Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part 3 out of 3
Reinaldo did not go to his Prudencia. He went down to the booths in
the town and joined the late revelers. Don Guillermo, rising before
dawn, and walking up and down the corridor to conquer the pangs of
Dona Trinidad's dulces, noticed that the door of his son's room was
ajar. He paused before it and heard slow, regular, patient sobs. He
opened the door and went in. Prudencia, alone, curled up in a far
corner of her bed, the clothes over her head, was bemoaning many
things incidental to matrimony. As she heard the sound of heavy steps
she gave a little shriek.
"It is I, Prudencia," said her uncle. "Where is Reinaldo?"
"Did he not come from the ball-room with thee?"
"Dost thou know where he has gone?"
"Art thou afraid?"
"Never mind," said the old gentleman. "Go to sleep. Thy uncle will
protect thee, and this will not happen again."
He seated himself by the bedside. Prudencia's sobs ceased gradually,
and she fell asleep. An hour later the door opened softly, and
Reinaldo entered. In spite of the mescal in him, his knees shook as he
saw the indulgent but stern arbiter of the Iturbi y Moncada destinies
sitting in judgment at the bedside of his wife.
"Where have you been, sir?"
"To take a walk,--to see to--"
"No lying! It makes no difference where you have been. What I want
to know is this: Is it your duty to gallivant about town? or is your
place at this hour beside your wife?"
The old man rose, and, seizing the bride-groom by the shoulders, shook
him until his teeth clattered together. "Then see that you stay here
with her hereafter, or you shall no longer be a married man." And he
stamped out and slammed the door behind him.
We spent the next day at the race-field. Many of the caballeros had
brought their finest horses, and Reinaldo's were famous. The vaqueros
threw off their black glazed sombreros and black velvet jackets,
wearing only the short black trousers laced with silver, a shirt of
dazzling whiteness, a silk handkerchief twisted about the head, and
huge spurs on their bare brown heels. Some of us stood on a platform,
others remained on their horses; all were wild with excitement and
screamed themselves hoarse. The great dark eyes of the girls flashed,
their red mouths trembled with the flood of eager exclamations; the
lace mantilla or flowered reboso fluttered against hot cheeks, to be
torn off, perhaps, and waved in the enthusiasm of the moment. They
forgot the men, and the men forgot them. Even Chonita was oblivious to
all else for the hour. She was a famous horsewoman, and keenly alive
to the enchantment of the race-field. The men bet their ranchos, whole
caponeras of their finest horses, herds of cattle, their saddles and
their jewels. Estenega won largely, and, as it happened, from Reinaldo
particularly. Don Guillermo was rather pleased than otherwise, holding
his son to be in need of further punishment; but Reinaldo was obliged
to call upon all the courtesy of the Spaniard and all the falseness of
his nature to help him remember that his enemy was his guest.
We went home to siesta and long gay supper, where the races were the
only topic of conversation; then to dance and sing and flirt
until midnight, the people in the booths as tireless as ourselves.
Valencia's attentions to Estenega were as conspicuous as usual, but he
managed to devote most of his time to Chonita.
* * * * *
That night Chonita had a dream. She dreamed that she awoke without
a soul. The sense of vacancy was awful, yet there was a singular
undercurrent consciousness that no soul ever had been within
her,--that it existed, but was yet to be found.
She arose, trembling, and opened her door. Santa Barbara was as
quiet as all the world is in the chill last hours of night. She
half expected to see something hover before her, a will-o'-the-wisp,
alluring her over the rocky valleys and towering mountains until death
gave her weary feet rest. She remembered vaguely that she had read
legends of that purport.
But there was nothing,--not even the glow of a late cigarito or the
flash of a falling star. Still she seemed to know where the soul
awaited her. She closed her door softly and walked swiftly down the
corridor, her bare feet making no sound on the boards. At a door on
the opposite side she paused, shaking violently, but unable to pass
it. She opened the door and went in. The room, like all the others in
that time of festivity, had more occupants than was its wont; a bed
was in each corner. The shutters and windows were open, the moonlight
streamed in, and she saw that all were asleep. She crossed the room
and looked down upon Diego Estenega. His night garment, low about the
throat, made his head, with its sharply-cut profile, look like the
heads on old Roman medallions. The pallor of night, the extreme
refinement of his face, the deep repose, gave him an unmortal
appearance. Chonita bent over him fearfully. Was he dead? His
breathing was regular, but very quiet. She stood gazing down upon him,
the instinct of seeking vanished. What did it mean? Was this her soul!
A man? How could it be? Even in poetry she had never read of a man
being a woman's soul,--a man with all his frailties and sins, for the
most part unrepented. She felt, rather than knew, that Estenega had
trampled many laws, and that he cared too little for any law but his
own will to repent. And yet, there he lay, looking, in the gray light
and the impersonality of sleep, as sinless as if he had been created
within the hour. He looked not like a man but a spirit,--a soul; and
the soul was hers.
Again she asked herself, what did it mean? Was the soul but brain? She
and he were so alike in rudiments, yet he so immeasurably beyond her
in experience and knowledge and the stronger fiber of a man's mind--
He awoke suddenly and saw her. For a moment he stared incredulously,
then raised himself on his hand.
"Chonita!" he whispered.
But Chonita, with the long glide of the Californian woman, faded from
When she awoke the next morning she was assailed by a distressing
fear. Had she been to Estenega's room the night before? The memory was
too vivid, the details too practical, for a sleep-vagary. At breakfast
she hardly dared to raise her eyes. She felt that he was watching her;
but he often watched her. After breakfast they were alone at one end
of the corridor for a moment, and she compelled herself to raise her
eyes and look at him steadily. He was regarding her searchingly.
She was not a woman to endure uncertainty.
"Tell me," she cried, trembling from head to foot, the blood rushing
over her face, "did I go to your room last night?"
"Dona Chonita!" he exclaimed. "What an extraordinary question! You
have been dreaming."
We went to a bull-fight that day, danced that night, meriendaed and
danced again; a siesta in the afternoon, a few hours' sleep in the
night, refreshing us all. Chonita, alone, looked pale, but I knew that
her pallor was not due to weariness. And I knew that she was beginning
to fear Estenega; the time was almost come when she would fear herself
more. Estenega had several talks apart with her. He managed it without
any apparent maneuvering; but he always had the devil's methods.
Valencia avenged herself by flirting desperately with Reinaldo, and
Prudencia's honeymoon was seasoned with gall.
On Saturday night Chonita stole from her guests, donned a black gown
and reboso, and, attended by two Indian servants, went up to the
Mission to confession. As she left the church a half-hour later, and
came down the steps, Estenega rose from a bench beneath the arches of
the corridor and joined her.
"How did you know that I came?" she asked; and it was not the stars
that lit her face.
"You do little that I do not know. Have you been to confession?"
They walked slowly down the valley.
"And you forgave and were forgiven?"
"Yes. Ay! but my penance is heavy!"
"But when it is done you will be at rest, I suppose."
"Oh, I hope! I hope!"
"Have you begun to realize that your Church cannot satisfy you?"
"No! I will not say that."
"But you know it. Your intelligence has opened a window somewhere and
the truth has crept in."
"Do not take my religion from me, senor!" Her eyes and voice appealed
to him, and he accepted her first confession of weakness with a throb
of exulting tenderness.
"My love!" he said, "I would give you more than I took from you."
"No! never!--Even if we were not enemies, and I had not made that
terrible vow, my religion has been all in all to me. Just now I have
many things that torment me; and I have asked so little of religion
before--my life has been so calm--that now I hardly know how to ask
for so much more. I shall learn. Leave me in peace."
"Do you want me to go?" he asked. "If you did,--if I troubled you by
staying here,--I believe I would go. Only I know it would do no good:
I should come back."
"No! no! I do not want you to go. I should feel--I will admit to
you--like a house without its foundation. And yet sometimes, I pray
that you will go. Ay! I do not like life. I used to have pride in my
intelligence. Where is my pride now? What good has the wisdom in my
books done me, when I confess my dependence upon a man, and that
man my enemy--and the acquaintance of a few weeks?" She was speaking
incoherently, and Estenega chafed at the restraint of the servants so
close behind them. "Tell me," she exclaimed, "what is it in you that I
want?--that I need? It is something that belongs to me. Give it to me,
and go away."
"Chonita, I give it to you gladly, God knows. But you must take me,
too. You want in me what is akin to you and what you will find nowhere
else. But I cannot tear my soul out of my body. You must take both or
"Ay! I cannot! You know that I cannot!
"I ignore your reasons."
"But I do not."
"You shall, my beloved. Or if you do not ignore you shall forget
"When I am dead--would that I were!" She was excited and trembling.
