An Historical Romance of Old California
It was at Governor Alvarado's house in Monterey that Chonita first
knew of Diego Estenega. I had told him much of her, but had never
cared to mention the name of Estenega in the presence of an Iturbi y
Chonita came to Monterey to stand godmother to the child of Alvarado
and of her friend Doña Martina, his wife. She arrived the morning
before the christening, and no one thought to tell her that Estenega
was to be godfather. The house was full of girls, relatives of
the young mother, gathered for the ceremony and subsequent week of
festivities. Benicia, my little one, was at the rancho with Ysabel
Herrera, and I was staying with the Alvarados. So many were the guests
that Chonita and I slept together. We had not seen each other for a
year, and had so much to say that we did not sleep at all. She was
ten years younger than I, but we were as close friends as she with her
alternate frankness and reserve would permit. But I had spent several
months of each year since childhood at her home in Santa Barbara,
and I knew her better than she knew herself; when, later, I read her
journal, I found little in it to surprise me, but much to fill and
cover with shapely form the skeleton of the story which passed in
greater part before my eyes.
We were discussing the frivolous mysteries of dress, if I remember
aright, when she laid her hand on my mouth suddenly.
"Hush!" she said.
A caballero serenaded his lady at midnight in Monterey.
The tinkle of a guitar, the jingling of spurs, fell among the strong
tones of a man's voice.
Chonita had been serenaded until she had fled to the mountains for
sleep, but she crept to the foot of the bed and knelt there, her
hand at her throat. A door opened, and, one by one, out of the black
beyond, five white-robed forms flitted into the room. They looked like
puffs of smoke from a burning moon. The heavy wooden shutters were
open, and the room was filled with cold light.
The girls waltzed on the bare floor, grouped themselves in
mock-dramatic postures, then, overcome by the strange magnetism of the
singer, fell into motionless attitudes, listening intently. How well
I remember that picture, although I have almost forgotten the names of
In the middle of the room two slender figures embraced each other,
their black hair falling loosely over their white gowns. On the
window-step knelt a tall girl, her head pensively supported by her
hand, a black shawl draped gracefully about her; at her feet sat
a girl with head bowed to her knees. Between the two groups was a
solitary figure, kneeling with hand pressed to the wall and face
When the voice ceased I struck a match, and five pairs of little hands
applauded enthusiastically. He sang them another song, then galloped
"It is Don Diego Estenega," said one of the girls. "He rarely sings,
but I have heard him before."
"An Estenega!" exclaimed Chonita.
"Yes; of the North, thou knowest. His Excellency thinks there is
no man in the Californias like him,—so bold and so smart. Thou
rememberest the books that were burned by the priests when the
governor was a boy, because he had dared to read them, no? Well, when
Diego Estenega heard of that, he made his father send to Boston and
Mexico for those books and many more, and took them up to his redwood
forests in the north, far away from the priests. And they say he had
read other books before, although such a lad; his father had brought
them from Spain, and never cared much for the priests. And he has been
to Mexico and America and Europe! God of my soul! it is said that he
knows more than his Excellency himself,—that his mind works faster.
Ay! but there was a time when he was wild,—when the mescal burnt
his throat like hornets and the aguardiente was like scorpions in
his brain; but that was long ago, before he was twenty; now he is
thirty-four. He amuses himself sometimes with the girls,—valgame
Dios! he has made hot tears flow,—but I suppose we do not know
enough for him, for he marries none. Ay! but he has a charm."
"Like what does he look? A beautiful caballero, I suppose, with eyes
that melt and a mouth that trembles like a woman in the palsy."
"Ay, no, my Chonita; thou art wrong. He is not beautiful at all. He is
rather haggard, and wears no mustache, and he has the profile of the
great man, fine and aquiline and severe, excepting when he smiles, and
then sometimes he looks kind and sometimes he looks like a devil. He
has not the beauty of color; his hair is brown, I think, and his eyes
are gray, and set far back; but how they flash! I think they could
burn if they looked too long. He is tall and straight and very strong,
not so indolent as most of our men. They call him The American because
he moves so quickly and gets so cross when people do not think fast
enough. He thinks like lightning strikes. Ay! they all say that he
will be governor in his time; that he would have been long ago, but he
has been away so much. It must be that he has seen and admired thee,
my Chonita, and discovered thy grating. Thou art happy that thou too
hast read the books. Thou and he will be great friends, I know!"
"Yes!" exclaimed Chonita, scornfully. "It is likely. Thou hast
forgotten—perhaps—the enmity between the Capulets and the Montagues
was a sallow flame to the bitter hatred, born of jealousy in love,
politics, and social precedence, which exists between the Estenegas
and the Iturbi y Moncadas?"
Delfina, the first child of Alvarado, born in the purple at the
governor's mansion in Monterey, was about to be baptized with all the
pomp and ceremony of the Church and time. Doña Martina, the wife of
a year, was unable to go to the church, but lay beneath her lace and
satin coverlet, her heavy black hair half covering the other side of
the bed. Beside her stood the nurse, a fat, brown, high-beaked old
crone, holding a mass of grunting lace. I stood at the foot of the
bed, admiring the picture.
"Be careful for the sun, Tomasa," said the mother. "Her eyes must be
strong, like the Alvarados',—black and keen and strong."
"And let her not smother, nor yet take cold. She must grow tall and
strong,—like the Alvarados."
"Where is his Excellency?"
"I am here." And Alvarado entered the room. He looked amused, and
probably had overheard the conversation. He justified, however, the
admiration of his young wife. His tall military figure had the perfect
poise and suggestion of power natural to a man whose genius had
been recognized by the Mexican government before he had entered his
twenties. The clean-cut face, with its calm profile and fiery
eyes, was not that of the Washington of his emulation, and I never
understood why he chose so tame a model. Perhaps because of the
meagerness of that early proscribed literature; or did the title
"Father of his Country" appeal irresistibly to that lofty and doomed
He passed his hand over his wife's long white fingers, but did not
offer her any other caress in my presence.
"How dost thou feel?"
"Well; but I shall be lonely. Do not stay long at the church, no?
How glad I am that Chonita came in time for the christening! What a
beautiful comadre she will be! I have just seen her. Ay, poor Diego!
he will fall in love with her; and what then?"
"It would have been better had she come too late, I think. To avoid
asking Diego to stand for my first child was impossible, for he is the
man of men to me. To avoid asking Doña Chonita was equally impossible,
I suppose, and it will be painful for both. He serenaded her last
night, not knowing who she was, but having seen her at her grating; he
only returned yesterday. I hope she plants no thorns in his heart."
"Perhaps they will marry and bind the wounds," suggested the woman.
"An Estenega and an Iturbi y Moncada will not marry. He might forget,
for he is passionate and of a nature to break down barriers when a
wish is dear; but she has all the wrongs of all the Iturbi y Moncadas
on her white shoulders, and all their pride in the carriage of her
head; to say nothing of that brother whom she adores. She learned this
morning that it was Diego's determined opposition that kept Reinaldo
out of the Departmental Junta, and meets him in no tender frame of
Doña Martina raised her hand. Chonita stood in the door-way. She was
quite beautiful enough to plant thorns where she listed. Her tall
supple figure was clothed in white, and over her gold hair—lurid and
brilliant, but without a tinge of red—she wore a white lace mantilla.
Her straight narrow brows and heavy lashes were black; but her skin
was more purely white than her gown. Her nose was finely cut, the arch
almost indiscernible, and she had the most sculptured mouth I have
ever seen. Her long eyes were green, dark, and luminous. Sometimes
they had the look of a child, sometimes she allowed them to flash
with the fire of an animated spirit. But the expression she chose to
cultivate was that associated with crowned head and sceptered hand;
and sure no queen had ever looked so calm, so inexorable, so haughty,
so terribly clear of vision. She never posed—for any one, at least,
but herself. For some reason—a youthful reason probably—the iron in
her nature was most admired by her. Wherefore,—also, as she had the
power, as twin, to heal and curse,—I had named her the Doomswoman,
and by this name she was known far and wide. By the lower class of
Santa Barbara she was called The Golden Señorita, on account of her
hair and of her father's vast wealth.
"Come," she said, "every one is waiting. Do not you hear the voices?"
The windows were closed, but through them came a murmur like that of a
The governor motioned to the nurse to follow Chonita and myself, and
she trotted after us, her ugly face beaming with pride of position.
Was not in her arms the oldest-born of a new generation of Alvarados?
the daughter of the governor of The Californias? Her smock,
embroidered with silk, was new, and looked whiter than fog against
her bare brown arms and face. Her short red satin skirt, a gift of her
happy lady's, was the finest ever worn by exultant nurse. About her
stringy old throat was a gold chain, bright red roses were woven
in her black reboso. I saw her admire Chonita's stately figure with
scornful reserve of the colorless gown.
We were followed in a moment by the governor, adjusting his collar
and smoothing his hair. As he reached the door-way at the front of the
house he was greeted with a shout from assembled Monterey. The plaza
was gay with beaming faces and bright attire. The men, women, and
children of the people were on foot, a mass of color on the opposite
side of the plaza: the women in gaudy cotton frocks girt with silken
sashes, tawdry jewels, and spotless camisas, the coquettish reboso
draping with equal grace faces old and brown, faces round and olive;
the men in glazed sombreros, short calico jackets and trousers;
Indians wound up in gala blankets. In the foreground, on prancing
silver-trapped horses, were caballeros and doñas, laughing and
coquetting, looking down in triumph upon the dueñas and parents who
rode older and milder mustangs and shook brown knotted fingers at
heedless youth. The young men had ribbons twisted in their long black
hair, and silver eagles on their soft gray sombreros. Their velvet
serapes were embroidered with gold; the velvet knee-breeches were
laced with gold or silver cord over fine white linen; long deer-skin
botas were gartered with vivid ribbon; flaunting sashes bound their
slender waists, knotted over the hip. The girls and young married
women wore black or white mantillas, the silken lace of Spain,
regardless of the sun which might darken their Castilian fairness.
Their gowns were of flowered silk or red or yellow satin, the waist
long and pointed, the skirt full; jeweled buckles of tiny slippers
flashed beneath the hem. The old people were in rich dress of sober
color. A few Americans were there in the ugly garb of their country, a
blot on the picture.
At the door, just in front of the cavalcade, stood General Vallejo's
carriage, the only one in California, sent from Sonoma for the
occasion. Beside it were three superbly-trapped horses.
The governor placed the swelling nurse in the carriage, then glanced
about him. "Where is Estenega?—and the Castros?" he asked.
"There are Don José and Doña Modeste Castro," said Chonita.
The crowd had parted suddenly, and two men and a woman rode toward the
governor. One of the men was tall and dark, and his somber military
attire became the stern sadness of his face. Castro was not
Comandante-general of the army at that time, but his bearing was as
imperious in that year of 1840 as when six years later the American
Occupation closed forever the career of a man made in derision
for greatness. At his right rode his wife, one of the most queenly
beauties of her time, small as she was in stature. Every woman's
eye turned to her at once; she was our leader of fashion, and we all
copied the gowns that came to her from the city of Mexico.
But Chonita gave no heed to the Castros. She fixed her cold direct
regard on the man who rode with them, and whom, she knew, must be
Diego Estenega, for he was their guest. She was curious to see this
enemy of her house, the political rival of her brother, the owner of
the voice which had given her the first thrill of her life. He was
dressed as plainly as Castro, and had none of the rich southern beauty
of the caballeros. His hair was cut short like Alvarado's, and his
face was thin and almost sallow. But the life that was in that face!
the passion, the intelligence, the kindness, the humor, the grim
determination! And what splendid vitality was in his tall thin figure,
and nervous activity under the repose of his carriage! I remember
I used to think in those days that Diego Estenega could conquer the
world if he wished, although I suspected that he lacked one quality of
the great rulers of men,—inexorable cruelty.
From the moment his horse carried him into the plaza he did not remove
his eyes from Chonita's face. She lowered hers angrily after a
moment. As he reached the house he sprang to the ground, and Alvarado
presented the sponsors. He lifted his cap and bowed, but not as low as
the caballeros who were wont to prostrate themselves before her. They
murmured the usual form of salutation:
"At your feet, señorita."
"I appreciate the honor of your acquaintance."
"It is my duty and pleasure to lift you to your horse." And, still
holding his cap in his hand, he led her to one of the three horses
which stood beside the carriage; with little assistance she sprang to
its back, and he mounted the one reserved for him.
The cavalcade started. First the carriage, then Alvarado and myself,
followed by the sponsors, the Castros, the members of the Departmental
Junta and their wives, then the caballeros and the doñas, the old
people and the Americans; the populace trudging gayly in the rear,
keeping good pace with the riders, who were held in check by a
fragment of pulp too young to be jolted.
"You never have been in Monterey before, señorita, I understand," said
Estenega to Chonita. No situation could embarrass him.
"No; once they thought to send me to the convent here,—to Doña
Concepcion Arguéllo,—but it was so far, and my mother does not like
to travel. So Doña Concepcion came to us for a year, and, after, I
studied with an instructor who came from Mexico to educate my brother
and me." She had no intention of being communicative with Diego
Estenega, but his keen reflective gaze confused her, and she took
refuge in words.
"Doña Eustaquia tells me that, unlike most of our women, you have
read many books. Few Californian women care for anything but to look
beautiful and to marry,—not, however, being unique in that respect.
Would you not rather live in our capital? You are so far away down
there, and there are but few of the gente de razon, no?"
"We are well satisfied, señor, and we are gay when we wish. There are
ten families in the town, and many rancheros within a hundred leagues.
They think nothing of coming to our balls. And we have grand religious
processions, and bull-fights, and races. We have beautiful cañons for
meriendas; and I could dance every night if I wished. We are few, but
we are quite as gay and quite as happy as you in your capital." The
pride of the Iturbi y Moncadas and of the Barbariña flashed in her
eyes, then made way for anger under the amused glance of Estenega.
"Oh, of course," he said, teasingly. "You are to Monterey what
Monterey is to the city of Mexico. But, pardon me, señorita; I would
not anger you for all the gold which is said to lie like rocks under
our Californias,—if it be true that certain padres hold that mighty
secret. (God! how I should like to get one by the throat and throttle
it out of him!) Pardon me again, señorita; I was going to say that
you may be pleased to know that there is little magnificence where my
ranchos are,—high on the coast, among the redwoods. I live in a house
made of big ugly logs, unpainted. There are no cavalcades in the cold
depths of those redwood forests, and the ocean beats against ragged
cliffs. Only at Fort Ross, in her log palace, does the beautiful
Russian, Princess Hélène Rotscheff, strive occasionally to make
herself and others forget that the forest is not the Bois of her
beloved Paris, that in it the grizzly and the panther hunger for her,
and that an Indian Prince, mad with love for the only fair-haired
woman he has ever seen, is determined to carry her off——"
"Tell me! tell me!" cried Chonita, eagerly, forgetting her rôle and
her enemy. "What is that? I do not know the princess, although she has
sent me word many times to visit her—Did an Indian try to carry her
"It happened only the other day. Prince Solano, perhaps you have
heard, is chief of all the tribes of Sonoma, Valley of the Moon. He
is a handsome animal, with a strong will and remarkable organizing
abilities. One day I was entertaining the Rotscheffs at dinner when
Solano suddenly flung the door open and strode into the room: we are
old friends, and my servants do not stand on ceremony with him. As he
caught sight of the princess he halted abruptly, stared at her for a
moment, much as the first man may have stared at the first woman, then
turned and left the house, sprang on his mustang and galloped away.
The princess, you must know, is as blonde as only a Russian can be,
and an extremely pretty woman, small and dainty. No wonder the mighty
prince of darkness took fire. She was much amused. So was Rotscheff,
and he joked her the rest of the evening. Before he left, however,
I had a word with him alone, and warned him not to let the princess
stray beyond the walls of the fortress. That same night I sent a
courier to General Vallejo—who, fortunately, was at Sonoma—bidding
him watch Solano. And, sure enough—the day I left for Monterey
the Princess Hélène was in hysterics, Rotscheff was swearing like a
madman, and a soldier was at every carronade: word had just come from
General Vallejo that he had that morning intercepted Solano in his
triumphant march, at the head of six tribes, upon Fort Ross, and sent
him flying back to his mountain-top in disorder and bitterness of
"That is very interesting!" cried Chonita. "I like that. What an
experience those Russians have had! That terrible tragedy!—Ah, I
remember, it was you who were to have aided Natalie Ivanhoff in her
"Hush!" said Estenega. "Do not speak of that. Here we are. At your
service, señorita." He sprang to the whaleboned pavement in front of
the little church facing the blue bay and surrounded by the gray ruins
of the old Presidio, and lifted her down.
Chonita recalled, and angry with herself for having been beguiled
by her enemy, took the infant from the nurse's arms and carried it
fearfully up the aisle. Estenega, walking beside her, regarded her
"What is she?" he thought, "this Californian woman with her hair of
gold and her unmistakable intellect, her marble face crossed now and
again by the animation of the clever American woman? What an
anomaly to find on the shores of the Pacific! All I had heard of The
Doomswoman, The Golden Señorita, gave me no idea of this. What a pity
that our houses are at war! She is not maternal, at all events; I
never saw a baby held so awkwardly. What a poise of head! She looks
better fitted for tragedy than for this little comedy of life in the
Californias. A sovereignty would suit her,—were it not for her eyes.
They are not quite so calm and just and inexorable as the rest of
her face. She would not even make a good household tyrant, like Doña
Jacoba Duncan. Unquestionably she is religious, and swaddled in all
the traditions of her race; but her eyes,—they are at odds with all
the rest of her. They are not lovely eyes; they lack softness and
languor and tractability; their expression changes too often, and they
mirror too much intelligence for loveliness, but they never will be
old eyes, and they never will cease to look. And they are the eyes
best worth looking into that I have ever seen. No, a sovereignty would
not suit her at all; a salon might. But, like a few of us, she is some
years ahead of her sphere. Glory be to the Californias—of the future,
when we are dirt, and our children have found the gold!"
The baby was nearly baptized by the time he had finished his
soliloquy. She had kicked alarmingly when the salt was laid on her
tongue, and squalled under the deluge of water which gave her her name
and also wet Chonita's sleeve. The godmother longed for the ceremony
to be over; but it was more protracted than usual, owing to the
importance of the restless object on the pillow in her weary arms.
When the last word was said, she handed pillow and baby to the nurse
with a fervent sigh of relief which made her appear girlish and
After Estenega had lifted her to her horse he dried her sleeve
with his handkerchief. He lingered over the task; the cavalcade and
populace went on without them, and when they started they were in the
rearward of the blithesome crowd.
"Do you know what I thought as I stood by you in the church?" he
"No," she said, indifferently. "I hope you prayed for the fortune of
the little one."
"I did not; nor did you. You were too afraid you would drop it. I was
thinking how unmotherly, I had almost said unwomanly, you looked. You
were made for the great world,—the restless world, where people fly
faster from monotony than from a tidal wave."
She looked at him with cold dignity, but flushed a little. "I am not
unwomanly, señor, although I confess I do not understand babies and do
detest to sew. But if I ever marry I shall be a good wife and mother.
No Spanish woman was ever otherwise, for every Spanish woman has had a
good mother for example."
"You have said exactly what you should have said, voicing the inborn
principles and sentiments of the Spanish woman. I should be interested
to know what your individual sentiments are. But you misunderstand me.
I said that you were too good for the average lot of woman. You are a
woman, not a doll; an intelligence, not a bundle of shallow emotions
and transient desires. You should have a larger destiny."
She gave him a swift sidelong flash from eyes that suddenly looked
childish and eager.
"It is true," she said, frankly, "I have no desire to marry and have
many children. My father has never said to me, 'Thou must marry;' and
I have sometimes thought I would say 'No' when that time came. For the
present I am contented with my books and to ride about the country
on a wild horse; but perhaps—I do not know—I may not always be
contented with that. Sometimes when reading Shakespeare I have
imagined myself each of those women in turn. But generally, of course,
I have thought little of being any one but myself. What else could I
"Nothing; excepting a Joan of Arc when the Americans sweep down upon
us. But that would be only for a day; we should be such easy prey.
If I could put you to sleep and awaken you fifty years hence, when
California was a modern civilization! God speed the Americans: Therein
lies our only chance."
"What!" she cried. "You—you would have the Americans? You—a
Californian! But you are an Estenega; that explains everything."
"I am a Californian," he said, ignoring the scorn of the last words,
"but I hope I have acquired some common-sense in roving about the
world. The women of California are admirable in every way,—chaste,
strong of character, industrious, devoted wives and mothers, born
with sufficient capacity for small pleasures. But what are our men?
Idle, thriftless, unambitious, too lazy to walk across the street, but
with a horse for every step, sleeping all day in a hammock, gambling
and drinking all night. They are the natural followers of a race of
men who came here to force fortune out of an unbroken country with
little to help them but brains and will. The great effort produced
great results; therefore there is nothing for their sons to do, and
they luxuriously do nothing. What will the next generation be? Our
women will marry Americans,—respect for men who are men will overcome
prejudice,—the crossed blood will fight for a generation or two, then
a race will be born worthy of California. Why are our few great men so
very great to us? What have men of exceptional talent to fight down in
the Californias except the barriers to its development? In England or
the United States they still would be great men,—Alvarado and Castro,
at least,—but they would have to work harder."
Chonita, in spite of her disapproval and her blood, looked at him
with interest. His ideas and language were strikingly unlike the
sentimental rhetoric of the caballeros.
"It is as you say," she admitted; "but the Californian's highest duty
is loyalty to his country. Ours is a double duty, isolated as we are
on this far strip of land, away from all other civilization. We should
be more contemptible than Indians if we were not true to our flag."
"No wonder that you and that famous patriot of ours, Doña Eustaquia
Ortega, are bonded friends. I doubt if you could hate as well as she.
You have no such violence in your nature; you could neither love nor
hate very hard. You would love (if you loved at all) with majesty and
serenity, and hate with chili severity." While he spoke he watched her
She met his gaze unflinchingly. "True, señor; I am no 'bundle of
shallow emotions,' nor have I a lion in me, like Eustaquia. I am a
creature of deliberation, not of impulse: I love and hate as duty
"You are by nature the most impulsive woman I ever saw," he said, much
amused, "and Eustaquia's lion is a kitten to the one that sleeps in
you. You have cold deliberation enough, but it is manufactured, and
the result of pretty hard work at that. Like all edifices reared
without a foundation, it will fall with a crash some day, and
the fragments will be of very little use to you." And there the
conversation ended: they had reached the plaza, and a babel of voices
surrounded them. Governor Alvarado stood on the upper corridor of his
house, throwing handfuls of small gold coins among the people, who
were shrieking with delight. The girl guests mingled with them, seeing
that no palm went home empty. Beside the governor sat Doña Martina,
radiant with pride, and behind her stood the nurse, holding the infant
on its pillow.
"We had better go to the house as soon as possible," said Estenega.
"It is nearly time for the bull-bear fight, and we must have good
They forced their way through the crowd, dismounted at the door, and
went up to the corridor. The Castros and I were already there, with a
number of other invited guests. The women sat in chairs, close to the
corridor railing; several rows of men stood behind them.
The plaza was a jagged circle surrounded by dwelling-houses, some one
story in height, others with overhanging balconies; from it radiated
five streets. All corridors were crowded with the elegantly-dressed
men and women of the aristocracy; large black fans were waving; every
eye was flashing expectantly; the people stood on platforms which had
been erected in four of the streets.
Amidst the shouts of the spectators, two vaqueros, dressed in black
velvet short-clothes, dazzling linen, and stiff black sombreros,
tinkling bells attached to their trappings, jingling spurs on their
heels, galloped into the plaza, driving a large aggressive bull.
They chased him about in a circle, swinging their reatas, dodging
his onslaughts, then rode out, and four others entered, dragging an
unwilling bear by a reata tied to each of its legs. By means of a long
chain and much dexterity they fastened the two beasts together, freed
the legs of the bear, then retired to the entrance to await events.
But the bull and the bear would not fight. The latter arose on his
haunches and regarded his enemy warily; the bull appeared to disdain
the bear as too small game; he but lowered his horns and pawed the
ground. The spectators grew impatient. The brave caballeros and dainty
doñas wanted blood. They tapped their feet and murmured ominously. As
for the populace, it howled for slaughter. Governor Alvarado made a
sign to one of the vaqueros; the man rushed abruptly upon the bull and
hit him a sharp blow across the nose with the cruel quirto. The
bull's dignity vanished. With the quadrupedian capacity for measuring
distance, he inferred that the blow had been inflicted by the bear,
who sat some twenty feet away, mildly licking his paws. He made a
savage onset. The bear, with the dexterity of a vaquero, leaped
aside and sprang upon the assailant's neck, his teeth meeting
argumentatively in the rope-like tendons. The bull roared with pain
and rage and attempted to shake him off, but he hung on; both lost
their footing and rolled over and over amidst clouds of dust, a mighty
noise, and enough blood to satisfy the early thirst of the beholders.
Then the bull wrenched himself free; before the mountain visitor could
scramble to his feet, he fixed him with his horns and tossed him on
high. As the bear came down on his back with a thud and a snap which
would have satisfied a bull less anxious to show what a bull could do,
the victor rushed upon the corpse, kicked and stamped and bit
until the blood spouted into his eyes, and pulp and dust were
indistinguishable. Then how the delighted spectators clapped their
hands and cried "Brava!" to the bull, who pranced about the plaza,
dragging the carcass of the bear after him, his head high, his big
eyes red and rolling! The women tore off their rebosos and waved them
like banners, smashed their fans, and stamped their little feet; the
men whirled their sombreros with supple wrists. But the bull was not
satisfied; he pawed the ground with demanding hoofs; and the vaqueros
galloped into the ring with another bear. Nor had they time to detach
their reatas before the bull was upon the second antagonist; and they
were obliged to retire in haste.
Estenega, who stood between Chonita and myself, watched The Doomswoman
attentively. Her lips were compressed fiercely: for a moment they
bore a strange resemblance to his own as I had seen them at times.
Her nostrils were expanded, her lids half covered her eyes. "She has
cruelty in her," he murmured to me as the first battle finished; "and
it was her imperious wish that the bull should win, because he is the
more lordly animal. She has no sympathy for the poor bundle of hair
and quivering flesh that bounded on the mountain yesterday. Has she
brutality in her?—just enough—"
"Brava! Brava!" The women were on their feet; even Chonita for the
moment forgot herself, and beat the railing with her small fist.
Another bear had been impaled and tossed and trampled. The bull,
panting from his exertions, dashed about the plaza, still dragging his
first victim after him. Suddenly he stopped; the blood gushed from his
nostrils; he shivered like a skeleton hanging in the wind, then fell
in an ignominious heap—dead.
"A warning, Diego," I said, rising and shaking my fan at him. "Be not
too ambitious, else wilt thou die of thy victories. And do not love
the polar star," I murmured in his ear, "lest thou set fire to it and
fall to ashes thyself."
In the long dining-room, opening upon the large high-walled garden at
the back of the Governor's house, a feast was spread for fifty people.
Doña Martina sat for a little time at the head of the table, her
yellow gown almost hidden by the masses of hair which her small head
could not support. Castro was on one side of her, Estenega on the
other, Chonita by her arch-enemy. A large bunch of artificial flowers
was at each plate, and the table was loaded with yellowed chickens
sitting proudly in scarlet gravy, tongues covered with walnut sauce,
grilled meats, tamales, mounds of tortillas, and dulces.
Alvarado, at the lower end of the table, sat between Doña Modeste
Castro and myself; and between the extremes of the board were faces
glowing, beautiful, ugly, but without exception fresh and young. From
all, the mantilla and serape had been removed, jewels sparkled in the
lace shirts of the men, white throats were encircled by the invariable
necklace of Baja Californian pearls. Chonita alone wore a string of
black pearls. I never saw her without it.
Doña Martina took little part in the talk and laughter, and after
a time slipped away, motioning to Chonita to take her place. The
conversation turned upon war and politics, and in its course Estenega,
looking from Chonita to Castro with a smile of good-natured irony
"Doña Chonita is of your opinion, coronel, that California was the
direct gift of heaven to the Spaniards, and that the Americans cannot
Castro raised his glass to the comadre. "Doña Chonita has the loyal
bosom of all Californian women. Our men love better the olive of peace
than the flavor of discord; but did the bandoleros dare to approach
our peaceful shores with dastardly intent to rob, then, thanks be
to God, I know that every man among them would fight for this virgin
land. Thou, too, Diego, thou wouldst unsheathe thy sword, in spite of
thy pretended admiration of the Americans."
Estenega raised his shoulders. "Possibly. But in American occupation
lies the hope of California. What have we done with it in our
seventy years of possession? Built a few missions, which are rotting,
terrorized or cajoled few thousand worthless Indians into civilized
imbecility, and raised a respectable number of horses and cattle. Our
hide and tallow trade is only good; the Russians have monopolized the
fur trade; we continue to raise cattle and horses because it would be
an exertion to suppress them; and meanwhile we dawdle away our lives
very pleasurably, whilst a magnificent territory, filled with gold and
richer still in soil, lies idle beneath our feet. Nature never works
without a plan. She compounded a wonderful country, and she created a
wonderful people to develop it. She has allowed us to drone on it
for a little time, but it was not made for us; and I am sufficiently
interested in California to wish to see her rise from her sleep and
feel and live in every part of her." He turned suddenly to Chonita.
