The Conquest of Dona Jacoba, by Gertrude
Forties, Stories of Old California
A forest of willows cut by a forking creek, and held apart here and
there by fields of yellow mustard blossoms fluttering in their pale
green nests, or meadows carpeted with the tiny white and yellow flowers
of early summer. Wide patches of blue where the willows ended, and
immense banks of daisies bordering fields of golden grain, bending and
shimmering in the wind with the deep even sweep of rising tide. Then the
lake, long, irregular, half choked with tules, closed by a marsh. The
valley framed by mountains of purplish gray, dull brown, with patches of
vivid green and yellow; a solitary gray peak, barren and rocky, in
sharp contrast to the rich Californian hills; on one side fawn-coloured
slopes, and slopes with groves of crouching oaks in their hollows;
opposite and beyond the cold peak, a golden hill rising to a mount of
earthy green; still lower, another peak, red and green, mulberry and
mould; between and afar, closing the valley, a line of pink-brown
mountains splashed with blue.
Such was a fragment of Don Roberto Duncan's vast rancho, Los Quervos,
and on a plateau above the willows stood the adobe house, white and
red-tiled, shaped like a solid letter H. On the deep veranda, sunken
between the short forearms of the H, Doña Jacoba could stand and issue
commands in her harsh imperious voice to the Indians in the rancheria
among the willows, whilst the long sala behind overflowed with the gay
company her famous hospitality had summoned, the bare floor and ugly
velvet furniture swept out of thought by beautiful faces and flowered
Behind the sala was an open court, the grass growing close to the great
stone fountain. On either side was a long line of rooms, and above the
sala was a library opening into the sleeping room of Doña Jacoba on one
side, and into that of Elena, her youngest and loveliest daughter, on
the other. Beyond the house were a dozen or more buildings: the kitchen;
a room in which steers and bullocks, sheep and pigs, were hanging;
a storehouse containing provisions enough for a hotel; and the
manufactories of the Indians. Somewhat apart was a large building with
a billiard-room in its upper story and sleeping rooms below. From her
window Elena could look down upon the high-walled corral with its
prancing horses always in readiness for the pleasure-loving guests, and
upon the broad road curving through the willows and down the valley.
The great house almost shook with life on this brilliant day of the
month of June, 1852. Don Roberto Duncan, into whose shrewd Scotch hands
California had poured her wealth for forty years, had long ago taken
to himself a wife of Castilian blood; to-morrow their eldest remaining
daughter was to be married to a young Englishman, whose father had been
a merchant in California when San Francisco was Yerba Buena. Not a room
was vacant in the house. Young people had come from Monterey and San
Francisco, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Beds had been put up in the
library and billiard-room, in the store-rooms and attics. The corral was
full of strange horses, and the huts in the willows had their humbler
Francisca sat in her room surrounded by a dozen chattering girls. The
floor beneath the feet of the Californian heiress was bare, and the
heavy furniture was of uncarved mahogany. But a satin quilt covered the
bed, lavish Spanish needlework draped chest and tables, and through
the open window came the June sunshine and the sound of the splashing
Francisca was putting the last stitches in her wedding-gown, and the
girls were helping, advising, and commenting.
"Art thou not frightened, Panchita," demanded one of the girls, "to go
away and live with a strange man? Just think, thou hast seen him but ten
"What of that?" asked Francisca, serenely, holding the rich corded silk
at arm's length, and half closing her eyes as she readjusted the deep
flounce of Spanish lace. "Remember, we shall ride and dance and play
games together for a week with all of you, dear friends, before I go
away with him. I shall know him quite well by that time. And did not my
father know him when he was a little boy? Surely, he cannot be a cruel
man, or my father would not have chosen him for my husband."
"I like the Americans and the Germans and the Russians," said the girl
who had spoken, "particularly the Americans. But these English are so
stern, so harsh sometimes."
"What of that?" asked Francisca again. "Am I not used to my father?"
She was a singular-looking girl, this compound of Scotch and Spanish.
Her face was cast in her father's hard mould, and her frame was large
and sturdy, but she had the black luxuriant hair of Spain, and much
grace of gesture and expression.
"I would not marry an Englishman," said a soft voice.
Francisca raised her eyebrows and glanced coldly at the speaker, a girl
of perfect loveliness, who sat behind a table, her chin resting on her
"Thou wouldst marry whom our father told thee to marry, Elena," said her
sister, severely. "What hast thou to say about it?"
"I will marry a Spaniard," said Elena, rebelliously. "A Spaniard, and no
"Thou wilt do what?" asked a cold voice from the door. The girls gave a
little scream. Elena turned pale, even Francisca's hands twitched.
Doña Jacoba was an impressive figure as she stood in the doorway; a tall
unbowed woman with a large face and powerful penetrating eyes. A thin
mouth covering white teeth separated the prominent nose and square chin.
A braid of thick black hair lay over her fine bust, and a black silk
handkerchief made a turban for her lofty head. She wore a skirt of heavy
black silk and a shawl of Chinese crêpe, one end thrown gracefully over
"What didst thou say?" she demanded again, a sneer on her lips.
Elena made no answer. She stared through the window at the servants
laying the table in the dining room on the other side of the court, her
breath shortening as if the room had been exhausted of air.
"Let me hear no more of that nonsense," continued her mother. "A strange
remark, truly, to come from the lips of a Californian! Thy father has
said that his daughters shall marry men of his race—men who belong to
that island of the North; and I have agreed, and thy sisters are well
married. No women are more virtuous, more industrious, more religious,
than ours; but our men—our young men—are a set of drinking gambling
vagabonds. Go to thy room and pray there until supper."
Elena ran out of an opposite door, and Doña Jacoba sat down on a
high-backed chair and held out her hand for the wedding-gown. She
examined it, then smiled brilliantly.
"The lace is beautiful," she said. "There is no richer in California,
and I have seen Doña Trinidad Iturbi y Moncada's and Doña Modeste
Castro's. Let me see thy mantilla once more."
