She was right. Later he came to us to recuperate, and was the most exacting and profane man we ever waited on. He conceived a special grudge against Georgia, whom he had caught slyly laughing when she first observed the change in his appearance. Yet months previous, he had laid the foundation for her mirth.
He was then a handsome, rugged fellow, and particularly proud of the shape of his nose. Frequently had he twitted my sensitive sister about her little nose, and had once made her very angry in the presence of others, by offering to tell her a story, then continuing: "God and the devil take turns in shaping noses. Now, look at mine, large and finely shaped. This is God's work; but when yours was growing, it was the devil's turn, and he shaped that little dab on your face and called it a nose."
Georgia fled, and cried in anger over this indignity, declaring that she hated Castle and would not be sorry if something should happen to spoil his fine nose. So when he came to us from the sick-room, soured and crestfallen because disease had deeply pitted and seamed that feature which had formerly been his pride, she laughingly whispered, "Well, I don't care, my nose could never look like his, even if I had the smallpox, for there is not so much of it to spoil."
Our dislike of the man became intense; and later, when we discovered that he was to be bartender at grandpa's bar, and board at our house, we held an indignation meeting in the back yard. This was more satisfaction to Georgia than to me, for she had the pleasure of declaring that if grandma took that man to board, she would be a Schweitzer child no longer, she would stop speaking German, make her clothes like American children's; and that she knew her friend Mrs. Bergwald would give her a home, if grandma should send her away.
Here the meeting was suddenly interrupted by the discovery that grandma was standing behind us. We did not know how long she had been there nor how much she had overheard, nor which she meant to strike with the switch she had in her hand. However, we were sitting close together and my left arm felt the sting, and it aroused in me the spirit of rebellion. I felt that I had outgrown such correction, nor had I deserved it; and I told her that she should never, never strike me again. Then I walked to the house alone.
A few moments later Georgia came up to our room, and found me dressing myself with greatest care. In amazement she asked, "Eliza, where are you going?" and was dumbfounded when I answered, "To find another home for us."
In the lower hall I encountered grandma, whose anger had cooled, and she asked the question Georgia had. I raised my sleeve, showed the welt on my arm, and replied, "I am going to see if I can't find a home where they will treat me kindly."
Poor grandma was conscience-stricken, drew me into her own room, and did not let me leave it until after she had soothed my hurts and we had become friends again.
Georgia went to Mrs. Bergwald's, and remained quite a while. When she came back speaking English, and insisting that she was an American, grandma became very angry, and threatened to send her away among strangers; then hesitated, as if realizing how fully Georgia belonged to me and I to her, and that we would cling together whatever might happen. In her perplexity, she besought Mrs. Bergwald's advice.
Now, Mrs. Bergwald was a native of Stockholm, a lady of rare culture, and used the French language in conversing with grandma. She spoke feelingly of my little sister, said that she was companionable, willing, and helpful; anxious to learn the nicer ways of work, and ladylike accomplishments. She could see no harm in Georgia wishing to remain an American, since to love one's own people and country was natural.
Thereafter grandma changed her methods. She gave us our dolls to look at, and keep among our possessions, likewise most of our keepsakes. She also unlocked her carefully tended parlor and we three spent pleasant evenings there. Sometimes she would let us bring her, from under the sofa, her gorgeous prints, illustrating "Wilhelm Tell," and would repeat the text relating to the scenes as we examined each picture with eager interest.
We were also allowed to go to Sunday school oftener, and later, she sent me part of the term to the select school for girls recently established by Dr. Ver Mehr, an Episcopalian clergyman. In fact, my tuition was expected to offset the school's milk bill, yet that did not lessen my enthusiasm. I was eager for knowledge. I also expected to meet familiar faces in that great building, which had been the home of Mr. Jacob Leese. But upon entering I saw only finely dressed young ladies from other parts of the State promenading in the halls, and small girls flitting about in the yard like bright-winged butterflies. Some had received letters from home and were calling out the news; others were engaged in games that were strange to me. The bell rang, I followed to the recitation hall, and was assigned a seat below the rest, because I was the only small Sonoma girl yet enrolled.