"If I were a sculptor," he said, "I should use you as a model for a
statue of California. I have the somewhat whimsical idea that you are
the human embodiment of her."
Before she could muster her startled and angry faculties for reply,
before Estenega had finished speaking, in fact, Castro brought his
open palm down on the table, his eyes blazing.
"Oh, execrable profanation!" he cried. "Oh, unheard-of perfidy! Is it
possible that a man calling himself a Californian could give utterance
to such sentiments? Oh, abomination! You would invite, welcome,
uphold, the American adventurer? You would tear apart the bosom of
your country under pretense of doctoring its evils? You would cast
this fair gift of Almighty God at the feet of American swine? Oh,
Diego! Diego! This comes of the heretic books thou hast read. It is
better to have heart than brain."
"True: the palpitations do not last as long. We have had proof which I
need not recapitulate that to preserve California to itself it must be
tied fast to Mexico, otherwise would it die of anarchy or fall a prey
to the first invader. So far so good. But what has Mexico done for
California? Nothing; and she will do less. She is a mother who has
forgotten the child she put out to nurse. England and France and
Russia would do as little. But the United States, young and
ambitious, will give her greedy attention, and out of their greed
will California's good be wrought. And although they sweep us from the
earth, they will plant fruit where they found weeds."
Don José pushed back his chair violently and left the table. Estenega
turned to Chonita and found her pallid, her nostrils tense, her eyes
"Traitor!" she articulated. "I hate you! And it was you—you—who
kept my loyal brother from serving his country in the Departmental
Junta. He is as full of fire and patriotism as Castro; and yet you,
whose blood is ice, could be a member of the Electoral College and
defeat the election of a man who is as much an honor to his country as
you are a shame."
He smiled a little cruelly, but without anger or shame in his face.
"Señorita," he said, "I defeated your brother because I did not
believe him to be of any use to his country. He would only have been
in the way as a member of the Junta, and an older man wanted the
place. Your brother has Don José's enthusiasm without his magnetism
and remarkable executive power. He is too young to have had
experience, and has done neither reading nor thinking. Therefore I
did my best to defeat him. Pardon my rudeness, señorita; ascribe it to
revenge for calling me a traitor."
"You—you——" she stammered, then bent her head over her plate,
her Spanish dignity aghast at the threatening tears. Her hand hung
clinched at her side. Diego took it in spite of resistance, and,
opening the rigid fingers, bent his head beneath the board and kissed
"I believe you are somewhat of a woman, after all," he said.
The party deserted the table for the garden, there to idle until
evening should give them the dance. All of the men and most of the
women smoked cigaritos, the latter using the gold or silver holder,
supporting it between the thumb and finger. The high walls of the
garden were covered with the delicate fragrant pink Castilian roses,
and the girls plucked them and laid them in their hair.
"Does it look well, Don Diego?" asked one girl, holding her head
coquettishly on one side.
"It looked better on its vine," he said, absently. He was looking for
Chonita, who had disappeared. "Roses are like women: they lose their
subtler fragrance when plucked; but, like women, their heads always
"I do not understand thee, Don Diego," said the girl, fixing her wide
innocent eyes on the young man's inscrutable face. "What dost thou
"That thou art sweeter than Castilian roses," he said and passed on.
"And how is, thy little one?" he asked a young matron whose lithe
beauty had won his admiration a year ago, but to whom maternity had
been too generous. She raised her soft brown eyes out of which the
coquettish sparkle had gone.
"Beautiful! Beautiful!" she cried. "And so smart, Don Diego. He beats
the air with his little fists, and—Holy Mary, I swear it!—he winks
one eye when I tickle him."
Estenega sauntered down the garden endeavoring to imagine Chonita fat
and classified. He could not. He paused beside a woman who did not
raise her eyes at once, but coquettishly pretended to be absorbed in
the conversation of those about her. She too had been married a year
and more, but her figure had not lost its elegance, and she was very
handsome. Her coquetry was partly fear. Estenega's power was felt
alike by innocent girls and chaste matrons. There were few scandals in
those days; the women of the aristocracy were virtuous by instinct
and rigid social laws; but, how it would be hard to tell, Estenega
had acquired the reputation of being a dangerous man. Perhaps it had
followed him back from the city of Mexico, where at one time, he had
spent three years as diputado, and whence returned with a brilliant
and startling record of gallantry. A woman had followed on the next
ship, and, unless I am much mistaken, Diego passed many uneasy
hours before he persuaded her to return to Mexico. Then old Don José
Briones' beautiful young wife was found dead in her bed one morning,
and the old women who dressed the body swore that there were marks of
hard skinny fingers on her throat. Estenega had made no secret of his
admiration of her. At different times girls of the people had left
Monterey suddenly, and vague rumors had floated down from the North
that they had been seen in the redwood forests where Estenega's
ranchos lay. I asked him, point-blank, one day, if these stories were
true, prepared to scold him as he deserved; and he remarked coolly
that stories of that sort were always exaggerated, as well as a man's
success with women. But one had only to look at that face, with its
expression of bitter-humorous knowledge, its combination of strength
and weakness, to feel sure that there were chapters in his life that
no woman outside of them would ever read. I always felt, when with
Diego Estenega, that I was in the presence of a man who had little
left to learn of life's phases and sensations.
"The sun will freckle thy white neck," he said to the matron who would
not raise her eyes.
"Shall I bring thy mantilla, Doña Carmen?"
She looked up with a swift blush, then lowered her soft black eyes
suddenly before the penetrating gaze of the man who was so different
from the caballeros.
"It is not well to be too vain, señor. We must think less of those
things and more of—our Church."
"True; the Church may be a surer road to heaven than a good
complexion, if less of a talisman on earth. Still I doubt if a
freckled Virgin would have commanded the admiration of the centuries,
or even of the Holy Ghost."
"Don Diego! Don Diego!" cried a dozen horrified voices.
"Diego Estenega, if it were any man but thou," I exclaimed, "I would
have thee excommunicated. Thou blasphemer! How couldst thou?"
Diego raised my threatening hand to his lips. "My dear Eustaquia, it
was merely a way of saying that woman should be without blemish. And
is not the Virgin the model for all women?"
"Oh," I exclaimed, impatiently, "thou canst plant an idea in people's
minds, then pluck it out before their very eyes and make them believe
it never was there. That is thy power,—but not over me. I know thee."
We were standing apart, and I had dropped my voice. "But come and talk
to me awhile. I cannot stand those babies," and I indicated with a
sweep of my fan the graceful, richly-dressed caballeros whose soft
drooping eyes and sensuous mouths were more promising of compliments
than conversation. "Neither Alvarado nor Castro is here. Thou too
wouldst have gone in a moment had I not captured thee."
"On the contrary, I should have captured you. If we were not too old
friends for flirting I should say that your handsome-ugly face is the
most attractive in the garden. It is a pretty picture, though,"
he went on, meditatively,—"those women in their gay soft gowns,
coquetting demurely with the caballeros. Their eyes and mouths are
like flowers; and their skins are so white, and their hair so black.
The high wall, covered with green and Castilian roses, was purposely
designed by Nature for them. Sometimes I have a passing regret that
it is all doomed, and a half-century hence will have passed out of
"What do you mean?" I asked, sharply.
"Oh, we will not discuss the question of the future. I sent Castro
away from the table in a towering rage, and it is too hot to excite
you. Even the impassive Doomswoman became so angry that she could not
eat her dinner."
"It is your old wish for American occupation—the bandoleros! No; I
will not discuss it with you: I have gone to bed with my head bursting
when we have talked of it before. You might have spared poor José. But
let us talk of something else—Chonita. What do you think of her?"
"A thousand things more than one usually thinks of a woman after the
"But do you think her beautiful?"
"She is better than beautiful. She is original."
"I often wonder if she would be La Favorita of the South if it were
not for her father's great wealth and position. The men who profess to
be her slaves must have absorbed the knowledge that she has the
brains they have not, although she conceals her superiority from them
admirably: her pride and love of power demand that she shall be La
Favorita, although her caballeros must weary her. If she made them
feel their insignificance for a moment they would fly to the standard
of her rival, Valencia Menendez, and her regalities would be gone
forever. A few men have gone honestly wild over her, but I doubt if
any one has ever really loved her. Such women receive a surfeit of
admiration, but little love. If she were an unintellectual woman she
would have an extraordinary power over men, with her beauty and her
subtle charm; but now she is isolated. What a pity that your houses
are at war!"
He had been looking away from me. As I finished speaking he turned
his face slowly toward me, first the profile, which looked as if cut
rapidly with a sharp knife out of ivory, then the full face, with its
eyes set so deeply under the scraggy brows, its mouth grimly humorous.
He looked somewhat sardonic and decidedly selfish. Well I knew what
that expression meant. He had the kindest heart I had ever known, but
it never interfered with a most self-indulgent nature. Many times I
had begged him to be considerate of some girl who I knew charmed him
for the moment only; but one secret of his success with women was his
unfeigned if brief enthusiasm.
"Let her alone!" I exclaimed. "You cannot marry her. She would go into
a convent before she would sacrifice the traditions of her house. And
if you were not at war, and she married you, you would only make her
He merely smiled and continued to look me straight in the eyes.
I went upstairs and found Chonita reading Landor's "Imaginary
Conversations." (When Chonita was eighteen,—she was now
twenty-four—Don Alfredo Robinson, one of the American residents,
had at her father's request sent to Boston for a library of several
hundred books, a birthday gift for the ambitious daughter of the
Iturbi y Moncadas. The selection was an admirable one, and a rancho
would not have pleased her as well. She read English and French with
ease, although she spoke both languages brokenly.) As I entered she
laid down the book and clasped her hands behind her head. She looked
tranquil, but less amiable than was her wont.
"Thou hast been far away from the caballeros and the doñas of
Monterey," I said.
"Not even among Spanish ghosts."
"I think thou carest at heart for nothing but thy books."
"And a few people, and my religion."
"But they come second, although thou wilt not acknowledge it even to
thyself. Suppose thou hadst to sacrifice thy religion or thy books,
never to read another? Which wouldst thou choose?"
"God of my soul! what a question! No Spanish woman was ever a truer
Catholic; but to read is my happiness, the only happiness I want on
"Art thou sure that to train the intellect means happiness?"
"Sure. Does it not give us the power to abstract ourselves from life
when we are tired of it?"
"True, but there is another result you have not thought of. The more
the intellect is developed, the more acute and aggressive is the
nervous system; the more tenacious is the memory, the more has one to
live with, and the higher the ideals. When the time comes for you to
live you will suffer with double the intensity and depth of the woman
whose nerves are dull or stunted."
"To suffer you must love, and I never shall love. Who is there to
love? Books always suffice me, and I suppose there are enough in the
world to make the time pass as long as I live."
I did not continue the argument, knowing the placid superiority of
"But thou hast not yet told me which thou wouldst give up."
"The books, of course. I hope I know my duty. I would sacrifice all
things to my religion. But the priests do not interfere now as they
did in the last generation."
I was very religious in those days, and my heart beat with approval.
"I have always said that the Church may let women read what they
choose. The good principles they are born with they will adhere to."
"We are by nature conservatives, that is all. And we have need of
religion. We must have something to lean on, and men are poor props,
as far as I have observed. Sometimes after having read a long while in
an absorbing book, particularly one that seemed to put something with
a living hand into my brain and make it feel larger, I find that I am
miles away from the Church; I have forgotten its existence. I always
"Dios! I should think so. Yes, it is well we do need our religion.
Men do not; for that reason they drop it the moment the wings on their
minds grow fast—as they would, when the warm sun came out, drop the
thick blanket of the Indian, borrowed and gratefully worn in dark
uncertain weather. I do not dare ask Diego Estenega what he believes,
lest he tell me he believes nothing and I should have to hear it. How
dost thou like my friend, Chonita?"
"Art thou asking me how I like the enemy of my house? I hate him."
"If he goes to Santa Barbara with Alvarado this summer wilt thou ask
him to be thy guest?"
"Of course. The enmity has always been veiled with much courtesy; and
I would have him see that we know how to entertain."
I watched her covertly; I could detect no sign of interest. Presently
she took up the volume of Landor and read aloud to me, the stately
English sounding oddly with her Spanish accent.
At ten o'clock the large sala of the Governor's house was thronged
with guests, and the music of the flute, harp, and guitar floated
through the open windows: the musicians sat on the corridor. How
harmonious was the Monterey ball-room of that day!—the women in their
white gowns of every rich material, the men in white trousers, black
silk jackets, and low morocco shoes; no color except in the jewels
and the rich Southern faces. The bare ugly sala, from which the uglier
furniture had been removed, needed no ornaments with that moving
beauty; and even the coffee-colored, high-stomached old people were
picturesque. I wander through those deserted salas sometimes, and,
as the tears blister my eyes, imagination and memory people the cold
rooms, and I forget that the dashing caballeros and lovely doñas who
once called Monterey their own and made it a living picture-book are
dust beneath the wild oats and thistles of the deserted cemetery on
the hill. The Americans hardly know that such a people once existed.
Chonita entered the sala at eleven o'clock, looking like a snow queen.
Her gold hair, which always glittered like metal, was arranged to
simulate a crown; she wore a gown of Spanish lace, and no jewels but
the string of black pearls. I never had seen her look so cold and so
Estenega stepped out upon the corridor. "Play El Son," he said,
peremptorily. Then as the vivacious music began he walked over to
Chonita and clapped his hands in front of her as authoritatively as
he had bidden the musicians. What he did was of frequent occurrence
in the Californian ball-room, but she looked haughtily rebellious. He
continued to strike his hands together, and looked down upon her
with an amused smile which brought the angry color to her face. Her
hesitation aroused the eagerness of the other men, and they cried
"El Son! El Son! señorita."
She could no longer refuse, and, passing Estenega with head erect,
she bent it slightly to the caballeros and passed to the middle of the
room, the other guests retreating to the wall. She stood for a moment,
swaying her body slightly; then, raising her gown high enough for
the lace to sweep the instep of her small arched feet, she tapped
the floor in exact time to the music for a few moments, then glided
dreamily along the sala, her willowy body falling in lovely lines,
unfolding every detail of El Son, unheeding the low ripple of
approval. Then, dropping her gown, she spun the length of the room
like a white cloud caught in a cyclone; her garments whirred,
her heels clicked, her motion grew faster and swifter, until the
spectators panted for breath. Then, unmindful of the lively melody,
she drifted slowly down, swaying languidly, her long round arms now
lolling in the lace of her gown, now lifted to graceful sweep and
curve. The caballeros shouted their appreciation, flinging gold and
silver at her feet; never had El Son been given with such variations
before. Never did I see greater enthusiasm until the night which
culminated the tragedy of Ysabel Herrera. Estenega stood enraptured,
watching every motion of her body, every expression of her face.
The blood blazed in her cheeks, her eyes were like green stars and
sparkled wickedly. The cold curves of her statuesque mouth were warm
and soft, her chin was saucily uplifted, her heavy waving hair fell
over her shoulders to her knees, a glittering veil. Where had The
Doomswoman, the proud daughter of the Iturbi y Moncadas, gone?
The girls were a little frightened: this was not the Son to which they
were accustomed. The young matrons frowned. The old people exclaimed,
"Caramba!" "Mother of God!" "Holy Mary!" I was aghast; well as I knew
her, this was a piece of audacity for which I was unprepared.
As the dance went on and she grew more and more like an untamed
wood-nymph, even the caballeros became vaguely uneasy, hotly as they
admired the beautiful wild thing enchaining their gaze. I looked again
at Estenega and knew that his heart beat in passionate sympathy.
"I have found her," he murmured, exultantly. "She is California,
magnificent, audacious, incomprehensible, a creature of storms and
convulsions and impregnable calm; the germs of all good and all bad in
her; a woman sublimated. Every husk of tradition has fallen from her."
Once, as she passed Estenega, her eyes met his. They lit with a glance
of recognition, then the lids drooped and she floated on. He left the
room; and when he returned she sat on a window-seat, surrounded by
caballeros, as calm and as pale as when he had commanded her to dance.
He did not approach her, but, joined me at the upper end of the sala,
where I stood with Alvarado, the Castros, Don Thomas Larkin, the
United States Consul, and a half-dozen others. We were discussing
Chonita's interpretation of El Son.
"That was a strange outbreak for a Spanish girl," said Señor Larkin.
"She is Chonita Iturbi y Moncada," said Castro, severely. "She is like
no other woman, and what she does is right."
The consul bowed. "True, coronel. I have seen no one here like Doña
Chonita. There is a delicious uniformity about the Californian women:
so reserved, shrinking yet dignified, ever on their guard. Doña
Chonita changed so swiftly from the typical woman of her race to an
houri, almost a bacchante,—only an extraordinary refinement of nature
kept her this side of the line,—that an American would be tempted to
call her eccentric."
Alvarado lifted his hand and pointed through the window to the stars.
"The golden coals in the blue fire of heaven are not higher above
censure," he said.
Doña Modeste raised her eyebrows. "Coals are safest when burned on
the domestic hearth and carefully watched; safer still when they have
fallen to ashes."
"What is this rumor of pirates on the coast?" demanded Alvarado,
I put my hand through Estenega's arm and drew him aside. The music of
the contradanza was playing, and we stood against the wall.
"Well, you know Chonita better since that dance," I said to him.
"Polar stars are not unlikely to have volcanoes. Better let the deeps
alone, my friend; the lava might scorch you badly. Women of complex
natures are interesting studies, but dangerous to love. They wear the
nerves to a point, and the tired brain and heart turn gratefully to
the crystalline, idle-minded woman. She is too much like yourself,
Diego. And you,—how long could you love anybody? Love with you means
His face looked like chalk for a moment, an indication with him of
suppressed and violent emotion. Then he turned his head and regarded
me with a slight smile. "Not altogether. You forget that the most
faithless men have been the most faithful when they have found the
one woman. Curiosity and fickleness are merely parts of a restless
"I was sure you would acquit yourself with credit! But you have an
unholy charm, and you never hesitate to exert it."
He laughed outright. "One would think I was a rattlesnake. My unholy
charm consists of a reasonable amount of address born of a great
weakness for women and some personal magnetism,—the latter the
offspring of the habit of mental concentration—"
"And an inexorable will—"
"Perhaps. As to the exercise of it—why not? Vive la bagatelle!"
"It is useless to argue with you. Are you going to let that girl
"She is the only girl in the Californias whom I shall not let alone."
I could have shaken him. "To what end? And her brother? I have
often wondered which would rule you in a crisis, your head or your
"It would depend upon the crisis. I am afraid you are right,—that
altiloquent Reinaldo will give trouble."
"Is it true that he has been conspiring with Carillo, and that an
extraordinary and secret session of the Departmental Junta has been
He looked down upon me with his grimmest smile. "You curious little
woman! You must not put your white fingers into the Departmental pie.
If you had been a man, with as good a brain as you have for a woman,
you would have been an ornament to our politics. But as it is—pardon
me—the better for our balancing country the less you have to do with
I could feel my eyes snap. "You respect no woman's mind," I said,
savagely; "nothing but the woman in her. But I will not quarrel with
you. Tell that baby over there to come and waltz with me."
At dawn, as we entered our room, I seized Chonita by the shoulders and
shook her. "What did you mean by such a performance?" I demanded. "It
She threw back her head and laughed. "I could not help it," she said.
"First I felt an irresistible desire to show Monterey that I dared
do anything I chose. And then I have a wild something in me which has
often threatened to break loose before; and to-night it did. It was
that man. He made me."
"Ay, Dios!" I thought, "it has begun already."
The festivities were to last a week, every one taking part but
Alvarado and Doña Martina. The latter was not strong enough, the
governor cared more for duty than for pleasure.
The next day we had a merienda on the hills behind the town. The green
pine woods were gay with the bright colors of the young people. Here
and there a caballero dashed up and down to show his horsemanship and
the silver and embroidered silk of his saddle. Silver, too, were
his jingling spurs, the eagles on his sombrero, the buttons on his
colorous silken jacket. Horses, without exception handsomely trapped,
were tethered everywhere, pawing the ground or nibbling the grass. The
girls wore white or flowered silk or muslin gowns, and rebosos about
their heads; the brown ugly dueñas, ever at their sides, were foils
they would gladly have dispensed with. The tinkle of the guitar never
ceased, and the sweet voices of the girls and the rich voices of the
men broke forth with the joyous spontaneity of the birds' songs about
Chonita wore a white silk gown, I remember flowered with blue,—large
blue lilies. The reboso matched the gown. As soon as we arrived—we
were a little late—she was surrounded by caballeros who hardly knew
whether to like her or not, but who adhered to the knowledge that she
was Chonita Iturbi y Moncada, the most famous beauty of the South.
"Dios! but thou art beautiful," murmured one, his dreamy eyes
dwelling on her shining hair.
"Gracias, señor." She whispered it as bashfully as the maidens to
whom he was accustomed, her eyes fixed upon a rose she held.
"Wilt thou not stay with us here in Monterey?"
She raised her eyes slowly,—he could not but feel the effort,—gave
him one bewildering glance, half appealing, half protesting, then
dropped them suddenly.
"Wilt thou stay with me?" panted the caballero.
"Ay, señor! thou must not speak like that. Some one will hear thee."
"I care not! God of my life! I care not! Wilt thou marry me?"
"Thou must not speak to me of marriage, señor. It is to my father thou
must speak. Would I, a Californian maiden, betroth myself without his
"Holy heaven! I will! But give me one word that thou lovest me,—one
She lifted her chin saucily and turned to another caballero, who, I
doubt not, proposed also. Estenega, who had watched her, laughed.
"She acts the part to perfection," he said to me. "Either natural or
acquired coquetry has more to do with saving her from the solitary
plane of the intellectual woman than her beauty or her father's
wealth. I am inclined to think that it is acquired. I do not believe
that she is a coquette at heart, any more than that she is the marble
doomswoman she fondly believes herself."
"You will tell her that," I exclaimed, angrily; "and she will end
by loving you because you understand her; all women want to be
understood. Why don't you go to Paris again? You have not been there
for a long time."
Not deeming this suggestion worthy of answer, he left me and walked to
Chonita, who was glancing over the top of her fan into the ardent eyes
of a third caballero.
"You will step on a bunch of nettles in a moment," he said,
practically. "Your slippers are very thin; you had better stand over
here on the path." And he dexterously separated her from the other
men. "Will you walk to that opening over there with me? I want to show
you a better view of Monterey."
His manner had not a touch of gallantry, and she was tired of the
"Very well," she said. "I will look at the view."
As she followed him she noted that he led her where the bushes were
thinnest, and kicked the stones from her path. She also remarked the
nervous energy of his thin figure. "It comes from his love of the
Americans," she thought, angrily. "He must even walk like them. The
Americans!" And she brought her teeth together with a sharp click.
He turned, smiling. "You look very disapproving," he said. "What have
"You look like an American! You even wear their clothes, and they are
the color of smoke; and you wear no lace. How cold and uninteresting a
scene would this be if all the men were dressed as you are!"
"We cannot all be made for decorative purposes. And you are as unlike
those girls, in all but your dress, as I am unlike the men. I will not
incur your wrath by saying that you are American: but you are modern.
Our lovely compatriots were the same three hundred years ago. Will
Doña California be pleased to observe that whale spouting in the bay?
There is the tree beneath which Junipero Serra said his first mass in
this part of the country. What a sanctimonious old fraud he must have
been, if he looked anything like his pictures! Did you ever see bay
bluer than that? or sand whiter? or a more perfect semicircle of hills
than this? or a more straggling town? There is the Custom-house on the
rocks. You will go to a ball there to-night, and hear the boom of
the surf as you dance." He turned with one of his sudden impatient
motions. "Suppose we ride. The air is too sharp to lie about under the
trees. This white horse mates your gown. Let us go over to Carmelo."
"I should like to go," she said, doubtfully; he had made her throb
with indignation once or twice, but his conversation interested her
and her free spirit approved of a ride over the hills unattended by
dueña. "But—you know—I do not like you."
"Oh, never mind that; the ride will interest you just the same." And
he lifted her to the horse, sprang on another, caught her bridle,
lest she should rebel, and galloped up the road. When they were on the
other side of hill he slackened speed and looked at her with a smile.
She was inclined to be angry, but found herself watching the varying
expressions of his mouth, which diverted her mind. It was a baffling
mouth, even to experienced women, and Chonita could make nothing of
it. It had neither sweetness nor softness, but she had never felt
impelled to study the mouth of a caballero. And then she wondered how
a man with a mouth like that could have manners so gentle.
"Are you aware," he said, abruptly, "that your brother is accused of
"What?" She looked at him as if she inferred that this was the order
of badinage that an Iturbi y Moncada might expect from an Estenega.
"I am not joking. It is quite true."
"It is not true! Reinaldo conspire against his government? Some one
has lied. And you are ready to believe!"
"I hope some one has lied. The news is very direct, however." He
looked at her speculatively. "The more obstacles the better," he
thought; "and we may as well declare war on this question at once.
Besides, it is no use to begin as a hypocrite, when every act would
tell her what I thought of him. Moreover, he will have more or less
influence over her until her eyes are opened to his true worth. She
will not believe me, of course, but she is a woman who only needs an
impetus to do a good deal of thinking and noting." "I am going to make
you angry," he said. "I am going to tell you that I do not share your
admiration of your brother. He has ten thousand words for every idea,
and although, God knows, we have more time than anything else in this
land of the poppy where only the horses run, still there are more
profitable ways of employing it than to listen to meaningless and
bombastic words. Moreover, your brother is a dangerous man. No man is
so safe in seclusion as the one of large vanities and small ambitions.
He is not big enough to conceive a revolution, but is ready to be the
tool of any unscrupulous man who is, and, having too much egotism to
follow orders, will ruin a project at the last moment by attempting to
think for himself. I do not say these things to wantonly insult you,
señorita, only to let you know at once how I regard your brother, that
you may not accuse me of treachery or hypocrisy later."
He had expected and hoped that she would turn upon him with a burst of
fury; but she had drawn herself up to her most stately height, and
was looking at him with cold hauteur. Her mouth was as hard as a pink
jewel, and her eyes had the glitter of ice in them.
"Señor," she said, "it seems to me that you, too, waste many words—in
speaking of my brother; for what you say of him cannot interest me.
I have known him for twenty-two years; you have seen him four or six
times. What can you tell me of him? Not only is he my brother and the
natural object of my love and devotion, but he is Reinaldo Iturbi y
Moncada, the last male descendant of his house, and as such I hold him
in a regard only second to that which I bear to my father. And with
the blood in him he could not be otherwise than a great and good man."
Estenega looked at her with the first stab of doubt he had felt. "She
is Spanish in her marrow," he thought,—"the steadfast unreasoning
child of traditions. I could not well be at greater disadvantage. But
she is magnificent."
"Another thing which was unnecessary," she added, "was to defend
yourself to me or to tell me how you felt toward my brother, and why.
We are enemies by tradition and instinct. We shall rarely meet, and
shall probably never talk together again."
"We shall talk together more times than you will care to count. I
have much to say to you, and you shall listen. But we will discuss the
matter no further at present. Shall we gallop?"
He spurred his horse, and once more they fled through the pine woods.
Before long they entered the valley of Carmelo. The mountains were
massive and gloomy, the little bay was blue and quiet, the surf of
the ocean roared about Point Lobos, Carmelo River crawled beneath
its willows. In the middle of the valley stood the impressive yellow
church, with its Roman tower and rose-window; about it were the
crumbling brown hovels of the deserted Mission. Once as they rode
Estenega thought he heard voices, but could not be sure, so loud was
the clatter of the horses' hoofs. As they reached the square they drew
rein swiftly, the horses standing upright at the sudden halt. Then
strange sounds came to them through the open doors of the church:
ribald shouts and loud laughter, curses and noise of smashing glass,
such songs as never were sung in Carmelo before; an infernal clash of
sound which mingled incongruously with the solemn mass of the surf.
Chonita's eyes flashed. Even Estenega's face darkened: the traditions
planted in plastic youth arose and rebelled at the desecration.
"Some drunken sailors," he said. "There—do you see that?" A craft
rounded Point Lobos. "Pirates!"
"Holy Mary!" exclaimed Chonita.
"Let down your hair," he said, peremptorily; "and follow all that I
suggest. We will drive them out."
She obeyed him without question, excited and interested. Then they
rode to the doors and threw them wide.
The upper end of the long church was swarming with pirates; there was
no mistaking those bold, cruel faces, blackened by sun and wind, half
covered with ragged hair. They stood on the benches, they bestrode
the railing, they swarmed over the altar, shouting and carousing in
riotous wassail. Their coarse red shirts were flung back from hairy
chests, their faces were distorted with rum and sacrilegious delight.