Francisca opened a chest nearly as large as her bed, and shook out a
long square of superb Spanish lace. It had arrived from the city of
Mexico but a few days before. The girls clapped their admiring hands, as
if they had not looked at it twenty times, and Doña Jacoba smoothed it
tenderly with her strong hands. Then she went over to the chest and
lifted the beautiful silk and crêpe gowns, one by one, her sharp eyes
detecting no flaw. She opened another chest and examined the piles of
underclothing and bed linen, all of finest woof, and deeply bordered
with the drawn work of Spain.
"All is well," she said, returning to her chair. "I see nothing more to
be done. Thy brother will bring the emeralds, and the English plate will
come before the week is over."
"Is it sure that Santiago will come in time for the wedding?" asked
a half-English granddaughter, whose voice broke suddenly at her own
But Doña Jacoba was in a gracious mood.
"Surely. Has not Don Roberto gone to meet him? He will be here at four
"How glad I shall be to see him!" said Francisca. "Just think, my
friends, I have not seen him for seven years. Not since he was eleven
years old. He has been on that cold dreadful island in the North all
this time. I wonder has he changed!"
"Why should he change?" asked Doña Jacoba. "Is he not a Cortez and a
Duncan? Is he not a Californian and a Catholic? Can a few years in an
English school make him of another race? He is seven years older, that
"True," assented Francisca, threading her needle; "of course he could
Doña Jacoba opened a large fan and wielded it with slow curves of her
strong wrist. She had never been cold in her life, and even a June day
"We have another guest," she said in a moment—"a young man, Don Dario
Castañares of Los Robles Rancho. He comes to buy cattle of my husband,
and must remain with us until the bargain is over."
Several of the girls raised their large black eyes with interest. "Don
Dario Castañares," said one; "I have heard of him. He is very rich and
very handsome, they say."
"Yes," said Doña Jacoba, indifferently. "He is not ugly, but much too
dark. His mother was an Indian. He is no husband, with all his leagues,
for any Californian of pure Castilian blood."
Elena had gone up to her room, and would have locked the door had she
possessed a key. As it was, she indulged in a burst of tears at the
prospect of marrying an Englishman, then consoled herself with the
thought that her best-beloved brother would be with her in a few hours.
She bathed her face and wound the long black coils about her shapely
head. The flush faded out of her white cheeks, and her eyelids were less
heavy. But the sadness did not leave her eyes nor the delicate curves of
her mouth. She had the face of the Madonna, stamped with the heritage of
suffering; a nature so keenly capable of joy and pain that she drew both
like a magnet, and would so long as life stayed in her.
She curled herself in the window-seat, looking down the road for the
gray cloud of dust that would herald her brother. But only black flocks
of crows mounted screaming from the willows, to dive and rise again.
Suddenly she became conscious that she was watched, and her gaze swept
downward to the corral. A stranger stood by the gates, giving orders to
a vaquero but looking hard at her from beneath his low-dropped sombrero.
He was tall, this stranger, and very slight. His face was nearly as dark
as an Indian's, but set with features so perfect that no one but Doña
Jacoba had ever found fault with his skin. Below his dreaming ardent
eyes was a straight delicate nose; the sensuous mouth was half parted
over glistening teeth and but lightly shaded by a silken mustache. About
his graceful figure hung a dark red serape embroidered and fringed
with gold, and his red velvet trousers were laced, and his yellow
riding-boots gartered, with silver.
Elena rose quickly and pulled the curtain across the window; the blood
had flown to her hair, and a smile chased the sadness from her mouth.
Then she raised her hands and pressed the palms against the slope of the
ceiling, her dark upturned eyes full of terror. For many moments she
stood so, hardly conscious of what she was doing, seeing only the
implacable eyes of her mother. Then down the road came the loud regular
hoof-falls of galloping horses, and with an eager cry she flung aside
the curtain, forgetting the stranger.
Down the road, half hidden by the willows, came two men. When they
reached the rancheria, Elena saw the faces: a sandy-haired hard-faced
old Scotsman, with cold blue eyes beneath shaggy red brows, and a dark
slim lad, every inch a Californian. Elena waved her handkerchief and the
lad his hat. Then the girl ran down the stairs and over to the willows.
Santiago sprang from his horse, and the brother and sister clung
together kissing and crying, hugging each other until her hair fell down
and his hat was in the dust.
"Thou hast come!" cried Elena at last, holding him at arm's length
that she might see him better, then clinging to him again with all her
strength. "Thou never wilt leave me again—promise me! Promise me, my
Santiago! Ay, I have been so lonely."
"Never, my little one. Have I not longed to come home that I might be
with you? O my Elena! I know so much. I will teach you everything."
"Ay, I am proud of thee, my Santiago! Thou knowest more than any boy in
"Perhaps that would not be much," with fine scorn. "But come, Elena mia,
I must go to my mother; she is waiting. She looks as stern as ever; but
how I have longed to see her!"
They ran to the house, passing the stranger, who had watched them with
folded arms and scowling brows. Santiago rushed impetuously at his
mother; but she put out her arm, stiff and straight, and held him back.
Then she laid her hand, with its vice-like grip, on his shoulder, and
led him down the sala to the chapel at the end. It was arranged for the
wedding, with all the pomp of velvet altar-cloth and golden candelabra.
He looked at it wonderingly. Why had she brought him to look upon this
before giving him a mother's greeting?
"Kneel down," she said, "and repeat the prayers of thy Church—prayers
of gratitude for thy safe return."
The boy folded his hands deprecatingly.
"But, mother, remember it is seven long years since I have said the
Catholic prayers. Remember I have been educated in an English college,
in a Protestant country."
Her tall form curved slowly toward him, the blood blazed in her dark
"What!" she screamed incredulously. "Thou hast forgotten the prayers of
thy Church—the prayers thou learned at my knee?"
"Yes, mother, I have," he said desperately. "I cannot—"
"God! God! Mother of God! My son says this to me!" She caught him by the
shoulder again and almost hurled him from the room. Then she locked her
hand about his arm and dragged him down the sala to his father's room.
She took a greenhide reata from the table and brought it down upon his
back with long sweeps of her powerful arm, but not another word came
from her rigid lips. The boy quivered with the shame and pain, but made
no resistance—for he was a Californian, and she was his mother.
Joaquin, the eldest son, who had been hunting bear with a number of his
guests, returned shortly after his brother's arrival and was met at the
door by his mother.