The confession had been an ordeal, and Estenega was never
tranquillizing. She wished to cling to him, but was still mistress
of herself. He divined her impulse, and drew her arm through his and
across his breast. He opened her hand and pressed his lips to the
palm. Then he bent his face above hers. She was trembling violently;
her face was wild and white. His own was ashen, and the heart beneath
her arm beat rapidly.
"I love you devotedly," he said. "You believe that, Chonita?"
"Ah! Mother of God! do not! I cannot listen."
"But you shall listen. Throw off your superstitions and come to me.
Keep the part of your religion that is not superstition; I would be
the last to take it from you; but I will not permit its petty dogmas
to stand between us. As for your traditions, you have not even the
excuse of filial duty; your father would not forbid you to become my
wife. And I love you very earnestly and passionately. Just how much, I
might convey to you if we were alone."
He was obliged to exercise great self-restraint, but there was no
mistaking his seriousness. When such scientific triflers do find a
woman worth loving, they are too deeply sensible of the fact not to
be stirred to their depths; and their depths are apt to be in large
disproportion to the lightness of their ordinary mood. "Come to me,"
he continued. "I need you; and I will be as tender and thoughtful
a husband as I will be ardent as a lover. You love me: don't blind
yourself any longer. Do you picture, in a life of solitude and cold
devotion to phantoms, any happiness equal to what you would find here
in my arms?"
"Oh, hush! hush! You could make me do what you wished, I have no will.
I feel no longer myself. What is this terrible power?"
"It is the magnetism of love; that is all. I am not exercising any
diabolical power over you. Listen: I will not trouble you any more
now. I am obliged to go to Los Angeles the day after to-morrow, and on
my way back to Monterey--in about two weeks--I shall come here again.
Then we will talk together; but I warn you, I will accept only one
answer. You are mine, and I shall have you."
They reached Casa Grande a moment later, and she escaped from him and
ran to her room. But she dared not remain alone. Hastily changing her
black gown for the first her hand touched,--it happened to be vivid
red and made her look as white as wax,--she returned to the sala;
not to dance even the square contradanza, but to stand surrounded by
worshiping caballeros with curling hair tied with gay ribbons, and
jewels in their laces. Valencia regarded her with a bitter jealousy
that was rising from red heat to white. How dared a woman with hair of
gold wear the color of the brunette? It was a theft. It was the last
indignity. And once more she chained Reinaldo, in default of Estenega,
to her side. And deep in Prudencia's heart wove a scheme of vengeance;
the loom and warp had been presented unwittingly by her chivalrous
Estenega remained in the sala a few moments after Chonita's
reappearance, then left the house and wandered through the booth in
the court, where the people were dancing and singing and eating and
gambling as if with the morrow an eternal Lent would come, and thence
through the silent town to the pleasure-grounds of Casa Grande, which
lay about half a mile from the house. He had been there but a short
while when he heard a rustle, a light footfall; and, turning, he saw
Chonita, unattended, her bare neck and gold hair gleaming against the
dark, her train dragging. She was advancing swiftly toward him. His
pulses bounded, and he sprang toward her, his arms outstretched; but
she waved him back.
"Have mercy," she said. "I am alone. I brought no one, because I have
that to tell you which no one else must hear."
He stepped back and looked at the ground.
"Listen," she said. "I could not wait until to-morrow, because a
moment lost might mean--might mean the ruin of your career, and you
say your envoy has not gone yet. Just now--I will tell you the other
first. Mother of God! that I should betray my brother to my enemy! But
it seems to me right, because you placed your confidence in me, and
I should feel that I betrayed you if I did not warn you. I do not
know--oh, Mary!--I do not know--but this seems to me right. The other
night my brother came to me and asked me--ay! do not look at me--to
marry you, that you would balk his ambition no further. He wishes to
go as diputado to Mexico, and he knows that you will not let him. I
thought my brain would crack,--an Iturbi y Moncada!--I made him no
answer,--there was no answer to a demand like that,--and he went from
me in a fury, vowing vengeance upon you. To-night, a few moments
ago, he whispered to me that he knew of your plans, your intentions
regarding the Americans: he had overheard a conversation between you
and Alvarado. He says that he will send letters to Mexico to-morrow,
warning the government against you. Then their suspicions will be
roused, and they will inquire--Ay, Mary!"
Estenega brought his teeth together. "God!" he exclaimed.
She saw that he had forgotten her. She turned and went back more
swiftly than she had come.
Estenega was a man whose resources never failed him. He returned to
the house and asked Reinaldo to smoke a cigarito and drink a bottle of
wine in his room. Then, without a promise or a compromising word, he
so flattered that shallow youth, so allured his ambition and pampered
his vanity and watered his hopes, that fear and hatred wondered at
their existence, closed their eyes, and went to sleep. Reinaldo
poured forth his aspirations, which under the influence of the
truth-provoking vine proved to be an honest yearning for the pleasures
of Mexico. As he rose to go he threw his arm about Estenega's neck.
"Ay! my friend! my friend!" he cried, "thou art all-powerful. Thou
alone canst give me what I want."
"Why did you never ask me for what you wanted?" asked Estenega. And
he thought, "If it were not for Her, you would be on your way to Los
Angeles to-night under charge of high treason. I would not have taken
this much trouble with you."
A rodeo was held the next day,--the last of the festivities;--Don
Guillermo taking advantage of the gathering of the rancheros. It was
to take place on the Cerros Rancho, which adjoined the Rancho de
las Rocas. We went early, most of us dismounting and taking to the
platform on one side of the circular rodeo-ground. The vaqueros
were already galloping over the hills, shouting and screaming to the
cattle, who ran to them like dogs; soon a herd came rushing down into
the circle, where they were thrown down and branded, the stray cattle
belonging to neighbors separated and corralled. This happened again
and again, the interest and excitement growing with each round-up.
Once a bull, seeing his chance, darted from his herd and down the
valley. A vaquero started after him; but Reinaldo, anxious to display
his skill in horsemanship, and being still mounted, called to the
vaquero to stop, dashed after the animal, caught it by its tail,
spurred his horse ahead, let go the tail at the right moment, and,
amidst shouts of "Coliar!" "Coliar!" the bull was ignominiously rolled
in the dust, then meekly preceded Reinaldo back to the rodeo-ground.
After the dinner under the trees most of the party returned to the
platform, but Estenega, Adan, Chonita, Valencia, and myself strolled
about the rancho. Adan walked at Chonita's side, more faithful than
her shadow. Valencia's black eyes flashed their language so plainly to
Estenega's that he could not have deserted her without rudeness; and
Estenega never was rude.
"Adan," said Chonita, abruptly, "I am tired of thee. Sit down under
that tree until I come back. I wish to walk alone with Eustaquia for
Adan sighed and did as he was bidden, consoling himself with a
cigarito. Taking a different path from the one the others followed, we
walked some distance, talking of ordinary matters, both avoiding the
subject of Diego Estenega by common consent. And yet I was convinced
that she carried on a substratum of thought of which he was the
subject, even while she talked coherently to me. On our way back the
conversation died for want of bone and muscle, and, as it happened, we
were both silent as we approached a small adobe hut. As we turned the
corner we came upon Estenega and Valencia. He had just bent his head
and kissed her.
Valencia fled like a hare. Estenega turned the hue of chalk, and I
knew that blue lightning was flashing in his disconcerted brain. I
felt the chill of Chonita as she lifted herself to the rigidity of a
statue and swept slowly down the path.
"Diego, you are a fool!" I exclaimed, when she was out of hearing.
"You need not tell me that," he said, savagely. "But what in heaven's
name--Well, never mind. For God's sake straighten it out with her.
Tell her--explain to her--what men are. Tell her that the present
woman is omnipotently present--no, don't tell her that. Tell her
that history is full of instances of men who have given one woman the
devoted love of a lifetime and been unfaithful to her every week in
the year. Explain to her that a man to love one woman must love all
women. And she has sufficient proof that I love her and no other
woman: I want to marry her, not Valencia Menendez. Heaven knows I will
be true to her when I have her. I could not be otherwise. But I need
not explain to you. Set it right with her. She has brain, and can be
made to understand."
I shook my head. "You cannot reason with inexperience; and when it
is allied to jealousy--God of my soul! Her ideal, of course, is
perfection, and does not take human weakness into account. You have
fallen short of it to-day. I fear your cause is lost."
"It is not! Do you think I will give her up for a trifle like that?"
"But why not accept this break? You cannot marry her--"
"Oh, do not refer to that nonsense!" he exclaimed, harshly. "I shall
peel off her traditions when the time comes, as I would strip off the
outer hulls of a nut. Go! Go, Eustaquia!"
Of course I went. Chonita was not at the rodeo-ground, but, escorted
by her father, had gone home. I followed immediately, and when I
reached Casa Grande I found her sitting in her library. I never saw
a statue look more like marble. Her face was locked: only the eyes
betrayed the soul in torment. But she looked as immutable as a fate.