I made several life-long friends at that institute; still it was easy to see that "St. Mary's Hall" was established for pupils who had been reared in the lap of wealth and ease; not for those whose hands were rough like mine. Nor was there a class for me. I seemed to be between grades, and had the discouragement of trying to keep up with girls older and farther advanced.
My educational advantages in Sonoma closed with my half term at St. Mary's Hall, grandma believing that I had gone to school long enough to be able to finish my studies without teachers.
Georgia was more fortunate. When Miss Hutchinson opened "The Young Ladies' Seminary" in the Fall, grandma decided to lend it a helping hand by sending her a term as a day scholar. My delighted sister was soon in touch with a crowd of other little girls, and brought home many of their bright sayings for my edification.
One evening she rushed into the house bubbling over with excitement and joyously proclaimed: "Oh, Eliza, Miss Hutchinson is going to give a great dinner to her pupils on Thanksgiving Day; and I am to go, and you also, as her guest."
Grandma was pleased that I was invited, and declared that she would send a liberal donation of milk and cheese as a mark of appreciation.
I caught much of Georgia's spirit of delight, for I had a vivid recollection of the grand dinner given in commemoration of our very first legally appointed Thanksgiving Day in California; I had only to close my eyes, and in thought would reappear the longest and most bountifully spread table I had ever seen. Turkey, chicken, and wild duck, at the ends; a whole roasted pig in the centre, and more than enough delicious accompaniments to cover the spaces between. Then the grown folk dining first, and the flock of hungry children coming later; the speaking, laughing, and clapping of hands, with which the old home customs were introduced in the new land.
There, I wore a dark calico dress and sun-bonnet, both made by poor Mrs. McCutchen of the Donner Party, who had to take in sewing for a livelihood; but to the Seminary, I should wear grandpa's gift, a costly alpaca, changeable in the sunlight to soft mingling bluish and greenish colors of the peacock. Its wide skirt reached to my shoetops, and the gathers to its full waist were gauged to a sharp peak in front. A wide open V from the shoulder down to the peak displayed an embroidered white Swiss chemisette. The sleeves, small at the wrist, were trimmed with folds of the material and a quilling of white lace at the hand.
On the all-important morning, grandma was anxious that I should look well; and after she had looped my braids with bows of blue ribbon and fastened my dress, she brought forth my dainty bonnet, her own gift. Deft fingers had shirred the pale-blue silk over a frame which had been cut down from ladies' size, arranged an exquisite spray of Marechal Niel rosebuds and foliage on the outside, and quilled a soft white ruching around the face, which emphasized the Frenchy style and finish so pleasing to grandma.
Did I look old fashioned? Yes, for grandma said, "Thou art like a picture I saw somewhere long ago." Then she continued brightly, "Here are thy mits, and thy little embroidered handkerchief folded in a square. Carry it carefully so it won't get mussed before the company see it, and come not back late for milking."
The Seminary playground was so noisy with chatter and screams of joy, that it was impossible to remember all the games we played; and later the dining-room and its offerings were so surprising and so beautifully decorated that the sight nearly deprived me of my appetite.
"Mumps. Bite a pickle and see if it ain't so!" exclaimed a neighbor to whom Georgia was showing her painful and swollen face. True enough, the least taste of anything sour produced the tell-tale shock. But the most aggravating feature of the illness was that it developed the week that sister Elitha and Mr. Benjamin W. Wilder were married in Sacramento; and when they reached Sonoma on their wedding tour, we could not visit with them, because neither had had the disease.
They came to our house, and we had a hurried little talk with a closed window between us, and were favorably impressed by our tall "Brother Ben," who had very blue eyes and soft brown hair. He was the second of the three Wilder brothers, who had been among the early gold-seekers, and tried roughing it in the mines. Though a native of Rhode Island, and of Puritan ancestry, he was quite Western in appearance.