"Where is Santiago?" he asked. "I hear he has come."
"Santiago has been sent to bed, where he will remain for the present. We
have an unexpected guest, Joaquin. He leans there against the tree—Don
Dario Castañares. Thou knowest who he is. He comes to buy cattle of thy
father, and will remain some days. Thou must share thy room with him,
for there is no other place—even on the billiard-table."
Joaquin liked the privacy of his room, but he had all the hospitality of
his race. He went at once to the stranger, walking a little heavily,
for he was no longer young and slender, but with a cordial smile on his
shrewd warmly coloured face.
"The house is at your service, Don Dario," he said, shaking the
newcomer's hand. "We are honoured that you come in time for my sister's
wedding. It distresses me that I cannot offer you the best room in the
house, but, Dios! we have a company here. I have only the half of my
poor bed to offer you, but if you will deign to accept that—"
"I am miserable, wretched, to put you to such inconvenience—"
"Never think of such a thing, my friend. Nothing could give me greater
happiness than to try to make you comfortable in my poor room. Will you
come now and take a siesta before supper?"
Dario followed him to the house, protesting at every step, and Joaquin
threw open the door of one of the porch rooms.
"At your service, señor—everything at your service."
He went to one corner of the room and kicked aside a pile of saddles,
displaying a small hillock of gold in ten-and fifty-dollar slugs. "You
will find about thirty thousand dollars there. We sold some cattle a
days ago. I beg that you will help yourself. It is all at your service.
I will now go and send you some aguardiente, for you must be thirsty."
And he went out and left his guest alone.
Dario threw himself face downward on the bed. He was in love, and the
lady had kissed another man as if she had no love to spare. True, it was
but her brother she had kissed, but would she have eyes for any one else
during a stranger's brief visit? And how, in this crowded house, could
he speak a word with her alone? And that terrible dragon of a mother!
He sprang to his feet as an Indian servant entered with a glass of
aguardiente. When he had burnt his throat, he felt better. "I will stay
until I have won her, if I remain a month," he vowed. "It will be some
time before Don Roberto will care to talk business."
But Don Roberto was never too occupied to talk business. After he had
taken his bath and siesta, he sent a servant to request Don Dario
Castañares to come up to the library, where he spent most of his time,
received all his visitors, reprimanded his children, and took his
after-dinner naps. It was a luxurious room for the Californian of that
day. A thick red English carpet covered the floor; one side of the room
was concealed by a crowded bookcase, and the heavy mahogany furniture
was handsomely carved, although upholstered with horse-hair.
In an hour every detail of the transaction had been disposed of, and
Dario had traded a small rancho for a herd of cattle. The young man's
face was very long when the last detail had been arranged, but he had
forgotten that his host was as Californian as himself. Don Roberto
poured him a brimming glass of angelica and gave him a hearty slap on
"The cattle will keep for a few days, Don Dario," he said, "and you
shall not leave this house until the festivities are over. Not until
a week from to-morrow—do you hear? I knew your father. We had many a
transaction together, and I take pleasure in welcoming his son under my
roof. Now get off to the young people, and do not make any excuses."
Dario made none.
The next morning at eight, Francisca stood before the altar in the
chapel, looking very handsome in her rich gown and soft mantilla. The
bridegroom, a sensible-looking young Englishman, was somewhat nervous,
but Francisca might have been married every morning at eight o'clock.
Behind them stood Don Roberto in a new suit of English broadcloth, and
Doña Jacoba in heavy lilac silk, half covered with priceless lace. The
six bridesmaids looked like a huge bouquet, in their wide delicately
coloured skirts. Their dark eyes, mischievous, curious, thoughtful,
flashed more brilliantly than the jewels they wore.
The sala and Don Roberto's room beyond were so crowded that some of the
guests stood in the windows, and many could not enter the doors; every
family within a hundred leagues had come to the wedding. The veranda was
crowded with girls, the sparkling faces draped in black mantillas or
bright rebosos, the full gay gowns fluttering in the breeze. Men in
jingling spurs and all the bravery of gold-laced trousers and short
embroidered jackets respectfully elbowed their way past brown and stout
old women that they might whisper a word into some pretty alert little
ear. They had all ridden many leagues that morning, but there was not
a trace of fatigue on any face. The court behind the sala was full of
Indian servants striving to catch a glimpse of the ceremony.
Dario stood just within the front door, his eyes eagerly fixed upon
Elena. She looked like a California lily in her white gown; even her
head drooped a little as if a storm had passed. Her eyes were absent and
heavy; they mirrored nothing of the solemn gayety of the morning; they
saw only the welts on her brother's back.
Dario had not seen her since Santiago's arrival. She had not appeared at
supper, and he had slept little in consequence; in fact, he had spent
most of the night playing monte with Joaquin and a dozen other young
men in the billiard-room.
During the bridal mass the padre gave communion to the young couple, and
to those that had made confession the night before. Elena was not of the
number, and during the intense silence she drew back and stood and knelt
near Dario. They were not close enough to speak, had they dared; but the
Californian had other speech than words, and Dario and Elena made their
confession that morning.
During breakfast they were at opposite ends of the long table in the
dining room, but neither took part in the songs and speeches, the toasts
and laughter. Both had done some manoeuvring to get out of sight of the
old people, and sit at one of the many other tables in the sala, on the
corridor, in the court; but Elena had to go with the bridesmaids, and
Joaquin insisted upon doing honour to the uninvited guest. The Indian
servants passed the rich and delicate, the plain and peppered, dishes,
the wines and the beautiful cakes for which Doña Jacoba and her
daughters were famous. The massive plate that had done duty for
generations in Spain was on the table; the crystal had been cut in
England. It was the banquet of a grandee, and no one noticed the silent
After breakfast the girls flitted to their rooms and changed their
gowns, and wound rebosos or mantillas about their heads; the men put off
their jackets for lighter ones of flowered calico, and the whole party,
in buggies or on horseback, started for a bull-fight which was to take
place in a field about a mile behind the house. Elena went in a buggy
with Santiago, who was almost as pale as she. Dario, on horseback, rode
as near her as he dared; but when they reached the fence about the field
careless riders crowded between, and he could only watch her from afar.