"Chonita," I exclaimed, hardly knowing where to begin, "be reasonable.
Men of Estenega's brain and passionate affectionate nature are always
weak with women, but it means nothing. He cares nothing for Valencia
Menendez. He is madly in love with you. And his weakness, my dear,
springs from the same source as his charm. He would not be the man
he is without it. His heart would be less kindly, his impulses less
generous, his brain less virile, his sympathies less instinctive and
true. The strong impregnable man, the man whom no vice tempts, no
weakness assails, who is loyal without effort,--such a man lacks
breadth and magnetism and the power to read the human heart and
sympathize with both its noble impulses and its terrible weaknesses.
Such men--I never have known it to fail--are full of petty vanities
and egoisms and contemptible weaknesses, the like of which Estenega
could not be capable of. No man can be perfect, and it is the man
of great strength and great weakness who alone understands and
sympathizes with human nature, who is lovable and magnetic, and who
has the power to rouse the highest as well as the most passionate love
of a woman. Such men cause infinite suffering, but they can give a
happiness that makes the suffering worth while. You never will meet
another man like Diego Estenega. Do not cast him lightly aside."
"Do I understand," said Chonita, in a perfectly unmoved voice, "that
you are counseling me to marry an Estenega and the man who would send
me to Hell hereafter? Do you forget my vow?"
I came to myself with a shock. In the enthusiasm of my defense I had
forgotten the situation.
"At least forgive him," I said, lamely.
"I have nothing to forgive," she said. "He is nothing to me."
I knew that it was useless to argue with her.
"I have a favor to ask of you," she said. "Most of our guests leave
this afternoon: will you let me sleep alone to-night?"
I should have liked to put my arm about her and give her a woman's
sympathy, but I did not dare. All I could do was to leave her alone.
Casa Grande held three jealous women. The situation had its comic
aspect, but was tragic enough to the actors.
In the evening the lingering guests of the house and the neighbors
of the town assembled as usual for the dance. Only Estenega absented
himself. Valencia stood her ground: she would not go while Estenega
remained. Chonita moved proudly among her guests, and never had been
more gracious. Valencia dared not meet her eyes nor mine, but, seeing
that Prudencia was watching her, avenged her own disquiet by enhancing
that of the bride. Never did she flirt so imperiously with Reinaldo
as she did that fateful night; and Reinaldo, who was man's vanity
collected and compounded, devoted himself to the dashing beauty. Her
cheeks burned with excitement, her eyes were restless and flashing.
The music stopped. The women were eating the dulces passed by the
Indian servants. The men had not yet gone into the dining-room.
Valencia dropped her handkerchief; Reinaldo, stooping to recover it,
kissed her hand behind its flimsy shelter.
Then Prudencia arose. She trailed her long gown down the room between
the two rows of people staring at her grim eyes and pressed lips; her
little head, with its high comb, stiffly erect. She walked straight up
to Reinaldo and boxed his ears before the assembled company.
"Thou wilt flirt no more with other women," she said, in a loud, clear
voice. "Thou art my husband, and thou wilt not forget it again. Come
And, amidst the silence of mountain-tops in a snow-storm, he stumbled
to his feet and followed her from the room.
I could not sleep that night. In spite of the amusement I had felt at
Prudencia's _coup-d'etat_, I was oppressed by the chill and foreboding
which seemed to emanate from Chonita and pervade the house. I knew
that terrible calm was like the menacing stillness of the hours before
an earthquake. What would she do in the coming convulsion? I shuddered
and tormented myself with many imaginings.
I became so nervous that I rose and dressed and went out upon the
corridor and walked up and down. It was very late, and the moon was
risen, but the corners were dark. Figures seemed to start from them,
but my nerves were strong; I never had given way to fear.
My thoughts wandered to Estenega. Who shall judge the complex heart
of a man? the deep, intense, lasting devotion he may have for the one
woman he recognizes as his soul's own, and yet the strange wayward
wanderings of his fancy,--the nomadic assertion of the animal; the
passionate love he may feel for this woman of all women, yet the
reserve in which he always holds her, never knowing her quite as well
as he has known other women; the last test of highest love, passion
without sensuality? And yet the regret that she does not gratify every
side of his nature, even while he would not have her; regret for the
terrible incongruity of human nature, the mingling of the beast and
the divine, which cannot find satisfaction in the same woman; whatever
the fire in her, she cannot gratify the instincts which rage below
passion in man, without losing the purity of mind which he adores in
her. She, too, feels a vague regret that some portion of his nature
is a sealed book to her, forever beyond her ken. But her regret is
nothing to his: he knows, and she does not.
My meditations were interrupted suddenly. I heard a door stealthily
opened. I knew before turning that the door was that of Chonita's
room, the last at the end of the right wing. It opened, and she came
out. It was as if a face alone came out. She was shrouded from head to
foot in black, and her face was as white as the moon. Possessed by a
nameless but overwhelming fear, I turned the knob of the door nearest
me and almost fell into the room. I closed the door behind me, but
there was no key. By the strip of white light which entered through
the crevice between the half-open shutters I saw that I was in the
room of Valencia Menendez; but she slept soundly and had not heard me.
I stood still, listening, for many minutes. At first there was no
sound; I evidently had startled her, and she was waiting for the house
to be still again. At last I heard some one gliding down the corridor.
Then, suddenly, I knew that she was coming to this room, and,
possessed by a horrible curiosity and growing terror, I sank on my
knees in a corner.
The door opened noiselessly, and Chonita entered. Again I saw only
her white face, rigid as death, but the eyes flamed with the terrible
passions that her soul had flung up from its depths at last. Then I
saw another white object,--her hand. But there was no knife in it.
Had there been, I think I should have shaken off the spell which
controlled me: I never would see murder done. It was the awe of the
unknown that paralyzed my muscles. She bent over Valencia, who moved
uneasily and cast her arms above her head. I saw her touch her finger
to the sleeping woman's mouth, inserting it between the lips. Then she
moved backward and stood by the head of the bed, facing the
window. She raised herself to her full height and extended her arms
horizontally. The position gave her the form of a cross--a black
cross, topped and pointed with malevolent white; one hand was spread
above Valencia's face. She was the most awful sight I ever beheld. She
uttered no sound; she scarcely breathed. Suddenly, with the curve of a
panther, her figure glided above the unconscious woman, her open hand
describing a strange motion; then she melted from the room.
Valencia awoke, shrieking.
"Some one has cursed me!" she cried. "Mother of God! Some one has
I fled from the room, to faint upon my own bed.
The next morning Casa Grande was thrown into consternation. Valencia
Menendez was in a raging fever, and had to be held in her bed.
After breakfast I sent for Estenega and told him of what I had seen.
In the first place I had to tell some one, and in the second I thought
to end his infatuation and avert further trouble. "You firebrand!" I
exclaimed, in conclusion. "You see the mischief you have worked! You
will go, now, thank heaven--and go cured."
"I will go,--for a time," he said. "This mood of hers must wear
itself out. But, if I loved her before, I worship her now. She is
magnificent!--a woman with the passions of hell and the sweetness of
an angel. She is the woman I have waited for all my life,--the only
woman I have ever known. Some day I will take her in my arms and tell
her that I understand her."
"Diego," I said, divided between despair and curiosity, "you have
fancied many women: wherein does your feeling for Chonita differ? How
can you be sure that this is love? What is your idea of love?"
He sat down and was silent for a moment, then spoke thoughtfully:
"Love is not passion, for one may feel that for many women; not
affection, for friendship demands that. Not even sympathy and
comradeship; one can find either with men. Nor all, for I have felt
all, yet something was lacking. Love is the mysterious turning of one
heart to another with the promise of a magnetic harmony, a strange
original delight, a deep satisfaction, a surety of permanence, which
did either heart roam the world it never would find again. It is the
knowledge that did the living body turn to corruption, the spirit
within would still hold and sway the steel which had rushed unerringly
to its magnet. It is the knowledge that weakness will only arouse
tenderness, never disgust, as when the fancy reigns and the heart
sleeps; that faults will clothe themselves in the individuality of the
owner and become treasures to the loving mind that sees, but worships.
It is the development of the highest form of selfishness, the
passionate and abiding desire to sacrifice one's self to the happiness
of one beloved. Above all, it is the impossibility to cease to love,
no matter what reason, or prudence, or jealousy, or disapproval, or
terrible discoveries, may dictate. Let the mind sit on high and argue
the soul's mate out of doors, it will rebound, when all is said and
done, like a rubber ball when the pressure of the finger is removed.
As for Chonita she is the lost part of me."
He left that day, and without seeing Chonita again. Valencia was in
wildest delirium for a week; at the end of the second every hair on
her head, her brows, and her eyelashes had fallen. She looked like a
white mummy, a ghastly pitiful caricature of the beautiful woman whose
arrows quivered in so many hearts. They rolled her in a blanket and
took her home; and then I sought Chonita, who had barely left her
room and never gone to Valencia's. I told her that I had witnessed the
curse, and described the result.