Every station, every candlestick, had been hurled to the floor and
trampled upon. The crucifix stood on its head. Sitting high on the
altar, reeling and waving a communion goblet, was the drunken chief,
singing a blasphemous song of the pirate seas. The voices rumbled
strangely down the hollow body of the church; to perfect the scene
flames should have leaped among the swinging arms and bounding forms.
"Come," said Estenega. He spurred his horse, and together they
galloped down the stone pavement of the edifice. The men turned at
the loud sound of horses' hoofs; but the riders were in their
midst, scattering them right and left, before they realized what was
The horses were brought to sudden halt. Estenega rose in his stirrups,
his fine bold face looking down impassively upon the demoniacal gang
who could have rent him apart, but who stood silent and startled,
gazing from him to the beautiful woman, whose white gown looked part
of the white horse she rode. Estenega raised his hand and pointed to
"The Virgin," he said, in a hollow, impressive voice. "The Mother of
God. She has come to defend her church. Go."
Chonita's face blanched to the lips, but she looked at the
sacrilegists sternly. Fortune favored the audacity of Estenega. The
sunlight, drifting through the star-window above the doors at the
lower end of the church, smote the uplifted golden head of Chonita,
wreathing it with a halo, gifting the face with unearthly beauty.
"Go!" repeated Estenega, "lest she weep. With every tear a heart will
cease to beat."
The chief scrambled down from the altar and ran like a rat past
Chonita, his swollen mouth dropping. The others crouched and followed,
stumbling one over the other, their dark evil faces bloodless, their
knees knocking together with superstitious terror. They fled from
the church and down to the bay, and swam to their craft. Estenega and
Chonita rode out. They watched the ugly vessel scurry around Point
Lobos; then Chonita spoke for the first time.
"Blasphemer!" she exclaimed. "Mother of God, wilt thou ever forgive
"Why not call me a Jesuit? It was a case where mind or matter must
triumph. And you can confess your enforced sin, say a hundred aves or
so, and be whiter than snow again; whereas, had our Mission of Carmelo
been razed to the ground, as it was in a fair way to be, California
would have lost an historical monument."
"And Junipero Serra's bones are there, and it was his favorite
Mission," said the girl, unwillingly.
"Exactly. And now that you are reasonably sure of being forgiven, will
not you forgive me? I shall ask no priest's forgiveness."
She looked at him a moment, then shook her head. "No: I cannot forgive
you for having made me commit what may be a mortal sin. But, Holy
Heaven!—I cannot help saying it—you are very quick!"
"For each idea is a moment born. Upon whether we wed the two or think
too late depends the success or the failure of our lives."
"Suppose," she said, suddenly,—"suppose you had failed, and those men
had seized me and made me captive: what then?"
"I should have killed you. Not one of them should have touched you.
But I had no doubts, or I should not have made the attempt. I know the
superstitious nature of sailors, especially when they are drunk. Shall
we gallop back? They will have eaten all the dulces."
Monterey danced every night and all night of that week, either at
Alvarado's or at the Custom-house, and every afternoon met at the
races, the bull-fight, a merienda, or to climb the greased pole,
catch the greased pig by its tail as it ran, or exhibit skill in
horsemanship. Chonita, at times an imperious coquette, at others,
indifferent, perverse, or coy, was La Favorita without appeal, and
the girls alternately worshipped her—she was abstractedly kind to
them—or heartily wished her back in Santa Barbara. Estenega rarely
attended the socialities, being closeted with Alvarado and Castro most
of the time, and when he did she avoided him if she could. The pirates
had fled and were seen no more; but their abrupt retreat, as described
by Chonita, continued to be an exciting topic of discussion. There
were few of us who did not openly or secretly approve of Estenega's
Jesuitism and admire the nimbleness of his mind. The clergy did not
On the last night of the festivities, when the women, weary with the
unusually late hours of the past week, had left the ball-room early
and sought their beds, and the men, being at loss for other amusement,
had gone in a body to a saloon, there to drink and gamble and set fire
to each other's curls and trouser-seats, the Departmental Junta met in
secret session. The night was warm, the plaza deserted; all who were
not in the saloon at the other end of the town were asleep; and after
the preliminary words in Alvarado's office the Junta picked up their
chairs and went forth to hold conclave where bulls and bears had
fought and the large indulgent moon gave clearer light than adamantine
candles. They drew close together, and, after rolling the cigarito,
solemnly regarded the sky for a few moments without speaking. Their
purpose was a grave one. They met to try Pio Pico for contempt of
government and annoying insistence in behalf of his pet project to
remove the capital from Monterey to Los Angeles; José Antonio Carillo
and Reinaldo Iturbi y Moncada for conspiracy; and General Vallejo for
evil disposition and unwarrantable comments upon the policy of the
administration. None of the offenders was present.
With the exception of Alvarado, Castro, and Estenega, the members
of the Junta were men of middle age, and represented the talent of
California,—Jimeno, Gonzales, Arguëllo, Requena, Del Valle. Their
dark, bearded faces, upturned to the stars, made a striking set of
profiles, but the effect was marred by the silk handkerchiefs they had
tied about their heads.
Alvarado spoke, finally, and, after presenting the charges in due
"The individual enemy to the government is like the fly to the lion;
it cannot harm, but it can annoy. We must brush away the fly as a
vindication of our dignity, and take precaution that he does not
return, even if we have to bend our heads to tie his little legs. I
do not purpose to be annoyed by these blistering midgets we are met
to consider, nor to have my term of administration spotted with their
gall. I leave it to you, my compatriots and friends, to advise me what
is best to do."
Jimeno put his feet on the side rung of Castro's chair, puffed a large
gray cloud, and half closed his eyes. He then, for three-quarters of
an hour, in a low, musical voice, discoursed upon the dignity of the
administration and the depravity of the offenders. When his brethren
were beginning to drop their heads and breathe heavily, Alvarado
politely interrupted him and referred the matter to Castro.
"Imprison them!" exclaimed the impetuous General, suddenly alert.
"With such a Governor and such a people, this should be a land white
as the mountain-tops, unblemished by the tracks of mean ambitions
and sinful revolutions. Let us be summary, although not cruel; let no
man's blood flow while there are prisons in the Californias; but we
must pluck up the roots of conspiracy and disquiet, lest a thousand
suckers grow about them, as about the half-cut trunks of our
redwood-trees, and our Californias be no better than any degenerate
country of the Old World. Let us cast them into prison without further
"The law, my dear José, gives them a trial," drawled Gonzales. And
then for a half-hour he quoted such law as was known in the country.
When he finished, the impatient and suppressed members of the Junta
delivered their opinions simultaneously; only Estenega had nothing
to say. They argued and suggested, cited evidence, defended and
denounced, lashing themselves into a mighty excitement. At length they
were all on their feet, gesticulating and prancing.
"Mother of God!" cried Requena. "Let us give Vallejo a taste of his
own cruelty. Let us put him in a temascal and set those of his Indian
victims who are still alive to roast him out—"
"No! no! Vallejo is maligned. He had no hand in that massacre. His
heart is whiter than an angel's——"
"It is his liver that is white. His heart is black as a black snake's.
To the devil with him!"
"Make a law that Pio Pico can never put foot out of Los Angeles again,
since he loves it so well—"
"His ugly face would spoil the next generation—"
"Death to Carillo and Iturbi y Moncada! Death to all! Let the poison
out of the veins of California!"
"No! no! As little blood in California as possible. Put them in
prison, and keep them on frijoles and water for a year. That will cure
rebellion: no chickens, no dulces, no aguardiente—"
Alvarado brought his staff of office down sharply upon a board he had
provided for the purpose.
"Gentlemen," he said, "will you not sit down and smoke another
cigarito? We must be calm."
The Junta took to its chairs at once. Alvarado never failed to command
"Don Diego Estenega," said the Governor, "will you tell us what you
have thought whilst the others have talked?"
Estenega, who had been star-gazing, turned to Alvarado, ignoring the
Junta. His keen brilliant eyes gave the Governor a thrill of relief;
his mouth expressed a mind made up and intolerant of argument.
"Vallejo," he said, "is like a horse that will neither run nor back
into his stall: he merely stands still and kicks. His kicking makes
a noise and raises a dust, but does no harm. In other words, he will
irritate, but never take a responsibility. Send him an official notice
that if he does not keep quiet an armed force will march upon Sonoma
and imprison him in his own house, humiliating him before the eyes of
his soldiers and retainers.
"As for Pio Pico, threaten to fine and punish him. He will apologize
at once and be quiet for six months, when you can call another secret
session and issue another threat. It would prolong the term of his
submission to order him to appear before the Junta and make it an
apology with due humility.
"Now for Carillo and Reinaldo Iturbi y Moncada." He paused a moment
and glanced at Chonita's grating. He had the proofs of her brother's
rascality in his pocket; no one but himself had seen them. He
hesitated the fraction of another moment, then smiled grimly. "Oh,
Helen!" he thought, "the same old story."
"That Carillo is guilty," he said aloud, "is proven to us beyond
doubt. He has incited rebellion against the government in behalf of
Carlos Carillo. He is dangerous to the peace of the country. Iturbi
y Moncada is young and heedless, hardly to be considered seriously;
furthermore, it is impossible to obtain proof of his complicity. His
intimacy with Carillo gives him the appearance of guilt. It would be
well to frighten him a little by a short term of imprisonment. He is
restless and easily led; a lesson in time may save his honored house
from disaster. But to Carillo no quarter." He rose and stood over
them. "The best thing in Machiavelli's 'Prince,'" he said, "is the
author's advice to Caesar Borgia to exterminate every member of
the reigning house of a conquered country, in order to avoid future
revolutions and their infinitely greater number of dead. Do not let
the water in your blood whimper for mercy. You are not here to protect
an individual, but a country."
"You are right," said Alvarado.
The others looked at the young man who had merely given them the
practical advice of statecraft as if he had opened his chest and
displayed the lamp of wisdom burning. His freedom from excitement in
all ordeals which animated them to madness had long ago inspired
the suspicion that he was rather more than human. They uttered not a
protest. Alvarado's one-eyed secretary made notes of their approval;
and the Junta, after another friendly smoke, adjourned, well pleased
"Would I sacrifice my country for her a year hence?" thought Estenega,
as he sauntered home. "But, after all, little harm is done. He is not
worth killing, and fright and discomfort will probably cure him."
Chonita and Estenega faced each other among the Castilian roses of the
garden behind the Governor's house. The dueña was nodding in a corner;
the first-born of the Alvarados, screaming within, absorbed the
attention of every member of the household, from the frantic young
mother to the practical nurse.
"My brother is to be arrested, you say?"
"And at your suggestion?"
"And he may die?"
"Nothing would have been done if it had not been for you?"
"God of my life! Mother of God! how I hate you!"
"It is war, then?"
"I would kill you if I were not a Catholic."
"I will make you forget that you are a Catholic."
"You have made me remember it to my bitterest sorrow. I hate you so
mortally that I cannot go to confession: I cannot forgive."
"I hope you will continue to hate for a time. Now listen to me. You
have several reasons for hating me. My house is the enemy of yours.
I am to all intents and purposes an American; you can consider me
as such. I have that indifference for religious superstition and
intolerance for religion's thraldom which all minds larger of
circumference than a napkin-ring must come to in time. I have
endangered the life of your brother, and I have opposed and shall
oppose him in his political aspirations; he has my unequivocal
contempt. Nevertheless, I tell you here that I should marry you were
there five hundred reasons for your hatred of me instead of a paltry
five. I shall take pleasure in demonstrating to you that there is a
force in the universe a good deal stronger than traditions, religion,
or even family ties."
His eyes were not those of a lover; they shone like steel. His mouth
was forbidding. She drew back from him in terror, then struck her
hands together passionately.
"I marry you!" she cried. "An Estenega! A renegade? May God cast me
out of heaven if I do! There, I have sworn! I have sworn! Do you think
a Catholic would break that vow? I swear it by the Church,—and I put
the whole Church between us!"
"I told you just now that I would make you forget your Church." He
caught her hand and held it firmly. "A last word," he said "Your
brother's life is safe: I promise you that."
"Let me go!" she said. "Let me go! I fear you." She was trembling; his
warmth and magnetism had sprung to her shoulder.
He gave her back her hand. "Go," he said: "so ends the first chapter."
Casa Grande,[A] the mansion of the Iturbi y Moncadas in Santa Barbara,
stood at the right of the Presidio, facing the channel. A mile behind,
under the shadow of the gaunt rocky hills curving about the valley,
was the long white Mission, with its double towers, corridor of many
arches, and sloping roof covered with red tiles. Between was the wild
valley where cattle grazed among the trees and the massive bowlders.
The red-tiled white adobe houses of the Presidio and of the little
town clustered under its wing, the brown mud huts of the Indians, were
grouped in the foreground of the deep valley.
The great house of the Iturbi y Moncadas, erected in the first years
of the century, was built about three sides of a court, measuring one
hundred feet each way. Like most of the adobes of its time, it had
but one story. A wide pillared corridor, protected by a sloping
roof, faced the court, which was as bare and hard as the floor of a
ball-room. Behind the dwelling were the manufactories and huts of the
Indian retainers. Don Guillermo Iturbi y Moncada was the magnate of
the South. His ranchos covered four hundred thousand acres; his
horses and cattle were unnumbered. His Indians, carpenters, coopers,
saddlers, shoemakers, weavers, manufacturers of household staples,
supplied the garrison and town with the necessaries of life; he also
did a large trading business in hides and tallow. Rumor had it that in
the wooden tower built against the back of the house he kept gold by
the bushel-basketful; but no one called him miser, for he gave the
poor of the town all they ate and wore, and kept a supply of drugs for
their sick. So beloved and revered was he that when earthquakes shook
the town, or fires threatened it from the hills, the poor ran in a
body to the court-yard of Casa Grande and besought his protection.
They never passed him without saluting to the ground, nor his house
without bending their heads. And yet they feared him, for he was an
irascible old gentleman at times, and thumped unmercifully when in a
temper. Chonita, alone, could manage him always.
When I returned to Santa Barbara with Chonita after her visit to
Monterey, the yellow fruit hung in the padres' orchard, the grass was
burning brown, sky and water were the hard blue of metal.
The afternoon of our arrival, Don Guillermo, Chonita, and I were on
the long middle corridor of the house: in Santa Barbara one lived in
the air. The old don sat on the long green bench by the sala door. His
heavy, flabby, leathery face had no wrinkles but those which curved
from the corners of the mouth to the chin. The thin upper lip was
habitually pressed hard against the small protruding under one, the
mouth ending in straight lines which seemed no part of the lips. His
small slanting eyes, usually stern, could snap with anger, as they did
to-day. The nose rose suddenly from the middle of his face; it might
have been applied by a child sculpturing with putty; the flat bridge
was crossed by erratic lines. A bang of grizzled hair escaped from the
black silk handkerchief wound as tightly as a turban about his head.
He wore short clothes of dark brown cloth, the jacket decorated
with large silver buttons, a red damask vest, shoes of embroidered
deer-skin, and a cravat of fine linen.
Chonita, in a white gown, a pale-green reboso about her shoulders, her
arms crossed, her head thoughtfully bent forward, walked slowly up and
down before him.
"Holy God!" cried the old man, pounding the floor with his stick.
"That they have dared to arrest my son!—the son of Guillermo Iturbi y
Moncada! That Alvarado, my friend and thy host, should have permitted
"Do not blame Alvarado, my father. Remember, he must listen to the
Departmental Junta; and this is their work." "Fool that I am!" she
added to herself, "why do I not tell who alone is to blame? But I need
no one to help me hate him!"
"Is it true that this Estenega of whom I hear so much is a member of
"It may be."
"If so, it is he, he alone, who has brought dishonor upon my house.
Again they have conquered!"
"This Estenega I met—and who was compadre with me for the baby—is
little in California, my father. If it be he who is a member of the
Junta, he could hardly rule such men as Alvarado, Jimeno, and Castro.
I saw no other Estenega."
"True! I must have other enemies in the North; but I had not known
of it. But they shall learn of my power in the South. Don Juan de la
Borrasca went to-day to Los Angeles with a bushel of gold to bail my
son, and both will be with us the day after to-morrow. A curse upon
Carillo—but I will speak of it no more. Tell me, my daughter,—God
of my soul, but I am glad to have thee back!—what thoughtest thou of
this son of the Estenegas? Is it Ramon, Esteban, or Diego? I have seen
none of them since they were little ones. I remember Diego well. He
had lightning in his little tongue, and the devil in his brain. I
liked him, although he was the son of my enemy; and if he had been an
Iturbi y Moncada I would have made a great man of him. Ay! but he was
quick. One day in Monterey, he got under my feet and I fell flat, much
imperilling my dignity, for it was on Alvarado Street, and I was a
member of the Territorial Deputation. I could have beaten him, I was
so angry; but he scrambled to his little feet, and, helping me to
mine, he said, whilst dodging my stick, 'Be not angry, señor. I gave
my promise to the earth that thou shouldst kiss her, for all the world
has prayed that she should not embrace thee for ninety years to come.'
What could I do? I gave him a cake. Thou smilest, my daughter; but
thou wilt not commend the enemy of thy house, no? Ah, well, we grow
less bitter as we grow old; and although I hated his father I liked
Diego. Again, I remember, I was in Monterey, and he was there; his
father and I were both members of the Deputation. Caramba! what hot
words passed between us! But I was thinking of Diego. I took a volume
of Shakespeare from him one day. 'Thou art too young to read such
books,' I said. 'A baby reading what the good priests allow not men
to read. I have not read this heretic book of plays, and yet thou dost
lie there on thy stomach and drink in its wickedness.' 'It is true,'
he said, and how his steel eyes did flash; 'but when I am as old as
you, señor, my stomach will be flat and my head will be big. Thou
art the enemy of my father, but—hast thou noticed?—thy stomach is
bigger than his, and he has conquered thee in speech and in politics
more times than thou hast found vengeance for. Ay!—and thy ranchos
have richer soil and many more cattle, but he has a library, Don
Guillermo, and thou hast not.' I spanked him then and there; but I
never forgot what he said, and thou hast read what thou listed. I
would not that the children of Alejandro Estenega should know more
than those of Guillermo Iturbi y Moncada."
"Thou hast cause to be proud of Reinaldo, for he sparkles like the
spray of the fountain, and words are to him like a shower of leaves in
autumn. And yet, and yet," she added, with angry candor, "he has not a
brain like Diego Estenega. He is not a man, but a devil."
"A good brain has always a devil at the wheel; sharp eyes have sharper
nerves behind; and lightning from a big soul flashes fear into a
little one. Diego is not a devil,—I remember once I had a headache,
and he bathed my head, and the water ran down my neck and gave me a
cold which put me to bed for a week,—but he is the devil's godson,
and were he not the son of my enemy I should love him. His father was
cruel and vicious—but smart, Holy Mary! Diego has his brain; but he
has, too, the kind heart and gentle manner—Ay! Holy God!—Come, come:
here are the horses. Call Prudencia, and we will go to the bark and
see what the good captain has brought to tempt us."
Four horses led by vaqueros, had entered the court-yard.
"Prudencia," called Chonita.
A door opened, and a girl of small figure, with solemn dark eyes and
cream-like skin, her hair hanging in heavy braids to her feet, stepped
upon the corridor, draping a pink reboso about her head.
"I am here, my cousin," she said, walking with all the dignity of the
Spanish woman, despite her plump and inconsiderable person. "Thou art
rested, Doña Eustaquia? Do we go to the ship, my uncle? and shall we
buy this afternoon? God of my life! I wonder has he a high comb to
make me look tall, and flesh-colored stockings. My own are gone with
holes. I do not like white—"
"Hush thy chatter," said her uncle. "How can I tell what the captain
has until I see? Come, my children."
We sprang to our saddles, Don Guillermo mounted heavily, and we
cantered to the beach, followed by the ox-cart which would carry the
fragile cargo home. A boat took us to the bark, which sat motionless
on the placid channel. The captain greeted us with the lively welcome
due to eager and frequent purchasers.
"Now, curb thy greed," cried Don Guillermo, as the girls dropped down
the companion-way, "for thou hast more now than thou canst wear in
five years. God of my soul! if a bark came every day they would want
every shred on board. My daughter could tapestry the old house with
the shawls she has."
When I reached the cabin I found the table covered with silks,
satins, crêpe, shawls, combs, articles of lacquer-ware, jewels, silk
stockings, slippers, spangled tulle, handkerchiefs, lace, fans. The
girls' eyes were sparkling. Chonita clapped her hands and ran around
the table, pressing to her lips the beautiful white things she quickly
segregated, running her hand eagerly over the little slippers, hanging
the lace about her shoulders, twisting a rope of garnets in her yellow
"Never have they been so beautiful, Eustaquia! Is it not so, my
Prudencia?" she cried to the girl, who was curled on one corner of
the table, gloating over the treasures she knew her uncle's generosity
would make her own. "Look, how these little diamonds flash! And the
embroidery on this crêpe!—a dozen eyes went out ay! yi! This satin
is like a tile! These fans were made in Spain! This is as big as a
windmill. God of my soul!"—she threw a handful of yellow sewing-silk
upon a piece of white satin; "Ana shall embroider this gown,—the
golden poppies of California on a bank of mountain snow." She suddenly
seized a case of topaz and a piece of scarlet silk and ran over to
me: I being a Montereña, etiquette forbade me to purchase in Santa
Barbara. "Thou must have these, my Eustaquia. They will become thee
well. And wouldst thou like any of my white things? Mary! but I am
selfish. Take what thou wilt, my friend."
To refuse would be to spoil her pleasure and insult her hospitality:
so I accepted the topaz—of which I had six sets already—and the
silk,—whose color prevailed in my wardrobe,—and told her that I
detested white, which did not suit my weather-dark skin, and she was
as blind and as pleased as a child.
"But come, come," she cried. "My father is not so generous when he has
to wait too long."
She gathered the mass of stuff in her arms and staggered up the
companion-way. I followed, leaving Prudencia raking the trove her
short arms would not hold.
"Ay, my Chonita!" she wailed, "I cannot carry that big piece of pink
satin and that vase. And I have only two pairs of slippers and one
fan. Ay, Cho-n-i-i-ta, look at those shawls! Mother of God, suppose
Valencia Menendez comes—"
"Do not weep on the silk and spoil what thou hast," called down
Chonita from the top step. "Thou shalt have all thou canst wear for a
She reached the deck and stood panting and imperious before her
father. "All! All! I must have all!" she cried. "Never have they been
so fine, so rich."
"Holy Mary!" shrieked Don Guillermo. "Dost thou think I am made of
doubloons, that thou wouldst buy a whole ship's cargo? Thou shalt have
a quarter; no more,—not a yard!"
"I will have all!" And the stately daughter of the Iturbi y Moncadas
stamped her little foot upon the deck.
"A third,—not a yard more. And diamonds! Holy Heaven! There is
not gold enough in the Californias to feed the extravagance of the
Señorita Doña Chonita Iturbi y Moncada."
She managed to bend her body in spite of her burden, her eyes flashing
saucily above the mass of tulle which covered the rest of her face.
"And not fine raiment enough in the world to accord with the state
of the only daughter of the Señor Don Guillermo Iturbi y Moncada, the
delight and the pride of his old age. Wilt thou send these things to
the North, to be worn by an Estenega? Thy Chonita will cry her eyes
so red that she will be known as the ugly witch of Santa Barbara, and
Casa Grande will be like a tomb."
"Oh, thou spoilt baby! Thou wilt have thy way—" At this moment
Prudencia appeared. Nothing whatever could be seen of her small person
but her feet; she looked like an exploded bale of goods. "What! what!"
gasped Don Guillermo. "Thou little rat! Thou wouldst make a Christmas
doll of thyself with satin that is too heavy for thy grandmother, and
eke out thy dumpy inches with a train? Oh, Mother of God!" He turned
to the captain, who was smoking complacently, assured of the issue.
"I will let them carry these things home; but to-morrow one-half, at
least, comes back." And he stamped wrathfully down the deck.
"Send the rest," said Chonita to the captain, "and thou shalt have a
bag of gold to-night."
[Footnote A: In writing of Casa Grande and its inmates, no reference
to the distinguished De la Guerra family of Santa Barbara is intended,
beyond the description of their house and state and of the general
characteristics of the founder of the family fortunes in California.]
The next morning Chonita, clad in a long gown of white wool, a silver
cross at her throat, her hair arranged like a coronet, sat in a large
chair in the dispensary. Her father stood beside a table, parcelling
drugs. The sick-poor of Santa Barbara passed them in a long line.
The Doomswoman exercised her power to heal, the birthright of the
"I wonder if I can," she said to me, laying her white fingers on a
knotted arm, "or if it is my father's medicines. I have no right to
question this beautiful faith of my country, but I really don't see
how I do it. Still, I suppose it is like many things in our religion,
not for mere human beings to understand. This pleases my vanity, at
least. I wonder if I shall have cause to exercise my other endowment."
"Yes: I think I might do that with something more of sincerity."
The men, women, and children, native Californians and Indians,
scrubbed for the occasion, filed slowly past her, and she touched all
kindly and bade them be well. They regarded her with adoring eyes and
bent almost to the ground.
"Perhaps they will help me out of purgatory," she said; "and it is
something to be on a pedestal; I should not like to come down. It is
a cheap victory, but so are most of the victories that the world knows
When she had touched nearly a hundred, they gathered about her, and
she spoke a few words to them.
"My friends, go, and say, 'I shall be well.' Does not the Bible say
that faith shall make ye whole? Cling to your faith! Believe! Believe!
Else will you feel as if the world crumbled beneath your feet!
And there is nothing, nothing to take its place. What folly, what
presumption, to suggest that anything can—a mortal passion—" She
stopped suddenly, and continued coldly, "Go, my friends; words do not
come easily to me to-day. Go, and God grant that you may be well and
We sat in the sala the next evening, awaiting the return of the
prodigal and his deliverer. The night was cool, and the doors were
closed; coals burned in a roof-tile. The room, unlike most Californian
salas, boasted a carpet, and the furniture was covered with green rep,
instead of the usual black horse-hair.
Don Guillermo patted the table gently with his open palm, accompanying
the tinkle of Prudencia's guitar and her light monotonous voice. She
sat on the edge of a chair, her solemn eyes fixed on a painting of
Reinaldo which hung on the wall. Doña Trinidad was sewing as usual,
and dressed as simply as if she looked to her daughter to maintain the
state of the Iturbi y Moncadas. Above a black silk skirt she wore a
black shawl, one end thrown over her shoulder. About her head was a
close black silk turban, concealing, with the exception of two soft
gray locks on either side of her face, what little hair she may still
have possessed. Her white face was delicately cut: the lines of time
indicated spiritual sweetness rather than strength.
Chonita roved between the sala and an adjoining room where four Indian
girls embroidered the yellow poppies on the white satin. I was reading
one of her books,—the "Vicar of Wakefield."
"Wilt thou be glad to see Reinaldo, my Prudencia?" asked Don
Guillermo, as the song finished.
"Ay!" and the girl blushed.
"Thou wouldst make a good wife for Reinaldo, and it is well that he
marry. It is true that he has a gay spirit and loves company, but you
shall live here in this house, and if he is not a devoted husband he
shall have no money to spend. It is time he became a married man and
learned that life was not made for dancing and flirting; then, too,
would his restless spirit get him into fewer broils. I have heard
him speak twice of no other woman, excepting Valencia Menendez, and I
would not have her for a daughter; and I think he loves thee."
"Sure!" said Doña Trinidad.
"That is love, I suppose," said Chonita, leaning back in her chair and
forgetting the poppies. "With her a placid contented hope, with him a
calm preference for a malleable woman. If he left her for another she
would cry for a week, then serenely marry whom my father bade her, and
forget Reinaldo in the donas of the bridegroom. The birds do almost
Don Guillermo smiled indulgently. Prudencia did not know whether
to cry or not. Doña Trinidad, who never thought of replying to her
"Chonita mia, Liseta and Tomaso wish to marry, and thy father will
give them the little house by the creek."
"Yes, mamacita?" said Chonita, absently: she felt no interest in the
loves of the Indians.
"We have a new Father in the Mission," continued her mother,
remembering that she had not acquainted her daughter with all the
important events of her absence. "And Don Rafael Guzman's son was
drafted. That was a judgment for not marrying when his father bade
him. For that I shall be glad to have Reinaldo marry. I would not have
him go to the war to be killed."
"No," said Don Guillermo. "He must be a diputado to Mexico. I would
not lose my only son in battle. I am ambitious for him; and so art
thou, Chonita, for thy brother? Is it not so?"
"Yes. I have it in me to stab the heart of any man who rolls a stone
in his way."
"My daughter," said Don Guillermo, with the accent of duty rather than
of reproof, "thou must love without vengeance. Sustain thy brother,
but harm not his enemy. I would not have thee hate even an Estenega,
although I cannot love them myself. But we will not talk of the
Estenegas. Dost thou realize that our Reinaldo will be with us this
night? We must all go to confession to-morrow,—thy mother and myself,
Eustaquia, Reinaldo, Prudencia, and thyself."
Chonita's face became rigid. "I cannot go to confession," she said.
"It may be months before I can: perhaps never."