The vaqueros in their broad black hats shining with varnish, their black
velvet jackets, their crimson sashes, and short, black velvet trousers
laced with silver cord over spotless linen, looked very picturesque as
they dashed about the field jingling their spurs and shouting at each
other. When the bulls trotted in and greeted each other pleasantly,
the vaqueros swung their hissing reatas and yelled until the maddened
animals wreaked their vengeance on each other, and the serious work of
the day began.
Elena leaned back with her fan before her eyes, but Santiago looked on
eagerly in spite of his English training.
"Caramba!" he cried, "but that old bull is tough. Look, Elena! The
little one is down. No, no! He has the big one. Ay! yi, yi! By Jove! he
is gone—no, he has run off—he is on him again! He has ripped him up!
A cheer as from one throat made the mountains echo, but Elena still held
her fan before the field.
"How canst thou like such bloody sport?" she asked disgustedly. "The
poor animals! What pleasure canst thou take to see a fine brute kicking
in his death-agony, his bowels trailing on the ground?"
"Fie, Elena! Art thou not a Californian? Dost thou not love the sport of
thy country? Why, look at the other girls! They are mad with excitement.
By Jove! I never saw so many bright eyes. I wonder if I shall be too
stiff to dance to-night. Elena, she gave me a beating! But tell me,
little one, why dost thou not like the bull-fight? I feel like another
man since I have seen it."
"I cannot be pleased with cruelty. I shall never get used to see beasts
killed for amusement. And Don Dario Castañares does not like it either.
He never smiled once, nor said 'Brava!'"
"Aha! And how dost thou know whether he did or not? I thought thy face
was behind that big black fan."
"I saw him through the sticks. What does 'By Jove' mean, my Santiago?"
He enlightened her, then stood up eagerly. Another bull had been brought
in, and one of the vaqueros was to fight him. During the next two hours
Santiago gave little thought to his sister, and sometimes her long
black lashes swept above the top of her fan. When five or six bulls had
stamped and roared and gored and died, the guests of Los Quervos went
home to chocolate and siesta, the others returned to their various
But Dario took no nap that day. Twice he had seen an Indian girl at
Elena's window, and as the house settled down to temporary calm, he saw
the girl go to the rancheria among the willows. He wrote a note, and
followed her as soon as he dared. She wore a calico frock, exactly like
a hundred others, and her stiff black hair cut close to her neck in the
style enforced by Doña Jacoba; but Dario recognized her imitation of
Elena's walk and carriage. He was very nervous, but he managed to stroll
about and make his visit appear one of curiosity. As he passed the girl
he told her to follow him, and in a few moments they were alone in
a thicket. He had hard work to persuade her to take the note to her
mistress, for she stood in abject awe of Doña Jacoba; but love of Elena
and sympathy for the handsome stranger prevailed, and the girl went off
with the missive.
The staircase led from Don Roberto's room to Doña Jacoba's; but the
lady's all-seeing eyes were closed, and the master was snoring in his
library. Malia tiptoed by both, and Elena, who had been half asleep, sat
up, trembling with excitement, and read the impassioned request for an
interview. She lifted her head and listened, panting a little. Then
she ran to the door and looked into the library. Her father was sound
asleep; there could he no doubt of that. She dared not write an answer,
but she closed the door and put her lips to the girl's ear.
"Tell him," she murmured, horrified at her own boldness—"tell him to
take me out for the contradanza tonight. There is no other chance." And
the girl went back and delivered the message.
The guests and family met again at supper; but yards of linen and mounds
of plate, spirited, quickly turning heads, flowered muslin gowns and
silken jackets, again separated Dario and Elena. He caught a glimpse now
and again of her graceful head turning on its white throat, or of her
sad pure profile shining before her mother's stern old face.
Immediately after supper the bride and groom led the way to the sala,
the musicians tuned their violins and guitars, and after an hour's
excited comment upon the events of the day the dancing began. Doña
Jacoba could be very gracious when she chose, and she moved among her
guests like a queen to-night, begging them to be happy, and electrifying
them with her brilliant smile. She dispelled their awe of her with
magical tact, and when she laid her hand on one young beauty's shoulder,
and told her that her eyes put out the poor candles of Los Quervos, the
girl was ready to fling herself on the floor and kiss the tyrant's feet.
Elena watched her anxiously. Her father petted her in his harsh abrupt
way. If she had ever received a kiss from her mother, she did not
remember it; but she worshipped the blinding personality of the woman,
although she shook before the relentless will. But that her mother was
pleased to be gracious tonight was beyond question, and she gave Dario a
glance of timid encouragement, which brought him to her side at once.
"At your feet, señorita," he said; "may I dare to beg the honour of the
She bent her slender body in a pretty courtesy. "It is a small favour to
grant a guest who deigns to honour us with his presence."
He led her out, and when he was not gazing enraptured at the graceful
swaying and gliding of her body, he managed to make a few conventional
"You did not like bull-fighting, señorita?"
"He watched me," she thought. "No, señor. I like nothing that is cruel."
"Those soft eyes could never be cruel. Ay, you are so beautiful,
"I am but a little country girl, señor. You must have seen far more
beautiful women in the cities. Have you ever been in Monterey?"
"Yes, señorita, many times. I have seen all the beauties, even Doña
Modeste Castro. Once, too—that was before the Americans came—I saw the
Señorita Ysabel Herrera, a woman so beautiful that a man robbed a church
and murdered a priest for her sake. But she was not so beautiful as you,
The blood throbbed in the girl's fair cheeks. "He must love me," she
told herself, "to think me more beautiful than Ysabel Herrera. Joaquin
says she was the handsomest woman that ever was seen."
"You compliment me, señor," she answered vaguely. "She had wonderful
green eyes. So has the Señora Castro. Mine are only brown, like so many
"They are the most beautiful eyes in California. They are like the
Madonna's. I do not care for green eyes." His black ones flashed their
language to hers, and Elena wondered if she had ever been unhappy. She
barely remembered where she was, forgot that she was a helpless bird in
a golden cage. Her mate had flown through the open door.
The contradanza ends with a waltz, and as Dario held her in his arms his
last remnant of prudence gave way.