"Have you no remorse?" I asked.
"You have ruined the beauty, the happiness, the fortune, of another
"I have done what I intended."
"Do you realize that again you have raised a barrier between yourself
and your religion? You do not look very repentant."
"Revenge is sweeter than religion."
Then in a burst of anger I confessed that I had told Estenega. For a
moment I thought her terrible hatred was about to hurl its vengeance
at me; but she only asked,--
"What did he say?"
Unwillingly, I repeated it, but word for word. And as I spoke, her
face softened, the austerity left her features, an expression of
passionate gratitude came into her eyes.
"Did he say that, Eustaquia?"
"Say it again, please."
I did so. And then she put her hands to her face, and cried, and
cried, and cried.
At the end of the week Dona Trinidad died suddenly. She was sitting on
the green bench, dispensing charities, when her head fell back gently,
and the light went out. No death ever had been more peaceful, no soul
ever had been better prepared; but wailing grief went after her. Poor
Don Guillermo sank in a heap as if some one had felled him, Reinaldo
wept loudly, and Prudencia was not to be consoled. Chonita was away
on her horse when it happened, galloping over the hills. Servants were
sent for her immediately, and met her when she was within an hour or
two of home. As she entered the sala, Don Guillermo, Reinaldo, and
Prudencia literally flung themselves upon her; and she stood like a
rock, and supported them. She had loved her mother, but it had always
been her lot to prop other people; she never had had a chance to lean.
All that night and next day she was closely engaged with the members
of the agonized household, even visiting the grief-stricken Indians at
times. On the second night she went to the room where her mother
lay with all the pomp of candles and crosses, and bade the Indian
watchers, crouching like buzzards about the corpse, to go for a time.
She sank into a chair beside the dead, and wondered at the calmness of
her heart. She was not conscious of any feeling stronger than regret.
She tried to realize the irrevocableness of death,--that the mother
who had been so kindly an influence in her life had gone out of it.
But the knowledge brought no grief. She felt only the necessity for
alleviating the grief of the others; that was her part.
The door opened. She drew her breath suddenly. She knew that it
was Estenega. He sat down beside her and took her hand and held it,
without a word, for hours. Gradually she leaned toward him, although
without touching him. And after a time tears came.
He went his way the next morning, but he wrote to her before he left,
and again from Monterey, and then from the North. She only answered
once, and then with only a line.
But the line was this:
"Write to me until you have forgotten me."
One day she brought me a package and asked me to take it to Valencia.
"It is an ointment," she said,--"one of old Brigida's" (a witch who
lived on the cliffs and concocted wondrous specifics from herbs).
"Tell her to use it and her hair will grow again."
And that was the only sign of penitence I was permitted to see.
Then for a long interval there came no word from Estenega.
Before going to Mexico, Estenega remained for some weeks at his
ranchos in the North, overlooking the slaughtering of his cattle, an
important yearly event, for the trade in hides and tallow with foreign
shippers was the chief source of the Californian's income. He also was
associated with the Russians at Fort Ross and Bodega in the fur-trade.
But he was far from being satisfied with these desultory gains. They
sufficed his private wants, but with the great schemes he had in mind
he needed gold by the bushel. How to obtain it was a problem which sat
on the throne of his mind side by side with Chonita Iturbi y Moncada.
He had reason to believe that gold lay under California; but where? He
determined that upon his return from Mexico he would take measures
to discover, although he objected to the methods which alone could be
employed. But, like all born rulers of men, he had an impatient scorn
for means with a great end in view. There was no intermediate way of
making the money. It would be a hundred years before the country would
be populous enough to give his vast ranchos a reasonable value; and,
although he had twenty thousand head of cattle, the market for their
disposal was limited, and barter was the principle of trade, rather
Toward the end of the month he hurried to Monterey to catch a bark
about to sail for Mexico. The important preliminaries of the future
he had planned could no longer be delayed; the treacherous revengeful
nature of Reinaldo might at any moment awake from the spell in which
he had locked it; had a ship sailed before, he would have left his
commercial interests with his mayor-domo and gone to the seat of
government at once.
He arrived in Monterey one evening after hard riding. The city was
singularly quiet. It was the hour when the indefatigable dancers of
that gay town should have flitted past the open windows of the salas,
when the air should have been vocal with the flute and guitar, song
and light laughter. But the city might have been a living tomb. The
white rayless houses were heavy and silent as sepulchers. He rode
slowly down Alvarado Street, and saw the advancing glow of a cigar.
When the cigar was abreast of him he recognized Mr. Larkin.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Small-pox," replied the consul, succinctly. "Better get on board
at once. And steer clear of the lower quarter. Your vaquero
arrived yesterday, and I instructed him to put your baggage in the
custom-house. He dropped it and fled to the country."
Estenega thanked him and proceeded on his way. He made a circuit to
avoid the lower quarter, but saw that it was not abandoned; lights
moved here and there. "Poor creatures!" he thought, "they are probably
dying like poisoned rats."
On the side of the hill by the road was a solitary hut. He was obliged
to pass it. A candle burned beyond the open window, and he set his
lips and turned his head; not from fear of contagion, however. And his
eyes were drawn to the window in spite of his resolute will. He looked
once, and looked again, then checked his horse. On the bed lay a
girl in the middle stages of the disease, her eyes glittering with
delirium, her black hair matted and wet. She was evidently alone.
Estenega spurred his horse and galloped around to the back of the hut.
In the kitchen, the only other room, huddled an old crone, brown and
gnarled like an old apple. She was sleeping; by her side was a bottle
of aguardiente. Estenega called loudly to her.
The creature stirred, but did not open her eyes. He called twice
again, and awakened her. She stared through the open door, her lower
jaw falling, showing the yellow stumps.
"Is Anita alone with you?"
"Ay, yi! Don Diego! Yes, yes. All run from the house like rats from
a ship that burns. Ay, yi! Ay, yi! and she so pretty before! A-y,
y-i!--" Her head fell forward; she relapsed into stupor.
Estenega rode around to the window again. The girl was sitting on the
edge of the bed, mechanically pulling the long matted strands of her
"Water! water!" she cried, faintly. "Ay, Mary!" She strove to rise,
but fell back, clutching at the bedclothing.
Estenega rode to a deserted hut near by, concealed his saddle in
a corner under a heap of rubbish, and turned his horse loose. He
returned to the hut where the sick girl lay, and entered the room. She
recognized him in spite of her fever.
"Don Diego! Is it you?--you?" she said, half raising herself. "Ay,
Mary! is it the delirium?"
"It is I," he said. "I will take care of you. Do you want water?"
"Ay, water. Ay, thou wert always kind, even though thy love did last
so little a while."
He brought the water and did what he could to relieve her sufferings:
like all the rancheros, he had some knowledge of medicine. He held the
old crone under the pump, gave her an emetic, broke her bottle, and
ordered her to help him care for the girl. Between awe of him and
promise of gold, she gave him some assistance.
Estenega watched the vessel sail the next morning, and battled with
the impulse to leap from the window, hire a boat, and overtake it. The
delay of a month might mean the death of his hopes. For all he knew,
the bark carried the letters of his undoing; Reinaldo himself might
be on it. He set his lips with an expression of bitter contempt--the
expression directed at his own impotence in the hands of
Circumstance,--and went to the bedside of the girl. She was hopelessly
ill; even medical skill, were there such a thing in the country, could
not save her; but he could not leave to die like a dog a woman who had
been his mistress, even if only the fancy of a week, as this poor
girl had been. She had loved him, and never annoyed him; they had
maintained friendly relations, and he had helped her whenever she had
appealed to him. But in this hour of her extremity she had further
rights, and he recognized them. He had cut her hair close to her head,
and she looked more comfortable, although an unpleasant sight. As he
regarded her, he thought of Chonita, and the tide of love rose in him
as it had not before. In the beginning he had been hardly more than
infatuated with her originality and her curious beauty; at Santa
Barbara her sweetness and kinship had stolen into him and the
momentous fusion of passion and spiritual love had given new birth
to a torpid soul and stirred and shaken his manhood as lust had
never done; now in her absence and exaltation above common mortals he
reverenced her as an ideal. Even in the bitterness of the knowledge
that months must elapse before he could see her again, the tenderness
she had drawn to herself from the serious depths of his nature
throbbed throughout him, and made him more than gentle to the poor
creature whose ignorance could not have comprehended the least of what
he felt for Chonita.
She died within three days. The good priest, who stood to his post and
made each of his afflicted poor a brief daily visit, prayed by her
as she fell into stupor, but she was incapable of receiving extreme
unction. Estenega was alone with her when she died, but the priest
returned a few moments later.