"Can one go to confession with a hating and an unforgiving heart? Ay!
that I never had gone to Monterey! At least I had the consolation of
my religion before. Now I fight the darkness by myself. Do not ask
me questions, for I shall not answer them. But taunt me no more with
Even Don Guillermo was dumb. In all the twenty-four years of her life
she never had betrayed violence of spirit before: even her hatred of
the Estenegas had been a religion rather than a personal feeling. It
was the first glimpse of her soul that she had accorded them, and they
were aghast. What—what had happened to this proud, reserved, careless
daughter of the Iturbi y Moncadas?
Doña Trinidad drew down her mouth. Prudencia began to cry. Then,
for the moment, Chonita was forgotten. Two horses galloped into the
The door had but an inside knob: Don Guillermo threw it open as a
young man sprang up the three steps of the corridor, followed by a
little man who carefully picked his way.
"Yes, I am here, my father, my mother, my sister, my Prudencia! Ay,
Eustaquia, thou too." And the pride of the house kissed each in turn,
his dark eyes wandering absently about the room. He was a dashing
caballero, and as handsome as any ever born in the Californias. The
dust of travel had been removed—at a saloon—from his blue velvet
gold-embroidered serape, which he immediately flung on the floor. His
short jacket and trousers were also of dark-blue velvet, the former
decorated with buttons of silver filigree, the latter laced with
silver cord over spotless linen. The front of his shirt was covered
with costly lace. His long botas were of soft yellow leather stamped
with designs in silver and gartered with blue ribbon. The clanking
spurs were of silver inlaid with gold. The sash, knotted gracefully
over his hip, was of white silk. His curled black hair was tied with a
blue ribbon, and clung, clustering and damp, about a low brow. He bore
a strange resemblance to Chonita, in spite of the difference of color,
but his eyes were merely large and brilliant: they had no stars in
their shallows. His mouth was covered by a heavy silken mustache, and
his profile was bold. At first glance he impressed one as a perfect
type of manly strength, aggressively decided of character. It was only
when he cast aside the wide sombrero—which, when worn a little
back, most becomingly framed his face—that one saw the narrow,
For a time there was no conversation, only a series of exclamations.
Chonita alone was calm, smiling a loving welcome. In the excitement of
the first moments little notice was taken of the devoted bailer, who
ardently regarded Chonita.
Don Juan de la Borrasca was flouting his sixties, fighting for his
youth as a parent fights for its young. His withered little face wore
the complacent smile of vanity; his arched brows furnished him with a
supercilious expression which atoned for his lack of inches,—he was
barely five feet two. His large curved nose was also a compensating
gift from the godmother of dignity, and he carried himself so erectly
that he looked like a toy general. His small black eyes were bright
as glass beads, and his hair was ribboned as bravely as Reinaldo's. He
was clad in silk attire,—red silk embroidered with butterflies. His
little hands were laden with rings; carbuncles glowed in the lace of
his shirt. He was moderately wealthy, but a stanch retainer of the
house of Iturbi y Moncada, the devoted slave of Chonita.
She was the first to remember him, and held out her hand for him to
kiss. "Thou hast the gratitude of my heart, dear friend," she said,
as the little dandy curved over it. "I thank thee a thousand times for
bringing my brother back to me."
"Ay, Doña Chonita, thanks be to God and Mary that I was enabled so to
do. Had my mission proved unsuccessful I should have committed a crime
and gone to prison with him. Never would I have returned here. Dueño
adorado, ever at thy feet."
Chonita smiled kindly, but she was listening to her brother, who was
now expatiating upon his wrongs to a sympathetic audience.
"Holy heaven!" he exclaimed, striding up and down the room, "that an
Iturbi y Moncada, the descendant of twenty generations, should be put
to shame, to disgrace and humiliation, by being cast into a common
prison! That an ardent patriot, a loyal subject of Mexico, should be
accused of conspiring against the judgment of an Alvarado! Carillo was
my friend, and had his cause been a just one I had gone with him to
the gates of death or the chair of state. But could I, I, conspire
against a wise and great man like Juan Bautista Alvarado? No! not even
if Carillo had asked me so to do. But, by the stars of heaven, he
did not. I had been but the guest of his bounty for a month; and the
suspicious rascals who spied upon us, the poor brains who compose the
Departmental Junta, took it for granted that an Iturbi y Moncada could
not be blind to Carillo's plots and plans and intrigues, that, having
been the intimate of his house and table, I must perforce aid and abet
whatever schemes engrossed him. Ay, more often than frequently did
a dark surmise cross my mind, but I brushed it aside as one does the
prompting of evil desires. I would not believe that a Carillo would
plot, conspire, and rise again, after the terrible lesson he had
received in 1838. Alvarado holds California to his heart; Castro, the
Mars of the nineteenth century, hovers menacingly on the horizon. Who,
who, in sober reason, would defy that brace of frowning gods?"
His eloquence was cut short by respiratory interference, but he
continued to stride from one end of the room to the other, his
face flushed with excitement. Prudencia's large eyes followed him,
admiration paralyzing her tongue. Doña Trinidad smiled upward with
the self-approval of the modest barn-yard lady who has raised a
magnificent bantam. Don Guillermo applauded loudly. Only Chonita
turned away, the truth smiting her for the first time.
"Words! words!" she thought, bitterly. "He would have said all that
in two sentences. Is it true—ay, triste de mi!—what he said of my
brother? I hate him, yet his brain has cut mine and wedged there. My
head bows to him, even while all the Iturbi y Moncada in me arises to
curse him. But my brother! my brother! he is so much younger. And if
he had had the same advantages—those years in Mexico and America and
Europe—would he not know as much as Diego Estenega? Oh, sure! sure!"
"My son," Don Guillermo was saying, "God be thanked that thou didst
not merit thy imprisonment. I should have beaten thee with my cane and
locked thee in thy room for a month hadst thou disgraced my name.
But, as it happily is, thou must have compensation for unjust
treatment.—Prudencia, give me thy hand."
The girl rose, trembling and blushing, but crossed the room with
stately step and stood beside her uncle. Don Guillermo took her hand
and placed it in Reinaldo's. "Thou shalt have her, my son," he said.
"I have divined thy wishes."
Reinaldo kissed the small fingers fluttering in his, making a great
flourish. He was quite ready to marry, and his pliant little cousin
suited him better than any one he knew. "Day-star of my eyes!" he
exclaimed, "consolation of my soul! Memories of injustice, discomfort,
and sadness fall into the waters of oblivion rolling at thy feet. I
see neither past nor future. The rose-hued curtain of youth and hope
falls behind and before us."
"Yes, yes," assented Prudencia, delightedly. "My Reinaldo! my
We congratulated them severally and collectively, and, when the
ceremony was over, Reinaldo cried, with even more enthusiasm than he
had yet shown, "My mother, for the love of Mary give me something to
eat,—tamales, salad, chicken, dulces. Don Juan and I are as empty as
Doña Trinidad smiled with the pride of the Californian housewife. "It
is ready, my son. Come to the dining-room, no?"
She led the way, followed by the family, Reinaldo and Prudencia
lingering. As the others crossed the threshold he drew her back.
"A lump of tallow, dost thou hear, my Prudencia?" he whispered,
hurriedly. "Put it under the green bench. I must have it to-night."
"Do not refuse, my Prudencia, if thou lovest me. Wilt thou do it?"
"Sure, my Reinaldo."
The family retired early in its brief seasons of reclusion, and at ten
o'clock Casa Grande was dark and quiet. Reinaldo opened his door and
listened cautiously, then stepped softly to the green bench and felt
beneath for the lump of tallow. It was there. He returned to his room
and swung himself from his window into the yard, about which were
irregularly disposed the manufactories of the Indians, a high wall
protecting the small town. All was quiet here, and had been for hours.
He stole to the wooden tower and mounted a ladder, lifting it from
story to story until he reached the attic under the pointed roof. Then
he lit a candle, and, removing a board from the floor, peered down
into the room whose door was always so securely locked. The stars
shone through the uncurtained windows and were no yellower than the
gold coins heaped on the large table and overflowing the baskets.
Reinaldo took a long pole from a corner and applied to one end a piece
of the soft tallow. He lowered the pole and pressed it firmly into the
pile of gold on the table. The pole was withdrawn, and this ingenious
fisherman removed a large gold fish from the bait. He fished patiently
for an hour, then filled a bag he had brought for the purpose, and
returned as he had come. Not to his bed, however. Once more he opened
his door and stole forth, this time to the town, to hold high revel
around the gaming-table, where he was welcomed hilariously by his boon
A wild fandango in a neighboring booth provided relaxation for the
gamblers. In an hour or two Reinaldo found his way to this well-known
haven. Black-eyed dancing-girls in short skirts of tawdry satin
trimmed with cotton lace, mock jewels on their bare necks and in their
coarse black hair, flew about the room and screamed with delight as
Reinaldo flung gold pieces among them. The excitement continued in all
its variations until morning. Men bet and lost all the gold they had
brought with them, then sold horse, serape, and sombrero to the
men who neither drank nor gambled, but came prepared for close and
profitable bargains. Reinaldo lost his purloins, won them again, stood
upon the table and spoke with torrential eloquence of his wrongs and
virtues, kissed all the girls, and when by easy and rapid stages he
had succeeded in converting himself into a tank of aguardiente, he was
carried home and put to bed by such of his companions as were sober
enough to make no noise.
Chonita, clad in a black gown, walked slowly up and down the corridor
of Casa Grande. The rain should have dripped from the eaves, beaten
with heavy monotony upon the hard clay of the court-yard, to accompany
her mood, but it did not. The sky was blue without fleck of cloud, the
sun like the open mouth of a furnace of boiling gold, the air as warm
and sweet and drowsy as if it never had come in shock with human care.
Prudencia sat on the green bench, drawing threads in a fine linen
smock, her small face rosy with contentment.
"Why dost thou wear that black gown this beautiful morning?" she
demanded, suddenly. "And why dost thou walk when thou canst sit down?"
"I had a dream last night. Dost thou believe in dreams?" She had as
much regard for her cousin's opinion as for the twittering of a bird,
but she felt the necessity of speech at times, and at least this child
never remembered what she said.
"Sure, my Chonita. Did not I dream that the good captain would bring
pink silk stockings? and are they not my own this minute?" And she
thrust a diminutive foot from beneath the hem of her gown, regarding
it with admiration. "And did not I dream that Tomaso and Liseta would
marry? What was thy dream, my Chonita?"
"I do not know what the first part was; something very sad. All I
remember is the roar of the ocean and another roar like the wind
through high trees. Then a moment that shook and frightened me, but
sweeter than anything I know of, so I cannot define it. Then a swift
awful tragedy—I cannot recall the details of that, either. The whole
dream was like a black mass of clouds, cut now and again by a scythe
of lightning. But then, like a vision within a dream, I seemed to
stand there and see myself, clad in a black gown, walking up and
down this corridor, or one like it, up and down, up and down, never
resting, never daring to rest, lest I hear the ceaseless clatter of
a lonely fugitive's horse. When I awoke I was as cold as if I had
received the first shock of the surf. I cannot say why I put on this
black gown to-day. I make no haste to feel as I did when I wore it in
that dream,—the desolation,—the endlessness; but I did."
"That was a strange dream, my Chonita," said Prudencia, threading her
needle. "Thou must have eaten too many dulces for supper: didst thou?"
"No," said Chonita, shortly, "I did not."
She continued her aimless walk, wondering at her depression of
spirits. All her life she had felt a certain mental loneliness, but
a healthy body rarely harbors an invalid soul, and she had only to
spring on a horse and gallop over the hills to feel as happy as a
young animal. Moreover, the world—all the world she knew—was at her
feet; nor had she ever known the novelty of an ungratified wish. Once
in a while her father arose in an obdurate mood, but she had only to
coax, or threaten tears,—never had she been seen to shed one,—or
stamp her foot, to bring that doting parent to terms. It is true
that she had had her morbid moments, an abrupt impatient desire for
something that was not all light and pleasure and gold and adulation;
but, being a girl of will and sense, she had turned resolutely from
the troublous demands of her deeper soul, regarding them as coals
fallen from a mind that burned too hotly at times.
This morning, however, she let the blue waters rise, not so much
because they were stronger than her will, as because she wished to
understand what was the matter with her. She was filled with a dull
dislike of every one she had ever known, of every condition which
had surrounded her from birth. She felt a deep disgust of placid
contentment, of the mere enjoyment of sunshine and air. She recalled
drearily the clock-like revolutions of the year which brought
bull-fights, races, rodeos, church celebrations; her mother's
anecdotes of the Indians; her father's manifold interests, ever the
theme of his tongue; Reinaldo's grandiloquent accounts of his exploits
and intentions; Prudencia's infinite nothings. She hated the balls of
which she was La Favorita, the everlasting serenades, the whole life
of pleasure which made that period of California the most perfected
Arcadia the modern world has known. Some time during the past few
weeks the girl had crossed her hands over her breast and lain down in
her eternal tomb. The woman had arisen and come forth, blinded as yet
by the light, her hands thrust out gropingly.
"It is that man," she told herself, with angry frankness. "I had
not talked with him ten minutes before I felt as I do when the scene
changes suddenly in one of Shakespeare's plays,—as if I had been
flung like a meteor into a new world. I felt the necessity for mental
alertness for the first time in my life; always, before, I had striven
to conceal what I knew. The natural consequences, of course, were
first the desire to feel that stimulation again and again, then to
realize the littleness of everything but mental companionship. I have
read that people who begin with hate sometimes end with love; and if I
were a book woman I suppose I should in time love this man whom I now
so hate, even while I admire. But I am no lump of wax in the hands
of a writer of dreams. I am Chonita Iturbi y Moncada, and he is Diego
Estenega. I could no more love him than could the equator kiss the
poles. Only, much as I hate him, I wish I could see him again. He
knows so much more than any one else. I should like to talk to him,
to ask him many things. He has sworn to marry me." Her lip curled
scornfully, but a sudden glow rushed over her. "Had he not been an
Estenega,—yes, I could have loved him,—that calm, clear-sighted
love that is born of regard; not a whirlwind and a collapse, like most
love. I should like to sit with my hands in my lap and hear him talk
forever. And we cannot even be friends. It is a pity."
The girl's mind was like a splendid castle only one wing of which had
ever been illuminated. By the light of the books she had read, and
of acute observation in a little sphere, she strove to penetrate the
thick walls and carry the torch into broader halls and lofty towers.
But superstition, prejudice, bitter pride, inexperience of life,
conjoined their shoulders and barred the way. As Diego Estenega had
discerned, under the thick Old-World shell of inherited impressions
was a plastic being of all womanly possibilities. But so little did
she know of herself, so futile was her struggle in the dark with only
sudden flashes to blind her and distort all she saw, that with nothing
to shape that moulding kernel it would shrink and wither, and in a few
years she would be but a polished shell, perfect of proportion, hollow
at the core.
But if strong intellectual juices sank into that sweet, pliant kernel,
developing it into the perfected form of woman, establishing the
current between the brain and the passions, finishing the work, or
leaving it half completed, as Circumstance vouchsafed?—what then?
"Ay, Señor!" exclaimed Prudencia, as two people, mounted on horses
glistening with silver, galloped into the court-yard. "Valencia and
I came out of the sala at that moment and watched them alight: Adan,
that faithful, dog-like adorer, of whose kind every beautiful woman
has a half-dozen or more, Valencia the bitter-hearted rival of
Chonita. She was a tall, dazzling creature, with flaming black eyes
large and heavily lashed, and a figure so lithe that she seemed to
sweep downward from her horse rather than spring to the ground. She
had the dark rich skin of Mexico—another source of envy and hatred,
for the Iturbi y Moncadas, like most of the aristocracy of the
country, were of pure Castilian blood and as white as porcelain in
consequence—and a red full mouth.
"Welcome, my Chonita!" she cried. "Valgame Dios! but I am glad to
see thee back!" She kissed Chonita effusively. "Ay, my poor brother!"
she whispered, hurriedly. "Tell him that thou art glad to see him."
And then she welcomed me with words that fell as softly as rose-leaves
in a zephyr, and patted Prudencia's head.
Chonita, with a faint flush on her cheek, gave Adan her hand to kiss.
She had given this faithful suitor little encouragement, but his
unswerving and honest devotion had wrung from her a sort of careless
affection; and she told me that first night in Monterey that if she
ever made up her mind to marry she thought she would select Adan: he
was more tolerable than any one she knew. It is doubtful if he had
crossed her mind since; and now, with all a woman's unreason, she
conceived a sudden and violent dislike for him because she had treated
him too kindly in her thoughts. I liked Adan Menendez; there was
something manly and sure about him,—the latter a restful if not a
fascinating quality. And I liked his appearance. His clear brown eyes
had a kind direct regard. His chin was round, and his profile a little
thick; but the gray hair brushed up and away from his low forehead
gave dignity to his face. His figure was pervaded with the indolence
of the Californian.
"At your feet, señorita mia," he murmured, his voice trembling.
"It gives me pleasure to see thee again, Adan. Hast thou been well and
happy since I left?"
It was a careless question, and he looked at her reproachfully.
"I have been well, Chonita," he said.
At this moment our attention was startled by a sharp exclamation from
Valencia. Prudencia had announced her engagement. Valencia had refused
many suitors, but she had intended to marry Reinaldo Iturbi y Moncada.
Not that she loved him: he was the most brilliant match in three
hundred leagues. Within the last year he had bent the knee to the
famous coquette; but she had lost her temper one day,—or, rather, it
had found her,—and after a violent quarrel he had galloped away, and
gone almost immediately to Los Angeles, there to remain until Don
Juan went after him with a bushel of gold. She controlled herself in
a moment, and swayed her graceful body over Prudencia, kissing her
lightly on the cheek.
"Thou baby, to marry!" she said, softly. "Thou didst take away my
breath. Thou dost look no more than fourteen years. I had forgotten
the grand merienda of thy eighteenth birthday."
Prudencia's little bosom swelled with pride at the discomfiture of the
haughty beauty who had rarely remembered to notice her. Prudencia was
not poor; she owned a goodly rancho; but it was an hacienda to the
state of a Menendez.
"Thou wilt be one of my bridesmaids, no, Doña Valencia?" she asked.
"That will be the proud day of my life," said Valencia, graciously.
"We have a ball to-night," said Chonita.
"Thou wouldst have had word to-day. Thou wilt stay now, no? and not
ride those five leagues twice again? I will send for thy gown."
"Truly, I will stay, my Chonita. And thou wilt tell me all about thy
visit to Monterey, no?"
"All? Ay! sure!"
Adan kissed both Prudencia's little hands in earnest congratulation.
As he did so, the door of Reinaldo's room opened, and the heir of the
Iturbi y Moncadas stepped forth, gorgeous in black silk embroidered
with gold. He had slept off the effects of the night's debauch, and
cold water had restored his freshness. He kissed Prudencia's hand, his
own to us, then bent over Valencia's with exaggerated homage.
"At thy feet, O loveliest of California's daughters. In the immensity
of thought, going to and coming from Los Angeles, my imagination has
spread its wings like an eagle. Thou hast been a beautiful day-dream,
posing or reclining, dancing, or swaying with grace superlative on thy
restive steed. I have not greeted my good friend Adan. I can but look
and look and keep on looking at his incomparable sister, the rose of
roses, the queen of queens."
"Thy tongue carols as easily as a lark's," said Valencia, with but
half-concealed bitterness. "Thou couldst sing all day,—and the next
"I forget nothing, beautiful señorita,—neither the fair days of
spring nor the ugly storms of winter. And I love the sunshine and flee
from the tempest. Adan, brother of my heart, welcome as ever to Casa
Grande—Ay! here is my father. He looks like Sancho Panza."
Don Guillermo's sturdy little mustang bore him into the court-yard,
shaking his stout master not a little. The old gentleman's black
silk handkerchief had fallen to his shoulders: his face was red, but
covered with a broad smile.
"I have letters from Monterey," he said, as Reinaldo and Adan ran down
the steps to help him alight. "Alvarado goes by sea to Los Angeles
this month, but returns by land in the next, and will honor us with
a visit of a week. I shall write to him to arrive in time for the
wedding. Several members of the Junta come with him,—and of their
number is Diego Estenega."
"Who?" cried Reinaldo. "An Estenega? Thou wilt not ask him to cross
the threshold of Casa Grande?"
"I always liked Diego," said the old man, somewhat confusedly. "And he
is the friend of Alvarado. How can I avoid to ask him, when he is of
"Let him come," cried Reinaldo. "God of my life!—I am glad that he
comes, this lord of redwood forests and fog-bound cliffs. It is well
that he see the splendor of the Iturbi y Moncadas,—our pageants and
our gay diversions, our cavalcades of beauty and elegance under a
canopy of smiling blue. Glad I am that he comes. Once for all shall
he learn that, although his accursed family has beaten ours in war and
politics, he can never hope to rival our pomp and state."
"Ah!" said Valencia to Chonita, "I have heard of this Diego Estenega.
I too am glad that he comes. I have the advantage of thee this time,
my friend. Thou and he must hate each other, and for once I am without
a rival. He shall be my slave." And she tossed her spirited head.
"He shall not!" cried Chonita, then checked herself abruptly, the
blood rushing to her hair. "I hate him so," she continued hurriedly
to the astonished Valencia, "that I would see no woman show him favor.
Thou wilt not like him, Valencia. He is not handsome at all,—no color
in his skin, not even white, and eyes in the back of his head. No
mustache, no curls, and a mouth that looks,—oh, that mouth, so grim,
so hard!—no, it is not to be described. No one could; it makes you
hate him. And he has no respect for women; he thinks they were made to
please the eye, no more. I do not think he would look ten seconds at
an ugly woman. Thou wilt not like him, Valencia, sure."
"Ay, but I think I shall. What thou hast said makes me wish to see him
the more. God of my life! but he must be different from the men of the
South. And I shall like that."
"Perhaps," said Chonita, coldly. "At least he will not break thy
heart, for no woman could love him. But come and take thy siesta,
no? and refresh thyself for the dance. I will send thee a cup
of chocolate." And, bending her head to Adan, she swept down the
corridor, followed by Valencia.
Those were two busy months before Prudencia's wedding. Twenty girls,
sharply watched and directed by Doña Trinidad and the sometime
mistress of Casa Grande, worked upon the marriage wardrobe. Prudencia
would have no use for more house-linen; but enough fine linen was made
into underclothes to last her a lifetime. Five keen-eyed girls did
nothing but draw the threads for deshalados, and so elaborate was the
open-work that the wonder was the bride did not have bands and stripes
of rheumatism. Others fashioned crêpes and flowered silks and heavy
satins into gowns with long pointed waists and full flowing skirts,
some with sleeves of lace and high to the base of the throat, others
cut to display the plump whiteness of the owner. Twelve rebosos were
made for her; Doña Trinidad gave her one of her finest mantillas;
Chonita, the white satin embroidered with poppies, for which she had
conceived a capricious dislike. She also invited Prudencia to take
what she pleased from her wardrobe; and Prudencia, who was nothing if
not practical, helped herself to three gowns which had been made for
Chonita at great expense in the city of Mexico, four shawls of Chinese
crêpe, a roll of pineapple silk, and an American hat.
The house until within two weeks of the wedding was full of
visitors,—neighbors whose ranchos lay ten leagues away or nearer,
and the people of the town; all of them come to offer congratulations,
chatter on the corridor by day and dance in the sala by night. The
court was never free of prancing horses pawing the ground for
eighteen hours at a time under their heavy saddles. Doña Trinidad's
cooking-girls were as thick in the kitchen as ants on an anthill, for
the good things of Casa Grande were as famous as its hospitality, and
not the least of the attractions to the merry visitors. When we did
not dance at home we danced at the neighbors' or at the Presidio.
During the last two weeks, however, every one went home to rest and
prepare for the festivities to succeed the wedding; and the old house
was as quiet as a canon in the mountains.
Chonita took a lively concern in the preparations at first, but her
interest soon evaporated, and she spent more and more time in the
little library adjoining her bedroom. She did less reading than
thinking, however. Once she came to me and tried for fifteen minutes
to draw from me something in Estenega's dispraise; and when I finally
admitted that he had a fault or two I thought she would scalp me.
Still, at this time she was hardly more than fascinated, interested,
tantalized by a mind she could appreciate but not understand. If they
had never met again he would gradually have moved backward to
the horizon of her memory, growing dim and more dim, hovered in a
cloud-bank for a while, then disappeared into that limbo which must
exist somewhere for discarded impressions, and all would have been
The evening before the wedding Prudencia covered her demure self
with black gown and reboso, and, accompanied by Chonita, went to the
Mission to make her last maiden confession. Chonita did not go with
her into the church, but paced up and down the long corridor of the
wing, gazing absently upon the deep wild valley and peaceful ocean,
seeing little beyond the images in her own mind.
That morning Alvarado and several members of the Junta had arrived,
but not Estenega. He had come as far as the Rancho Temblor, Alvarado
explained, and there, meeting some old friends, had decided to remain
over night and accompany them the next day to the ceremony. As Chonita
had stood on the corridor and watched the approach of the Governor's
cavalcade her heart had beaten violently, and she had angrily
acknowledged that her nervousness was due to the fact that she was
about to meet Diego Estenega again. When she discovered that he
was not of the party, she turned to me with pique, resentment, and
disappointment in her face.
"Even if I cannot ever like him," she said, "at least I might have the
pleasure of hearing him talk. There is no harm in that, even if he is
an Estenega, a renegade, and the enemy of my brother. I can hate him
with my heart and like him with my mind. And he must have cared little
to see us again, that he could linger for another day."
"I am mad to see Don Diego Estenega," said Valencia, her red lips
pouting. "Why did he, of all others, tarry?"
"He is fickle and perverse," I said,—"the most uncertain man I know."
"Perhaps he thought to make us wish to see him the more," suggested
"No," I said: "he has no ridiculous vanities."
Chonita wandered back and forth behind the arches, waiting for
Prudencia's long confession of sinless errors to conclude.
"What has a baby like that to confess?" she thought, impatiently. "She
could not sin if she tried. She knows nothing of the dark storms
of rage and hatred and revenge which can gather in the breasts of
stronger and weaker beings. I never knew, either, until lately; but
the storm is so black I dare not face it and carry it to the priest. I
am a sort of human chaos, and I wish I were dead. I thought to forget
him, and I see him as plainly as on that morning when he told me that
it was he who would send my brother to prison——"
She stopped short with a little cry. Diego Estenega stood before the
Mission in the broad swath of moonlight. She had heard a horse gallop
up the valley, but had paid no attention to the familiar sound.
Estenega had appeared as suddenly as if he had arisen from the earth.
"It is I, señorita." He ascended the Mission steps. "Do not fear. May
I kiss your hand?"
She gave him her hand, but withdrew it hurriedly. Of the tremendous
mystery of sex she knew almost nothing. Girls were brought up in such
ignorance in those days that many a bride ran home to her mother on
her wedding night; and books teach Innocence little. But she was fully
conscious that there was something in the touch of Estenega's lips and
hand that startled while it thrilled and enthralled.
"I thought you stayed with the Ortegas to-night," she said. Oh,
"I did,—for a few hours. Then I wanted to see you, and I left them
and came on. At Casa Grande I found no one but Eustaquia; every one
else had gone to the gardens; and she told me that you were here."
Chonita's heart was beating as fast as it had beaten that morning;
even her hands shook a little. A glad wave of warmth rushed over her.
She turned to him impetuously. "Tell me?" she exclaimed. "Why do I
feel like this for you? I hate you: you know that. There are many
reasons,—five; you counted them. And yet I feel excited, almost glad,
at your coming. This morning I was disappointed when you did not. Tell
me,—you know everything, and I so little,—why is it?"
Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes terrified and appealing. She looked
very lovely and natural. Probably for the first time in his life
Estenega resisted a temptation. He passionately wished to take her in
his arms and tell her the truth. But he was too clever a man; there
was too much at stake; if he frightened her now he might never even
see her again. Moreover, she appealed to his chivalry. And it suddenly
occurred to him that so sweet a heart would be warped in its waking if
passion bewildered and controlled her first.
"Doña Chonita," he said, "like all women,—all beautiful and spoiled
women,—you demand variety. I happen to be made of harder stuff than
your caballeros, and you have not seen me for two months; that is
"And if I saw you every day for two months would I no longer care
whether you came or went?"
"Is it sweet or terrible to feel this way?" thought the girl. "Would I
regret if he no longer made me tremble, or would I go on my knees and
thank the Blessed Virgin?" Aloud she said, "It was strange for me to
ask you such questions; but it is as if you had something in your mind
separate from yourself, and that it would tell me, and you could not
prevent its being truthful. I do not believe in you; you look as if
nothing were worth the while to lie or tell the truth about; but your
mind is quite different. It seems to me that it knows all things, that
it is as cold and clear as ice."
"What a whimsical creature you are! My mind, like myself,—I feel as
if I were twins,—is at your service. Forget that I am Diego Estenega.
Regard me as a sort of archive of impressions which may amuse or serve
you as the poorest of your books do. That they happen to be catalogued
under the general title of Diego Estenega is a mere detail; an
accident, for that matter; they might be pigeon-holed in the skull of
a Bandini or a Pico. I happen to be the magnet, that is all."
