ever thought of
looking beyond the brilliant face of Doña Eustaquia, the lovely eyes of
her daughter, the intelligence and animation of the people she gathered
about her. As a rule Doña Modeste Castro's proud head and strange beauty
had been one of the living pictures of that historical sala, but she was
not there to-night.
As Captain Brotherton and Lieutenant Russell entered, Doña Eustaquia was
waging war against Mr. Larkin.
"And what hast thou to say to that proclamation of thy little American
hero, thy Commodore"—she gave the word a satirical roll, impossible to
transcribe—"who is heir to a conquest without blood, who struts into
history as the Commander of the United States Squadron of the Pacific,
holding a few hundred helpless Californians in subjection? O warlike
name of Sloat! O heroic name of Stockton! O immortal Frémont, prince
of strategists and tacticians, your country must be proud of you! Your
newspapers will glorify you! Sometime, perhaps, you will have a little
history bound in red morocco all to yourselves; whilst Castro—" she
sprang to her feet and brought her open palm down violently upon the
table, "Castro, the real hero of this country, the great man ready to
die a thousand deaths for the liberty of the Californians, a man who was
made for great deeds and born for fame, he will be left to rust and rot
because we have no newspapers to glorify him, and the Gringos send what
they wish to their country! Oh, profanation! That a great man should be
covered from sight by an army of red ants!"
"By Jove!" said Russell, "I wish I could understand her! Doesn't she
Captain Brotherton made no reply. He was watching her closely, gathering
the sense of her words, full of passionate admiration for the woman. Her
tall majestic figure was quivering under the lash of her fiery temper,
quick to spring and strike. The red satin of her gown and the diamonds
on her finely moulded neck and in the dense coils of her hair grew dim
before the angry brilliancy of her eyes.
The thin sensitive lips of Mr. Larkin curled with their accustomed
humour, but he replied sincerely, "Yes, Castro is a hero, a great man on
a small canvas—"
"And they are little men on a big canvas!" interrupted Doña Eustaquia.
Mr. Larkin laughed, but his reply was non-committal. "Remember, they
have done all that they have been called upon to do, and they have done
it well. Who can say that they would not be as heroic, if opportunity
offered, as they have been prudent?"
Doña Eustaquia shrugged her shoulders disdainfully, but resumed her
seat. "You will not say, but you know what chance they would have with
Castro in a fair fight. But what chance has even a great man, when at
the head of a few renegades, against the navy of a big nation? But
Frémont! Is he to cast up his eyes and draw down his mouth to the world,
whilst the man who acted for the safety of his country alone, who showed
foresight and wisdom, is denounced as a violator of international
"No," said one of the American residents who stood near, "history will
right all that. Some day the world will know who was the great and who
the little man."
"Some day! When we are under our stones! This swaggering Commodore
Stockton adores Frémont and hates Castro. His lying proclamation will be
read in his own country—"
The door opened suddenly and Don Fernando Altimira entered the room.
"Have you heard?" he cried. "All the South is in arms! The Departmental
Assembly has called the whole country to war, and men are flocking to
the standard! Castro has sworn that he will never give up the country
under his charge. Now, Mother of God! let our men drive the usurper from
Even Mr. Larkin sprang to his feet in excitement. He rapidly translated
the news to Brotherton and Russell.
"Ah! There will be a little blood, then," said the younger officer. "It
was too easy a victory to count."
Every one in the room was talking at once. Doña Eustaquia smote her
hands together, then clasped and raised them aloft.
"Thanks to God!" she cried. "California has come to her senses at last!"
Altimira bent his lips to her ear. "I go to fight the Americans," he
She caught his hand between both her own and pressed it convulsively to
her breast. "Go," she said, "and may God and Mary protect thee. Go, my
son, and when thou returnest I will give thee Benicia. Thou art a son
after my heart, a brave man and a good Catholic."
Benicia, standing near, heard the words. For the first time Russell saw
the expression of careless audacity leave her face, her pink colour
"What is that man saying to your mother?" he demanded.
"She promise me to him when he come back; he go to join General Castro."
"Benicia!" He glanced about. Altimira had left the house. Every one was
too excited to notice them. He drew her across the hall and into the
little sala, deserted since the startling news had come. "Benicia," he
said hurriedly, "there is no time to be lost. You are such a butterfly I
hardly know whether you love me or not."
"I no am such butterfly as you think," said the girl, pathetically. "I
often am very gay, for that is my spirit, señor; but I cry sometimes in
"Well, you are not to cry any more, my very darling first!" He took her
in his arms and kissed her, and she did not box his ears. "I may be
ordered off at any moment, and what may they not do with you while I am
gone? So I have a plan! Marry me to-morrow!"
"To-morrow. At your friend Blandina's house. The Hernandez like the
Americans; in fact, as we all know, Tallant is in love with Blandina and
the old people do not frown. They will let us marry there."