"Don Thomas Larkin wishes me to say to you, Don Diego Estenega," said
the Father, "that he would be glad to have you stay with him until the
next vessel arrives. As two members of his family have the disease, he
has nothing to fear from you. I will care for the body."
Estenega handed him money for the burial, and looked at him
speculatively. The priest must have heard the girl's confessions, and
he wondered why he did not improve the opportunity to reprove a man
whose indifference to the Church was a matter of indignant comment
among the clergy. The priest appeared to divine his thoughts, for he
"Thou hast done more than thy duty, Don Diego. And to the frailties of
men I think the good God is merciful. He made them. Go in peace."
Estenega accepted Mr. Larkin's invitation, but, in spite of the genial
society of the consul, he spent in his house the most wretched three
weeks of his life. He dared not leave Monterey until he had passed the
time of incubation, having no desire to spread the disease; he dared
not write to Chonita, for the same reason. What must she think? She
supposed him to have sailed, of course, but he had promised to write
her from Monterey, and again from San Diego. And the uncertainty
regarding his Mexican affairs was intolerable to a man of his active
mind and supertense nervous system. His only comfort lay in Mr.
Larkin's assurance that the national bark Joven Guipuzcoana was due
within the month and would return at once. Early in the fourth week
the assurance was fulfilled, and by the time he was ready to sail
again his danger from contagion was over. But he embarked without
writing to Chonita.
The voyage lasted a month, tedious and monotonous, more trying than
his retardation on land, for there at least he could recover some
serenity by violent exercise. He divided his time between pacing
the deck, when the weather permitted, and writing to Chonita: long,
intimate, possessing letters, which would reveal her to herself as
nothing else, short of his own dominant contact, could do. At San Blas
he posted his letters and welcomed the rough journey overland to the
capital; but under a calm exterior he was possessed of the spirit of
disquiet. As so often happens, however, his fears proved to have been
vagaries of a morbid state of mind and of that habit of thought which
would associate with every cause an effect of similar magnitude. Santa
Ana welcomed him with friendly enthusiasm, and was ready to listen to
his plans. That wily and astute politician, who was always abreast of
progress and never in its lead, recognized in Estenega the coming man,
and, knowing that the seizure of the Californias by the United States
was only a question of time, was keenly willing to make an ally of
the man who he foresaw would control them as long as he chose, both
at home and in Washington. For the matter of that, he recognized
the impotence of Mexico to interfere, beyond bluster, with plans any
resolute Californian might choose to pursue; but it was important to
Estenega's purpose that the governorship should be assured to him by
the central government, and the eyes of the Mexican Congress directed
elsewhere. He knew the value of the moral effect which its apparent
sanction would have upon rebellious Southerners.
"I am at your service," said Santa Ana; "and the governorship is
yours. But take heed that no rumor of your ultimate intentions reaches
the ears of Congress until you are firmly established. If it opposed
you relentlessly--and it keeps its teeth on California like a dog on
a bone bigger than himself--I should have to yield; I have too much
at stake myself. I will look out that any communications from enemies,
including Iturbi y Moncada, are opened first by me."
Estenega wrote to Chonita again by the ship that left during his brief
stay in the capital, and it was his intention to go directly to
Santa Barbara upon arriving in California. But when he landed in
Monterey--disinfected and careless as of old--he learned that she was
about to start, perhaps already had done so, for Fort Ross, to pay a
visit to the Rotscheffs. The news gave him pleasure; it had been his
wish to say what he had yet to say in his own forests.
And then the plan which had been stirring restlessly in his mind for
many months took imperative shape: he determined that if there was
gold in California he would wring the secret out of its keeper, by
gentle means or violent, and that within the next twenty-four hours.
Estenega drew rein the next night before the neglected Mission of San
Rafael. The valley, surrounded by hills dark with the silent
redwoods, bore not a trace of the populous life of the days before
secularization. The padre lived alone, lodge-keeper of a valley of
He opened the door of his room on the corridor as he heard the
approach of the traveler, squinting his bleared, yellow-spotted eyes.
He was surly by nature, but he bowed low to the man whose power was so
great in California, and whose generosity had sent him many a bullock.
He cooked him supper from his frugal store, piled the logs in the open
fireplace,--November was come,--and, after a bottle of wine, produced
from Estenega's saddle-bag, expanded into a hermit's imitation of
conviviality. Late in the night they still sat on either side of the
table in the dusty, desolate room. The Forgotten had been entertained
with vivid and shifting pictures of the great capital in which he had
passed his boyhood. He smiled occasionally; now and again he gave a
quick impatient sigh. Suddenly Estenega leaned forward and fixed him
with his powerful gaze.
"Is there gold in these mountains?" he asked, abruptly.
The priest was thrown off his guard for a moment; a look of meaning
flashed into his eyes, then one of cunning displaced it.
"It may be, Senor Don Diego; gold is often in the earth. But had I the
unholy knowledge, I would lock it in my breast. Gold is the canker in
the heart of the world. It is not for the Church to scatter the evil
Estenega shut his teeth. Fanaticism was a more powerful combatant than
"True, my father. But think of the good that gold has wrought. Could
these Missions have been built without gold?--these thousands of
"What you say is not untrue; but for one good, ten thousand evils
are wrought with the metal which the devil mixed in hell and poured
through the veins of the earth."
Estenega spent a half-hour representing in concrete and forcible
images the debt which civilization owed to the fact and circulation
of gold. The priest replied that California was a proof that commerce
could exist by barter; the money in the country was not worth speaking
"And no progress to speak of in a hundred years," retorted Estenega.
Then he expatiated upon the unique future of California did she have
gold to develop her wonderful resources. The priest said that to cut
California from her Arcadian simplicity would be to start her on her
journey to the devil along with the corrupt nations of the Old
World. Estenega demonstrated that if there was vice in the older
civilizations there was also a higher state of mental development, and
that Religion held her own. He might as well have addressed the walls
of the Mission. He tempted with the bait of one of the more central
Missions. The priest had only the dust of ambition in the cellar of
He lost his patience at last. "I must have gold," he said, shortly;
"and you shall show me where to find it. You once betrayed to my
father that you knew of its existence in these hills; and you shall
give me the key."
The priest looked into the eyes of steel and contemptuously determined
face before him, and shut his lips. He was alone with a desperate man;
he had not even a servant; he could be murdered, and his murderer
go unsuspected; but the heart of the fanatic was in him. He made no
"You know me," said Estenega. "I owe half my power in California to
the fact that I do not make a threat to-day and forget it to-morrow.
You will show me where that gold is, or I shall kill you."
"The servant of God dies when his hour comes. If I am to die by the
hand of the assassin, so be it."
Estenega leaned forward and placed his strong hand about the priest's
baggy throat, pushing the table against his chest. He pressed his
thumb against the throttle, his second finger hard against the
jugular, and the tongue rolled over the teeth, the congested eyes
bulged. "It may be that you scorn death, but may not fancy the mode
of it. I have no desire to kill you. Alive or dead, your life is of no
more value than that of a worm. But you shall die, and die with much
discomfort, unless you do as I wish." His hand relaxed its grasp, but
still pressed the rough dirty throat.
"Accursed heretic!" said the priest.
"Spare your curses for the superstitious."
He saw a gleam of cunning come into the priest's eyes. "Very well; if
I must I must. Let me rise, and I will conduct you."
Estenega took a piece of rope from his saddle-bag and tied it about
the priest's waist and his own. "If you have any holy pitfall in view
for me, I shall have the pleasure of your company. And if I am led
into labyrinths to die of starvation, you at least will have a meal: I
could not eat you."
If the priest was disconcerted, he did not show it. He took a lantern
from a shelf, lit the fragment of candle, and, opening a door at the
back, walked through the long line of inner rooms. All were heaped
with rubbish. In one he found a trap-door with his foot, and descended
rough steps cut out of the earth. The air rose chill and damp, and
Estenega knew that the tunnel of the Mission was below, the secret
exit to the hills which the early Fathers built as a last resource in
case of defeat by savage tribes. When they reached the bottom of the
steps the tallow dip illuminated but a narrow circle; Estenega could
form no idea of the workmanship of the tunnel, except that it was not
more than six feet and a few inches high, for his hat brushed the top,
and that the floor and sides appeared to be of pressed clay. There was
ventilation somewhere, but no light. They walked a mile or more,
and then Estenega had a sense of stepping into a wider and higher
"We are no longer in the tunnel," said the priest. He lifted the
lantern and swung it above his head. Estenega saw that they were in a
circular room, hollowed probably out of the heart of a hill. He also
saw something else.
"What is that?" he exclaimed, sharply.
The priest handed him the lantern. "Look for yourself," he said.
Estenega took the lantern, and, holding it just above his head and
close to the walls, slowly traversed the room. It was belted with
three strata of crystal-like quartz, sown thick with glittering yellow
specks and chunks. Each stratum was about three feet wide.