"If I could forget that you were an Estenega,—just for a week, while
you are here," she said, wistfully.
"You are a woman of will and imagination,—also of variety. Make an
experiment; it will interest you. Of course there will be times when
you will be bitterly conscious that I am the enemy of your house; it
would be idle to expect otherwise; but when we happen to be apart from
disturbing influences, let us agree to forget that we are anything but
two human beings, deeply congenial. As for what I said in the garden
at Monterey, the last time we spoke together,—I shall not bother
"You no longer care?" she exclaimed.
"I did not say that. I said I should not bother you,—recognizing
your hostility and your reasons. Be faithful to your traditions, my
beautiful doomswoman. No man is worth the sacrifice of those dear old
comrades. What presumption for a man to require you to abandon the
cause of your house, give up your brother, sacrifice one or more of
your religious principles; one, too, who would open his doors to the
Americans you hate! No man is worth such a sacrifice as that."
"No," she said, "no man." But she said it without enthusiasm.
"A man is but one; traditions are fivefold, and multiplied by duty.
Poor grain of sand—what can he give, comparable to the cold serene
happiness of fidelity to self? Love is sweet,—horribly sweet,—but so
common a madness can give but a tithe of the satisfaction of duty to
pure and lofty ideals."
"I do not believe that." The woman in her arose in resentment. "A life
of duty must be empty, cold, and wrong. It was not that we were made
"Let us talk little of love, señorita: it is a dangerous subject."
"But it interests me, and I should like to understand it."
"I will explain the subject to you fully, some day. I have a fancy to
do that on my own territory,—up in the redwoods—"
"Here is Prudencia."
A small black figure swept down the steps of the church. She bowed
low to Estenega when he was presented, but uttered no word. The Indian
servants brought the horses to the door, and they rode down the valley
to Casa Grande.
The guests of Casa Grande—there were many besides Alvarado and his
party; the house was full again—were gathered with the family on the
corridor as Estenega, Chonita, and Prudencia dismounted at the extreme
end of the court-yard. As Reinaldo saw the enemy of his house approach
he ran down the steps, advanced rapidly, and bowed low before him.
"Welcome, Señor Don Diego Estenega," he said,—"welcome to Casa
Grande. The house is thine. Burn it if thou wilt. The servants are
thine; I myself am thy servant. This is the supreme moment of my life,
supremer even than when I learned of my acquittal of the foul
charges laid to my door by scheming and jealous enemies. It is
long—alas!—since an Estenega and an Iturbi y Moncada have met in
the court-yard of the one or the other. Let this moment be the seal of
peace, the death of feud, the unification of the North and the South."
"You have the hospitality of the true Californian, Don Reinaldo. It
gives me pleasure to accept it."
"Would, then, thy pleasure could equal mine!" "Curse him!" he added to
Chonita, as Estenega went up the steps to greet Don Guillermo and Doña
Trinidad, "I have just received positive information that it was
he who kept me from distinguishing myself and my house in the
Departmental Junta, he who cast me in a dungeon. It poisons my
happiness to sleep under the same roof with him."
"Ay!" exclaimed Chonita. "Why canst thou not be more sincere, my
brother? Hospitality did not compel thee to say so much to thine
enemy. Couldst thou not have spoken a few simple words like himself,
and not blackened thy soul?"
"My sister! thou never spokest to me so harshly before. And on my
"Forgive me, my most beloved brother. Thou knowest I love thee. But it
grieves me to think that even hospitality could make thee false."
When they ascended the steps, not a woman was to be seen; all had
followed Prudencia to her chamber to see the donas of the groom,
which had arrived that day from Mexico. Chonita tarried long enough to
see that her father had forgotten the family grievance in his revived
susceptibility to Estenega, then went to Prudencia's room. There
women, young and old, crowded each other, jabbering like monkeys. The
little iron bed, the chairs and tables, every article of furniture,
in fact, but the altar in the corner, displayed to advantage exquisite
materials for gowns, a mass of elaborate underclothing, a white lace
mantilla to be worn at the bridal, lace flounces fine and deep, crêpe
shawls, sashes from Rome, silk stockings by the dozen. On a large
table were the more delicate and valuable gifts: a rosary of topaz,
the cross a fine piece of carving; a jeweled comb; a string of
pearls; diamond hoops for the ears; a large pin painted with a head of
Guadalupe, the patron saint of California; and several fragile
fans. Quite apart, on a little table, was the crown and pride of the
donas,—six white cobweb-like smocks, embroidered, hemistitched, and
deshaladoed. Did any Californian bridegroom forget that dainty item he
would be repudiated on his wedding-eve.
"God of my life!" murmured Valencia, "he has taste as well as gold.
And all to go on that round white doll!"
There was little envy among the other girls. Their eyes sparkled with
good-nature as they kissed Prudencia and congratulated her. The older
women patted the things approvingly; and, between religion, a donas
to satisfy an angel, and prospective bliss, Prudencia was the happiest
little bride-elect in all The Californias.
"Never were such smocks!" cried one of the girls. "Ay! he will make a
good husband. That sign never fails."
"Thou must wear long, long trains now, my Prudencia, and be as stately
"Ay!" exclaimed Prudencia. Did not every gown already made have a
train longer than herself?
"Thou needst never wear a mended stocking with all these to last thee
for years," said another: never had silk stockings been brought to
the Californias in sufficient plenty for the dancing feet of its
"I shall always mend my stockings," said Prudencia, "I myself."
"Yes," said one of the older women, "thou wilt be a good wife and
Valencia laid her arm about Chonita's waist. "I wish to meet Don Diego
Estenega," she said. "Wilt thou not present him to me?"
"Thou art very forward," said Chonita, coldly. "Canst thou not wait
until he comes thy way?"
"No, my Chonita; I wish to meet him now. My curiosity devours me."
"Very well; come with me and thou shalt know him.—Wilt thou come too,
Eustaquia? There are only men on the corridor."
We found Diego and Don Guillermo talking politics in a corner, both
deeply interested. Estenega rose at once.
"Don Diego Estenega," said Chonita, "I would present you to the
Señorita Doña Valencia Menendez, of the Rancho del Fuego."
Estenega bowed. "I have heard much of Doña Valencia, and am delighted
to meet her."
Valencia was nonplussed for a moment; he had not given her the
customary salutation, and she could hardly murmur the customary reply.
She merely smiled and looked so handsome that she could afford to
dispense with words.
"A superb type," said Estenega to me, as Don Guillermo claimed
the beauty's attention for a moment. "But only a type; nothing
Nevertheless, ten minutes later, Valencia, with the manoeuvring of the
general of many a battle, had guided him to a seat in the sala under
Doña Trinidad's sleepy wing, and her eyes were flashing the language
of Spain to his. I saw Chonita watch them for a moment, in mingled
surprise and doubt, then saw a sudden look of fear spring to her eyes
as she turned hastily and walked away.
Again I shared her room,—the thirty rooms and many in the
out-buildings were overflowing with guests who had come a hundred
leagues or less,—and after we had been in bed a half-hour, Chonita,
overcome by the insinuating power of that time-honored confessional,
told me of her meeting with Estenega at the Mission. I made few
comments, but sighed; I knew him so well. "It will be strange to even
seem to be friends with him," she added,—"to hate him in my heart and
yet delight to talk with him, and perhaps to regret when he leaves."
"Are you sure that you still hate him?"
She sat up in bed. The solid wooden shutters were closed, but over the
door was a small square aperture, and through this a stray moonbeam
drifted and fell on her. Her hair was tumbling about her shoulders,
and she looked decidedly less statuesque than usual.
"Eustaquia," she said, solemnly, "I believe I can go to confession."
At sunrise the next morning the guests of Casa Grande were horsed and
ready to start for the Mission. The valley between the house and the
Mission was alive with the immediate rancheros and their families, and
the people of the town, aristocrats and populace.
At Estenega's suggestion, I climbed with him to the attic of the
tower, much to the detriment of my frock. But I made no complaint
after Diego had removed the dusty little windows on both sides and
I looked through the apertures at the charming scene. The rising sun
gave added fire to the bright red tiles of the long white Mission,
and threw a pink glow on its noble arches and towers and on the white
massive aqueduct. The bells were crashing their welcome to the bride.
The deep valley, wooded and rocky, was pervaded by the soft glow of
the awakening, but was as lively as midday. There were horses of every
color the Lord has decreed that horses shall wear. The saddles upon
them were of embossed leather or rich embroidered silk heavily mounted
with silver. Above all this gorgeousness sat the caballeros and
the doñas, in velvet and silk, gold lace and Spanish, jewels and
mantillas, and silver-weighted sombreros; a confused mass of color and
motion; a living picture, shifting like a kaleidoscope. Nor was
this all: brown, soberly-dressed old men and women in satin-padded
carretas,—heavy ox-carts on wheels made from solid sections of trees,
and driven by a gañan seated on one of the animals; the populace in
cheap finery, some on foot, others astride old mules or broken-winded
horses, two or three on one lame old hack; all chattering, shouting,
eager, interested, impatiently awaiting the bride and a week of
In the court-yard and plaza before it the guests of the house were
mounted on a caponera of palominas,—horses peculiar to the country;
beautiful creatures, golden-bronze, and burnished, with luxuriant
manes and tails which waved and shone like the sparkling silver of
a water-fall. A number were riderless, awaiting the pleasure of the
bridal party. One alone was white as a Californian fog. He lifted his
head and pranced as if aware of his proud distinction. The aquera and
saddle which embellished his graceful beauty were of pink silk worked
with delicate leaves in gold and silver thread. The stirrups, cut from
blocks of wood, were elaborately carved. The glistening reins were
made from the long crystal hairs of his mane, and linked with silver.
A strip of pink silk, joined at the ends with a huge rosette, was
hung from the high silver pommel of the saddle, depending on the left
side,—a stirrup for my lady's foot.
A deeper murmur, a sudden lining of sombreros and waving of little
hands, proclaimed that the bridal party had appeared, and we hastened
Prudencia, the mantilla of the donas depending from a comb six
inches high, was attired in a white satin gown with a train of
portentous length, and looked like a kitten with a long tail. Reinaldo
was dazzling. He wore white velvet embroidered with gold; his linen
and lace were more fragile than cobwebs; his white satin slippers
were clasped with diamond buckles, the same in which his father had
married; his jacket was buttoned with diamonds. His white velvet
sombrero was covered with plumes. Never have I seen so splendid
a bridegroom. I saw Estenega grin; but I maintain that, whatever
Reinaldo's deficiencies, he was a picture to be thankful for that
Doña Trinadad was quietly gowned in gray satin, but Don Guillermo was
as picturesque in his way as his son. His black silk handkerchief had
been knotted hurriedly about his head, and the four corners hung upon
his neck. His short breeches were of red velvet, his jacket of blue
cloth trimmed with large silver buttons and gold lace; his vest was
of yellow damask, his linen embroidered. Attached to his slippers were
enormous silver spurs inlaid with gold, the rowels so long that they
scratched more trains than one that day.
The bridesmaids stood in a group apart, a large bouquet: each wore
a gown of a different color. Valencia blazed forth in yellow,
and flashed triumphant glances at Estenega, now and again one of
irrepressible envy and resentment at Reinaldo. Chonita looked like a
water-witch in pale green covered with lace that stirred with every
breath of air; her mantilla was as delicate as sea-spray. About her
was something subtle, awakened, restive, that I noticed for the first
time. Once she intercepted one of Valencia's lavish glances, and her
own eyes were extremely wicked and dangerous for a moment. I looked at
Estenega. He was regarding her with a fierce intensity which made him
oblivious for the moment of his surroundings. I looked at Valencia.
Thunderclouds were those heavy brows, lowered to the lightning which
sprang from depths below. I looked again at Chonita. The pink color
was in her marble face; pinker were her carven lips.
"God of my soul!" I said to Estenega. "Go home."
"My Prudencia," said Don Guillermo. He lifted her to the pink saddle,
adjusted her foot in the pink ribbon, climbed up behind her, placed
one arm about her waist, took the bridle in his other hand, and
cantered out of the court-yard. Reinaldo sprang to his horse, lifted
his mother in front of him, and followed. Then went the bridesmaids;
and the rest of us fell into line as we listed. As we rode up the
valley, those awaiting us joined the cavalcade, the populace closing
it, spreading out like a fan attached to the tail of a snake. The
bells rang out a joyful discordant peal; the long undulating line of
many colors wound through the trees, passed the long corridor of the
Mission, to the stone steps of the church.
The ceremony was a long one, for communion was given the bride and
groom; and during the greater part of it I do not think Estenega
removed his gaze from Chonita. I could not help observing her too,
although I was deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion.
Her round womanly figure had never appeared to greater advantage than
in that close-fitting gown; her hips being rather wide, she wore fewer
gathers than was the fashion. Her faultless arms had a warmth in their
whiteness; the filmy lace of her mantilla caressed a throat so full
and round and white and firm that it seemed to invite other caresses;
even the black pearls clung lovingly about it. Her graceful head was
bent forward a little, and the soft black lashes brushed her cheeks.
The pink flush was still in her face, like the first tinge of color on
the chill desolation of dawn.
"Is she not beautiful?" whispered Estenega, eagerly. "Is not that a
woman to make known to herself? Think of the infinite possibilities,
the sublimation of every——"
Here I ordered him to keep quiet, reminding him that he was in church,
a fact he had quite forgotten. I inferred that he remembered it later,
for he moved restlessly more than once and looked longingly toward the
It was over at last, and as the bride and groom appeared in the door
of the church and descended the steps, a salute was fired from the
Presidio. On the long corridor a table had been built from end to
end and a goodly banquet provided by the padres. We took our seats
at once, the populace gathering about a feast spread for them on the
Padre Jimeno, the priest who had officiated at the ceremony, sat at
the head of the table; the other priests were scattered among us, and
good company all of them were. We were a very lively party. Prudencia
was toasted until her calm important head whirled. Reinaldo made a
speech as full of flowers as the occasion demanded. Alvarado made
one also, five sentences of plain well-chosen words, to which the
bridegroom listened with scorn. Now and again a girl swept the strings
of a guitar or a caballero sang. The delighted shrieks of the people
came over to us; at regular intervals cannons were fired.
Estenega found himself seated between Chonita and Valencia. I was
opposite, and beginning to feel profoundly fascinated by this drama
developing before my eyes. I saw that he was amused by the situation
and not in the least disconcerted. Valencia was nervous and eager.
Chonita, whose pride never failed her, had drawn herself up and looked
"Señor," murmured Valencia, "thou wilt tarry with us long, no? We have
much to show thee in Santa Barbara, and on our ranchos."
"I fear that I can stay but a week, señorita. I must return to Los
"Would nothing tempt thee to stay, Don Diego?"
He looked into her rich Southern face and approved of it: when had he
ever failed to approve of a pretty woman? "Thine eyes, señorita, would
tempt a man to forget more than duty."
"And thou wilt stay?"
"When I leave Santa Barbara what I take of myself will not be worth
"Ay! and what thou leavest thou never shalt have again."
"There is my hope of heaven, señorita."
He turned from this glittering conversation to Chonita.
"You are a little tired," he said, in a low voice. "Your color has
gone, and the shadows are coming about your eyes."
The suspicion was borne home to her that he must have observed her
closely to detect those shades of difference which no one else had
"A little, señor. I went to bed late and rose early. Such times as
these tax the endurance. But after a siesta I shall be refreshed."
"You look strong and very healthy."
"Ay, but I am! I am not delicate at all. I can ride all day, and
swim—which few of our women do. I even like to walk; and I can dance
every night for a week. Only, this is an unusual time."
Her supple elastic figure and healthy whiteness of skin betokened
endurance and vitality, and he looked at her with pleasure. "Yes, you
are strong," he said. "You look as if you would last,—as if you
never would grow brown nor stout."
"What difference, if the next generation be beautiful?" she said,
lightly. "Look at Don Juan de la Borrasca. See him gaze upon Panchita
Lopez, who is just sixteen. What does he care that the women of his
day are coffee-colored and stringy or fat? You will care as little
when you too are brown and dried up, afraid to eat dulces, and each
month seeking a new parting for your hair."
"You are a hopeful seer! But you—are you resigned to the time when
even the withered old beau will not look at you,—you who are the
loveliest woman in the Californias?"
It was the first compliment he had paid her, and she looked up with a
swift blush, then lowered her eyes again. "With truth, I never imagine
myself except as I am now; but I should have always my books, and no
husband to teach me that there were other women more fair."
"And books will suffice, then?"
"Sure." She said it a little wistfully. Then she added, abruptly, "I
shall go to confession this week."
"Yes; for although I hate you still—that is, I do not like you—I
have forgiven you. I believe you to be kind and generous, although
the enemy of my brother; that if you did oppose him and cast him
into prison, you did so with a loyal motive; you cannot help making
mistakes, for you are but human. And I do not forget that if it were
not for you he would not be a bridegroom to-day. Also, you are not
responsible for being an Estenega; so, although I do not forgive the
blood in you,—how could I, and be worthy to bear the name of Iturbi y
Moncada?—I forgive you, yourself, for being what you cannot help, and
for what you have unwittingly and mistakenly done. Do you understand?"
"I understand. Your subtleties are magnificent."
"You must not laugh at me. Tell me, how do you like my friend
"Well enough. I want to hear more about your confession. You fall back
into the bosom of your Church with joy, I suppose?"
"And you would never disobey one of her mandates?"
"Holy God! no."
"Why? Because I am a Catholic."
"That is not what I asked you. Why are you a Catholic? if I must make
myself more plain. Why are you afraid to disobey? Why do you cling to
the Church with your back braced against your intelligence? It is hope
of future reward, I suppose,—or fear?"
"Sure. I want to go to the heaven of the good Catholic."
"Do not waste this life, particularly the youth of it, preparing for
a legendary hereafter. Granting, for the sake of argument, that this
existence is supplemented by another: you have no knowledge of what
elements you will be composed when you lay aside your mortal part to
enter there. Your power of enjoyment may be very thin indeed, like the
music of a band without brass; the sort of happiness one can imagine a
human being to experience out of whose anatomy the nervous system has
by some surgical triumph been removed, and in whom love of the arts
alone exists, abnormally cultivated. But one thing we of earth do
know; you do not, but I will tell you; we have a slight capacity for
happiness and a large capacity for enjoyment. There is not much in
life, God knows, but there is something. One can get a reasonable
amount out of it with due exercise of philosophy. Of that we are sure.
Of what comes after we are absolutely unsure."
She had endeavored to interrupt him once or twice, and did so now, her
eyes flashing. "Are you an atheist?" she demanded, abruptly. "Are you
not a Catholic?"
"I am neither an atheist nor a Catholic. The question of religion has
no interest for me whatever. I wish it had none for you."
She looked at him sternly. For a moment I thought the Doomswoman would
annihilate the renegade. But her face softened suddenly. "I will pray
for you," she said, and turned to the man at her right.
Estenega's face turned the chalky hue I always dreaded, and he bent
his lips to her ear.
"Pray for me many times a day; and at other times recall what I said
about the relative value of possible and improbable heavens. You are a
woman who thinks."
"Don Diego," exclaimed Valencia, unable to control her impatience
longer, and turning sharply from the caballero who was talking to her
in a fiery undertone, "thou hast not spoken to me for ten minutes."
"For ten hours, señorita. Thou hast treated me with the scorn and
indifference of one weary of homage."
She blushed with gratification. "It is thou who hast forgotten me."
"Would that I could!"
"Dost thou wish to?"
"When I am away from thee, or thou talkest to other men,—sure."
"It is thy fault if I talk to other men."
"You make me feel the Good Samaritan."
"But I care not to talk to them."
"Thy heart is a comb of honey, señorita. On my knees I accept the
little morsel the queen bee—thy swift messenger—brings me. Truly,
never was sweet so sweetly sweet."
"It is thou who hast the honey on thy tongue, although I fear there
may be a stone in thy heart."
"Ah! Why? No stone could sit so lightly in my breast as my heart when
those red lips smile to me."
Chonita listened to this conversation with mingled amazement and
anger. She did not doubt Estenega's sincerity to herself; neither did
Valencia appear to doubt him. But his present levity was manifest to
her. Why should he care to talk so to another woman? How strange were
men! She gave up the problem.
After the long banquet concluded, the cavalcade formed once more, and
we returned to the town. Prudencia rode her white horse alone this
time, her husband beside her. Leading the cavalcade was the Presidio
band. Its members wore red jackets trimmed with yellow cord, Turkish
trousers of white wool, and red Polish caps. With their music mingled
the regular detonations of the Presidio cannon. After we had wound
the length of the valley we made a progress through the town for the
benefit of the populace, who ran to the corridors to watch us, and
shouted with delight. But the sun was hot, and we were all glad to be
between the thick adobe walls once more.
We took a long siesta that day, but hours before dark the populace
was crowded in the court-yard under the booth which had been erected
during the afternoon. After the early supper the guests of Casa
Grande, and our neighbors of the town, filled the sala, the large bare
rooms adjoining, and the corridors. The old people of both degrees
seated themselves in rows against the wall, the fiddles scraped, the
guitars twanged, the flutes cooed, and the dancing began.
In the court-yard a small space was cleared, and changing couples
danced El Jarabe and La Jota,—two stately jigs,—whilst the
spectators applauded with wild and impartial enthusiasm, and Don
Guillermo from the corridor threw silver coins at the dancers' feet.
Now and again a pretty girl would dance alone, her gay skirt lifted
with the tips of her fingers, her eyes fixed upon the ground. A man
would approach from behind and place his hat on her head. Perhaps she
would toss it saucily aside, perhaps let it rest on her coquettish
braids,—a token that its owner was her accepted gallant for the
Above, the slender men and women of the aristocracy, the former in
black and white, the latter in gowns of vivid richness, danced the
contradanza, the most graceful dance I have ever seen; and since those
Californian days I have lived in almost every capital of Europe.
The music is so monotonous and sweet, the figures so melting and
harmonious, that to both spectator and dancer comes a dreaming languid
contentment, as were the senses swimming on the brink of sleep.
Chonita and Valencia were famous rivals in its rendering, always the
sala-stars to those not dancing. Valencia was the perfection of grace,
but it was the grace now of the snake, again of the cat. She suggested
fangs and claws, a repressed propensity to sudden leaps. Chonita's
grace was that of rhythmical music imprisoned in a woman's form of
proportions so perfect that she seemed to dissolve from one figure
into another, swaying, bending, gliding. The soul of grace emanated
from her, too evanescent to be seen, but felt as one feels perfume or
the something that is not color in the heart of a rose. Her star-like
eyes were open, but the brain behind them was half asleep: she danced
I was watching the dancing of these two,—the poetry of promise and
the poetry of death,—when suddenly Don Guillermo entered the room,
stamped his foot, pulled out his rosary, and instantly we all went
down on our knees. It was eight of the clock, and this ceremony was
never omitted in Casa Grande, be the occasion festive or domestic.
When we had told our beads, Don Guillermo rose, put his rosary in his
pocket, trotted out, and the dancing was resumed.
As the contradanza and its ensuing waltz finished, Estenega went up to
Chonita. "You are too tired to dance any more to-night," he said. "Let
us sit here and talk. Besides, I do not like to see you whirling about
the room in men's arms."
"It is nothing to you if I dance with other men," she said,
rebelliously, although she took the seat he indicated. "And to dance
is not wrong."
"Nothing is wrong. In some countries the biggest liar is king. We
know as little of ethics—except, to be sure, the ethics of
civilization—as one sex knows of another. So we fall back on
instinct. I have not a prejudice, but I feel it disgusting to see a
woman who is somewhat more to me than other women, embraced by another
man. It would infuriate me if done in private; why should it not at
least disgust me in public? I care as little for the approving seal
of the conventions as I care whether other women—including my own
sisters—waltz or not."
And, alas! from that night Chonita never waltzed again. "It is not
that I care for his opinion," she assured me later; "only he made me
feel that I never wanted a man to touch me again."
Valencia used every art of flashing eyes and pouting lips and gay
sally—there was nothing subtle in her methods—to win Estenega to her
side; but the sofa on which he sat with Chonita might have been
the remotest star in the firmament. Then, prompted by pique and
determination to find ointment for her wounded vanity, she suddenly
opened her batteries upon Reinaldo. That beautiful young bridegroom
was bored to the verge of dissolution by his solemn and sleepy
Prudencia, who kept her wide eyes upon him with an expression of rapt
adoration, exactly as she regarded the Stations in the Mission when
performing the Via Crucis. Valencia, to his mind, was the handsomest
woman in the room, and he felt the flattery of her assault. Besides,
he was safely married. So he drifted to her side, danced with her,
flirted with her, devoted himself to her caprices, until every one was
noting, and I thought that Prudencia would bawl outright. Just in the
moment, however, when our nerves were humming, Don Guillermo thumped
on the door with his stick and ordered us all to go to bed.
The next morning we started at an early hour for the Rancho de las
Rocas, three leagues from Santa Barbara. The populace remained in the
booth, but we were joined by all our friends of the town, and once
more were a large party. We were bound for a merienda and a carnesada,
where bullocks would be roasted whole on spits over a bed of coals in
a deep excavation. It took a Californian only a few hours to sleep
off fatigue, and we were as fresh and gay as if we had gone to bed at
eight the night before.
Valencia managed to ride beside Estenega, and I wondered if she
would win him. Woman's persistence, allied to man's vanity, so often
accomplishes the result intended by the woman. It seemed to me the
simplest climax for the unfolding drama, although I should have been
sorry for Diego.
It was Reinaldo's turn to look black, but he devoted himself
ostentatiously to Prudencia, who beamed like a child with a stick of
candy. Chonita rode between Don Juan de la Borrasca and Adan. Her face
was calm, but it occurred to me that she was growing careless of her
sovereignty, for her manner was abstracted and indifferent; she seemed
to have discarded those little coquetries which had sat so gracefully
upon her. Still, as long as she concealed the light of her mind under
a bushel, her beauty and Lorleian fascination would draw men to her
feet and keep them there. Every man but Estenega and Alvarado was
as gay of color as the wild flowers had been, and the girls, as they
cantered, looked like full-blown roses. Chonita wore a dark-blue gown
and reboso of thin silk, which became her fairness marvelously well.
"Doña Chonita, light of my eyes," said Don Juan, "thou art not wont to
be so quiet when I am by thee."
"Thou usually hast enough to say for two."
"Ay, thou canst appreciate the art of speech. Hast thou ever known any
one who could converse with lighter ease than I and thy brother?"
"I never have heard any one use more words."
"Ay! they roll from my tongue—and from Reinaldo's—like wheels
She turned to Adan: "They will be happy, you think,—Reinaldo and
"What a beautiful wedding, no?"
"Life is always the same with thee, I suppose,—smoking, riding,
swinging in the hammock?"
"Thou wouldst not exchange thy life for another? Thou dost not wish to
She wheeled suddenly and galloped over to her father and Alvarado, her
caballeros staring helplessly after her.
When we arrived at the rancho the bullocks were already swinging
in the pits, the smell of roast meat was in the air. We dismounted,
throwing our bridles to the vaqueros in waiting; and while Indian
servants spread the table, the girls joined hands and danced about the
pit, throwing flowers upon the bullocks, singing and laughing. The
men watched them, or amused themselves in various ways,—some with
cockfights and impromptu races; others began at once to gamble on a
large flat stone; a group stood about a greased pole and jeered at two
rival vaqueros endeavoring to mount it for the sake of the gold piece
on the top. One buried a rooster in the ground, leaving its head
alone exposed; others, mounting their horses, dashed by at full speed,
snatching at the head as they passed. Reinaldo distinguished himself
by twisting it off with facile wrist while urging his horse to the
swiftness of the east wind.
"I am going to dare more than Californian has ever dared before," said
Estenega to me, as we gathered at length about the table-cloth. "I am
going to get Doña Chonita off by herself in that little canon and have
a talk with her. Now, do you stand guard."
"I shall not!" I exclaimed. "It is understood that when Doña Trinidad
stays at home Chonita is in my charge. I will not permit such a
"Thou wilt, my Eustaquia. Doña Chonita is no pudding-brained girl. She
needs no dueña."
"I know that; but it is not that I am thinking of. Suppose some one
sees you; thou knowest the inflexibility of our conventions."
"You forget that we are comadre and compadre. Our privileges
are many." He abruptly dismissed the intimate "thou," with his usual
"True; I had forgotten. But whither is all this tending, Diego? She
neither will nor can marry you."
"She both can and will. Will you help me, or not? Because if not I
shall proceed without you. Only you can make it easier."
I always gave way to him; everybody did.
He was as good as his word. How he managed, Chonita never knew, but
not a half-hour after dinner she found herself alone in the canon with
him, seated among the huge stones cataclysms had hurled there.
"Why have you brought me here?" she asked.
"To talk with you."
"But this would be severely censured."
"Do you care?"
She looked at him with a curious feeling she had had before; there
was something inside of his head that she wanted to get at,—something
that baffled and teased and allured her. She wanted to understand him,
and she was oppressed by the weight of her ignorance; she had no key
to unlock a man like that. With one of her swift impulses she told him
of what she was thinking.