"Ay! Cielo santo! What my mother say? She kill me!"
"She will forgive you, no matter how angry she may be at first. She
loves you—almost as much as I do."
The girl withdrew from his arms and walked up and down the room. Her
face was very pale, and she looked older. On one side of the room hung
a large black cross, heavily mounted with gold. She leaned her face
against it and burst into tears. "Ay, my home! My mother!" she cried
under her breath. "How I can leave you? Ay, triste de mi!" She turned
suddenly to Russell, whose face was as white as her own, and put to him
the question which we have not yet answered. "What is this love?" she
said rapidly. "I no can understand. I never feel before. Always I laugh
when men say they love me; but I never laugh again. In my heart is
something that shake me like a lion shake what it go to kill, and make
me no care for my mother or my God—and you are a Protestant! I have
love my mother like I have love that cross; and now a man come—a
stranger! a conqueror! a Protestant! an American! And he twist my heart
out with his hands! But I no can help. I love you and I go."
The next morning, Doña Eustaquia looked up from her desk as Benicia
entered the room. "I am writing to Alvarado," she said. "I hope to be
the first to tell him the glorious news. Ay! my child, go to thy altar
and pray that the bandoleros may be driven wriggling from the land like
snakes out of a burning field!"
"But, mother, I thought you had learned to like the Gringos."
"I like the Gringos well enough, but I hate their flag! Ay! I will pull
it down with my own hands if Castro and Pico roll Stockton and Frémont
in the dust!"
"I am sorry for that, my mother, for I am going to marry an American
Her mother laughed and glanced over the closely written page.
"I am going to marry the Lieutenant Russell at Blandina's house this
"Ay, run, run. I must finish my letter."
Benicia left the sala and crossing her mother's room entered her own.
From the stout mahogany chest she took white silk stockings and satin
slippers, and sitting down on the floor put them on. Then she opened the
doors of her wardrobe and looked for some moments at the many pretty
frocks hanging there. She selected one of fine white lawn, half covered
with deshalados, and arrayed herself. She took from the drawer of the
wardrobe a mantilla of white Spanish lace, and draped it about her head
and shoulders, fastening it back above one ear with a pink rose. Around
her throat she clasped a string of pearls, then stood quietly in the
middle of the room and looked about her. In one corner was a little
brass bedstead covered with a heavy quilt of satin and lace. The
pillow-cases were almost as fine and elaborate as her gown. In the
opposite corner was an altar with little gold candlesticks and an ivory
crucifix. The walls and floor were bare but spotless. The ugly wardrobe
built into the thick wall never had been empty: Doña Eustaquia's
generosity to the daughter she worshipped was unbounded.
Benicia drew a long hysterical breath and went over to the window. It
looked upon a large yard enclosed by the high adobe wall upon which her
lovers so often had sat and sung to her. No flowers were in the garden,
not even a tree. It was as smooth and clean as the floor of a ballroom.
About the well in the middle were three or four Indian servants
quarrelling good-naturedly. The house stood on the rise of one of the
crescent's horns. Benicia looked up at the dark pine woods on the
hill. What days she had spent there with her mother! She whirled about
suddenly and taking a large fan from the table returned to the sala.
Doña Eustaquia laughed. "Thou silly child, to dress thyself like a
bride. What nonsense is this?"
"I will be a bride in an hour, my mother."
"Go! Go, with thy nonsense! I have spoiled thee! What other girl in
Monterey would dare to dress herself like this at eleven in the morning?
Go! And do not ruin that mantilla, for thou wilt not get another. Thou
art going to Blandina's, no? Be sure thou goest no farther! I would not
let thee go there alone were it not so near. And be sure thou speakest
to no man in the street."
"No, mamacita, I will speak to no man in the street, but one awaits me
in the house. Hasta luego." And she flitted out of the door and up the
A few hours later Doña Eustaquia sat in the large and cooler sala
with Captain Brotherton. He read Shakespeare to her whilst she fanned
herself, her face aglow with intelligent pleasure. She had not broached
to him the uprising in the South lest it should lead to bitter words.
Although an American and a Protestant, few friends had ever stood so
close to her.
He laid down the book as Russell and Benicia entered the room. Doña
Eustaquia's heavy brows met.
"Thou knowest that I do not allow thee to walk with on the street," she
said in Spanish.
"But, mamacita, he is my husband. We were married this morning at
Blandina's," Excitement had tuned Benicia's spirit to its accustomed
pitch, and her eyes danced with mischief. Moreover, although she
expected violent reproaches, she knew the tenacious strength of her
mother's affection, and had faith in speedy forgiveness.
Brotherton opened his eyes, but Doña Eustaquia moved back her head
impatiently. "That silly joke!" Then she smiled at her own impatience.
What was Benicia but a spoiled child, and spoiled children would disobey
at times. "Welcome, my son," she said to Russell, extending her hand.
"We celebrate your marriage at the supper to-night, and the Captain
helps us, no? my friend."