"There is a fortune here," he said. He felt none of the greed of gold,
merely a recognition of its power.
"Yes, senor; enough to pay the debt of a nation."
"Where are we? Under what hill? I am sorry I had not a compass with
me. It was impossible to make any accurate guess of direction in that
slanting tunnel. Where is the outlet?"
The priest made no reply.
Estenega turned to him peremptorily. "Answer me. How can I find this
place from without?"
"You never will find it from without. When the danger from Indians was
over, a pious Father closed the opening. This gold is not for you. You
could not find even the trap-door by yourself."
"Then why have you brought me here?"
"To tantalize you. To punish you for your insult to the Church through
me. Kill me now, if you wish. Better death than hell."
Estenega made a rapid circuit of the room. There was no mode of
egress other than that by which they had entered, and no sign of any
previously existing. He sprang upon the priest and shook him until
the worn stumps rattled in their gums. "You dog!" he said, "to balk
me with your ignorant superstition! Take me out of this place by its
other entrance at once, that I may remain on the hill until morning.
I would not trust your word. You shall tell me, if I have to torture
The priest made a sudden spring and closed with Estenega, hugging
him like a bear. The lantern fell and went out. The two men stumbled
blindly in the blackness, striking the walls, wrestling desperately,
the priest using his teeth and panting like a beast. But he was no
match for the virility and science of his young opponent. Estenega
threw him in a moment and bound him with the rope. Then he found the
lantern and lit the candle again. He returned to the priest and stood
over him. The latter was conquered physically, but the dogged light
of bigotry still burned in his eyes, although Estenega's were not
agreeable to face.
Estenega was furious. He had twisted Santa Ana, one of the most subtle
and self-seeking men of his time, around his finger as if he had
been a yard of ribbon; Alvarado, the wisest man ever born in the
Californias, was swayed by his judgment; yet all the arts of which his
intellect was master fell blunt and useless before this clay-brained
priest. He had more respect for the dogs in his kennels, but unless
he resorted to extreme measures the creature would defeat him through
sheer brute ignorance. Estenega was not a man to stop in sight of
victory or to give his sword to an enemy he despised.
"You are at my mercy. You realize that now, I suppose. Will you show
me the other way out?"
The priest drew down his under-lip like a snarling dog, revealing the
discolored stumps. But he made no other reply.
Estenega lit a match, and, kneeling beside the priest, held it to his
stubbled beard. As the flame licked the flesh the man uttered a yell
like a kicked brute. Estenega sprang to his feet with an oath. "I
can't do it!" he exclaimed, with bitter disgust. "I haven't the iron
of cruelty in me. I am not fit to be a ruler of men." He untied the
rope about the prisoner's feet. "Get up," he said, "and conduct me
back as we came." The priest scrambled to his feet and hobbled down
the long tunnel. They ascended the steps beneath the Mission and
emerged into the room. Estenega turned swiftly to prevent the closing
of the trap-door, but only in time to hear it shut with a spring and
the priest kick rubbish above it.
He cut the rope which bound the other's hands. "Go," he said, "I have
no further use for you. And if you report this, I need not explain to
you that it will fare worse with you than it will with me."
The priest fled, and Estenega, hanging the lantern on a nail, pushed
aside the rubbish with his feet, purposing to pace the room until
dawn. In a few moments, however, he discovered that the despised
hermit was not without his allies; ten thousand fleas, the pest of the
country, assaulted every portion of his body they could reach. They
swarmed down the legs of his riding-boots, up his trousers, up his
sleeves, down his neck. "There is no such thing in life as tragedy,"
he thought. He hung the lantern outside the door to mark the room, and
paced the yard until morning. But there were dark hours yet before the
dawn, and during one of them a figure, when his back was turned,
crept to the lantern and hung it before an adjoining room. When light
came,--and the fog came first,--all Estenega's efforts to find the
trap-door were unavailing, although the yard was littered with the
rubbish he flung into it from the room. He suspected the trick, but
there were ten rooms exactly alike, and although he cleared most of
them he could discover no trace of the trap-door. He looked at the
hills surrounding the Mission. They were many, and beyond there were
others. He mounted his horse and rode around the buildings, listening
carefully for hollow reverberation. The tunnel was too far below; he
He was defeated. For the first time in his life he was without
resource, overwhelmed by a force stronger than his own will; and his
spirit was savage within him. He had no authority to dig the floors
of the Mission, for the Mission and several acres about it were
the property of the Church. The priest never would take him on that
underground journey again, for he had learned the weak spot in his
armor, nor had he fear of death. Unless accident favored him, or some
one more fortunate, the golden heart of the San Rafael hill would
pulse unrifled forever.
He turned his back upon the Mission and rode toward his home, sixty
miles in a howling November wind. At Bodega Bay he learned that
Governor Rotscheff had passed there two days before with a party of
guests that he had gone down to Sausalito to meet. Chonita awaited
him in the North. A softer mood pressed through the somberness of his
spirit, and the candle of hope burned again. Gold must exist elsewhere
in California, and he swore anew that it should yield itself to him.
The last miles of his ride lay along the cliffs. Sometimes the steep
hills covered with redwoods rose so abruptly from the trail that the
undergrowth brushed him as he passed; on the other side but a few
inches stood between himself and death amidst the surf pounding on the
rocks a thousand feet below. The sea-gulls screamed about his head,
the sea-lions barked with the hollow note of consumptives on the
outlying rocks. On the horizon was a bank of fog, outlined with the
crests and slopes and gulches of the mountain beside him. It sent an
advance wrack scudding gracefully across the ocean to puff among the
redwoods, capriciously clinging to some, ignoring others. Then came
the vast white mountain rushing over the roaring ocean, up the cliffs
and into the gloomy forests, blotting the lonely horseman from sight.
He arrived at his house--a big structure of logs--late in the night.
His servants came out to meet him, and in a moment a fire leaped in
the great fireplace in his library. He lived alone; his parents and
brothers were dead, and his sisters married; but the fire made the low
long room, covered with bear-skins and lined with books, as cheerful
as a bachelor could expect. He found a note from the Princess Helene
Rotscheff, the famous wife of the governor, asking him to spend the
following week at Fort Ross; but he was so tired that even the image
of Chonita was dim; the note barely caused a throb of anticipation.
After supper he flung himself on a couch before the fire and slept
until morning, then went to bed and slept until afternoon. By that
time he was himself again. He sent a vaquero ahead with his evening
clothes, and an hour or two later started for Fort Ross, spurring his
horse with a lighter heart over the cliffs. His ranchos adjoined
the Russian settlement; the journey from his house to the military
enclosure was not a long one. He soon rounded the point of a sloping
hill and entered the spreading core formed by the mountains receding
in a semicircle above the cliffs, and in whose shelter lay Fort Ross.
The fort was surrounded by a stockade of redwood beams, bastions in
the shape of hexagonal towers at diagonal corners. Cannon, mounted on
carriages, were at each of the four entrances, in the middle of the
enclosure, and in the bastions. Sentries paced the ramparts with
Within were the long low buildings occupied by the governor and
officers, the barracks, and the Russian church, with its belfry and
cupola. Beyond was the "town," a collection of huts accommodating
about eight hundred Indians and Siberian convicts, the workingmen of
the company. All the buildings were of redwood logs or planed boards,
and made a very different picture from the white towns of the South.
The curving mountains were sombrous with redwoods, the ocean growled
Estenega threw his bridle to a soldier and went directly to the house.
A servant met him on the veranda and conducted him to his room; it
was late, and every one else was dressing for dinner. He changed his
riding-clothes for the evening dress of modern civilization, and went
at once to the drawing-room. Here all was luxury, nothing to suggest
the privations of a new country. A thick red carpet covered the floor,
red arras the walls; the music of Mozart and Beethoven was on the
grand piano. The furniture was rich and comfortable, the large carved
table was covered with French novels and European periodicals.
The candles had not been brought in, but logs blazed in the open
fireplace. As Estenega crossed the room, a woman, dressed in black,
rose from a deep chair, and he recognized Chonita. He sprang forward
impetuously and held out his arms, but she waved him back.
"No, no," she said, hurriedly. "I want to explain why I am here. I
came for two reasons. First, I could refuse the Princess Helene no
longer; she goes so soon. And then--I wanted to see you once more
before I leave the world."
"Before you do what?"
"I am not going into a convent; I cannot leave my father. I am going
to retire to the most secluded of our ranchos, to see no more of the
world or its people. I shall take my father with me. Reinaldo and
Prudencia will remain at Casa Grande."
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed, impatiently. "Do you suppose I shall let you
do anything of the sort? How little you know me, my love! But we will
discuss that question later. We shall be alone only a few moments now.
Tell me of yourself. How are you?"
"I will tell you that, also, at another time."