"Elena, Elena," he murmured passionately, "I love thee. Dost thou not
know it? Dost thou not love me a little? Ay, Elena! I have not slept one
hour since I saw thee."
She raised her eyes to his face. The sadness still dwelt in their
depths, but above floated the soft flame of love and trust. She had no
coquetry in her straightforward and simple nature.
"Yes," she whispered, "I love thee."
"And thou art happy, querida mia? Thou art happy here in my arms?"
She let her cheek rest for a moment against his shoulder. "Yes, I am
"And thou wilt marry me?"
The words brought her back to reality, and the light left her face.
"Ay," she said, "why did you say that? It cannot ever be."
"But it shall be! Why not? I will speak with Don Roberto in the
The hand that lay on his shoulder clutched him suddenly. "No, no," she
said hurriedly; "promise me that you will not speak to him for two or
three days at least. My father wants us all to marry Englishmen. He is
kind, and he loves me, but he is mad for Englishmen. And we can be happy
The music stopped, and he could only murmur his promises before leading
her back to her mother.
He dared not take her out again, but he danced with no one else in spite
of many inviting eyes, and spent the rest of the night on the corridor,
where he could watch her unobserved. The walls were so thick at Los
Quervos that each window had a deep seat within and without. Dario
ensconced himself, and was comfortable, if tumultuous.
With dawn the dancing ended, and quiet fell upon Los Quervos. But at
twelve gay voices and laughter came through every window. The family and
guests were taking their cold bath, ready for another eighteen hours of
Shortly after the long dinner, the iron-barred gates of the corral were
thrown open and a band of horses, golden bronze in colour, with silvern
mane and tail, silken embroidered saddles on their slender backs,
trotted up to the door. The beautiful creatures shone in the sun like
burnished armour; they arched their haughty necks and lifted their small
feet as if they were Californian beauties about to dance El Son.
The girls wore short riding-skirts, gay sashes, and little round
hats. The men wore thin jackets of brightly coloured silk, gold-laced
knee-breeches, and silver spurs. They tossed the girls upon their
saddles, vaulted into their own, and all started on a wild gallop for
Dario, with much manoeuvring, managed to ride by Elena's side. It was
impossible to exchange a word with her, for keen and mischievous ears
were about them; but they were close together, and a kind of ecstasy
possessed them both. The sunshine was so golden, the quivering visible
air so full of soft intoxication! They were filled with a reckless
animal joy of living—the divine right of youth to exist and be happy.
The bars of Elena's cage sank into the warm resounding earth; she wanted
to cry aloud her joy to the birds, to hold and kiss the air as it
passed. Her face sparkled, her mouth grew full. She looked at Dario, and
he dug his spurs into his horse's flanks.
The representatives of many ranchos, their wives and daughters, awaited
the party from Los Quervos. But none pushed his way between Dario and
Elena that day. And they both enjoyed the races; they were in a mood to
enjoy anything. They became excited and shouted with the rest as the
vaqueros flew down the field. Dario bet and lost a ranchita, then bet
and won another. He won a herd of cattle, a band of horses, a saddle-bag
of golden slugs. Surely, fortune smiled on him from the eyes of Elena.
When the races were over they galloped down to the ocean and over the
cliffs and sands, watching the ponderous waves fling themselves on the
rocks, then retreat and rear their crests, to thunder on again.
"The fog!" cried some one. "The fog!" And with shrieks of mock terror
they turned their horses' heads and raced down the valley, the fog after
them like a phantom tidal wave; but they outstripped it, and sprang from
their horses at the corridor of Los Quervos with shouts of triumph and
lightly blown kisses to the enemy.
After supper they found eggs piled upon silver dishes in the sala, and
with cries of "Cascaron! Cascaron!" they flung them at each other, the
cologne and flour and tinsel with which the shells were filled deluging
and decorating them.
Doña Jacoba again was in a most gracious mood, and leaned against the
wall, an amused smile on her strong serene face. Her husband stood by
her, and she indicated Elena by a motion of her fan.
"Is she not beautiful to-night, our little one?" she asked proudly.
"See how pink her cheeks are! Her eyes shine like stars. She is the
handsomest of all our children, viejo."
"Yes," he said, something like tenderness in his cold blue eyes, "there
is no prettier girl on twenty ranchos. She shall marry the finest
Englishman of them all."
Elena threw a cascaron directly into Dario's mouth, and although the
cologne scalded his throat, he heroically swallowed it, and revenged
himself by covering her black locks with flour. The guests, like the
children they were, chased each other all over the house, up and down
the stairs; the men hid under tables, only to have a sly hand break a
cascaron on the back of their heads, and to receive a deluge down the
spinal column. The bride chased her dignified groom out into the yard,
and a dozen followed. Then Dario found his chance.
Elena was after him, and as they passed beneath a tree he turned like a
flash and caught her in his arms and kissed her. For a second she tried
to free herself, mindful that her sisters had not kissed their lovers
until they stood with them in the chapel; but she was made for love, and
in a moment her white arms were clinging about his neck. People were
shouting around them; there was time for but few of the words Dario
wished to say.
"Thou must write me a little note every day," he commanded. "Thy
brother's coat, one that he does not wear, hangs behind the door in my
room. To-morrow morning thou wilt find a letter from me in the pocket.
Let me find one there, too. Kiss me again, consuelo de mi alma!" and
they separated suddenly, to speak no more that night.
The next morning, when Elena went to Joaquin's room to make the bed,
she found Dario's note in the pocket of the coat, but she had had no
opportunity to write one herself. Nor did she have time to read his
until after dinner, although it burned her neck and took away her
appetite. When the meal was over, she ran down to the willows and read
it there, then went straight to the favourite lounging-place of an old
vaquero who had adored her from the days when she used to trot about the
rancho holding his forefinger, or perch herself upon his shoulder and
command him to gallop.
He was smoking his pipe, and he looked up in some wonder as she stood
before him, flushed and panting, her eyes-darting apprehensive glances.
"Pedro," she said imperiously, "get down on thy hands and knees."