"Let us have chicken with red pepper and tomato sauce," cried Russell.
"And rice with saffron; and that delightful dish with which I
remonstrate all night—olives and cheese and hard-boiled eggs and red
peppers all rolled up in corn-meal cakes."
"Enchiladas? You have them! Now, both you go over to the corner and talk
not loud, for I wish to hear my friend read."
Russell, lifting his shoulders, did as he was bidden. Benicia, with a
gay laugh, kissed her mother and flitted like a butterfly about the
room, singing gay little snatches of song.
"Oh, mamacita, mamacita," she chanted. "Thou wilt not believe thou hast
lost thy little daughter. Thou wilt not believe thou hast a son. Thou
wilt not believe I shall sleep no more in the little brass bed—"
"Benicia, hold thy saucy tongue! Sit down!" And this Benicia finally
consented to do, although smothered laughter came now and again from the
Dona Eustaquia sat easily against the straight back of her chair,
looking very handsome and placid as Brotherton read and expounded "As
You Like It" to her. Her gown of thin black silk threw out the fine
gray tones of her skin; about her neck and chest was a heavy chain of
Californian gold; her dense lustreless hair was held high with a shell
comb banded with gold; superb jewels weighted her little white hands; in
her small ears were large hoops of gold studded with black pearls. She
was perfectly contented in that hour. Her woman's vanity was at peace
and her eager mind expanding.
The party about the supper table in the evening was very gay. The long
room was bare, but heavy silver was beyond the glass doors of the
cupboard; a servant stood behind each chair; the wines were as fine
as any in America, and the favourite dishes of the Americans had been
prepared. Even Brotherton, although more nervous than was usual with
him, caught the contagion of the hour and touched his glass more than
once to that of the woman whose overwhelming personality had more than
half captured a most indifferent heart.
After supper they sat on the corridor, and Benicia sang her mocking
love-songs and danced El Son to the tinkling of her own guitar.
"Is she not a light-hearted child?" asked her mother. "But she has her
serious moments, my friend. We have been like the sisters. Every path of
the pine woods we walk together, arm in arm. We ride miles on the beach
and sit down on the rocks for hours and try to think what the seals
say one to the other. Before you come I have friends, but no other
companion; but it is good for me you come, for she think only of
flirting since the Americans take Monterey. Mira! Look at her flash the
eyes at Señor Russell. It is well he has the light heart like herself."
Brotherton made no reply.
"Give to me the guitar," she continued.
Benicia handed her the instrument and Doña Eustaquia swept the chords
absently for a moment then sang the song of the troubadour. Her rich
voice was like the rush of the wind through the pines after the light
trilling of a bird, and even Russell sat enraptured. As she sang the
colour came into her face, alight with the fire of youth. Her low notes
were voluptuous, her high notes rang with piercing sadness. As she
finished, a storm of applause came from Alvarado Street, which pulsed
with life but a few yards below them.
"No American woman ever sang like that," said Brotherton. He rose and
walked to the end of the corridor. "But it is a part of Monterey."
"Most enchanting of mothers-in-law," said Russell, "you have made it
doubly hard for us to leave you; but it grows late and my wife and I
must go. Good night," and he raised her hand to his lips.
"Good night, my son."
"Mamacita, good night," and Benicia, who had fluttered into the house
and found a reboso, kissed her mother, waved her hand to Brotherton, and
stepped from the corridor to the street.
"Come here, señorita!" cried her mother. "No walk to-night, for I have
not the wish to walk myself."
"But I go with my husband, mamma."
"Oh, no more of that joke without sense! Señor Russell, go home, that
she have reason for one moment."
"But, dear Doña Eustaquia, won't you understand that we are really
Doña Eustaquia's patience was at an end. She turned to Brotherton and
addressed a remark to him. Russell and Benicia conferred a moment, then
the young man walked rapidly down the street.
"Has he gone?" asked Doña Eustaquia. "Then let us go in the house, for
the fog comes from the bay."
They went into the little sala and sat about the table. Doña Eustaquia
picked up a silver dagger she used as a paper cutter and tapped a book
"Ay, this will not last long," she said to Brotherton. "I much am afraid
your Commodore send you to the South to fight with our men."
"I shall return," said Brotherton, absently. His eyes were fixed on the
"But it will not be long that you will be there, my friend. Many people
are not killed in our wars. Once there was a great battle at Point
Rincon, near Santa Barbara, between Castro and Carillo. Carillo have
been appointed governor by Mejico, and Alvarado refuse to resign. They
fight for three days, and Castro manage so well he lose only one man,
and the others run away and not lose any."
Brotherton laughed. "I hope all our battles may be as bloodless," he
said, and then drew a short breath.
Russell, accompanied by Don Jorje and Doña Francesca Hernandez and the
priest of Monterey, entered the room.
Doña Eustaquia rose and greeted her guests with grace and hospitality.