He smiled, his eyes lighting. "I am more than willing you should
know all that you would be curious about," he said. "Ask me a hundred
questions; I will answer them."
She meditated a moment. She never had taken sufficient interest in a
man before to desire to fathom him, and the arts of the Californian
belle were not those of the tactfully and impartially interested woman
of to-day. She did not know how to begin.
"What have you read?" she asked, at length.
He gave her some account of his library,—a large one,—and mentioned
many books of many nations, of which she had never heard.
"You have read all those books?"
"There are many long winter nights and days in the redwood forests of
the northern coast."
"That does not tell me much,—what you have read. I feel that it is
but one of the many items which went to the making up of you. You have
traveled everywhere, no? Was it like living over again the books of
"Not in the least. Each man travels for himself."
"Madame de Staël said that traveling was sad. Is it so?"
"To the lover of history it is like food without salt: imagination has
painted an historical city with the panorama of a great time; it has
been to us a stage for great events. We find it a stage with familiar
paraphernalia, and actors as commonplace as ourselves."
"It is more satisfactory to stay at home and read about it?"
"Infinitely, though less expanding."
"Then is anything worth while except reading?
"Several things; the pursuit of glory, for one thing, and the active
occupied life necessary for its achievement."
She leaned forward a little; she felt that she had stumbled nearer to
him. "Are you ambitious?" she asked.
"For what it compels life to yield; abstractly, not. Ambition is the
looting of hell in chase of biting flames swirling above a desert of
ashes. As for posthumous fame, it must be about as satisfactory as a
draught of ice-water poured down the throat of a man who has died on
Sahara. And yet, even if in the end it all means nothing, if 'from
hour to hour we ripe and ripe and then from hour to hour we rot
and rot,' still for a quarter-century or so the nettle of ambition
flagellating our brain may serve to make life less uninteresting and
more satisfactory. The abstraction and absorption of the fight, the
stinging fear of rivals, the murmur of acknowledgment, the shout of
compelled applause,—they fill the blanks."
"Tell me," she said, imperiously, "what do you want?"
"Shall I tell you? I never have spoken of it to a living soul but
Alvarado. Shall I tell it to a woman,—and an Iturbi y Moncada? Could
the folly of man further go?"
"If I am a woman I am an Iturbi y Moncada, and if I am an Iturbi y
Moncada I have the honor of its generations in my veins."
"Very good. I believe you would not betray me, even in the interest of
your house. Would you?"
"And I love to talk to you, to tell you what I would tell no other.
Listen, then. An envoy goes to Mexico next week with letters from
Alvarado, desiring that I be the next governor of the Californias, and
containing the assurance that the Departmental Junta will endorse
me. I shall follow next month to see Santa Ana personally; I know him
well, and he was a friend of my father's. I wish to be invested with
peculiar powers; that is to say, I wish California to be practically
overlooked while I am governor and I wish it understood that I shall
be governor as long as I please. Alvarado will hold no office under
the Americans, and is as ready to retire now as a few years later. Of
course my predilection for the Americans must be carefully concealed
both from the Mexican government and the mass of the people here:
Santa Ana and Alvarado know what is bound to come; the Mexicans,
generally, retain enough interest in the Californias to wish to keep
them. I shall be the last governor of the Department, and I shall
employ that period to amalgamate the native population so closely that
they will make a strong contingent in the new order of things and
be completely under my domination. I shall establish a college with
American professors, so that our youth will be taught to think, and to
think in English. Alvarado has done something for education, but not
enough; he has not enforced it, and the methods are very primitive.
I intend to be virtually dictator. With as little delay as possible
I shall establish a newspaper,—a powerful weapon in the hands of a
ruler, as well as a factor of development. Then I shall organize a
superior court for the punishment of capital crimes. Not that I do not
recognize the right of a man to kill if his reasons satisfy himself,
but there can be no subservience to authority in a country where
murder is practically licensed. American immigration will be more than
encouraged, and it shall be distinctly understood by the Americans
that I encourage it. Everything, of course, will be done to promote
good-will between the Californians and the new-comers. Then, when the
United States make up their mind to take possession of us, I shall
waste no blood, but hand over a country worthy of capture. In the
meantime it will have been carefully drilled into the Californian mind
that American occupation will be for their ultimate good, and that I
shall go to Washington to protect their interests. There will then be
no foolish insurrections. Do you care to hear more?"
Her face was flushed, her chest was rising rapidly.
"I hardly know what to think,—how I feel. You interest me so much as
you talk that I wish you to succeed: I picture your success. And yet
it maddens me to hear you talk of the Americans in that way,—also
to know that your house will be greater than ours,—that we will be
forgotten. But—yes, tell me all. What will you do then?"
"I shall have California, in the first place, scratched for the gold
that I believe lies somewhere within her. When that great resource
is located and developed I shall publish in every American newspaper
the extraordinary agricultural advantages of the country. In a word,
my object is to make California a great State and its name synonymous
with my own. As I told you before, for fame as fame I care nothing;
I do not care if I am forgotten on my death-bed; but with my blood
biting my veins I must have action while living. Shall I say that
I have a worthier motive in wishing to aid in the development of
civilization? But why worthier? Merely a higher form of selfishness.
The best and the worst of motives are prompted by the same instinct."
"I would advise you," she said, slowly, "never to marry. Your wife
would be very unhappy."
"But no one has greater scorn than you for the man who spends his life
with his lips at the chalice of the poppy."
"True, I had forgotten them." She rose abruptly. "Let us go back," she
said. "It is better not to stay too long."
As they walked down the canon she looked at him furtively. The men of
her race were almost all tall and finely-proportioned, but they did
not suggest strength as this man did. And his face,—it was so
grimly determined at times that she shrank from it, then drew
near, fascinated. It had no beauty at all—according to Californian
standards; she could not know that it represented all that intellect,
refinement and civilization, generally, would do for the human
race for a century to come,—but it had a subtle power, an absolute
audacity, an almost contemptuous fearlessness in its bold, fine
outline, a dominating intelligence in the keen deeply-set eyes, and
a hint of weakness, where and what she could not determine, that
mystified and magnetized her.
"I know you a little better," she said, "just a little,—enough to
make my curiosity ache and jump. At the same time, I know now what I
did not before,—that I might climb and mine and study and watch, and
you would always be beyond me. There is something subtle and evasive
about you—something I seem to be close to always, yet never can see
"It is merely the barrier of sex. A man can know a woman fairly well,
because her life, consequently the interests which mould her mind and
conceive her thoughts, are more or less simple. A man's life is so
complex, his nature so inevitably the sum and work of it of it lies
so far outside of woman's sphere, his mind spiked with a thousand
magnets, each pointing to a different possibility,—that she would
need divine wisdom to comprehend him in his entirety, even if he made
her a diagram of every cell in his brain,—which he never would, out
of consideration for both her and his own vanity. But within certain
restrictions there can be a magnificent sense of comradeship."
"But a woman, I think, would never be happy with that something in
the man always beyond her grasp,—that something which she could be
nothing to. She would be more jealous of that independence of her in
man than of another woman."
"That was pure insight," he said. "You could not know that."
"No," she said, "I had not thought of it before."
I had made a martyr of myself on a three-cornered stone at the
entrance of the canon, waiting to dueña them out. "Never will I do
this again!" I exclaimed, with that virtue born of discomfort, as they
came in sight.
"My dearest Eustaquia," said Diego, kissing my hand gallantly, "thou
hast given me pleasure so often, most charming and clever of women,
thou hast but added one new art to thy overflowing store."
We mounted almost immediately upon returning, and I was alone with
Chonita for a moment. "Do you realize that you are playing with fire?"
I said, warningly. "Estenega is a dangerous man; the most successful
man with women I have ever known."
"I do not deny his power," she said. "But I am safe, for the many
reasons thou knowest of. And, being safe, why should I deny myself the
pleasure of talking to him? I shall never meet his like again. Let me
live for a little while."
"Ay, but do not live too hard! It hurts down into the core and
While we were eating supper, a dozen Indian girls were gathered about
a table in one of the large rooms behind the house, busily engaged
in blowing out the contents of several hundred eggs and filling the
hollowed shells with cologne, flour, tinsel, bright scraps of paper.
Each egg-was then sealed with white wax, and ready for the cascaron
frolic of the evening.
We had been dancing, singing, and talking for an hour after rosario,
when the eggs were brought in. In an instant every girl's hair was
unbound, a wild dive was made for the great trays, and eggs flew in
every direction. Dancing was forgotten. The girls and men chased each
other about the room, the air was filled with perfume and glittering
particles, the latter looking very pretty on black floating hair.
Etiquette demanded that only one egg should be thrown by the same hand
at a time, but quick turns of supple wrists followed each other very
rapidly. To really accomplish a feat the egg must crash on the back of
the head, and each occupied in attack was easy prey.
Chonita was like a child. Two priests were of our party, and she made
a target of their shaven crowns, shrieking with delight. They vowed
revenge, and chased her all over the house; but not an egg had broken
on that golden mane. She was surrounded at one time by caballeros, but
she whirled and doubled so swiftly that every cascaron flew afield.
The pelting grew faster and more furious; every room was invaded; we
chased each other up and down the corridors. The people in the court
had their cascarones also, and the noise must have been heard at the
Mission. Don Guillermo hobbled about delightedly, covered with tinsel
and flour. Estenega had tried a dozen times to hit Chonita, but as
if by instinct she faced him each time before the egg could leave his
hand. Finally he pursued her down the corridor to her library, where
I, fortunately, happened to be resting, and both threw themselves into
"Let us stay here," he said. "We have had enough of this."
"Very well," she said. She bent her head to lift a book which had
fallen from a shelf, and felt the soft blow of the cascaron.
"At last!" said Estenega, contentedly. "I was determined to conquer,
if I waited until morning."
Chonita looked vexed for a moment,—she did not like to be
vanquished,—then shrugged her shoulders and leaned back in her chair.
The little room was plainly furnished. Shelves covered three sides,
and the window-seat and the table were littered with books. There were
no curtains, no ornaments; but Chonita's hair, billowing to the floor,
her slender voluptuous form, her white skin and green irradiating
eyes, the candlelight half revealing, half concealing, made a picture
requiring no background. I caught the expression of Estenega's face,
and determined to remain if he murdered me.
Peals of laughter, joyous shrieks, screams of mock terror, floated in
to us. I broke a silence which was growing awkward:
"How happy they are! Creatures of air and sunshine! Life in this
Arcadia is an idyl."
"They are not happy," said Estenega, contemptuously; "they are gay.
They are light of heart through absence of material cares and endless
sources of enjoyment, which in turn have bred a careless order of
mind. But did each pause long enough to look into his own heart, would
he not find a stone somewhere in its depths?—perhaps a skull graven
on the stone,—who knows?"
"Oh, Diego!" I exclaimed, impatiently, "this is a party, not a
"Then is no one happy?" asked Chonita, wistfully.
"How can he be, when in each moment of attainment he is pricked by the
knowledge that it must soon be over? The youth is not happy, because
the shadow of the future is on him. The man is not happy, because the
knowledge of life's incompleteness is with him."
"Then of what use to live at all?"
"No use. It is no use to die, neither, so we live. I will grant that
there may be ten completely happy moments in life,—the ten conscious
moments preceding certain death—and oblivion."
"I will not discuss the beautiful hope of our religion with you,
because you do not believe, and I should only get angry. But what
are we to do with this life? You say nothing is wrong nor right. What
would you have the stumbling and unanchored do with what has been
thrust upon him?"
"Man, in his gropings down through the centuries, has concocted,
shivered, and patched certain social conditions well enough calculated
to develop the best and the worst that is in us, making it easier for
us to be bad than good, that good might be the standard. We feel a
deeper satisfaction if we have conquered an evil impulse and done
what is accepted as right, because we have groaned and stumbled in
the doing,—that is all. Temptation is sweet only because the impulse
comes from the depths of our being, not because it is difficult to be
tempted. If we overcome, the satisfaction is deep and enduring,—which
only goes to show that man is but a petty egotist, always drawing
pictures of himself on a pedestal. The man who emancipates himself
from traditions and yields to his impulses is debarred from happiness
by the blunders of the blindfolded generations preceding him, which
arranged that to yield was easy and to resist difficult. Had they
reversed the conditions and conclusions, the majority of the human
race would have fought each other to death, but the selected remnant
would have had a better time of it.
"Let us suppose a case as conditions now exist. Assume, for the sake
of argument, that you loved me and that you plucked from your nature
your religion, your fidelity to your house, your love for your
brother, and gave yourself to me. You would stand appalled at the
sacrifice until you realized that you had come to me only because
it would have been more difficult to stay away. You conquer the
passionate cry of love,—the strongest the human compound has ever
voiced,—and you are miserably happy for the rest of your life no
attitude being so pleasing to the soul as the attitude of martyrdom.
Many a man and woman looks with some impatience for the last good-bye
to be said, so sweet is the prospect of sadness, of suffering, of
I was aghast at his audacity, but I saw that Chonita was fascinated.
Her egotism was caressed, and her womanhood thrilled. "Are we all such
shams as that?" was what she said. "You make me despise myself."
"Not yourself, but a great structure—of which you are but a
grain—with a faulty foundation. Don't despise yourself. Curse the
builders who shoveled those stones together."
He left her then, and she told me to go to bed; she wanted to sit a
while and think.
"He makes you think too much," I said. "Better forget what he says as
soon as you can. He is a very disturbing influence."
But she made me no reply, and sat there staring at the floor. She
began to feel a sense of helplessness, like a creature caught in a
net. It was more the man's personality than his words which made her
feel as if he were pouring himself throughout her, taking possession
of brain and every sense, as though he were a sort of intellectual
"I believe I was made from his rib," she thought, angrily, "else why
can he have this extraordinary power over me? I do not love him. I
have read somewhat of love, and seen more. This is different, quite. I
only feel that there is something in him that I want. Sometimes I feel
that I must dig my nails into him and tear him apart until I find
what I want,—something that belongs to me. Sometimes it is as if he
promised it, at others as if he were unconscious of its existence;
always it is evanescent. Is he going to make my mind his own?—and yet
he always seems to leave mine free. He has never snubbed me. He makes
me think: there is the danger."
An hour later there was a tap on her door. Casa Grande was asleep. She
sat upright, her heart beating rapidly. Estenega was audacious enough
for anything. But it was her brother who entered.
"Reinaldo!" she exclaimed, horrified to feel an unmistakable stab of
"Yes, it is I. Art thou alone?"
"I have something to say to thee."
He drew a chair close to her and sat down "Thou knowest, my sister,"
he began, haltingly, "how I hate the house of Estenega. My hatred
is as loyal as thine: every drop of blood in my veins is true to the
honor of the house of Iturbi y Moncada. But, my sister, is it not so
that one can sacrifice himself, his mere personal feelings, upon the
altar of his country? Is it not so, my sister?"
"What is it thou wishest me to understand, Reinaldo?"
"Do not look so stern, my Chonita. Thou hast not yet heard me; and,
although thou mayest be angry then, thou wilt reason later. Thou art
devoted to thy house, no?"
"Thou hast come here in the night to ask me such a question as that?"
"And thou lovest thy brother?"
"Reinaldo, thou hast drunken more mescal than Angelica. Go back to thy
bride." But, although she spoke lightly, she was uneasy.
"My sister, I never drank a drop of mescal in my life! Listen. It
is our father's wish, thy wish, my wish, that I become a great and
distinguished man, an ornament to the house of Iturbi y Moncada, a
star on the brow of California. How can I accomplish this great
and desirable end? By the medium of politics only; our wars are so
insignificant. I have been debarred from the Departmental Junta by
the enemy of our house, else would it have rung with my eloquence, and
Mexico have known me to-day. Yet I care little for the Junta. I wish
to go as diputado to Mexico; it is a grander arena. Moreover, in that
great capital I shall become a man of the world,—which is necessary
to control men. That is his power,—curse him! And he—he will not
let me go there. Even Alvarado listens to him. The Departmental Junta
is under his thumb. I will never be anything but a caballero of Santa
Barbara—I, an Iturbi y Moncada, the last scion of a line illustrious
in war, in diplomacy, in politics—until he is either dead—do not
jump, my sister; it is not my intention to murder him and ruin my
career—or becomes my friend."
"Canst thou not put thy meaning in fewer words?"
"My sister, he loves thee, and thou lovest thy brother and thy house."
Chonita rose to her full height, and although he rose too, and was
taller, she seemed to look down upon him.
"Thou wouldst have me marry him? Is that thy meaning?"
"Ay." His voice trembled. Under his swagger he was always a little
afraid of the Doomswoman.
"Thou askest perjury and disloyalty and dishonor of an Iturbi y
"An Iturbi y Moncada asks it of an Iturbi y Moncada. If the man is
ready to bend his neck in sacrifice to the glory of his house, is it
for the woman to think?"
Chonita stood grasping the back of her chair convulsively; it was
the only sign of emotion she betrayed. She knew that what he said was
true: that Estenega, for public and personal reasons, never would
let him go to Mexico; he would permit no enemy at court. But this
knowledge drifted through her mind and out of it at the moment; she
was struggling to hold down a hot wave of contempt rushing upward
within her. She clung to her traditions as frantically as she clung to
"Go," she said, after a moment.
"Thou wilt think of what I have said?"
"I shall pray to forget it."
"Chonita!" his voice rang out so loud that she placed her hand on his
mouth. He dashed it away. "Thou wilt!" he cried, like a spoilt child.
"Thou wilt! I shall go to the city of Mexico, and only thou canst send
me there. All my father's gold and leagues will not buy me a seat in
the Mexican Congress, unless this accursed Estenega lifts his hand
and says, 'Thou shalt.' Holy God! how I hate him! Would that I had
the chance to murder him! I would cut his heart out to-morrow. And
my father likes him, and has outlived rancor. And thou—thou art not
He threw his arms about her, kissing and caressing her. "My sister! My
sister! Thou wilt! Say that thou wilt!" But she flung him off as if he
were a snake.
"Wilt thou go?" she asked.
"Ay! I go. But he shall suffer. I swear it! I swear it!" And he rushed
from the room.
Chonita sat there, staring more fixedly at the floor than when
Estenega had left her.
Reinaldo did not go to his Prudencia. He went down to the booths in
the town and joined the late revelers. Don Guillermo, rising before
dawn, and walking up and down the corridor to conquer the pangs of
Doña Trinidad's dulces, noticed that the door of his son's room was
ajar. He paused before it and heard slow, regular, patient sobs. He
opened the door and went in. Prudencia, alone, curled up in a far
corner of her bed, the clothes over her head, was bemoaning many
things incidental to matrimony. As she heard the sound of heavy steps
she gave a little shriek.
"It is I, Prudencia," said her uncle. "Where is Reinaldo?"
"Did he not come from the ball-room with thee?"
"Dost thou know where he has gone?"
"Art thou afraid?"
"Never mind," said the old gentleman. "Go to sleep. Thy uncle will
protect thee, and this will not happen again."
He seated himself by the bedside. Prudencia's sobs ceased gradually,
and she fell asleep. An hour later the door opened softly, and
Reinaldo entered. In spite of the mescal in him, his knees shook as he
saw the indulgent but stern arbiter of the Iturbi y Moncada destinies
sitting in judgment at the bedside of his wife.
"Where have you been, sir?"
"To take a walk,—to see to—"
"No lying! It makes no difference where you have been. What I want
to know is this: Is it your duty to gallivant about town? or is your
place at this hour beside your wife?"
The old man rose, and, seizing the bride-groom by the shoulders, shook
him until his teeth clattered together. "Then see that you stay here
with her hereafter, or you shall no longer be a married man." And he
stamped out and slammed the door behind him.
We spent the next day at the race-field. Many of the caballeros had
brought their finest horses, and Reinaldo's were famous. The vaqueros
threw off their black glazed sombreros and black velvet jackets,
wearing only the short black trousers laced with silver, a shirt of
dazzling whiteness, a silk handkerchief twisted about the head, and
huge spurs on their bare brown heels. Some of us stood on a platform,
others remained on their horses; all were wild with excitement and
screamed themselves hoarse. The great dark eyes of the girls flashed,
their red mouths trembled with the flood of eager exclamations; the
lace mantilla or flowered reboso fluttered against hot cheeks, to be
torn off, perhaps, and waved in the enthusiasm of the moment. They
forgot the men, and the men forgot them. Even Chonita was oblivious to
all else for the hour. She was a famous horsewoman, and keenly alive
to the enchantment of the race-field. The men bet their ranchos, whole
caponeras of their finest horses, herds of cattle, their saddles and
their jewels. Estenega won largely, and, as it happened, from Reinaldo
particularly. Don Guillermo was rather pleased than otherwise, holding
his son to be in need of further punishment; but Reinaldo was obliged
to call upon all the courtesy of the Spaniard and all the falseness of
his nature to help him remember that his enemy was his guest.
We went home to siesta and long gay supper, where the races were the
only topic of conversation; then to dance and sing and flirt
until midnight, the people in the booths as tireless as ourselves.
Valencia's attentions to Estenega were as conspicuous as usual, but he
managed to devote most of his time to Chonita.
* * * * *
That night Chonita had a dream. She dreamed that she awoke without
a soul. The sense of vacancy was awful, yet there was a singular
undercurrent consciousness that no soul ever had been within
her,—that it existed, but was yet to be found.
She arose, trembling, and opened her door. Santa Barbara was as
quiet as all the world is in the chill last hours of night. She
half expected to see something hover before her, a will-o'-the-wisp,
alluring her over the rocky valleys and towering mountains until death
gave her weary feet rest. She remembered vaguely that she had read
legends of that purport.
But there was nothing,—not even the glow of a late cigarito or the
flash of a falling star. Still she seemed to know where the soul
awaited her. She closed her door softly and walked swiftly down the
corridor, her bare feet making no sound on the boards. At a door on
the opposite side she paused, shaking violently, but unable to pass
it. She opened the door and went in. The room, like all the others in
that time of festivity, had more occupants than was its wont; a bed
was in each corner. The shutters and windows were open, the moonlight
streamed in, and she saw that all were asleep. She crossed the room
and looked down upon Diego Estenega. His night garment, low about the
throat, made his head, with its sharply-cut profile, look like the
heads on old Roman medallions. The pallor of night, the extreme
refinement of his face, the deep repose, gave him an unmortal
appearance. Chonita bent over him fearfully. Was he dead? His
breathing was regular, but very quiet. She stood gazing down upon him,
the instinct of seeking vanished. What did it mean? Was this her soul!
A man? How could it be? Even in poetry she had never read of a man
being a woman's soul,—a man with all his frailties and sins, for the
most part unrepented. She felt, rather than knew, that Estenega had
trampled many laws, and that he cared too little for any law but his
own will to repent. And yet, there he lay, looking, in the gray light
and the impersonality of sleep, as sinless as if he had been created
within the hour. He looked not like a man but a spirit,—a soul; and
the soul was hers.
Again she asked herself, what did it mean? Was the soul but brain? She
and he were so alike in rudiments, yet he so immeasurably beyond her
in experience and knowledge and the stronger fiber of a man's mind—
He awoke suddenly and saw her. For a moment he stared incredulously,
then raised himself on his hand.
"Chonita!" he whispered.
But Chonita, with the long glide of the Californian woman, faded from
When she awoke the next morning she was assailed by a distressing
fear. Had she been to Estenega's room the night before? The memory was
too vivid, the details too practical, for a sleep-vagary. At breakfast
she hardly dared to raise her eyes. She felt that he was watching her;
but he often watched her. After breakfast they were alone at one end
of the corridor for a moment, and she compelled herself to raise her
eyes and look at him steadily. He was regarding her searchingly.
She was not a woman to endure uncertainty.
"Tell me," she cried, trembling from head to foot, the blood rushing
over her face, "did I go to your room last night?"
"Doña Chonita!" he exclaimed. "What an extraordinary question! You
have been dreaming."
We went to a bull-fight that day, danced that night, meriendaed and
danced again; a siesta in the afternoon, a few hours' sleep in the
night, refreshing us all. Chonita, alone, looked pale, but I knew that
her pallor was not due to weariness. And I knew that she was beginning
to fear Estenega; the time was almost come when she would fear herself
more. Estenega had several talks apart with her. He managed it without
any apparent maneuvering; but he always had the devil's methods.
Valencia avenged herself by flirting desperately with Reinaldo, and
Prudencia's honeymoon was seasoned with gall.
On Saturday night Chonita stole from her guests, donned a black gown
and reboso, and, attended by two Indian servants, went up to the
Mission to confession. As she left the church a half-hour later, and
came down the steps, Estenega rose from a bench beneath the arches of
the corridor and joined her.
"How did you know that I came?" she asked; and it was not the stars
that lit her face.
"You do little that I do not know. Have you been to confession?"
They walked slowly down the valley.
"And you forgave and were forgiven?"
"Yes. Ay! but my penance is heavy!"
"But when it is done you will be at rest, I suppose."
"Oh, I hope! I hope!"
"Have you begun to realize that your Church cannot satisfy you?"
"No! I will not say that."
"But you know it. Your intelligence has opened a window somewhere and
the truth has crept in."
"Do not take my religion from me, señor!" Her eyes and voice appealed
to him, and he accepted her first confession of weakness with a throb
of exulting tenderness.
"My love!" he said, "I would give you more than I took from you."
"No! never!—Even if we were not enemies, and I had not made that
terrible vow, my religion has been all in all to me. Just now I have
many things that torment me; and I have asked so little of religion
before—my life has been so calm—that now I hardly know how to ask
for so much more. I shall learn. Leave me in peace."
"Do you want me to go?" he asked. "If you did,—if I troubled you by
staying here,—I believe I would go. Only I know it would do no good:
I should come back."
"No! no! I do not want you to go. I should feel—I will admit to
you—like a house without its foundation. And yet sometimes, I pray
that you will go. Ay! I do not like life. I used to have pride in my
intelligence. Where is my pride now? What good has the wisdom in my
books done me, when I confess my dependence upon a man, and that
man my enemy—and the acquaintance of a few weeks?" She was speaking
incoherently, and Estenega chafed at the restraint of the servants so
close behind them. "Tell me," she exclaimed, "what is it in you that I
want?—that I need? It is something that belongs to me. Give it to me,
and go away."
"Chonita, I give it to you gladly, God knows. But you must take me,
too. You want in me what is akin to you and what you will find nowhere
else. But I cannot tear my soul out of my body. You must take both or
"Ay! I cannot! You know that I cannot!
"I ignore your reasons."
"But I do not."
"You shall, my beloved. Or if you do not ignore you shall forget
"When I am dead—would that I were!" She was excited and trembling.
The confession had been an ordeal, and Estenega was never
tranquillizing. She wished to cling to him, but was still mistress
of herself. He divined her impulse, and drew her arm through his and
across his breast. He opened her hand and pressed his lips to the
palm. Then he bent his face above hers. She was trembling violently;
her face was wild and white. His own was ashen, and the heart beneath
her arm beat rapidly.
"I love you devotedly," he said. "You believe that, Chonita?"
"Ah! Mother of God! do not! I cannot listen."
"But you shall listen. Throw off your superstitions and come to me.
Keep the part of your religion that is not superstition; I would be
the last to take it from you; but I will not permit its petty dogmas
to stand between us. As for your traditions, you have not even the
excuse of filial duty; your father would not forbid you to become my
wife. And I love you very earnestly and passionately. Just how much, I
might convey to you if we were alone."
He was obliged to exercise great self-restraint, but there was no
mistaking his seriousness. When such scientific triflers do find a
woman worth loving, they are too deeply sensible of the fact not to
be stirred to their depths; and their depths are apt to be in large
disproportion to the lightness of their ordinary mood. "Come to me,"
he continued. "I need you; and I will be as tender and thoughtful
a husband as I will be ardent as a lover. You love me: don't blind
yourself any longer. Do you picture, in a life of solitude and cold
devotion to phantoms, any happiness equal to what you would find here
in my arms?"
"Oh, hush! hush! You could make me do what you wished, I have no will.
I feel no longer myself. What is this terrible power?"
"It is the magnetism of love; that is all. I am not exercising any
diabolical power over you. Listen: I will not trouble you any more
now. I am obliged to go to Los Angeles the day after to-morrow, and on
my way back to Monterey—in about two weeks—I shall come here again.
Then we will talk together; but I warn you, I will accept only one
answer. You are mine, and I shall have you."
They reached Casa Grande a moment later, and she escaped from him and
ran to her room. But she dared not remain alone. Hastily changing her
black gown for the first her hand touched,—it happened to be vivid
red and made her look as white as wax,—she returned to the sala;
not to dance even the square contradanza, but to stand surrounded by
worshiping caballeros with curling hair tied with gay ribbons, and
jewels in their laces. Valencia regarded her with a bitter jealousy
that was rising from red heat to white. How dared a woman with hair of
gold wear the color of the brunette? It was a theft. It was the last
indignity. And once more she chained Reinaldo, in default of Estenega,
to her side. And deep in Prudencia's heart wove a scheme of vengeance;
the loom and warp had been presented unwittingly by her chivalrous
Estenega remained in the sala a few moments after Chonita's
reappearance, then left the house and wandered through the booth in
the court, where the people were dancing and singing and eating and
gambling as if with the morrow an eternal Lent would come, and thence
through the silent town to the pleasure-grounds of Casa Grande, which
lay about half a mile from the house. He had been there but a short
while when he heard a rustle, a light footfall; and, turning, he saw
Chonita, unattended, her bare neck and gold hair gleaming against the
dark, her train dragging. She was advancing swiftly toward him. His
pulses bounded, and he sprang toward her, his arms outstretched; but
she waved him back.