Pedro was the colour of tanned leather and very hairy, but his face
beamed with good-nature. He put his pipe between his teeth and did as
he was bidden. Elena produced the pencil and paper she had managed
to purloin from her father's table, and kneeling beside her faithful
vaquero, wrote a note on his back. It took her a long time to coin that
simple epistle, for she never had written a love-letter before. But
Pedro knelt like a rock, although his old knees ached. When the note was
finished she thrust it into her gown, and patted Pedro on the head.
"I love thee, my old man. I will make thee a new salve for thy
rheumatism, and a big cake."
As she approached the house her mother stood on the corridor watching
the young people mount, and Elena shivered as she met a fiery and
watchful eye. Yesterday had been a perfect day, but the chill of fear
touched this. She sprang on her horse and went with the rest to the
games. Her brother Joaquin kept persistently by her side, and Dario
thought it best not to approach her. She took little interest in the
games. The young men climbed the greased pole amidst soft derisive
laughter. The greased pig was captured by his tail in a tumult of
excitement, which rivalled the death of the bull, but Elena paid no
attention. It was not until Dario, restive with inaction, entered the
lists for the buried rooster, and by its head twisted it from the ground
as his horse flew by, that she was roused to interest; and as many had
failed, and as his was the signal victory of the day, he rode home
That night, as Dario and Elena danced the contradanza together, they
felt the eyes of Dona Jacoba upon them, but he dared to whisper:—
"To-morrow morning I speak with thy father. Our wedding-day must be set
before another sun goes down."
"No, no!" gasped Elena; but for once Dario would not listen.
As soon as Elena had left his room next morning, Dario returned and read
the note she had put in her brother's pocket. It gave him courage, his
dreamy eyes flashed, his sensitive mouth curved proudly. As soon as
dinner was over he followed Don Roberto up to the library. The old man
stretched himself out in the long brass and leather chair which had been
imported from England for his comfort, and did not look overjoyed when
his guest begged a few moments' indulgence.
"I am half asleep," he said. "Is it about those cattle? Joaquin knows as
much about them as I do."
Dario had not been asked to sit down, and he stood before Don Roberto
feeling a little nervous, and pressing his hand against the mantelpiece.
"I do not wish to speak of cattle, señor."
"No? What then?" The old man's face was flushed with wine, and his
shaggy brows were drooping heavily.
"It is—it is about Elena."
The brows lifted a little.
"Yes, señor. We love each other very much. I wish to ask your permission
that we may be married."
The brows went up with a rush; the stiff hairs stood out like a roof
above the cold angry eyes. For a moment Don Roberto stared at the
speaker as if he had not heard; then he sprang to his feet, his red face
"Get out of my house, you damned vagabond!" he shouted. "Go as fast as
God Almighty'll let you. You marry my daughter,—you damned Indian! I
wouldn't give her to you if you were pure-blooded Castilian, much less
to a half-breed whelp. And you have dared to make love to her. Go! Do
you hear? Or I'll kick you down the stairs!"
Dario drew himself up and looked back at his furious host with a pride
that matched his own. The blood was smarting in his veins, but he made
no sign and walked down the stair.
Don Roberto went at once in search of his wife. Failing to find her, he
walked straight into the sala, and taking Elena by the arm before the
assembled guests, marched her upstairs and into her room, and locked the
door with his key.
Elena fell upon the floor and sobbed with rebellious mortification and
terror. Her father had not uttered a word, but she knew the meaning of
his summary act, and other feelings soon gave way to despair. That she
should never see Dario Castañares again was certain, and she wept and
prayed with all the abandon of her Spanish nature. A picture of the
Virgin hung over the bed, and she raised herself on her knees and lifted
her clasped hands to it beseechingly. With her tumbled hair and white
face, her streaming upturned eyes and drawn mouth, she looked more like
the Mater Dolorosa than the expressionless print she prayed to.
"Mary! Mother!" she whispered, "have mercy on thy poor little daughter.
Give him to me. I ask for nothing else in this world. I do not care for
gold or ranchos, only to be his wife. I am so lonely, my mother, for
even Santiago thinks of so many other things than of me. I only want to
be loved, and no one else will ever love me who can make me love him.
Ay! give him to me! give him to me!" And she threw herself on her face
once more, and sobbed until her tears were exhausted. Then she dragged
herself to the window and leaned over the deep seat. Perhaps she might
have one glimpse of him as he rode away.
She gave a little cry of agony and pleasure. He was standing by the
gates of the corral whilst the vaqueros rounded up the cattle he had
bought. His arms were folded, his head hung forward. As he heard her
cry, he lifted his face, and Elena saw the tears in his eyes. For the
moment they gazed at each other, those lovers of California's long-ago,
while the very atmosphere quivering between them seemed a palpable
barrier. Elena flung out her arms with a sudden passionate gesture; he
gave a hoarse cry, and paced up and down like a race-horse curbed with a
Spanish bit. How to have one last word with her? If she were behind the
walls of the fort of Monterey it would be as easy. He dared not speak
from where he was. Already the horses were at the door to carry the
eager company to a fight between a bull and a bear. But he could write a
note if only he had the materials. It was useless to return to his room,
for Joaquin was there; and he hoped never to see that library again. But
was there ever a lover in whom necessity did not develop the genius of
invention? Dario flashed upward a glance of hope, then took from his
pocket a slip of the rice-paper used for making cigaritos. He burnt a
match, and with the charred stump scrawled a few lines.
"Elena! Mine! Star of my life! My sweet! Beautiful and idolized.
Farewell! Farewell, my darling! My heart is sad. God be with thee.
He wrapped the paper about a stone, and tied it with a wisp of grass.
With a sudden flexile turn of a wrist that had thrown many a reata, he
flung it straight through the open window. Elena read the meaningless
phrases, then fell insensible to the floor.
It was the custom of Doña Jacoba personally to oversee her entire
establishment every day, and she always went at a different hour, that
laziness might never feel sure of her back. To-day she visited the
rancheria immediately after dinner, and looked through every hut with
her piercing eyes. If the children were dirty, she peremptorily ordered
their stout mammas to put them into the clean clothes which her bounty
had provided. If a bed was unmade, she boxed the ears of the owner and
sent her spinning across the room to her task. But she found little to
scold about; her discipline was too rigid. When she was satisfied that
the huts were in order, she went down to the great stone tubs sunken
in the ground, where the women were washing in the heavy shade of the
willows. In their calico gowns they made bright bits of colour against
the drooping green of the trees.