And at the moment a door opened, and the governor and his wife entered
and greeted Estenega with cordial hospitality. The governor was
a fine-looking Russian, with a spontaneous warmth of manner; the
princess a woman who possessed both elegance and vivacity, both
coquetry and dignity; she could sparkle and chill, allure and suppress
in the same moment. Even here, rough and wild as her surroundings
were, she gave much thought to her dress; to-night her blonde
harmonious loveliness was properly framed in a toilette of mignonette
greens, fresh from Paris. A moment later Reinaldo and Prudencia
appeared, the former as splendid a caballero as ever, although
wearing the chastened air of matrimony, the latter pre-maternally
consequential. Then came the officers and their wives, all brilliant
in evening dress; and a moment later dinner was announced.
Estenega sat at the right of his hostess, and that trained daughter of
the salon kept the table in a light ripple of conversation, sparkling
herself, without striking terror to the hearts of her guests. She and
Estenega were old friends, and usually indulged in lively sallies,
ending some times in a sharp war of words, for she was a very clever
woman; but to-night he gave her absent attention: he watched Chonita
furtively, and thought of little else.
Her eyes had darker shadows beneath them than those cast by her
lashes; her face was pale and slightly hollowed. She had suffered, and
not for her mother. "She shall suffer no more," he thought.
"We hunt bear to-night," he heard the governor say at length.
"I should like to go," said Chonita, quickly. "I should like to go out
Immediately there was a chorus from all the Other women, excepting the
Princess Helene and Prudencia; they wanted to go too. Rotscheff, who
would much rather have left them at home, consented with good grace,
and Estenega's spirits rose at once. He would have a talk with Chonita
that night, something he had not dared to hope for, and he suspected
that she had promoted the opportunity.
The men remained in the dining-room after the ladies had withdrawn,
and Estenega, restored to his normal condition, and in his natural
element among these people of the world, expanded into the high
spirits and convivial interest in masculine society which made him as
popular with men as he was fascinating, through the exercise of
more subtle faculties, to women. Reinaldo watched him with jealous
impatience; no one cared to hearken to his eloquence when Estenega
talked; and he had come to Fort Ross only to have a conversation
with his one-time enemy. As he listened to Estenega, shorn, for the
time-being, of his air of dictator and watchful ambition, a man of
the world taking an enthusiastic part in the hilarity of the hour,
but never sacrificing his dignity by assuming the role of chief
entertainer, there grew within him a dull sense of inferiority: he
felt, rather than knew, that neither the city of Mexico nor gratified
ambitions would give him that assured ease, that perfection of
breeding, that calm sense of power, concealing so gracefully the
relentless will and the infinite resource which made this most
un-Californian of Californians seem to his Arcadian eyes a being of a
higher star. And hatred blazed forth anew.
As the men rose, finally, to go to the drawing-room, he asked Estenega
to remain for a moment. "Thou wilt keep thy promise soon, no?" he said
when they were alone.
"Thy promise to send me as diputado to the next Mexican Congress."
Estenega looked at him reflectively. He had little toleration for the
man of inferior brain, and, although he did not underrate his power
for mischief, he relied upon his own wit to circumvent him. He had
disposed of this one by warning Santa Ana, and he concluded to be
annoyed by him no further. Besides, as a brother-in-law, he would be
insupportable except at the long range of mutual unamiability.
"I made you no promise," he said, deliberately; "and I shall make you
none. I do not wish you in the city of Mexico."
Reinaldo's face grew livid. "Thou darest to say that to me, and yet
would marry my sister?"
"I would, and I shall."
"And yet thou wouldst not help her brother?"
"Her brother is less to me than any man with whom I have sat to-night.
Build no hopes on that. You will stay at Santa Barbara and play the
grand seigneur, which suits you very well, or become a prisoner in
your own house." And he left the room.
An hour later they assembled in the plaza to start for the bear hunt.
Reinaldo was not of the party.
Estenega lifted Chonita to her horse and stood beside her for a moment
while the others mounted. He touched her hand with his:
"We could not have a more beautiful night," he said, significantly.
"And I have often wished that my father had included this spot when he
applied for his grant. I should like to live with you here. Even when
the winds rage and hurl the rain through the very window pane, I know
of no more enchanting spot than Fort Ross. The Russians are going;
some day I will buy it for you."
She made no reply, but she did not withdraw her hand, and he held
it closely and glanced slowly about him. Always, despite his bitter
intimacy with life, in kinship with nature, perhaps in that moment it
had a deeper meaning, for he saw with double vision: She was there;
and, with him, sensible not only of the beauty of the night, but of
the indefinable mystery which broods over California the moment the
sun falls. Perhaps, too, he was troubled by a vague foreboding, such
as comes to mortals sometimes in spite of their limitations: he never
saw Fort Ross again.
On the horizon the fog crouched and moved; marched like a battalion of
ocean's ghosts; suddenly cohered and sent out light puffs of smoke, as
from the crater of a spectral volcano. The moon, full and bright and
cold, hung low in the dark sky: one hardly noted the stars. The vast
sweep of water was as calm as a lake, dark and metallic like the sky,
barely reflecting the silver light between. But although calm it was
not quiet. It greeted the forbidding rocks beyond the shore, the long
irregular line of stark, storm-beaten cliffs, with ominous mutter, now
and again throwing a cloud of spray high in the air, as if in derisive
proof that even in sleep it was sensible of its power. Occasionally it
moaned, as if sounding a dirge along the mass of stones which storms
had hurled or waves had wrenched from the crags above,--a dirge for
beheaded Russians, for him who had walked the plank, or for the lover
of Natalie Ivanhoff.
Here and there the cliffs were intersected by deep straggling gulches,
out of whose sides grew low woods of brush; but the three tables
rising successively from the ocean to the forest on the mountain, were
almost bare. On the highest, between two gulches, on a knoll so bare
and black and isolated that its destiny was surely taken into account
at creation, was a tall rude cross and a half hundred neglected
graves. The forest seemed blacker just behind it, the shadows thicker
in the gorges that embraced it, the ocean grayer and more illimitable
before it. "Natalie Ivanhoff is there in her copper coffin," said
Estenega, "forgotten already."
The curve of the mountain was so perfect that it seemed to reach down
a long arm on either side and grasp the cliffs. The redwoods on its
crown and upper slopes were a mass of rigid shadows, the points, only,
sharply etched on the night sky. They might have been a wall about an
"Come," cried Rotscheff, "we are ready to start." And Estenega sprang
to his horse.
"I don't envy you," said the Princess Helene from the veranda, her
silveren head barely visible above the furs which enveloped her. "I
prefer the fire."
"You are warmly clad?" asked Estenega of Chonita. "But you have the
blood of the South in your veins."
They climbed the steep road between the levels, slowly, the women
chattering and asking questions, the men explaining and advising.
Estenega and Chonita having much to say, said nothing.
A cold volume of air, the muffled roar of a mountain torrent, rushed
out of the forest, startling with the suddenness of its impact. Once a
panther uttered its human cry.
They entered the forest. It was so dark here that the horses wandered
from the trail and into the brush again and again. Conversation
ceased; except for the muffled footfalls of the horses and the speech
of the waters there was no sound. Chonita had never known a stillness
so profound; the giant trees crowding together seemed to resent
intrusion, to menace an eternal silence. She moved her horse close to
Estenega's and he took her hand. Occasionally there was an opening, a
well of blackness, for the moon had not yet come to the forest.
They reached the summit, and descended. Half-way down the mountain
they rode into a farm in a valley formed by one of the many basins.
The Indians were waiting, and killed a bullock at once, placing the
carcass in a conspicuous place. Then all retired to the shade of the
trees. In less than a half-hour a bear came prowling out of the forest
and began upon the meal so considerately provided for him. When his
attention was fully engaged, Rotscheff and the officers, mounted,
dashed down upon him, swinging their lassos. The bear showed fight and
stood his ground, but this was an occasion when the bear always got
the worst of it. One lasso caught his neck, another his hind foot,
and he was speedily strained and strangled to death. No sooner was
he despatched than another appeared, then another, and the sport grew
very exciting, absorbing the attention of the women as well as the
energies of the men.
Estenega lifted Chonita from her horse. "Let us walk," he said.
"They will not miss us. A few yards farther, and you will be on my
territory. I want you there."
She made no protest, and they entered the forest. The moon shone down
through the lofty redwoods that seemed to scrape its crystal; the
monotone of the distant sea blended with the faint roar of the
tree-tops. The vast gloomy aisles were unbroken by other sound.
He took her hand and held it a moment, then drew it through his arm.
"Now tell me all," he said, "They will be occupied for a long while.
The night is ours."