Though not a wealthy man, he had a competency, for he and his elder brother were owners of an undivided half of Ranchos de los Cazadores (three leagues of land in Sacramento Valley), which was well stocked with horned cattle and good horses. He was also interested in a stage line running between Sacramento and the gold regions. He encouraged Elitha in her wish to make us members of their household, and the home they had to offer us was convenient to public schools; yet for obvious reasons they were now silent on the subject.
IDEALS AND LONGINGS—THE FUTURE—CHRISTMAS.
At the time of which I now speak, I was in my eleventh year, but older in feeling and thought. I had ideals and wanted to live up to them, and my way was blocked by difficulties. Often, in the cowyard, I would say to the dumb creatures before me,
"I shall milk you dry, and be kind to you as long as I stay; but I shall not always be here doing this kind of work."
These feelings had been growing since the beginning of grandpa's partnership in that bar-room. Neither he nor grandma saw harm in the business. They regarded it as a convenient place where men could meet and spend a social evening, and where strangers might feel at home. Yet, who could say that harm did not emanate from that bar? I could not but wish that grandpa had no interest in it. I did not want to blame him, for he was kind by nature, and had been more than benefactor to Georgia and me.
Fond recollection was ever bringing to mind joys he had woven into our early childhood. Especially tender and precious thoughts were associated with that night long ago when he hurried home to inspect a daguerreotype that had just been taken. Grandma handed it to him with the complaisant remark, "Mine and Georgia's sind fine; but Eliza's shows that she forgot herself and ist watching how the thing ist being made."
Grandpa looked at it in silence, observing that grandma's likeness was natural, and Georgia's perfect, in fact, pretty as could be; while I, not being tall enough to rest my elbow comfortably upon grandma's shoulder, stood awkwardly with my flowers drooping and eyes turned, intently watching in the direction of the operator. Regretfully, I explained:
"Grandpa, mine was best two times, for Georgia moved in the first one, and grandma in the next, and the pictureman said after each, 'We must try again.' And he would have tried yet again, for me, but the sun was low, and grandma said she was sorry but this would have to do."
Lovingly, he then drew me to his side, saying, "Never mind, mein Schatz (my treasure); let grandma and Georgia keep this, and when that pictureman comes back, grandpa will sit for his picture, and thou shalt stand at his knee. He'll buy thee a long gold chain to wear around thy neck, and thou shalt be dressed all in white and look like an angel."
Being younger than grandma, and more fond of amusements, he had taken us to many entertainments; notably, Odd Fellows' picnics and dinners, where he wore the little white linen apron, which we thought would be cute for our dolls. He often reminded grandma that she should teach us to speak the high German, so that we might appear well among gentlefolk; and my cherished keepsakes included two wee gold dollars and a fifty-cent piece of the same bright metal, which he had given me after fortunate sales from the herds. But dearest of all is remembrance of the evening long ago when he befriended us at Sutter's Fort.
Still, not even those tender recollections could longer hold in check my resentment against the influences and associations which were filtering through that bar-room, and robbing me of companions and privileges that I valued. More than once had I determined to run away, and then desisted, knowing that I should leave two lonely old people grieving over my seeming ingratitude. This question of duty to self and to those who had befriended me haunted my working hours, went with me to church and Sunday school, and troubled my mind when I was supposed to be asleep.
Strange, indeed, would it have seemed to me, could I then have known that before my thirtieth year, I should be welcomed in the home of the military chief of our nation. Strange, also, that the young Lieutenant, William Tecumseh Sherman, who when visiting in Sonoma, came with his fellow-officers to the Brunner farm, should have attained that dignity. Equally impossible would it have been then to conceive that in so short a time, I, a happy mother and the wife of a Congressional Representative, should be a guest at the brilliant receptions of the foreign diplomats and at the Executive Mansion in the city of Washington. Is it any wonder that in later years when my mind reverted to those days, I almost questioned my identity?