"But I am glad to see you, my father, my friends. And you always are
welcome, Señor Russell; but no more joke. Where is our Blandina? Sit
down—Why, what is it?"
The priest spoke.
"I have that to tell you, Doña Eustaquia, which I fear will give you
great displeasure. I hoped not to be the one to tell it. I was weak to
consent, but these young people importuned me until I was weary. Doña
Eustaquia, I married Benicia to the Señor Russell to-day."
Doña Eustaquia's head had moved forward mechanically, her eyes staring
incredulously from the priest to the other members of the apprehensive
group. Suddenly her apathy left her, her arm curved upward like the neck
of a snake; but as she sprang upon Benicia her ferocity was that of a
"What!" she shrieked, shaking the girl violently by the shoulder. "What!
ingrate! traitor! Thou hast married an American, a Protestant!"
Benicia burst into terrified sobs. Russell swung the girl from her
mother's grasp and placed his arm around her.
"She is mine now," he said. "You must not touch her again."
"Yours! Yours!" screamed Doña Eustaquia, beside herself. "Oh, Mother of
God!" She snatched the dagger from the table and, springing backward,
plunged it into the cross.
"By that sign I curse thee," she cried. "Accursed be the man who has
stolen my child! Accursed be the woman who has betrayed her mother and
her country! God! God!—I implore thee, let her die in her happiest
On August twelfth Commodore Hull arrived on the frigate Warren, from
Mazatlan, and brought the first positive intelligence of the declaration
of war between Mexico and the United States. Before the middle of
the month news came that Castro and Pico, after gallant defence, but
overwhelmed by numbers, had fled, the one to Sonora, the other to Baja
California. A few days after, Stockton issued a proclamation to the
effect that the flag of the United States was flying over every town
in the territory of California; and Alcalde Colton announced that the
rancheros were more than satisfied with the change of government.
A month later a mounted courier dashed into Monterey with a note from
the Alcalde of Los Angeles, wrapped about a cigarito and hidden in his
hair. The note contained the information that all the South was in
arms again, and that Los Angeles was in the hands of the Californians.
Russell was ordered to go with Captain Mervine, on the Savannah,
to join Gillespie at San Pedro; Brotherton was left at Monterey with
Lieutenant Maddox and a number of men to quell a threatened uprising.
Later came the news of Mervine's defeat and the night of Talbot from
Santa Barbara; and by November California was in a state of general
warfare, each army receiving new recruits every day.
Doña Eustaquia, hard and stern, praying for the triumph of her people,
lived alone in the old house. Benicia, praying for the return of her
husband and the relenting of her mother, lived alone in her little house
on the hill. Friends had interceded, but Doña Eustaquia had closed her
ears. Brotherton went to her one day with the news that Lieutenant
Russell was wounded.
"I must tell Benicia," he said, "but it is you who should do that."
"She betray me, my friend."
"Oh, Eustaquia, make allowance for the lightness of youth. She barely
realized what she did. But she loves him now, and suffers bitterly. She
should be with you."
"Ay! She suffer for another! She love a strange man—an American—better
than her mother! And it is I who would die for her! Ay, you cold
Americans! Never you know how a mother can love her child."
"The Americans know how to love, señora. And Benicia was thoroughly
spoiled by her devoted mother. She was carried away by her wild spirits,
"Then much better she live on them now."
Doña Eustaquia sat with her profile against the light. It looked severe
and a little older, but she was very handsome in her rich black gown and
the gold chain about her strong throat. Her head, as usual, was held a
little back. Brotherton sat down beside her and took her hand.
"Eustaquia," he said, "no friendship between man and woman was ever
deeper and stronger than ours. In spite of the anxiety and excitement of
these last months we have found time to know each other very intimately.
So you will forgive me if I tell you that the more a friend loves you
the more he must be saddened by the terrible iron in your nature. Only
the great strength of your passions has saved you from hardening into an
ugly and repellent woman. You are a mother; forgive your child; remember
that she, too, is about to be a mother—"
She caught his hand between both of hers with a passionate gesture. "Oh,
my friend," she said, "do not too much reproach me! You never have a
child, you cannot know! And remember we all are not make alike. If you
are me, you act like myself. If I am you, I can forgive more easy. But
I am Eustaquia Ortega, and as I am make, so I do feel now. No judge too
hard, my friend, and—infelez de mi! do not forsake me."
"I will never forsake you, Eustaquia." He rose suddenly. "I, too, am a
lonely man, if not a hard one, and I recognize that cry of the soul's
He left her and went up the hill to Benicia's little house, half hidden
by the cypress trees that grew before it.
She was sitting in her sala working an elaborate deshalados on a baby's
gown. Her face was pale, and the sparkle had gone out of it; but she
held herself with all her mother's pride, and her soft eyes were deeper.
She rose as Captain Brotherton entered, and took his hand in both of
hers. "You are so good to come to me, and I love you for your friendship
for my mother. Tell me how she is."