"Have mercy," she said. "I am alone. I brought no one, because I have
that to tell you which no one else must hear."
He stepped back and looked at the ground.
"Listen," she said. "I could not wait until to-morrow, because a
moment lost might mean—might mean the ruin of your career, and you
say your envoy has not gone yet. Just now—I will tell you the other
first. Mother of God! that I should betray my brother to my enemy! But
it seems to me right, because you placed your confidence in me, and
I should feel that I betrayed you if I did not warn you. I do not
know—oh, Mary!—I do not know—but this seems to me right. The other
night my brother came to me and asked me—ay! do not look at me—to
marry you, that you would balk his ambition no further. He wishes to
go as diputado to Mexico, and he knows that you will not let him. I
thought my brain would crack,—an Iturbi y Moncada!—I made him no
answer,—there was no answer to a demand like that,—and he went from
me in a fury, vowing vengeance upon you. To-night, a few moments
ago, he whispered to me that he knew of your plans, your intentions
regarding the Americans: he had overheard a conversation between you
and Alvarado. He says that he will send letters to Mexico to-morrow,
warning the government against you. Then their suspicions will be
roused, and they will inquire—Ay, Mary!"
Estenega brought his teeth together. "God!" he exclaimed.
She saw that he had forgotten her. She turned and went back more
swiftly than she had come.
Estenega was a man whose resources never failed him. He returned to
the house and asked Reinaldo to smoke a cigarito and drink a bottle of
wine in his room. Then, without a promise or a compromising word, he
so flattered that shallow youth, so allured his ambition and pampered
his vanity and watered his hopes, that fear and hatred wondered at
their existence, closed their eyes, and went to sleep. Reinaldo
poured forth his aspirations, which under the influence of the
truth-provoking vine proved to be an honest yearning for the pleasures
of Mexico. As he rose to go he threw his arm about Estenega's neck.
"Ay! my friend! my friend!" he cried, "thou art all-powerful. Thou
alone canst give me what I want."
"Why did you never ask me for what you wanted?" asked Estenega. And
he thought, "If it were not for Her, you would be on your way to Los
Angeles to-night under charge of high treason. I would not have taken
this much trouble with you."
A rodeo was held the next day,—the last of the festivities;—Don
Guillermo taking advantage of the gathering of the rancheros. It was
to take place on the Cerros Rancho, which adjoined the Rancho de
las Rocas. We went early, most of us dismounting and taking to the
platform on one side of the circular rodeo-ground. The vaqueros
were already galloping over the hills, shouting and screaming to the
cattle, who ran to them like dogs; soon a herd came rushing down into
the circle, where they were thrown down and branded, the stray cattle
belonging to neighbors separated and corralled. This happened again
and again, the interest and excitement growing with each round-up.
Once a bull, seeing his chance, darted from his herd and down the
valley. A vaquero started after him; but Reinaldo, anxious to display
his skill in horsemanship, and being still mounted, called to the
vaquero to stop, dashed after the animal, caught it by its tail,
spurred his horse ahead, let go the tail at the right moment, and,
amidst shouts of "Coliar!" "Coliar!" the bull was ignominiously rolled
in the dust, then meekly preceded Reinaldo back to the rodeo-ground.
After the dinner under the trees most of the party returned to the
platform, but Estenega, Adan, Chonita, Valencia, and myself strolled
about the rancho. Adan walked at Chonita's side, more faithful than
her shadow. Valencia's black eyes flashed their language so plainly to
Estenega's that he could not have deserted her without rudeness; and
Estenega never was rude.
"Adan," said Chonita, abruptly, "I am tired of thee. Sit down under
that tree until I come back. I wish to walk alone with Eustaquia for
Adan sighed and did as he was bidden, consoling himself with a
cigarito. Taking a different path from the one the others followed, we
walked some distance, talking of ordinary matters, both avoiding the
subject of Diego Estenega by common consent. And yet I was convinced
that she carried on a substratum of thought of which he was the
subject, even while she talked coherently to me. On our way back the
conversation died for want of bone and muscle, and, as it happened, we
were both silent as we approached a small adobe hut. As we turned the
corner we came upon Estenega and Valencia. He had just bent his head
and kissed her.
Valencia fled like a hare. Estenega turned the hue of chalk, and I
knew that blue lightning was flashing in his disconcerted brain. I
felt the chill of Chonita as she lifted herself to the rigidity of a
statue and swept slowly down the path.
"Diego, you are a fool!" I exclaimed, when she was out of hearing.
"You need not tell me that," he said, savagely. "But what in heaven's
name—Well, never mind. For God's sake straighten it out with her.
Tell her—explain to her—what men are. Tell her that the present
woman is omnipotently present—no, don't tell her that. Tell her
that history is full of instances of men who have given one woman the
devoted love of a lifetime and been unfaithful to her every week in
the year. Explain to her that a man to love one woman must love all
women. And she has sufficient proof that I love her and no other
woman: I want to marry her, not Valencia Menendez. Heaven knows I will
be true to her when I have her. I could not be otherwise. But I need
not explain to you. Set it right with her. She has brain, and can be
made to understand."
I shook my head. "You cannot reason with inexperience; and when it
is allied to jealousy—God of my soul! Her ideal, of course, is
perfection, and does not take human weakness into account. You have
fallen short of it to-day. I fear your cause is lost."
"It is not! Do you think I will give her up for a trifle like that?"
"But why not accept this break? You cannot marry her—"
"Oh, do not refer to that nonsense!" he exclaimed, harshly. "I shall
peel off her traditions when the time comes, as I would strip off the
outer hulls of a nut. Go! Go, Eustaquia!"
Of course I went. Chonita was not at the rodeo-ground, but, escorted
by her father, had gone home. I followed immediately, and when I
reached Casa Grande I found her sitting in her library. I never saw
a statue look more like marble. Her face was locked: only the eyes
betrayed the soul in torment. But she looked as immutable as a fate.
"Chonita," I exclaimed, hardly knowing where to begin, "be reasonable.
Men of Estenega's brain and passionate affectionate nature are always
weak with women, but it means nothing. He cares nothing for Valencia
Menendez. He is madly in love with you. And his weakness, my dear,
springs from the same source as his charm. He would not be the man
he is without it. His heart would be less kindly, his impulses less
generous, his brain less virile, his sympathies less instinctive and
true. The strong impregnable man, the man whom no vice tempts, no
weakness assails, who is loyal without effort,—such a man lacks
breadth and magnetism and the power to read the human heart and
sympathize with both its noble impulses and its terrible weaknesses.
Such men—I never have known it to fail—are full of petty vanities
and egoisms and contemptible weaknesses, the like of which Estenega
could not be capable of. No man can be perfect, and it is the man
of great strength and great weakness who alone understands and
sympathizes with human nature, who is lovable and magnetic, and who
has the power to rouse the highest as well as the most passionate love
of a woman. Such men cause infinite suffering, but they can give a
happiness that makes the suffering worth while. You never will meet
another man like Diego Estenega. Do not cast him lightly aside."
"Do I understand," said Chonita, in a perfectly unmoved voice, "that
you are counseling me to marry an Estenega and the man who would send
me to Hell hereafter? Do you forget my vow?"
I came to myself with a shock. In the enthusiasm of my defense I had
forgotten the situation.
"At least forgive him," I said, lamely.
"I have nothing to forgive," she said. "He is nothing to me."
I knew that it was useless to argue with her.
"I have a favor to ask of you," she said. "Most of our guests leave
this afternoon: will you let me sleep alone to-night?"
I should have liked to put my arm about her and give her a woman's
sympathy, but I did not dare. All I could do was to leave her alone.
Casa Grande held three jealous women. The situation had its comic
aspect, but was tragic enough to the actors.
In the evening the lingering guests of the house and the neighbors
of the town assembled as usual for the dance. Only Estenega absented
himself. Valencia stood her ground: she would not go while Estenega
remained. Chonita moved proudly among her guests, and never had been
more gracious. Valencia dared not meet her eyes nor mine, but, seeing
that Prudencia was watching her, avenged her own disquiet by enhancing
that of the bride. Never did she flirt so imperiously with Reinaldo
as she did that fateful night; and Reinaldo, who was man's vanity
collected and compounded, devoted himself to the dashing beauty. Her
cheeks burned with excitement, her eyes were restless and flashing.
The music stopped. The women were eating the dulces passed by the
Indian servants. The men had not yet gone into the dining-room.
Valencia dropped her handkerchief; Reinaldo, stooping to recover it,
kissed her hand behind its flimsy shelter.
Then Prudencia arose. She trailed her long gown down the room between
the two rows of people staring at her grim eyes and pressed lips; her
little head, with its high comb, stiffly erect. She walked straight up
to Reinaldo and boxed his ears before the assembled company.
"Thou wilt flirt no more with other women," she said, in a loud, clear
voice. "Thou art my husband, and thou wilt not forget it again. Come
And, amidst the silence of mountain-tops in a snow-storm, he stumbled
to his feet and followed her from the room.
I could not sleep that night. In spite of the amusement I had felt at
Prudencia's coup-d'état, I was oppressed by the chill and foreboding
which seemed to emanate from Chonita and pervade the house. I knew
that terrible calm was like the menacing stillness of the hours before
an earthquake. What would she do in the coming convulsion? I shuddered
and tormented myself with many imaginings.
I became so nervous that I rose and dressed and went out upon the
corridor and walked up and down. It was very late, and the moon was
risen, but the corners were dark. Figures seemed to start from them,
but my nerves were strong; I never had given way to fear.
My thoughts wandered to Estenega. Who shall judge the complex heart
of a man? the deep, intense, lasting devotion he may have for the one
woman he recognizes as his soul's own, and yet the strange wayward
wanderings of his fancy,—the nomadic assertion of the animal; the
passionate love he may feel for this woman of all women, yet the
reserve in which he always holds her, never knowing her quite as well
as he has known other women; the last test of highest love, passion
without sensuality? And yet the regret that she does not gratify every
side of his nature, even while he would not have her; regret for the
terrible incongruity of human nature, the mingling of the beast and
the divine, which cannot find satisfaction in the same woman; whatever
the fire in her, she cannot gratify the instincts which rage below
passion in man, without losing the purity of mind which he adores in
her. She, too, feels a vague regret that some portion of his nature
is a sealed book to her, forever beyond her ken. But her regret is
nothing to his: he knows, and she does not.
My meditations were interrupted suddenly. I heard a door stealthily
opened. I knew before turning that the door was that of Chonita's
room, the last at the end of the right wing. It opened, and she came
out. It was as if a face alone came out. She was shrouded from head to
foot in black, and her face was as white as the moon. Possessed by a
nameless but overwhelming fear, I turned the knob of the door nearest
me and almost fell into the room. I closed the door behind me, but
there was no key. By the strip of white light which entered through
the crevice between the half-open shutters I saw that I was in the
room of Valencia Menendez; but she slept soundly and had not heard me.
I stood still, listening, for many minutes. At first there was no
sound; I evidently had startled her, and she was waiting for the house
to be still again. At last I heard some one gliding down the corridor.
Then, suddenly, I knew that she was coming to this room, and,
possessed by a horrible curiosity and growing terror, I sank on my
knees in a corner.
The door opened noiselessly, and Chonita entered. Again I saw only
her white face, rigid as death, but the eyes flamed with the terrible
passions that her soul had flung up from its depths at last. Then I
saw another white object,—her hand. But there was no knife in it.
Had there been, I think I should have shaken off the spell which
controlled me: I never would see murder done. It was the awe of the
unknown that paralyzed my muscles. She bent over Valencia, who moved
uneasily and cast her arms above her head. I saw her touch her finger
to the sleeping woman's mouth, inserting it between the lips. Then she
moved backward and stood by the head of the bed, facing the
window. She raised herself to her full height and extended her arms
horizontally. The position gave her the form of a cross—a black
cross, topped and pointed with malevolent white; one hand was spread
above Valencia's face. She was the most awful sight I ever beheld. She
uttered no sound; she scarcely breathed. Suddenly, with the curve of a
panther, her figure glided above the unconscious woman, her open hand
describing a strange motion; then she melted from the room.
Valencia awoke, shrieking.
"Some one has cursed me!" she cried. "Mother of God! Some one has
I fled from the room, to faint upon my own bed.
The next morning Casa Grande was thrown into consternation. Valencia
Menendez was in a raging fever, and had to be held in her bed.
After breakfast I sent for Estenega and told him of what I had seen.
In the first place I had to tell some one, and in the second I thought
to end his infatuation and avert further trouble. "You firebrand!" I
exclaimed, in conclusion. "You see the mischief you have worked! You
will go, now, thank heaven—and go cured."
"I will go,—for a time," he said. "This mood of hers must wear
itself out. But, if I loved her before, I worship her now. She is
magnificent!—a woman with the passions of hell and the sweetness of
an angel. She is the woman I have waited for all my life,—the only
woman I have ever known. Some day I will take her in my arms and tell
her that I understand her."
"Diego," I said, divided between despair and curiosity, "you have
fancied many women: wherein does your feeling for Chonita differ? How
can you be sure that this is love? What is your idea of love?"
He sat down and was silent for a moment, then spoke thoughtfully:
"Love is not passion, for one may feel that for many women; not
affection, for friendship demands that. Not even sympathy and
comradeship; one can find either with men. Nor all, for I have felt
all, yet something was lacking. Love is the mysterious turning of one
heart to another with the promise of a magnetic harmony, a strange
original delight, a deep satisfaction, a surety of permanence, which
did either heart roam the world it never would find again. It is the
knowledge that did the living body turn to corruption, the spirit
within would still hold and sway the steel which had rushed unerringly
to its magnet. It is the knowledge that weakness will only arouse
tenderness, never disgust, as when the fancy reigns and the heart
sleeps; that faults will clothe themselves in the individuality of the
owner and become treasures to the loving mind that sees, but worships.
It is the development of the highest form of selfishness, the
passionate and abiding desire to sacrifice one's self to the happiness
of one beloved. Above all, it is the impossibility to cease to love,
no matter what reason, or prudence, or jealousy, or disapproval, or
terrible discoveries, may dictate. Let the mind sit on high and argue
the soul's mate out of doors, it will rebound, when all is said and
done, like a rubber ball when the pressure of the finger is removed.
As for Chonita she is the lost part of me."
He left that day, and without seeing Chonita again. Valencia was in
wildest delirium for a week; at the end of the second every hair on
her head, her brows, and her eyelashes had fallen. She looked like a
white mummy, a ghastly pitiful caricature of the beautiful woman whose
arrows quivered in so many hearts. They rolled her in a blanket and
took her home; and then I sought Chonita, who had barely left her
room and never gone to Valencia's. I told her that I had witnessed the
curse, and described the result.
"Have you no remorse?" I asked.
"You have ruined the beauty, the happiness, the fortune, of another
"I have done what I intended."
"Do you realize that again you have raised a barrier between yourself
and your religion? You do not look very repentant."
"Revenge is sweeter than religion."
Then in a burst of anger I confessed that I had told Estenega. For a
moment I thought her terrible hatred was about to hurl its vengeance
at me; but she only asked,—
"What did he say?"
Unwillingly, I repeated it, but word for word. And as I spoke, her
face softened, the austerity left her features, an expression of
passionate gratitude came into her eyes.
"Did he say that, Eustaquia?"
"Say it again, please."
I did so. And then she put her hands to her face, and cried, and
cried, and cried.
At the end of the week Doña Trinidad died suddenly. She was sitting on
the green bench, dispensing charities, when her head fell back gently,
and the light went out. No death ever had been more peaceful, no soul
ever had been better prepared; but wailing grief went after her. Poor
Don Guillermo sank in a heap as if some one had felled him, Reinaldo
wept loudly, and Prudencia was not to be consoled. Chonita was away
on her horse when it happened, galloping over the hills. Servants were
sent for her immediately, and met her when she was within an hour or
two of home. As she entered the sala, Don Guillermo, Reinaldo, and
Prudencia literally flung themselves upon her; and she stood like a
rock, and supported them. She had loved her mother, but it had always
been her lot to prop other people; she never had had a chance to lean.
All that night and next day she was closely engaged with the members
of the agonized household, even visiting the grief-stricken Indians at
times. On the second night she went to the room where her mother
lay with all the pomp of candles and crosses, and bade the Indian
watchers, crouching like buzzards about the corpse, to go for a time.
She sank into a chair beside the dead, and wondered at the calmness of
her heart. She was not conscious of any feeling stronger than regret.
She tried to realize the irrevocableness of death,—that the mother
who had been so kindly an influence in her life had gone out of it.
But the knowledge brought no grief. She felt only the necessity for
alleviating the grief of the others; that was her part.
The door opened. She drew her breath suddenly. She knew that it
was Estenega. He sat down beside her and took her hand and held it,
without a word, for hours. Gradually she leaned toward him, although
without touching him. And after a time tears came.
He went his way the next morning, but he wrote to her before he left,
and again from Monterey, and then from the North. She only answered
once, and then with only a line.
But the line was this:
"Write to me until you have forgotten me."
One day she brought me a package and asked me to take it to Valencia.
"It is an ointment," she said,—"one of old Brigida's" (a witch who
lived on the cliffs and concocted wondrous specifics from herbs).
"Tell her to use it and her hair will grow again."
And that was the only sign of penitence I was permitted to see.
Then for a long interval there came no word from Estenega.
Before going to Mexico, Estenega remained for some weeks at his
ranchos in the North, overlooking the slaughtering of his cattle, an
important yearly event, for the trade in hides and tallow with foreign
shippers was the chief source of the Californian's income. He also was
associated with the Russians at Fort Ross and Bodega in the fur-trade.
But he was far from being satisfied with these desultory gains. They
sufficed his private wants, but with the great schemes he had in mind
he needed gold by the bushel. How to obtain it was a problem which sat
on the throne of his mind side by side with Chonita Iturbi y Moncada.
He had reason to believe that gold lay under California; but where? He
determined that upon his return from Mexico he would take measures
to discover, although he objected to the methods which alone could be
employed. But, like all born rulers of men, he had an impatient scorn
for means with a great end in view. There was no intermediate way of
making the money. It would be a hundred years before the country would
be populous enough to give his vast ranchos a reasonable value; and,
although he had twenty thousand head of cattle, the market for their
disposal was limited, and barter was the principle of trade, rather
Toward the end of the month he hurried to Monterey to catch a bark
about to sail for Mexico. The important preliminaries of the future
he had planned could no longer be delayed; the treacherous revengeful
nature of Reinaldo might at any moment awake from the spell in which
he had locked it; had a ship sailed before, he would have left his
commercial interests with his mayor-domo and gone to the seat of
government at once.
He arrived in Monterey one evening after hard riding. The city was
singularly quiet. It was the hour when the indefatigable dancers of
that gay town should have flitted past the open windows of the salas,
when the air should have been vocal with the flute and guitar, song
and light laughter. But the city might have been a living tomb. The
white rayless houses were heavy and silent as sepulchers. He rode
slowly down Alvarado Street, and saw the advancing glow of a cigar.
When the cigar was abreast of him he recognized Mr. Larkin.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Small-pox," replied the consul, succinctly. "Better get on board
at once. And steer clear of the lower quarter. Your vaquero
arrived yesterday, and I instructed him to put your baggage in the
custom-house. He dropped it and fled to the country."
Estenega thanked him and proceeded on his way. He made a circuit to
avoid the lower quarter, but saw that it was not abandoned; lights
moved here and there. "Poor creatures!" he thought, "they are probably
dying like poisoned rats."
On the side of the hill by the road was a solitary hut. He was obliged
to pass it. A candle burned beyond the open window, and he set his
lips and turned his head; not from fear of contagion, however. And his
eyes were drawn to the window in spite of his resolute will. He looked
once, and looked again, then checked his horse. On the bed lay a
girl in the middle stages of the disease, her eyes glittering with
delirium, her black hair matted and wet. She was evidently alone.
Estenega spurred his horse and galloped around to the back of the hut.
In the kitchen, the only other room, huddled an old crone, brown and
gnarled like an old apple. She was sleeping; by her side was a bottle
of aguardiente. Estenega called loudly to her.
The creature stirred, but did not open her eyes. He called twice
again, and awakened her. She stared through the open door, her lower
jaw falling, showing the yellow stumps.
"Is Anita alone with you?"
"Ay, yi! Don Diego! Yes, yes. All run from the house like rats from
a ship that burns. Ay, yi! Ay, yi! and she so pretty before! A-y,
y-i!—" Her head fell forward; she relapsed into stupor.
Estenega rode around to the window again. The girl was sitting on the
edge of the bed, mechanically pulling the long matted strands of her
"Water! water!" she cried, faintly. "Ay, Mary!" She strove to rise,
but fell back, clutching at the bedclothing.
Estenega rode to a deserted hut near by, concealed his saddle in
a corner under a heap of rubbish, and turned his horse loose. He
returned to the hut where the sick girl lay, and entered the room. She
recognized him in spite of her fever.
"Don Diego! Is it you?—you?" she said, half raising herself. "Ay,
Mary! is it the delirium?"
"It is I," he said. "I will take care of you. Do you want water?"
"Ay, water. Ay, thou wert always kind, even though thy love did last
so little a while."
He brought the water and did what he could to relieve her sufferings:
like all the rancheros, he had some knowledge of medicine. He held the
old crone under the pump, gave her an emetic, broke her bottle, and
ordered her to help him care for the girl. Between awe of him and
promise of gold, she gave him some assistance.
Estenega watched the vessel sail the next morning, and battled with
the impulse to leap from the window, hire a boat, and overtake it. The
delay of a month might mean the death of his hopes. For all he knew,
the bark carried the letters of his undoing; Reinaldo himself might
be on it. He set his lips with an expression of bitter contempt—the
expression directed at his own impotence in the hands of
Circumstance,—and went to the bedside of the girl. She was hopelessly
ill; even medical skill, were there such a thing in the country, could
not save her; but he could not leave to die like a dog a woman who had
been his mistress, even if only the fancy of a week, as this poor
girl had been. She had loved him, and never annoyed him; they had
maintained friendly relations, and he had helped her whenever she had
appealed to him. But in this hour of her extremity she had further
rights, and he recognized them. He had cut her hair close to her head,
and she looked more comfortable, although an unpleasant sight. As he
regarded her, he thought of Chonita, and the tide of love rose in him
as it had not before. In the beginning he had been hardly more than
infatuated with her originality and her curious beauty; at Santa
Barbara her sweetness and kinship had stolen into him and the
momentous fusion of passion and spiritual love had given new birth
to a torpid soul and stirred and shaken his manhood as lust had
never done; now in her absence and exaltation above common mortals he
reverenced her as an ideal. Even in the bitterness of the knowledge
that months must elapse before he could see her again, the tenderness
she had drawn to herself from the serious depths of his nature
throbbed throughout him, and made him more than gentle to the poor
creature whose ignorance could not have comprehended the least of what
he felt for Chonita.
She died within three days. The good priest, who stood to his post and
made each of his afflicted poor a brief daily visit, prayed by her
as she fell into stupor, but she was incapable of receiving extreme
unction. Estenega was alone with her when she died, but the priest
returned a few moments later.
"Don Thomas Larkin wishes me to say to you, Don Diego Estenega," said
the Father, "that he would be glad to have you stay with him until the
next vessel arrives. As two members of his family have the disease, he
has nothing to fear from you. I will care for the body."
Estenega handed him money for the burial, and looked at him
speculatively. The priest must have heard the girl's confessions, and
he wondered why he did not improve the opportunity to reprove a man
whose indifference to the Church was a matter of indignant comment
among the clergy. The priest appeared to divine his thoughts, for he
"Thou hast done more than thy duty, Don Diego. And to the frailties of
men I think the good God is merciful. He made them. Go in peace."
Estenega accepted Mr. Larkin's invitation, but, in spite of the genial
society of the consul, he spent in his house the most wretched three
weeks of his life. He dared not leave Monterey until he had passed the
time of incubation, having no desire to spread the disease; he dared
not write to Chonita, for the same reason. What must she think? She
supposed him to have sailed, of course, but he had promised to write
her from Monterey, and again from San Diego. And the uncertainty
regarding his Mexican affairs was intolerable to a man of his active
mind and supertense nervous system. His only comfort lay in Mr.
Larkin's assurance that the national bark Joven Guipuzcoana was due
within the month and would return at once. Early in the fourth week
the assurance was fulfilled, and by the time he was ready to sail
again his danger from contagion was over. But he embarked without
writing to Chonita.
The voyage lasted a month, tedious and monotonous, more trying than
his retardation on land, for there at least he could recover some
serenity by violent exercise. He divided his time between pacing
the deck, when the weather permitted, and writing to Chonita: long,
intimate, possessing letters, which would reveal her to herself as
nothing else, short of his own dominant contact, could do. At San Blas
he posted his letters and welcomed the rough journey overland to the
capital; but under a calm exterior he was possessed of the spirit of
disquiet. As so often happens, however, his fears proved to have been
vagaries of a morbid state of mind and of that habit of thought which
would associate with every cause an effect of similar magnitude. Santa
Ana welcomed him with friendly enthusiasm, and was ready to listen to
his plans. That wily and astute politician, who was always abreast of
progress and never in its lead, recognized in Estenega the coming man,
and, knowing that the seizure of the Californias by the United States
was only a question of time, was keenly willing to make an ally of
the man who he foresaw would control them as long as he chose, both
at home and in Washington. For the matter of that, he recognized
the impotence of Mexico to interfere, beyond bluster, with plans any
resolute Californian might choose to pursue; but it was important to
Estenega's purpose that the governorship should be assured to him by
the central government, and the eyes of the Mexican Congress directed
elsewhere. He knew the value of the moral effect which its apparent
sanction would have upon rebellious Southerners.
"I am at your service," said Santa Ana; "and the governorship is
yours. But take heed that no rumor of your ultimate intentions reaches
the ears of Congress until you are firmly established. If it opposed
you relentlessly—and it keeps its teeth on California like a dog on
a bone bigger than himself—I should have to yield; I have too much
at stake myself. I will look out that any communications from enemies,
including Iturbi y Moncada, are opened first by me."
Estenega wrote to Chonita again by the ship that left during his brief
stay in the capital, and it was his intention to go directly to
Santa Barbara upon arriving in California. But when he landed in
Monterey—disinfected and careless as of old—he learned that she was
about to start, perhaps already had done so, for Fort Ross, to pay a
visit to the Rotscheffs. The news gave him pleasure; it had been his
wish to say what he had yet to say in his own forests.
And then the plan which had been stirring restlessly in his mind for
many months took imperative shape: he determined that if there was
gold in California he would wring the secret out of its keeper, by
gentle means or violent, and that within the next twenty-four hours.
Estenega drew rein the next night before the neglected Mission of San
Rafael. The valley, surrounded by hills dark with the silent
redwoods, bore not a trace of the populous life of the days before
secularization. The padre lived alone, lodge-keeper of a valley of
He opened the door of his room on the corridor as he heard the
approach of the traveler, squinting his bleared, yellow-spotted eyes.
He was surly by nature, but he bowed low to the man whose power was so
great in California, and whose generosity had sent him many a bullock.
He cooked him supper from his frugal store, piled the logs in the open
fireplace,—November was come,—and, after a bottle of wine, produced
from Estenega's saddle-bag, expanded into a hermit's imitation of
conviviality. Late in the night they still sat on either side of the
table in the dusty, desolate room. The Forgotten had been entertained
with vivid and shifting pictures of the great capital in which he had
passed his boyhood. He smiled occasionally; now and again he gave a
quick impatient sigh. Suddenly Estenega leaned forward and fixed him
with his powerful gaze.
"Is there gold in these mountains?" he asked, abruptly.
The priest was thrown off his guard for a moment; a look of meaning
flashed into his eyes, then one of cunning displaced it.
"It may be, Señor Don Diego; gold is often in the earth. But had I the
unholy knowledge, I would lock it in my breast. Gold is the canker in
the heart of the world. It is not for the Church to scatter the evil
Estenega shut his teeth. Fanaticism was a more powerful combatant than
"True, my father. But think of the good that gold has wrought. Could
these Missions have been built without gold?—these thousands of
"What you say is not untrue; but for one good, ten thousand evils
are wrought with the metal which the devil mixed in hell and poured
through the veins of the earth."
Estenega spent a half-hour representing in concrete and forcible
images the debt which civilization owed to the fact and circulation
of gold. The priest replied that California was a proof that commerce
could exist by barter; the money in the country was not worth speaking
"And no progress to speak of in a hundred years," retorted Estenega.