Georgia's return from Mrs. Bergwald's before Christmas gave me a chance to talk matters over with her, and we decided that we must leave our present surroundings. Yet, how to get away, and when, puzzled us. Our only hope of escape seemed to be to slip off together some moonlight night.
"But," my sister remarked gravely, "we can't do it before Christmas! You forget the white flannel skirt that I am embroidering for grandma, the pillow-slips that you are hemstitching and trimming with lace for her; and the beautiful white shirt that you have for grandpa."
She was sure that not to stay and give them as we had planned, would be as bad as breaking a promise. So, we took out our work and hid ourselves to sew a while.
My undertaking was not so large or elaborate as hers, and when I finished, she still had quite a piece to do, and was out of floss. She had pin-pricked from an embroidered silk shawl on to strips of white paper, the outline of a vine representing foliage, buds, and blossoms; then basted the paper in place around the skirt. The colors were shaded green and pink. Unable to get the floss for the blossoms, she had bought narrow pink silk braid and outlined each rose and bud, then embroidered the foliage in green. Some might have thought it a trifle gaudy, but to me it seemed beautiful, and I was proud of her handiwork.
I washed, starched, and ironed the pillow-slips while grandma was from home, and they did look well, for I had taken great pains in doing my work. Several days before the appointed time, grandma, in great good humor, showed us the dresses she had been hiding from us; and then and there, like three children unable to keep their secrets longer, we exchanged gifts, and were as pleased as if we had waited until Christmas morning.
THE WIDOW STEIN AND LITTLE JOHNNIE—"DAUGHTERS OF A SAINTED MOTHER"—ESTRANGEMENT AND DESOLATION—A RESOLUTION AND A VOW—MY PEOPLE ARRIVE AND PLAN TO BEAR ME AWAY.
On the first of September, 1855, a widow, whom I shall call Stein, and her little son Johnnie, came to visit grandma. She considered herself a friend by reason of the fact that she and her five children had been hospitably entertained in our home two years earlier, upon their arrival in California. For grandpa in particular she professed a high regard, because her husband had been his bartender, and as such had earned money enough to bring his family from Europe, and also to pay for the farm which had come to her at his death.
Mother and son felt quite at home, and in humor to enjoy their self-appointed stay of two weeks. Despite her restless eye and sinister smile, she could be affable; and although, at first, I felt an indescribable misgiving in her presence, it wore away, and I often amused Johnnie while she and grandma talked.
As if to hasten events, Mrs. Bergwald had sent for Georgia almost at the beginning of the visit of the Steins; and after her departure, Mrs. Stein insisted on helping me with the chores, and then on my sitting with her during grandma's busiest hour.
She seemed deeply interested in California's early history, and when I would stop talking, she would ply me with questions. So I told her how poor everybody was before the discovery of gold; how mothers would send their boys to grandma's early morning fire for live coals, because they had no matches or tinder boxes; how neighbors brought their coffee and spices to grind in her mills; how the women gathered in the afternoons under her great oak tree, to talk, sew, and eagerly listen to the reading of extracts from letters and papers that had come from friends away back in the States. I told her how, in case of sickness, one neighbor would slip over and cook the family breakfast for the sick woman, others would drop in later, wash the dishes, and put the house in order; and so by turns and shares, the washing, ironing, and mending would be done, and by the time the sick woman would be up and around, she would have no neglected work to discourage her. Also we talked of how flags were used for day signals and lights by night, in calls for help.
Our last talk was on Saturday morning between work. She questioned me in regard to the amount, and location of the property of the Brunners, then wanted to hear all about my sisters in Sacramento, and wondered that we did not go to live with them. I explained that Elitha had written us several times asking us to come, but, knowing that grandma would be displeased, we had not read her those parts of the letters, lest she forbid our correspondence entirely. I added that we were very sorry that she could not like those who were dear to us.
Finally, having exhausted information on several subjects, Mrs. Stein gave me a searching glance, and after a marked silence, continued: "I don't wonder that you love grandpa and grandma as much as you tell me, and it is a pity about these other things that aren't pleasant. Don't you think it would be better for you to live with your sister, and grandma could have some real German children to live here? She is old, and can't help liking her own kind of people best."