"She is well, Benicia." Then he exclaimed suddenly: "Poor little girl!
What a child you are—not yet seventeen."
"In a few months, señor. Sit down. No? And I no am so young now. When we
suffer we grow more than by the years; and now I go to have the baby,
that make me feel very old."
"But it is very sad to see you alone like this, without your husband or
your mother. She will relent some day, Benicia, but I wish she would do
it now, when you most need her."
"Yes, I wish I am with her in the old house," said the girl,
pathetically, although she winked back the tears. "Never I can be happy
without her, even si he is here, and you know how I love him. But I
have love her so long; she is—how you say it?—like she is part of me,
and when she no spik to me, how I can be happy with all myself when part
is gone. You understand, señor?"
"Yes, Benicia, I understand." He looked through the bending cypresses,
down the hill, upon the fair town. He had no relish for the task which
had brought him to her. She looked up and caught the expression of his
"Señor!" she cried sharply. "What you go to tell me?"
"There is a report that Ned is slightly wounded; but it is not serious.
It was Altimira who did it, I believe."
She shook from head to foot, but was calmer than he had expected. She
laid the gown on a chair and stood up. "Take me to him. Si he is wound,
I go to nurse him."
"My child! You would die before you got there. I have sent a special
courier to find out the truth. If Ned is wounded, I have arranged to
have him sent home immediately."
"I wait for the courier come back, for it no is right I hurt the baby si
I can help. But si he is wound so bad he no can come, then I go to him.
It no is use for you to talk at all, señor, I go."
Brotherton looked at her in wonderment. Whence had the butterfly gone?
Its wings had been struck from it and a soul had flown in.
"Let me send Blandina to you," he said. "You must not be alone."
"I am alone till he or my mother come. I no want other. I love Blandina
before, but now she make me feel tired. She talk so much and no say
anything. I like better be alone."
"Poor child!" said Brotherton, bitterly, "truly do love and suffering
age and isolate." He motioned with his hand to the altar in her bedroom,
seen through the open door. "I have not your faith, I am afraid I have
not much of any; but if I cannot pray for you, I can wish with all the
strength of a man's heart that happiness will come to you yet, Benicia."
She shook her head. "I no know; I no believe much happiness come in
this life. Before, I am like a fairy; but it is only because I no am
_un_happy. But when the heart have wake up, señor, and the knife have
gone in hard, then, after that, always, I think, we are a little sad."
General Kearney and Lieutenant Beale walked rapidly up and down before
the tents of the wretched remnant of United States troops with which the
former had arrived overland in California. It was bitterly cold in spite
of the fine drizzling rain. Lonely buttes studded the desert, whose
palms and cacti seemed to spring from the rocks; high on one of them was
the American camp. On the other side of a river flowing at the foot of
the butte, the white tents of the Californians were scattered among the
dark huts of the little pueblo of San Pasqual.
"Let me implore you, General," said Beale, "not to think of meeting
Andres Pico. Why, your men are half starved; your few horses are
broken-winded; your mules are no match for the fresh trained mustangs of
the enemy. I am afraid you do not appreciate the Californians. They are
numerous, brave, and desperate. If you avoid them now, as Commodore
Stockton wishes, and join him at San Diego, we stand a fair chance
of defeating them. But now Pico's cavalry and foot are fresh and
enthusiastic—in painful contrast to yours. And, moreover, they know
every inch of the ground."
Kearney impatiently knocked the ashes out of his pipe. He had little
regard for Stockton, and no intention of being dictated to by a
truculent young lieutenant who spoke his mind upon all occasions.
"I shall attack them at daybreak," he said curtly. "I have one hundred
and thirty good men; and has not Captain Gillespie joined me with his
battalion? Never shall it be said that I turned aside to avoid a handful
of boasting Californians. Now go and get an hour's sleep before we
The young officer shrugged his shoulders, saluted, and walked down
the line of tents. A man emerged from one of them, and he recognized
"Hello, Ned," he said. "How's the arm?"
"'Twas only a scratch. Is Altimira down there with Pico, do you know? He
is a brave fellow! I respect that man; but we have an account to settle,
and I hope it will be done on the battle-field."
"He is with Pico, and he has done some good fighting. Most of the
Californians have. They know how to fight and they are perfectly
fearless. Kearney will find it out to-morrow. He is mad to attack them.
Why, his men are actually cadaverous. Bueno! as they say here; Stockton
sent me to guide him to San Diego. If he prefers to go through the
enemy's lines, there is nothing for me to do but take him."
"Yes, but we may surprise them. I wish to God this imitation war were
"It will be real enough before you get through. Don't worry. Well, good
night. Luck to your skin."