Then he expatiated upon the unique future of California did she have
gold to develop her wonderful resources. The priest said that to cut
California from her Arcadian simplicity would be to start her on her
journey to the devil along with the corrupt nations of the Old
World. Estenega demonstrated that if there was vice in the older
civilizations there was also a higher state of mental development, and
that Religion held her own. He might as well have addressed the walls
of the Mission. He tempted with the bait of one of the more central
Missions. The priest had only the dust of ambition in the cellar of
He lost his patience at last. "I must have gold," he said, shortly;
"and you shall show me where to find it. You once betrayed to my
father that you knew of its existence in these hills; and you shall
give me the key."
The priest looked into the eyes of steel and contemptuously determined
face before him, and shut his lips. He was alone with a desperate man;
he had not even a servant; he could be murdered, and his murderer
go unsuspected; but the heart of the fanatic was in him. He made no
"You know me," said Estenega. "I owe half my power in California to
the fact that I do not make a threat to-day and forget it to-morrow.
You will show me where that gold is, or I shall kill you."
"The servant of God dies when his hour comes. If I am to die by the
hand of the assassin, so be it."
Estenega leaned forward and placed his strong hand about the priest's
baggy throat, pushing the table against his chest. He pressed his
thumb against the throttle, his second finger hard against the
jugular, and the tongue rolled over the teeth, the congested eyes
bulged. "It may be that you scorn death, but may not fancy the mode
of it. I have no desire to kill you. Alive or dead, your life is of no
more value than that of a worm. But you shall die, and die with much
discomfort, unless you do as I wish." His hand relaxed its grasp, but
still pressed the rough dirty throat.
"Accursed heretic!" said the priest.
"Spare your curses for the superstitious."
He saw a gleam of cunning come into the priest's eyes. "Very well; if
I must I must. Let me rise, and I will conduct you."
Estenega took a piece of rope from his saddle-bag and tied it about
the priest's waist and his own. "If you have any holy pitfall in view
for me, I shall have the pleasure of your company. And if I am led
into labyrinths to die of starvation, you at least will have a meal: I
could not eat you."
If the priest was disconcerted, he did not show it. He took a lantern
from a shelf, lit the fragment of candle, and, opening a door at the
back, walked through the long line of inner rooms. All were heaped
with rubbish. In one he found a trap-door with his foot, and descended
rough steps cut out of the earth. The air rose chill and damp, and
Estenega knew that the tunnel of the Mission was below, the secret
exit to the hills which the early Fathers built as a last resource in
case of defeat by savage tribes. When they reached the bottom of the
steps the tallow dip illuminated but a narrow circle; Estenega could
form no idea of the workmanship of the tunnel, except that it was not
more than six feet and a few inches high, for his hat brushed the top,
and that the floor and sides appeared to be of pressed clay. There was
ventilation somewhere, but no light. They walked a mile or more,
and then Estenega had a sense of stepping into a wider and higher
"We are no longer in the tunnel," said the priest. He lifted the
lantern and swung it above his head. Estenega saw that they were in a
circular room, hollowed probably out of the heart of a hill. He also
saw something else.
"What is that?" he exclaimed, sharply.
The priest handed him the lantern. "Look for yourself," he said.
Estenega took the lantern, and, holding it just above his head and
close to the walls, slowly traversed the room. It was belted with
three strata of crystal-like quartz, sown thick with glittering yellow
specks and chunks. Each stratum was about three feet wide.
"There is a fortune here," he said. He felt none of the greed of gold,
merely a recognition of its power.
"Yes, señor; enough to pay the debt of a nation."
"Where are we? Under what hill? I am sorry I had not a compass with
me. It was impossible to make any accurate guess of direction in that
slanting tunnel. Where is the outlet?"
The priest made no reply.
Estenega turned to him peremptorily. "Answer me. How can I find this
place from without?"
"You never will find it from without. When the danger from Indians was
over, a pious Father closed the opening. This gold is not for you. You
could not find even the trap-door by yourself."
"Then why have you brought me here?"
"To tantalize you. To punish you for your insult to the Church through
me. Kill me now, if you wish. Better death than hell."
Estenega made a rapid circuit of the room. There was no mode of
egress other than that by which they had entered, and no sign of any
previously existing. He sprang upon the priest and shook him until
the worn stumps rattled in their gums. "You dog!" he said, "to balk
me with your ignorant superstition! Take me out of this place by its
other entrance at once, that I may remain on the hill until morning.
I would not trust your word. You shall tell me, if I have to torture
The priest made a sudden spring and closed with Estenega, hugging
him like a bear. The lantern fell and went out. The two men stumbled
blindly in the blackness, striking the walls, wrestling desperately,
the priest using his teeth and panting like a beast. But he was no
match for the virility and science of his young opponent. Estenega
threw him in a moment and bound him with the rope. Then he found the
lantern and lit the candle again. He returned to the priest and stood
over him. The latter was conquered physically, but the dogged light
of bigotry still burned in his eyes, although Estenega's were not
agreeable to face.
Estenega was furious. He had twisted Santa Ana, one of the most subtle
and self-seeking men of his time, around his finger as if he had
been a yard of ribbon; Alvarado, the wisest man ever born in the
Californias, was swayed by his judgment; yet all the arts of which his
intellect was master fell blunt and useless before this clay-brained
priest. He had more respect for the dogs in his kennels, but unless
he resorted to extreme measures the creature would defeat him through
sheer brute ignorance. Estenega was not a man to stop in sight of
victory or to give his sword to an enemy he despised.
"You are at my mercy. You realize that now, I suppose. Will you show
me the other way out?"
The priest drew down his under-lip like a snarling dog, revealing the
discolored stumps. But he made no other reply.
Estenega lit a match, and, kneeling beside the priest, held it to his
stubbled beard. As the flame licked the flesh the man uttered a yell
like a kicked brute. Estenega sprang to his feet with an oath. "I
can't do it!" he exclaimed, with bitter disgust. "I haven't the iron
of cruelty in me. I am not fit to be a ruler of men." He untied the
rope about the prisoner's feet. "Get up," he said, "and conduct me
back as we came." The priest scrambled to his feet and hobbled down
the long tunnel. They ascended the steps beneath the Mission and
emerged into the room. Estenega turned swiftly to prevent the closing
of the trap-door, but only in time to hear it shut with a spring and
the priest kick rubbish above it.
He cut the rope which bound the other's hands. "Go," he said, "I have
no further use for you. And if you report this, I need not explain to
you that it will fare worse with you than it will with me."
The priest fled, and Estenega, hanging the lantern on a nail, pushed
aside the rubbish with his feet, purposing to pace the room until
dawn. In a few moments, however, he discovered that the despised
hermit was not without his allies; ten thousand fleas, the pest of the
country, assaulted every portion of his body they could reach. They
swarmed down the legs of his riding-boots, up his trousers, up his
sleeves, down his neck. "There is no such thing in life as tragedy,"
he thought. He hung the lantern outside the door to mark the room, and
paced the yard until morning. But there were dark hours yet before the
dawn, and during one of them a figure, when his back was turned,
crept to the lantern and hung it before an adjoining room. When light
came,—and the fog came first,—all Estenega's efforts to find the
trap-door were unavailing, although the yard was littered with the
rubbish he flung into it from the room. He suspected the trick, but
there were ten rooms exactly alike, and although he cleared most of
them he could discover no trace of the trap-door. He looked at the
hills surrounding the Mission. They were many, and beyond there were
others. He mounted his horse and rode around the buildings, listening
carefully for hollow reverberation. The tunnel was too far below; he
He was defeated. For the first time in his life he was without
resource, overwhelmed by a force stronger than his own will; and his
spirit was savage within him. He had no authority to dig the floors
of the Mission, for the Mission and several acres about it were
the property of the Church. The priest never would take him on that
underground journey again, for he had learned the weak spot in his
armor, nor had he fear of death. Unless accident favored him, or some
one more fortunate, the golden heart of the San Rafael hill would
pulse unrifled forever.
He turned his back upon the Mission and rode toward his home, sixty
miles in a howling November wind. At Bodega Bay he learned that
Governor Rotscheff had passed there two days before with a party of
guests that he had gone down to Sausalito to meet. Chonita awaited
him in the North. A softer mood pressed through the somberness of his
spirit, and the candle of hope burned again. Gold must exist elsewhere
in California, and he swore anew that it should yield itself to him.
The last miles of his ride lay along the cliffs. Sometimes the steep
hills covered with redwoods rose so abruptly from the trail that the
undergrowth brushed him as he passed; on the other side but a few
inches stood between himself and death amidst the surf pounding on the
rocks a thousand feet below. The sea-gulls screamed about his head,
the sea-lions barked with the hollow note of consumptives on the
outlying rocks. On the horizon was a bank of fog, outlined with the
crests and slopes and gulches of the mountain beside him. It sent an
advance wrack scudding gracefully across the ocean to puff among the
redwoods, capriciously clinging to some, ignoring others. Then came
the vast white mountain rushing over the roaring ocean, up the cliffs
and into the gloomy forests, blotting the lonely horseman from sight.
He arrived at his house—a big structure of logs—late in the night.
His servants came out to meet him, and in a moment a fire leaped in
the great fireplace in his library. He lived alone; his parents and
brothers were dead, and his sisters married; but the fire made the low
long room, covered with bear-skins and lined with books, as cheerful
as a bachelor could expect. He found a note from the Princess Hélène
Rotscheff, the famous wife of the governor, asking him to spend the
following week at Fort Ross; but he was so tired that even the image
of Chonita was dim; the note barely caused a throb of anticipation.
After supper he flung himself on a couch before the fire and slept
until morning, then went to bed and slept until afternoon. By that
time he was himself again. He sent a vaquero ahead with his evening
clothes, and an hour or two later started for Fort Ross, spurring his
horse with a lighter heart over the cliffs. His ranchos adjoined
the Russian settlement; the journey from his house to the military
enclosure was not a long one. He soon rounded the point of a sloping
hill and entered the spreading core formed by the mountains receding
in a semicircle above the cliffs, and in whose shelter lay Fort Ross.
The fort was surrounded by a stockade of redwood beams, bastions in
the shape of hexagonal towers at diagonal corners. Cannon, mounted on
carriages, were at each of the four entrances, in the middle of the
enclosure, and in the bastions. Sentries paced the ramparts with
Within were the long low buildings occupied by the governor and
officers, the barracks, and the Russian church, with its belfry and
cupola. Beyond was the "town," a collection of huts accommodating
about eight hundred Indians and Siberian convicts, the workingmen of
the company. All the buildings were of redwood logs or planed boards,
and made a very different picture from the white towns of the South.
The curving mountains were sombrous with redwoods, the ocean growled
Estenega threw his bridle to a soldier and went directly to the house.
A servant met him on the veranda and conducted him to his room; it
was late, and every one else was dressing for dinner. He changed his
riding-clothes for the evening dress of modern civilization, and went
at once to the drawing-room. Here all was luxury, nothing to suggest
the privations of a new country. A thick red carpet covered the floor,
red arras the walls; the music of Mozart and Beethoven was on the
grand piano. The furniture was rich and comfortable, the large carved
table was covered with French novels and European periodicals.
The candles had not been brought in, but logs blazed in the open
fireplace. As Estenega crossed the room, a woman, dressed in black,
rose from a deep chair, and he recognized Chonita. He sprang forward
impetuously and held out his arms, but she waved him back.
"No, no," she said, hurriedly. "I want to explain why I am here. I
came for two reasons. First, I could refuse the Princess Hélène no
longer; she goes so soon. And then—I wanted to see you once more
before I leave the world."
"Before you do what?"
"I am not going into a convent; I cannot leave my father. I am going
to retire to the most secluded of our ranchos, to see no more of the
world or its people. I shall take my father with me. Reinaldo and
Prudencia will remain at Casa Grande."
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed, impatiently. "Do you suppose I shall let you
do anything of the sort? How little you know me, my love! But we will
discuss that question later. We shall be alone only a few moments now.
Tell me of yourself. How are you?"
"I will tell you that, also, at another time."
And at the moment a door opened, and the governor and his wife entered
and greeted Estenega with cordial hospitality. The governor was
a fine-looking Russian, with a spontaneous warmth of manner; the
princess a woman who possessed both elegance and vivacity, both
coquetry and dignity; she could sparkle and chill, allure and suppress
in the same moment. Even here, rough and wild as her surroundings
were, she gave much thought to her dress; to-night her blonde
harmonious loveliness was properly framed in a toilette of mignonette
greens, fresh from Paris. A moment later Reinaldo and Prudencia
appeared, the former as splendid a caballero as ever, although
wearing the chastened air of matrimony, the latter pre-maternally
consequential. Then came the officers and their wives, all brilliant
in evening dress; and a moment later dinner was announced.
Estenega sat at the right of his hostess, and that trained daughter of
the salon kept the table in a light ripple of conversation, sparkling
herself, without striking terror to the hearts of her guests. She and
Estenega were old friends, and usually indulged in lively sallies,
ending some times in a sharp war of words, for she was a very clever
woman; but to-night he gave her absent attention: he watched Chonita
furtively, and thought of little else.
Her eyes had darker shadows beneath them than those cast by her
lashes; her face was pale and slightly hollowed. She had suffered, and
not for her mother. "She shall suffer no more," he thought.
"We hunt bear to-night," he heard the governor say at length.
"I should like to go," said Chonita, quickly. "I should like to go out
Immediately there was a chorus from all the Other women, excepting the
Princess Hélène and Prudencia; they wanted to go too. Rotscheff, who
would much rather have left them at home, consented with good grace,
and Estenega's spirits rose at once. He would have a talk with Chonita
that night, something he had not dared to hope for, and he suspected
that she had promoted the opportunity.
The men remained in the dining-room after the ladies had withdrawn,
and Estenega, restored to his normal condition, and in his natural
element among these people of the world, expanded into the high
spirits and convivial interest in masculine society which made him as
popular with men as he was fascinating, through the exercise of
more subtle faculties, to women. Reinaldo watched him with jealous
impatience; no one cared to hearken to his eloquence when Estenega
talked; and he had come to Fort Ross only to have a conversation
with his one-time enemy. As he listened to Estenega, shorn, for the
time-being, of his air of dictator and watchful ambition, a man of
the world taking an enthusiastic part in the hilarity of the hour,
but never sacrificing his dignity by assuming the rôle of chief
entertainer, there grew within him a dull sense of inferiority: he
felt, rather than knew, that neither the city of Mexico nor gratified
ambitions would give him that assured ease, that perfection of
breeding, that calm sense of power, concealing so gracefully the
relentless will and the infinite resource which made this most
un-Californian of Californians seem to his Arcadian eyes a being of a
higher star. And hatred blazed forth anew.
As the men rose, finally, to go to the drawing-room, he asked Estenega
to remain for a moment. "Thou wilt keep thy promise soon, no?" he said
when they were alone.
"Thy promise to send me as diputado to the next Mexican Congress."
Estenega looked at him reflectively. He had little toleration for the
man of inferior brain, and, although he did not underrate his power
for mischief, he relied upon his own wit to circumvent him. He had
disposed of this one by warning Santa Ana, and he concluded to be
annoyed by him no further. Besides, as a brother-in-law, he would be
insupportable except at the long range of mutual unamiability.
"I made you no promise," he said, deliberately; "and I shall make you
none. I do not wish you in the city of Mexico."
Reinaldo's face grew livid. "Thou darest to say that to me, and yet
would marry my sister?"
"I would, and I shall."
"And yet thou wouldst not help her brother?"
"Her brother is less to me than any man with whom I have sat to-night.
Build no hopes on that. You will stay at Santa Barbara and play the
grand seigneur, which suits you very well, or become a prisoner in
your own house." And he left the room.
An hour later they assembled in the plaza to start for the bear hunt.
Reinaldo was not of the party.
Estenega lifted Chonita to her horse and stood beside her for a moment
while the others mounted. He touched her hand with his:
"We could not have a more beautiful night," he said, significantly.
"And I have often wished that my father had included this spot when he
applied for his grant. I should like to live with you here. Even when
the winds rage and hurl the rain through the very window pane, I know
of no more enchanting spot than Fort Ross. The Russians are going;
some day I will buy it for you."
She made no reply, but she did not withdraw her hand, and he held
it closely and glanced slowly about him. Always, despite his bitter
intimacy with life, in kinship with nature, perhaps in that moment it
had a deeper meaning, for he saw with double vision: She was there;
and, with him, sensible not only of the beauty of the night, but of
the indefinable mystery which broods over California the moment the
sun falls. Perhaps, too, he was troubled by a vague foreboding, such
as comes to mortals sometimes in spite of their limitations: he never
saw Fort Ross again.
On the horizon the fog crouched and moved; marched like a battalion of
ocean's ghosts; suddenly cohered and sent out light puffs of smoke, as
from the crater of a spectral volcano. The moon, full and bright and
cold, hung low in the dark sky: one hardly noted the stars. The vast
sweep of water was as calm as a lake, dark and metallic like the sky,
barely reflecting the silver light between. But although calm it was
not quiet. It greeted the forbidding rocks beyond the shore, the long
irregular line of stark, storm-beaten cliffs, with ominous mutter, now
and again throwing a cloud of spray high in the air, as if in derisive
proof that even in sleep it was sensible of its power. Occasionally it
moaned, as if sounding a dirge along the mass of stones which storms
had hurled or waves had wrenched from the crags above,—a dirge for
beheaded Russians, for him who had walked the plank, or for the lover
of Natalie Ivanhoff.
Here and there the cliffs were intersected by deep straggling gulches,
out of whose sides grew low woods of brush; but the three tables
rising successively from the ocean to the forest on the mountain, were
almost bare. On the highest, between two gulches, on a knoll so bare
and black and isolated that its destiny was surely taken into account
at creation, was a tall rude cross and a half hundred neglected
graves. The forest seemed blacker just behind it, the shadows thicker
in the gorges that embraced it, the ocean grayer and more illimitable
before it. "Natalie Ivanhoff is there in her copper coffin," said
Estenega, "forgotten already."
The curve of the mountain was so perfect that it seemed to reach down
a long arm on either side and grasp the cliffs. The redwoods on its
crown and upper slopes were a mass of rigid shadows, the points, only,
sharply etched on the night sky. They might have been a wall about an
"Come," cried Rotscheff, "we are ready to start." And Estenega sprang
to his horse.
"I don't envy you," said the Princess Hélène from the veranda, her
silveren head barely visible above the furs which enveloped her. "I
prefer the fire."
"You are warmly clad?" asked Estenega of Chonita. "But you have the
blood of the South in your veins."
They climbed the steep road between the levels, slowly, the women
chattering and asking questions, the men explaining and advising.
Estenega and Chonita having much to say, said nothing.
A cold volume of air, the muffled roar of a mountain torrent, rushed
out of the forest, startling with the suddenness of its impact. Once a
panther uttered its human cry.
They entered the forest. It was so dark here that the horses wandered
from the trail and into the brush again and again. Conversation
ceased; except for the muffled footfalls of the horses and the speech
of the waters there was no sound. Chonita had never known a stillness
so profound; the giant trees crowding together seemed to resent
intrusion, to menace an eternal silence. She moved her horse close to
Estenega's and he took her hand. Occasionally there was an opening, a
well of blackness, for the moon had not yet come to the forest.
They reached the summit, and descended. Half-way down the mountain
they rode into a farm in a valley formed by one of the many basins.
The Indians were waiting, and killed a bullock at once, placing the
carcass in a conspicuous place. Then all retired to the shade of the
trees. In less than a half-hour a bear came prowling out of the forest
and began upon the meal so considerately provided for him. When his
attention was fully engaged, Rotscheff and the officers, mounted,
dashed down upon him, swinging their lassos. The bear showed fight and
stood his ground, but this was an occasion when the bear always got
the worst of it. One lasso caught his neck, another his hind foot,
and he was speedily strained and strangled to death. No sooner was
he despatched than another appeared, then another, and the sport grew
very exciting, absorbing the attention of the women as well as the
energies of the men.
Estenega lifted Chonita from her horse. "Let us walk," he said.
"They will not miss us. A few yards farther, and you will be on my
territory. I want you there."
She made no protest, and they entered the forest. The moon shone down
through the lofty redwoods that seemed to scrape its crystal; the
monotone of the distant sea blended with the faint roar of the
tree-tops. The vast gloomy aisles were unbroken by other sound.
He took her hand and held it a moment, then drew it through his arm.
"Now tell me all," he said, "They will be occupied for a long while.
The night is ours."
"I have come here to tell you that I love you," she said. "Ah, can I
make you tremble? It was impossible for me not to tell you this; I
could not rest in my retreat without having the last word with
you, without having you know me. And I want to tell you that I have
suffered horribly; you may care to know that, for no one else in the
world could have made me, no one else ever can. Only your fingers
could twist in my heart-strings and tear my heart out of my body. I
suffered first because I doubted you, then because I loved you, then
the torture of jealousy and the pangs of parting, then those dreadful
three months when I heard no word. I could not stay at Casa Grande;
everything associated with you drove me wild. Oh, I have gone through
all varieties! But the last was the worst, after I heard from you
again, and all other causes were removed, and I knew that you were
well and still loved me: the knowledge that I never could be anything
to you,—and I could be so much! The torment of this knowledge was so
bitter that there was but one refuge,—imagination. I shut my eyes to
my little world and lived with you; and it seemed to me that I grew
into absolute knowledge of you. Let me tell you what I divined. You
may tell me that I am wrong, but I do not believe that you will. I
think that in the little time we were together I absorbed you.
"It seemed to me that your soul reached always for something just
above the attainable, restless in the moments which would satisfy
another, fretted with a perverse desire for something different when
an ardent wish was granted, steeped, under all wanton determined
enjoyment of life, with the bitter knowing of life's sure impotence
to satisfy. Could the dissatisfied darting mind loiter long enough to
give a woman more than the promise of happiness?—but never mind that.
"With this knowledge of you my own resistless desire for variety left
me: my nature concentrated into one paramount wish,—to be all things
to you. What I had felt vaguely before and stifled—the nothingness
of life, the inevitableness of satiety—I repudiated utterly, now that
they were personified in you; I would not recognize the fact of their
existence. I could make you happy. How could imagination shape such
scenes, such perfection of union, of companionship, if reality were
not? Imagination is the child of inherited and living impressions. I
might exaggerate; but, even stripped of its halo, the substance must
be sweeter and more fulfilling than anything else on this earth at
least. And I knew that you loved me. Oh, I had felt that! And the
variousness of your nature and desires, although they might madden
me at times, would give an extraordinary zest to life. I was The
Doomswoman no longer. I was a supplementary being who could meet you
in every mood and complete it; who would so understand that I could
be man and woman and friend to you. A delusion? But so long as I shall
never know, let me believe. An extraordinary tumultuous desire that
rose in me like a wave and shook me often at first, had, in those last
sad weeks, less part in my musings. It seemed to me that that was the
expression, the poignant essence, of love; but there was so much else!
I do not understand that, however, and never shall. But I wanted to
tell you all. I could not rest until you knew me as I am and as
you had made me. And I will tell you this too," she cried, breaking
suddenly, "I wanted you so! Oh, I needed you so! It was not I, only,
who could give. And it is so terrible for a woman to stand alone!"
He made no reply for a moment. But he forgot every other interest and
scheme and idea stored in his impatient brain. He was thrilled to his
soul, and filled with the exultant sense that he was about to take to
his heart the woman compounded for him out of his own elements.
"Speak to me," she said.
"My love, I have so much to say to you that it will take all the years
we shall spend together to say it in."
"No, no! Do not speak of that. There I am firm. Although the misery of
the past months were to be multiplied ten hundred times in the future,
I would not marry you."
Estenega, knowing that their hour of destiny was come, and that upon
him alone depended its issues, was not the man to hesitate between
such happiness as this woman alone could give him, and the gray
existence which she in her blindness would have meted to both: his
bold will had already taken the future in its relentless grasp. But,
knowing the mental habit of women, he thought it best to let Chonita
free her mind, that there might be the less in it to protest for
hearing while his heart and passion spoke to hers.
"It seems absurd to argue the matter," he said, "but tell me the
reasons again, if you choose, and we will dispose of them once for
all. Do not think for a moment, my darling, that I do not respect your
reasons; but I respect them only because they are yours; in themselves
they are not worthy of consideration."
"Ay, but they are. It has been an unwritten law for four generations
that an Estenega and an Iturbi y Moncada should not marry; the enmity
began, as you should know, when a member of each family was an officer
in a detachment of troops sent to protect the Missions in their
building. And my father—he told me lately—loved your father's sister
for many years,—that was the reason he married so late in life,—and
would not ask her because of her blood and of cruel wrongs her father
had done his. Shall his daughter be weak where he was strong? You cast
aside traditions as if they were the seeds of an apple; but remember
that they are blood of my blood. And the vow I made,—do you forget
that? And the words of it? The Church stands between us. I will tell
you all: the priest has forbidden me to marry you; he forbade it every
time I confessed; not only because of my vow, but because you had
aroused in me a love so terrible that I almost took the life of
another woman. Could I bring you back to the Church it might be
different; but you rule others; no one could remould you. You see it
is hopeless. It is no use to argue."
"I have no intention of arguing. Words are too good to waste on such
an absurd proposition that because our fathers hated, we, who are
independent and intelligent beings, should not marry when every drop
of heart's blood demands its rights. As for your vow,—what is a vow?
Hysterical egotism, nothing more. Were it the promise of man to man,
the subject would be worth discussing. But we will settle the matter
in our own way." He took her suddenly in his arms and kissed her. She
put her arms about him and clung to him, trembling, her lips pressed
to his. In that supreme moment he felt not happiness, but a bitter
desire to bear her out of the world into some higher sphere where the
conditions of happiness might possibly exist. "On the highest pinnacle
we reach," he thought, "we are granted the tormenting and chastening
glimpse of what might be, had God, when he compounded his victims,
been in a generous mood and completed them."
And she? she was a woman.
"You will resist no longer," he said, in a few moments.
"Ay, more surely than ever, now." Her voice was faint, but crossed by
a note of terror. "In that moment I forgot my religion and my duty.
And what is so sweet,—it cannot be right."
"Do you so despise your womanhood, the most perfect thing about you?"
"Oh, let us return! I wanted to kiss you once. I meant to do that. But
I should not—Let us go! Oh, I love you so! I love you so!"
He drew her closer and kissed her until her head fell forward and
her body grew heavy. "I shall think and act now, for both," he said,
unsteadily, although there was no lack of decision in his voice. "You
are mine. I claim you, and I shall run no further risk of losing you.
Oh, you will forgive me—my love—"
Neither saw a man walking rapidly up the trail. Suddenly the man gave
a bound and ran toward them. It was Reinaldo.
"Ah, I have found thee," he cried. "Listen, Don Diego Estenega, lord
of the North, American, and would-be dictator of the Californias. Two
hours ago I despatched a vaquero with a circular letter to the priests
of the Department of the Californias, warning them each and all
to write at once to the Archbishop of Mexico, and protest that the
success of your ambitions would mean the downfall of the Catholic
Church in California, and telling them your schemes. Thou art mighty,
O Don Diego Estenega, but thou art powerless against the enmity of
the Church. They are mightier than thou, and thou wilt never rule in
California. Unhand my sister! Thou shalt not have her either. Thou
shalt have nothing. Wilt thou unhand her?" he cried, enraged at
Estenega's cold reception of his damnatory news. "Thou shouldst not
have her if I tore thy heart from thy body."
Estenega looked contemptuously across Chonita's shoulder, although
his heart was lead within him. "The last resource of the mean and
down-trodden is revenge," he said. "Go. To-morrow I shall horsewhip
you in the court-yard of Fort Ross."
Reinaldo, hot with excitement and thirst for further vengeance,
uttered a shriek of rage and sprang upon him. Estenega saw the gleam
of a knife and flung Chonita aside, catching the driving arm, the
fury of his heart in his muscles. Reinaldo had the soft muscles of
the cabellero, and panted and writhed in the iron grasp of the man
who forgot that he grappled with the brother of a woman passionately
loved, remembered only that he rejoiced to fight to the death the man
who had ruined his life. Reinaldo tried to thrust the knife into his
back; Estenega suddenly threw his weight on the arm that held it,
nearly wrenching it from its socket, snatched the knife, and drove it
to the heart of his enemy.
Then the hot blood in his body turned cold. He stood like a stone
regarding Chonita, whose eyes, fixed upon him, were expanded with
horror. Between them lay the dead body of her brother.
He turned with a groan and sat down on a fallen log, supporting his
chin with his hand. His profile looked grim and worn and old. He
stared unseeingly at the ground. Chonita stood, still looking at him.
The last act of her brother's life had been to lay the foundation of
her lover's ruin; his death had completed it: all the South would
rise did the slayer of an Iturbi y Moncada seek to rule it. She felt
vaguely sorry for Reinaldo; but death was peace; this was hell
in living veins. The memory of the world beyond the forest grew
indistinct. She recalled her first dream and turned in loathing from
the bloodless selfishness of which it was the allegory. Superstition
and tradition slipped into some inner pocket of her memory, there to
rattle their dry bones together and fall to dust. She saw only the
figure, relaxed for the first time, the profile of a man with his
head on the block. She stepped across the body of her brother, and,
kneeling beside Estenega, drew his head to her breast.