Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part 2 out of 3
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. Dona 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 Dona 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. Dona 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?
Dona 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, Dona 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. Dueno
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. Dona 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
Dona 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, Senor!" 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, senorita 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, Dona 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 senorita,--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 Dona 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 crepes 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; Dona 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
crepe, 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. Dona 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, senorita." 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.
"Dona 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, senorita: 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, Senor 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 Dona
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, crepe
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
Senorita Dona Valencia Menendez, of the Rancho del Fuego."
Estenega bowed. "I have heard much of Dona 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
Dona 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 donas, 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 ganan 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
Dona 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
"Senor," 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, senorita. 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, senorita, 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, senorita."
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, senor. 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, senorita. 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, senorita. 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.
"Dona 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 Dona 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 Dona Trinidad
stays at home Chonita is in my charge. I will not permit such a
"Thou wilt, my Eustaquia. Dona Chonita is no pudding-brained girl. She
needs no duena."
"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 Stael 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 duena 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.
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