At daybreak the little army marched down the butte, shivering with cold,
wet to the skin. Those on horseback naturally proceeded more rapidly
than those mounted upon the clumsy stubborn mules; and Captain Johnson,
who led the advance guard of twelve dragoons, found himself, when he
came in sight of the enemy's camp, some distance ahead of the main body
of Kearney's small army. To his surprise he saw that the Californians
were not only awake, but horsed and apparently awaiting him. Whether he
was fired by valour or desperation at the sight is a disputed point;
but he made a sudden dash down the hill and across the river, almost
flinging himself upon the lances of the Californians.
Captain Moore, who was ambling down the hill on an old white horse at
the head of fifty dragoons mounted on mules, spurred his beast as he
witnessed the foolish charge of the advance, and arrived upon the field
in time to see Johnson fall dead and to take his place. Pico, seeing
that reënforcements were coming, began to retreat, followed hotly by
Moore and the horsed dragoons. Suddenly, however, Fernando Altimira
raised himself in his stirrups, looked back, laughed and galloped across
the field to General Pico.
"Look!" he said. "Only a few men on horses are after us. The mules are
stumbling half a mile behind."
Pico wheeled about, gave the word of command, and bore down upon the
Americans. Then followed a hand-to-hand conflict, the Californians
lancing and using their pistols with great dexterity, the Americans
doing the best they could with their rusty sabres and clubbed guns.
They were soon reënforced by Moore's dragoons and Gillespie's battalion,
despite the unwilling mules; but the brutes kicked and bucked at every
pistol shot and fresh cloud of smoke. The poor old horses wheezed and
panted, but stood their ground when not flung out of position by the
frantic mules. The officers and soldiers of the United States army were
a sorry sight, and in pointed contrast to the graceful Californians on
their groomed steeds, handsomely trapped, curvetting and rearing and
prancing as lightly as if on the floor of a circus. Kearney cursed his
own stupidity, and Pico laughed in his face. Beale felt satisfaction and
compunction in saturating the silk and silver of one fine saddle with
the blood of its owner. The point of the dying man's lance pierced his
face, but he noted the bleaching of Kearney's, as one dragoon after
another was flung upon the sharp rocks over which his bewildered brute
stumbled, or was caught and held aloft in the torturing arms of the
On the edge of the battle two men had forgotten the Aztec Eagle and the
Stars and Stripes; they fought for love of a woman. Neither had had time
to draw his pistol; they fought with lance and sabre, thrusting and
parrying. Both were skilful swordsmen, but Altimira's horse was far
superior to Russell's, and he had the advantage of weapons.
"One or the other die on the rocks," said the Californian, "and si I
kill you, I marry Benicia."
Russell made no reply. He struck aside the man's lance and wounded his
wrist. But Altimira was too excited to feel pain. His face was quivering
It is not easy to parry a lance with a sabre, and still more difficult
to get close enough to wound the man who wields it. Russell rose
suddenly in his stirrups, described a rapid half-circle with his weapon,
brought it down midway upon the longer blade, and snapped the latter in
two. Altimira gave a cry of rage, and spurring his horse sought to ride
his opponent down; but Russell wheeled, and the two men simultaneously
snatched their pistols from the holsters. Altimira fired first, but his
hand was unsteady and his ball went through a cactus. Russell raised
his pistol with firm wrist, and discharged it full in the face of the
Then he looked over the field. Moore, fatally lanced, lay under a palm,
and many of his men were about him. Gillespie was wounded, Kearney had
received an ugly thrust. The Californians, upon the arrival of the main
body of the enemy's troops, had retreated unpursued; the mules attached
to one of the American howitzers were scampering over to the opposite
ranks, much to the consternation of Kearney. The sun, looking over the
mountain, dissipated the gray smoke, and cast a theatrical light on the
faces of the dead. Russell bent over Altimira. His head was shattered,
but his death was avenged. Never had an American troop suffered a more
humiliating defeat. Only six Californians lay on the field; and when
the American surgeon, after attending to his own wounded, offered his
services to Pico's, that indomitable general haughtily replied that he
"By Jove!" said Russell to Beale that night, "you know your
Californians! I am prouder than ever of having married one! That army is
of the stuff of which my mother-in-law is made!"
That was a gay Christmas at Monterey, despite the barricades in the
street. News had come of the defeat of Kearney at San Pasqual, and the
Montereños, inflated with hope and pride, gave little thought to the
fact that his forces were now joined with Stockton's at San Diego.
On Christmas eve light streamed from every window, bonfires flared on
the hills; the streets were illuminated, and every one was abroad. The
clear warm night was ablaze with fireworks; men and women were in their
gala gowns; rockets shot upward amidst shrieks of delight which mingled
oddly with the rolling of drums at muster; even the children caught the
enthusiasm, religious and patriotic.
"I suppose you would be glad to see even your friends driven out," said
Brotherton to Doña Eustaquia, as they walked through the brilliant town
toward the church: bells called them to witness the dramatic play of
"I be glad to see the impertinent flag come down," said she, frankly;
"but you can make resignation from the army, and have a little store on
Alvarado Street. You can have beautiful silks and crêpes from America. I
buy of you."