"Maria," she cried sharply, "thou art wringing that fine linen too
harshly. Dost thou wish to break in pieces the bridal clothes of thy
señorita? Be careful, or I will lay the whip across thy shoulders."
She walked slowly through the willows, enjoying the shade. Her fine old
head was held sternly back, and her shoulders were as square as her
youngest son's; but she sighed a little, and pressed a willow branch
to her face with a caressing motion. She looked up to the gray
peak standing above its fellows, bare, ugly, gaunt. She was not an
imaginative woman, but she always had felt in closer kinship with that
solitary peak than with her own blood. As she left the wood and saw
the gay cavalcade about to start—the burnished horses, the dashing
caballeros, the girls with their radiant faces and jaunty habits—she
sighed again. Long ago she had been the bride of a brilliant young
Mexican officer for a few brief years; her youth had gone with his life.
She avoided the company and went round to the buildings at the back
of the house. Approving here, reproaching there, she walked leisurely
through the various rooms where the Indians were making lard, shoes,
flour, candles. She was in the chocolate manufactory when her husband
"Come—come at once," he said. "I have good news for thee."
She followed him to his room, knowing by his face that tragedy had
visited them. But she was not prepared for the tale he poured forth with
violent interjections of English and Spanish oaths. She had detected
a flirtation between her daughter and the uninvited guest, and not
approving of flirtations, had told Joaquin to keep his eyes upon them
when hers were absent; but that the man should dare and the girl should
stoop to think of marriage wrought in her a passion to which her
husband's seemed the calm flame of a sperm-candle.
"What!" she cried, her hoarse voice breaking. "What! A half-breed
aspire to a Cortez!" She forgot her husband's separateness with true
Californian pride. "My daughter and the son of an Indian! Holy God! And
she has dared!—she has dared! The little imbecile! The little—But,"
and she gave a furious laugh, "she will not forget again."
She caught the greenhide reata from the nail and went up the stair.
Crossing the library with heavy tread, as if she would stamp her rage
through the floor, she turned the key in the door of her daughter's room
and strode in. The girl still lay on the floor, although consciousness
had returned. As Elena saw her mother's face she cowered pitifully.
That terrible temper seldom dominated the iron will of the woman, but
Santiago had shaken it a few days ago, and Elena knew that her turn had
Doña Jacoba shut the door and towered above her daughter, red spots on
her face, her small eyes blazing, an icy sneer on her mouth. She did not
speak a word. She caught the girl by her delicate shoulder, jerked her
to her feet, and lashed her with the heavy whip until screams mingled
with the gay laughter of the parting guests. When she had beaten her
until her own arm ached, she flung her on the bed and went out and
locked the door.
Elena was insensible again for a while, then lay dull and inert for
hours. She had a passive longing for death. After the suffering and the
hideous mortification of that day there seemed no other climax. The
cavalcade rode beneath her windows once more, with their untired
laughter, their splendid vitality. They scattered to their rooms to don
their bright evening gowns, then went to the dining room and feasted.
After supper Francisca unlocked Elena's door and entered with a little
tray on her hand. Elena refused to eat, but her sister's presence roused
her, and she turned her face to the wall and burst into tears.
"Nonsense!" said Francisca, kindly. "Do not cry, my sister. What is
a lover? The end of a little flirtation? My father will find thee a
husband—a strong fair English husband like mine. Dost thou not prefer
blondes to brunettes, my sister? I am sorry my mother beat thee, but she
has such a sense of her duty. She did it for thy good, my Elena. Let me
dress thee in thy new gown, the white silk with the pale blue flowers.
It is high in the neck and long in the sleeves, and will hide the marks
of the whip. Come down and play cascarones and dance until dawn and
forget all about it."
But Elena only wept on, and Francisca left her for more imperative
The next day the girl still refused to eat, although Doña Jacoba opened
her mouth and poured a cup of chocolate down her throat. Late in the
afternoon Santiago slipped into the room and bent over her.
"Elena," he whispered hurriedly. "Look! I have a note for thee."
Elena sat upright on the bed, and he thrust a piece of folded paper into
her hand. "Here it is. He is in San Luis Obispo and says he will stay
there. Remember it is but a few miles away. My—"
Elena sank back with a cry, and Santiago blasphemed in English. Doña
Jacoba unlocked her daughter's hand, took the note, and led Santiago
from the room. When she reached her own, she opened a drawer and handed
him a canvas bag full of gold.
"Go to San Francisco and enjoy yourself," she said. "Interfere no
farther between your sister and your parents, unless you prefer that
reata to gold. Your craft cannot outwit mine, and she will read no
notes. You are a foolish boy to set your sense against your mother's. I
may seem harsh to my children, but I strive on my knees for their good.
And when I have made up my mind that a thing is right to do, you know
that my nature is of iron. No child of mine shall marry a lazy vagabond
who can do nothing but lie in a hammock and bet and gamble and make
love. And a half-breed! Mother of God! Now go to San Francisco, and send
for more money when this is gone."
Santiago obeyed. There was nothing else for him to do.
Elena lay in her bed, scarcely touching food. Poor child! her nature
demanded nothing of life but love, and that denied her, she could
find no reason for living. She was not sport-loving like Joaquín, nor
practical like Francisca, nor learned like Santiago, nor ambitious
to dance through life like her many nieces. She was but a clinging
unreasoning creature, with warm blood and a great heart. But she no
longer prayed to have Dario given her. It seemed to her that after such
suffering her saddened and broken spirit would cast its shadows over her
happiest moments, and she longed only for death.
Her mother, becoming alarmed at her increasing weakness, called in an
old woman who had been midwife and doctor of the county for half a
century. She came, a bent and bony woman who must have been majestic in
her youth. Her front teeth were gone, her face was stained with dark
splashes like the imprint of a pre-natal hand. Over her head she wore a
black shawl; and she looked enough like a witch to frighten her patients
into eternity had they not been so well used to her. She prodded Elena
all over as if the girl were a loaf of bread and her knotted fingers
sought a lump of flour in the dough.