"I have come here to tell you that I love you," she said. "Ah, can _I_
make _you_ tremble? It was impossible for me not to tell you this; I
could not rest in my retreat without having the last word with
you, without having you know me. And I want to tell you that I have
suffered horribly; you may care to know that, for no one else in the
world could have made me, no one else ever can. Only your fingers
could twist in my heart-strings and tear my heart out of my body. I
suffered first because I doubted you, then because I loved you, then
the torture of jealousy and the pangs of parting, then those dreadful
three months when I heard no word. I could not stay at Casa Grande;
everything associated with you drove me wild. Oh, I have gone through
all varieties! But the last was the worst, after I heard from you
again, and all other causes were removed, and I knew that you were
well and still loved me: the knowledge that I never could be anything
to you,--and I could be so much! The torment of this knowledge was so
bitter that there was but one refuge,--imagination. I shut my eyes to
my little world and lived with you; and it seemed to me that I grew
into absolute knowledge of you. Let me tell you what I divined. You
may tell me that I am wrong, but I do not believe that you will. I
think that in the little time we were together I absorbed you.
"It seemed to me that your soul reached always for something just
above the attainable, restless in the moments which would satisfy
another, fretted with a perverse desire for something different when
an ardent wish was granted, steeped, under all wanton determined
enjoyment of life, with the bitter knowing of life's sure impotence
to satisfy. Could the dissatisfied darting mind loiter long enough to
give a woman more than the promise of happiness?--but never mind that.
"With this knowledge of you my own resistless desire for variety left
me: my nature concentrated into one paramount wish,--to be all things
to you. What I had felt vaguely before and stifled--the nothingness
of life, the inevitableness of satiety--I repudiated utterly, now that
they were personified in you; I would not recognize the fact of their
existence. _I_ could make you happy. How could imagination shape such
scenes, such perfection of union, of companionship, if reality were
not? Imagination is the child of inherited and living impressions. I
might exaggerate; but, even stripped of its halo, the substance must
be sweeter and more fulfilling than anything else on this earth at
least. And I knew that you loved me. Oh, I had _felt_ that! And the
variousness of your nature and desires, although they might madden
me at times, would give an extraordinary zest to life. I was The
Doomswoman no longer. I was a supplementary being who could meet you
in every mood and complete it; who would so understand that I could
be man and woman and friend to you. A delusion? But so long as I shall
never know, let me believe. An extraordinary tumultuous desire that
rose in me like a wave and shook me often at first, had, in those last
sad weeks, less part in my musings. It seemed to me that that was the
expression, the poignant essence, of love; but there was so much else!
I do not understand that, however, and never shall. But I wanted to
tell you all. I could not rest until you knew me as I am and as
you had made me. And I will tell you this too," she cried, breaking
suddenly, "I wanted you so! Oh, I needed you so! It was not I, only,
who could give. And it is so terrible for a woman to stand alone!"
He made no reply for a moment. But he forgot every other interest and
scheme and idea stored in his impatient brain. He was thrilled to his
soul, and filled with the exultant sense that he was about to take to
his heart the woman compounded for him out of his own elements.
"Speak to me," she said.
"My love, I have so much to say to you that it will take all the years
we shall spend together to say it in."
"No, no! Do not speak of that. There I am firm. Although the misery of
the past months were to be multiplied ten hundred times in the future,
I would not marry you."
Estenega, knowing that their hour of destiny was come, and that upon
him alone depended its issues, was not the man to hesitate between
such happiness as this woman alone could give him, and the gray
existence which she in her blindness would have meted to both: his
bold will had already taken the future in its relentless grasp. But,
knowing the mental habit of women, he thought it best to let Chonita
free her mind, that there might be the less in it to protest for
hearing while his heart and passion spoke to hers.
"It seems absurd to argue the matter," he said, "but tell me the
reasons again, if you choose, and we will dispose of them once for
all. Do not think for a moment, my darling, that I do not respect your
reasons; but I respect them only because they are yours; in themselves
they are not worthy of consideration."
"Ay, but they are. It has been an unwritten law for four generations
that an Estenega and an Iturbi y Moncada should not marry; the enmity
began, as you should know, when a member of each family was an officer
in a detachment of troops sent to protect the Missions in their
building. And my father--he told me lately--loved your father's sister
for many years,--that was the reason he married so late in life,--and
would not ask her because of her blood and of cruel wrongs her father
had done his. Shall his daughter be weak where he was strong? You cast
aside traditions as if they were the seeds of an apple; but remember
that they are blood of my blood. And the vow I made,--do you forget
that? And the words of it? The Church stands between us. I will tell
you all: the priest has forbidden me to marry you; he forbade it every
time I confessed; not only because of my vow, but because you had
aroused in me a love so terrible that I almost took the life of
another woman. Could I bring you back to the Church it might be
different; but you rule others; no one could remould you. You see it
is hopeless. It is no use to argue."
"I have no intention of arguing. Words are too good to waste on such
an absurd proposition that because our fathers hated, we, who are
independent and intelligent beings, should not marry when every drop
of heart's blood demands its rights. As for your vow,--what is a vow?
Hysterical egotism, nothing more. Were it the promise of man to man,
the subject would be worth discussing. But we will settle the matter
in our own way." He took her suddenly in his arms and kissed her. She
put her arms about him and clung to him, trembling, her lips pressed
to his. In that supreme moment he felt not happiness, but a bitter
desire to bear her out of the world into some higher sphere where the
conditions of happiness might possibly exist. "On the highest pinnacle
we reach," he thought, "we are granted the tormenting and chastening
glimpse of what might be, had God, when he compounded his victims,
been in a generous mood and completed them."
And she? she was a woman.
"You will resist no longer," he said, in a few moments.
"Ay, more surely than ever, now." Her voice was faint, but crossed by
a note of terror. "In that moment I forgot my religion and my duty.
And what is so sweet,--it cannot be right."
"Do you so despise your womanhood, the most perfect thing about you?"
"Oh, let us return! I wanted to kiss you once. I meant to do that. But
I should not--Let us go! Oh, I love you so! I love you so!"
He drew her closer and kissed her until her head fell forward and
her body grew heavy. "I shall think and act now, for both," he said,
unsteadily, although there was no lack of decision in his voice. "You
are mine. I claim you, and I shall run no further risk of losing you.
Oh, you will forgive me--my love--"
Neither saw a man walking rapidly up the trail. Suddenly the man gave
a bound and ran toward them. It was Reinaldo.
"Ah, I have found thee," he cried. "Listen, Don Diego Estenega, lord
of the North, American, and would-be dictator of the Californias. Two
hours ago I despatched a vaquero with a circular letter to the priests
of the Department of the Californias, warning them each and all
to write at once to the Archbishop of Mexico, and protest that the
success of your ambitions would mean the downfall of the Catholic
Church in California, and telling them your schemes. Thou art mighty,
O Don Diego Estenega, but thou art powerless against the enmity of
the Church. They are mightier than thou, and thou wilt never rule in
California. Unhand my sister! Thou shalt not have her either. Thou
shalt have nothing. Wilt thou unhand her?" he cried, enraged at
Estenega's cold reception of his damnatory news. "Thou shouldst not
have her if I tore thy heart from thy body."
Estenega looked contemptuously across Chonita's shoulder, although
his heart was lead within him. "The last resource of the mean and
down-trodden is revenge," he said. "Go. To-morrow I shall horsewhip
you in the court-yard of Fort Ross."
Reinaldo, hot with excitement and thirst for further vengeance,
uttered a shriek of rage and sprang upon him. Estenega saw the gleam
of a knife and flung Chonita aside, catching the driving arm, the
fury of his heart in his muscles. Reinaldo had the soft muscles of
the cabellero, and panted and writhed in the iron grasp of the man
who forgot that he grappled with the brother of a woman passionately
loved, remembered only that he rejoiced to fight to the death the man
who had ruined his life. Reinaldo tried to thrust the knife into his
back; Estenega suddenly threw his weight on the arm that held it,
nearly wrenching it from its socket, snatched the knife, and drove it
to the heart of his enemy.
Then the hot blood in his body turned cold. He stood like a stone
regarding Chonita, whose eyes, fixed upon him, were expanded with
horror. Between them lay the dead body of her brother.
He turned with a groan and sat down on a fallen log, supporting his
chin with his hand. His profile looked grim and worn and old. He
stared unseeingly at the ground. Chonita stood, still looking at him.
The last act of her brother's life had been to lay the foundation of
her lover's ruin; his death had completed it: all the South would
rise did the slayer of an Iturbi y Moncada seek to rule it. She felt
vaguely sorry for Reinaldo; but death was peace; this was hell
in living veins. The memory of the world beyond the forest grew
indistinct. She recalled her first dream and turned in loathing from
the bloodless selfishness of which it was the allegory. Superstition
and tradition slipped into some inner pocket of her memory, there to
rattle their dry bones together and fall to dust. She saw only the
figure, relaxed for the first time, the profile of a man with his
head on the block. She stepped across the body of her brother, and,
kneeling beside Estenega, drew his head to her breast.
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