"Thanks," he said grimly. "You would put a dunce cap on poor America,
and stand her in a corner. If I resign, Doña Eustaquia, it will be to
become a ranchero, not a shopkeeper. To tell the truth, I have little
desire to leave California again."
"But you were make for the fight," she said, looking up with some pride
at the tall military figure, the erect head and strong features. "You
not were make to lie in the hammock and horseback all day."
"But I should do a good deal else, señora. I should raise cattle with
some method; and I should have a library—and a wife."
"Ah! you go to marry?"
"Some day, I hope. It would be lonely to be a ranchero without a wife."
"What is the matter with those women?"
A group of old women stood by the roadside. Their forms were bent, their
brown faces gnarled like apples. Some were a shapeless mass of fat,
others were parchment and bone; about the head and shoulders of each was
a thick black shawl. Near them stood a number of young girls clad in
muslin petticoats, flowered with purple and scarlet. Bright satin shoes
were on their feet, cotton rebosas covered their pretty, pert little
heads. All were looking in one direction, whispering and crossing
Doña Eustaquia glanced over her shoulder, then leaned heavily on
"It is Benicia," she said. "It is because she was cursed and is with
child that they cross themselves."
Brotherton held her arm closely and laid his hand on hers, but he spoke
"The curse is not likely to do her any harm. You prayed that she should
die when happiest, and you have done your best to make her wretched."
She did not reply, and they walked slowly onward. Benicia followed,
leaning on the arm of an Indian servant. Her friends avoided her, for
they bitterly resented Altimira's death. But she gave them little
regret. Since her husband could not be with her on this Christmas eve,
she wished only for reconciliation with her mother. In spite of the
crowd she followed close behind Doña Eustaquia and Brotherton, holding
her head proudly, but ready to fall at the feet of the woman she
"My friend," said Doña Eustaquia, after a moment, "perhaps it is best
that I do not forgive her. Were she happy, then might the curse come
"She has enough else to make her unhappy. Besides, who ever heard of
a curse coming true? It has worked its will already for the matter of
that. You kept your child from happiness with her husband during the
brief time she had him. The bitterness of death is a small matter beside
the bitterness of life. You should be satisfied."
"You are hard, my friend."
"I see your other faults only to respect and love them."
"Does she look ill, Captain?"
"She cannot be expected to look like the old Benicia. Of course she
looks ill, and needs care."
"Look over the shoulder. Does she walk heavily?"
"Very. But as haughtily as do you."
"Talk of other things for a little while, my friend."
"Truly there is much to claim the interest to-night. This may be an old
scene to you, but it is novel and fascinating to me. How lovely are
those stately girls, half hidden by their rebosas, telling their beads
as they hurry along. It is the very coquetry of religion. And those—But
here we are."
The church was handsomer without than within, for the clever old
padres that built it had more taste than their successors. About the
whitewashed walls of the interior were poor copies of celebrated
paintings—the Passion of Christ, and an extraordinary group of nude
women and grinning men representing the temptation of St. Anthony. In a
glass case a beautiful figure of the Saviour reclined on a stiff couch
clumsily covered with costly stuffs. The Virgin was dressed much like
the aristocratic ladies of Monterey, and the altar was a rainbow of
But the ceremonies were interesting, and Brotherton forgot Benicia for
the hour. After the mass the priest held out a small waxen image of the
infant Jesus, and all approached and kissed it. Then from without came
the sound of a guitar; the worshippers arose and ranged themselves
against the wall; six girls dressed as shepherdesses; a man representing
Lucifer; two others, a hermit and the lazy vagabond Bartola; a boy, the
archangel Gabriel, entered the church. They bore banners and marched
to the centre of the building, then acted their drama with religious
The play began with the announcement by Gabriel of the birth of the
Saviour, and exhortations to repair to the manger. On the road came
the temptation of Lucifer; the archangel appeared once more; a violent
altercation ensued in which all took part, and finally the prince of
darkness was routed. Songs and fanciful by-play, brief sermons, music,
gay and solemn, diversified the strange performance. When all was over,
the players were followed by an admiring crowd to the entertainment
"Is it not beautiful—our Los Pastores?" demanded Doña Eustaquia,
looking up at Brotherton, her fine face aglow with enthusiasm. "Do not
you feel the desire to be a Catholic, my friend?"
"Rather would I see two good Catholics united, dear señora," and he
turned suddenly to Benicia, who also had remained in the church, almost
at her mother's side.
"Mamacita!" cried Benicia.
Doña Eustaquia opened her arms and caught the girl passionately to her
heart; and Brotherton left the church.