"The heart," she said to Doña Jacoba with sharp emphasis, her back teeth
meeting with a click, as if to proclaim their existence. "I have no
herbs for that," and she went back to her cabin by the ocean.
That night Elena lifted her head suddenly. From the hill opposite her
window came the sweet reverberation of a guitar: then a voice, which,
though never heard by her in song before, was as unmistakable as if it
had serenaded beneath her window every night since she had known Darío
EL ULTIMO ADIÓS
"Si dos con el alma
Se amaron en vida,
Y al fin se separan
En vida las dos;
Sabeis que es tan grande
Le pena sentida
Que con esa palabra
Se dicen adios.
Y en esa palabra
Que breve murmura,
Ni verse prometen
Niamarse se juran;
Que en esa palabra
Se dicen adios.
No hay queja mas honda,
Suspiro mas largo;
Que aquellas palabras
Que dicen adios.
Al fin ha llegado,
La muerte en la vida;
Al fin para entrambos
Muramos los dos:
Al fin ha llegado
La hora cumplida,
Del ultimo adios.
Ya nunca en la vida,
Ya nunca volveremos
A vernos los dos:
Por eso es tan triste
Mi acento postrere,
Por eso es tan triste
El ultimo adios."—
They were dancing downstairs; laughter floated through the open windows.
Francisca sang a song of the bull-fight, in her strong high voice; the
frogs chanted their midnight mass by the creek in the willows; the
coyotes wailed; the owls hooted. But nothing could drown that message of
love. Elena lit a candle and held it at arm's length before the window.
She knew that its ray went straight through the curtains to the singer
on the hill, for his voice broke suddenly, then swelled forth in
passionate answer. He sat there until dawn singing to her; but the next
night he did not come, and Elena knew that she had not been his only
The week of festivity was over; the bridal pair, the relatives, the
friends went away. Quiet would have taken temporary possession of Los
Quervos had it not been for the many passing guests lavishly entertained
by Don Roberto.
And still Elena lay in her little iron bed, refusing to get out of it,
barely eating, growing weaker and thinner every day. At the end of three
weeks Doña Jacoba was thoroughly alarmed, and Don Roberto sent Joaquin
to San Francisco for a physician.
The man of science came at the end of a week. He asked many questions,
and had a long talk with his patient. When he left the sick-room, he
found Don Roberto and Doña Jacoba awaiting him in the library. They were
ready to accept his word as law, for he was an Englishman, and had won
high reputation during his short stay in the new country.
He spoke with curt directness. "My dear sir, your child is dying because
she does not wish to live. People who write novels call it dying of a
broken heart; but it does not make much difference about the name.
Your child is acutely sensitive, and has an extremely delicate
constitution—predisposition to consumption. Separation from the young
man she desires to marry has prostrated her to such an extent that she
is practically dying. Under existing circumstances she will not live
two months, and, to be brutally frank, you will have killed her. I
understand that the young man is well-born on his father's side, and
possessed of great wealth. I see no reason why she should not marry him.
I shall leave her a tonic, but you can throw it out of the window unless
you send for the young man," and he walked down the stair and made ready
for his departure.
Don Roberto translated the verdict to his wife. She turned very gray,
and her thin lips pressed each other. But she bent her head. "So be it,"
she said; "I cannot do murder. Send for Dario Castañares."
"And tell him to take her to perdition," roared the old man. "Never let
me see her again."
He went down the stair, filled a small bag with gold, and gave it to the
doctor. He found Joaquin and bade him go for Dario, then shut himself in
a remote room, and did not emerge until late that day.
Doña Jacoba sent for the maid, Malia.
"Bring me one of your frocks," she said, "a set of your undergarments, a
pair of your shoes and stockings." She walked about the room until
the girl's return, her face terrible in its repressed wrath, its gray
consciousness of defeat. When Malia came with the garments she told her
to follow, and went into Elena's room and stood beside the bed.
"Get up," she said. "Dress thyself in thy bridal clothes. Thou art going
to marry Dario Castañares to-day."
The girl looked up incredulously, then closed her eyes wearily.
"Get up," said her mother. "The doctor has said that we must let our
daughter marry the half-breed or answer to God for her murder." She
turned to the maid: "Malia, go downstairs and make a cup of chocolate
and bring it up. Bring, too, a glass of angelica."
But Elena needed neither. She forgot her desire for death, her
misgivings of the future; she slipped out of bed, and would have taken a
pair of silk stockings from the chest, but her mother stopped her with
an imperious gesture, and handed her the coarse shoes and stockings the
maid had brought. Elena raised her eyes wonderingly, but drew them
on her tender feet without complaint. Then her mother gave her the
shapeless undergarments, the gaudy calico frock, and she put them on.
When the maid returned with the chocolate and wine, she drank both. They
gave her colour and strength; and as she stood up and faced her mother,
she had never looked more beautiful nor more stately in the silken gowns
that were hers no longer.
[Illustration: "HE BENT DOWN AND CAUGHT HER IN HIS ARMS."]
"There are horses' hoofs," said Doña Jacoba. "Leave thy father's house
and go to thy lover."
Elena followed her from the room, walking steadily, although she was
beginning to tremble a little. As she passed the table in the library,
she picked up an old silk handkerchief of her father's and tied it about
her head and face. A smile was on her lips, but no joy could crowd the
sadness from her eyes again. Her spirit was shadowed; her nature had
come to its own.
They walked through the silent house, and to Elena's memory came the
picture of that other bridal, when the very air shook with pleasure and
the rooms were jewelled with beautiful faces; but she would not have
exchanged her own nuptials for her sister's calm acceptance.
When she reached the veranda she drew herself up and turned to her
mother with all that strange old woman's implacable bearing.
"I demand one wedding present," she said. "The greenhide reata. I wish
it as a memento of my mother."
Doña Jacoba, without the quiver of a muscle, walked into her husband's
room and returned with the reata and handed it to her. Then Elena turned
her back upon her father's house and walked down the road through the
willows. Darío did not notice the calico frock or the old handkerchief
about her head. He bent down and caught her in his arms and kissed her,
then lifting her to his saddle, galloped down the road to San Luis
Obispo. Doña Jacoba turned her hard old face to the wall.