The April flowers were on the hills. Beds of gold-red poppies and
silver-blue baby eyes were set like tiles amidst the dense green
undergrowth beneath the pines, and on the natural lawns about the white
houses. Although hope of driving forth the intruder had gone forever in
January, Monterey had resumed in part her old gayety; despair had bred
philosophy. But Monterey was Monterey no longer. An American alcalde
with a power vested in no judge of the United States ruled over her; to
add injury to insult, he had started a newspaper. The town was full of
Americans; the United States was constructing a fort on the hill; above
all, worse than all, the Californians were learning the value of money.
Their sun was sloping to the west.
A thick India shawl hung over the window of Benicia's old room in her
mother's house, shutting out the perfume of the hills. A carpet had been
thrown on the floor, candles burned in the pretty gold candlesticks that
had stood on the altar since Benicia's childhood. On the little brass
bedstead lay Benicia, very pale and very pretty, her transparent skin
faintly reflecting the pink of the satin coverlet. By the bed sat an old
woman of the people. Her ragged white locks were bound about by a fillet
of black silk; her face, dark as burnt umber, was seamed and lined like
a withered prune; even her long broad nose was wrinkled; her dull eyes
looked like mud-puddles; her big underlip was pursed up as if she had
been speaking mincing words, and her chin was covered with a short white
stubble. Over her coarse smock and gown she wore a black cotton reboso.
In her arms she held an infant, muffled in a white lace mantilla.
Doña Eustaquia came in and bent over the baby, her strong face alight
"Didst thou ever nurse so beautiful a baby?" she demanded.
The old woman grunted; she had heard that question before.
"See how pink and smooth it is—not red and wrinkled like other babies!
How becoming is that mantilla! No, she shall not be wrapped in blankets,
cap, and shawls."
"She catch cold, most likely," grunted the nurse.
"In this weather? No; it is soft as midsummer. I cannot get cool. Ay,
she looks like a rosebud lying in a fog-bank!" She touched the baby's
cheek with her finger, then sat on the bed, beside her daughter.
"And how dost thou feel, my little one? Thou wert a baby thyself but
yesterday, and thou art not much more to-day."
"I feel perfectly well, my mother, and—ay, Dios, so happy! Where is
"Of course! Always the husband! They are all alike! Hast thou not thy
mother and thy baby?"
"I adore you both, mamacita, but I want Edourdo. Where is he?"
Her mother grimaced. "I suppose it is no use to protest. Well, my little
one, I think he is at this moment on the hill with Lieutenant Ord."
"Why did he not come to see me before he went out?"
"He did, my daughter, but thou wert asleep. He kissed thee and stole
"Right there on your cheek, one inch below your eyelashes."
"When will he return?"
"Holy Mary! For dinner, surely, and that will be in an hour."
"When can I get up?"
"In another week. Thou art so well! I would not have thee draw too
heavily on thy little strength. Another month and thou wilt not remember
that thou hast been ill. Then we will go to the rancho, where thou and
thy little one will have sun all day and no fog."
"Have I not a good husband, mamacita?"
"Yes; I love him like my own son. Had he been unkind to thee, I should
have killed him with my own hands; but as he has his lips to thy little
slipper, I forgive him for being an American."
"And you no longer wish for a necklace of American ears! Oh, mamma!"
Doña Eustaquia frowned, then sighed. "I do not know the American head
for which I have not more like than hate, and they are welcome to their
ears; but the spirit of that wish is in my heart yet, my child. Our
country has been taken from us; we are aliens in our own land; it is the
American's. They—holy God!—permit us to live here!"
"But they like us better than their own women."
"Perhaps; they are men and like what they have not had too long."
"Mamacita, I am thirsty."
"What wilt thou have? A glass of water?"
"Water has no taste."
Doña Eustaquia left the room and returned with an orange. "This will be
cool and pleasant on so warm a day. It is just a little sour," she said;
but the nurse raised her bony hand.
"Do not give her that," she said in her harsh voice. "It is too soon."
"Nonsense! The baby is two weeks old. Why, I ate fruit a week after
childing. Look how dry her mouth is! It will do her good."
She pared the orange and gave it to Benicia, who ate it gratefully.
"It is very good, mamita. You will spoil me always, but that is because
you are so good. And one day I hope you will be as happy as your little
daughter; for there are other good Americans in the world. No? mamma. I
She sprang upward with a loud cry, the body curving rigidly; her soft
brown eyes stared horribly; froth gathered about her mouth; she gasped
once or twice, her body writhing from the agonized arms that strove to
hold it, then fell limply down, her features relaxing.
"She is dead," said the nurse.
"Benicia!" whispered Doña Eustaquia. "Benicia!"
"You have killed her," said the old woman, as she drew the mantilla
about the baby's face.
Doña Eustaquia dropped the body and moved backward from the bed. She
put out her hands and went gropingly from the room to her own, and from
thence to the sala. Brotherton came forward to meet her.
"Eustaquia!" he cried. "My friend! My dear! What has happened? What—"
She raised her hand and pointed to the cross. The mark of the dagger was
"Benicia!" she uttered. "The curse!" and then she fell at his feet.