I did not have an unkind thought in mind, yet I did confess that I should like to live well and grow up to be like my mother. In thoughtless chatter I continued, that more nice people came to visit grandma and to talk with us before the town filled with strangers, and before Americans lived in the good old Spanish houses, and before the new churches and homes were built.
She led me to speak of mother, then wondered at my vivid recollections, since I had parted from her so young. She was very attentive as I told how Georgia and I spoke of her when we were by ourselves, and that friends did not let us forget her. I even cited a recent instance, when the teacher had invited us, and two other young girls, to go to the Vallejo pear orchard for all the fruit we wished to eat, and when he offered the money in payment, the old Spanish gentleman in charge said, "Pay for three."
"But we are five," said the teacher.
Then the Don blessed himself with the sign of the cross, and pointing to Georgia and me, replied, "Those two are daughters of a sainted mother, and are always welcome!"
At noon grandma told me that she and the Steins would be ready to go down town immediately after dinner, and that I must wash the dishes and finish baking the bread in the round oven. We parted in best of humor, and I went to work. The dishes and bread received first attention. Then I scrubbed the brick floor in the milk-house; swept the store-room and front yard; gathered the eggs, fed the chickens, and rebuilt the fire for supper. I fancied grandma would be pleased with all I had accomplished, and laughed to myself as I saw the three coming home leaning close to each other in earnest conversation.
To my surprise, the Steins went directly to their own room; and grandma did not speak, but closed her eyes as she passed me. That was her way, and I knew that it would be useless to ask what had offended her. So I took my milk pails, and, wondering, went to the cow corrals. I could not imagine what had happened, yet felt hurt and uncomfortable.
Returning with the milk, I saw Johnnie playing by the tree, too near the horse's feet, and warned him. As he moved, grandma stepped forward and stood in front of me, her face white with rage. I set my buckets down and standing between them listened as she said in German:
"Oh, false one, thou didst not think this morning that I would so soon find thee out. Thou wast not smart enough to see that my friend, Mrs. Stein, was studying thee, so that she could let me know what kind of children I had around me. And thou, like a snake in the grass, hast been sticking out thy tongue behind my back. Thou pretendest that thou art not staying here to get my money and property, yet thou couldst tell her all I had. Thou wouldst not read all in the letters from thy fine sisters? Thou wouldst rather stay here until I die and then be rich and spend it with them!"
She stopped as if to catch her breath, and I could only answer, "Grandma, I have not done what thou sayest."
She continued: "I have invited people to come here this night, and thou shalt stand before them and listen while I tell what I have done for thee, and how thou hast thanked me. Now, go, finish thy work, eat thy supper, and come when I call thee."
I heard her call, but don't know how I got into the room, nor before how many I stood. I know that my head throbbed and my feet almost refused to support my body, as I listened to grandma, who in forceful language declared that she had taken me, a starveling, and reared me until I was almost as tall as she herself; that she had loved and trusted me, and taught me everything I knew, and that I had that day blackened the home that had sheltered me, wounded the hand that had fed me, and proved myself unworthy the love that had been showered upon me. Mrs. Stein helped her through an account of our morning chat, misconstruing all that had passed between us.
I remained silent until the latter had announced that almost the first thing that she had noticed was that we children were of a selfish, jealous disposition, and that Georgia was very cross when her little Johnnie came home wearing a hat that grandpa had bought him. Then I turned upon her saying, "Mrs. Stein, you forget that Georgia has not seen that hat. You know that grandma bought it after Georgia went away."
She sprang toward me, then turned to grandma, and asked if she was going to let an underling insult a guest in her house.
I did not wait for the reply. I fled out into the dark and made my way to the weird old tree-trunk in the back yard. Thence, I could see the lights from the windows, and at times hear the sound of voices. There, I could stand in the starlight and look up to the heavens. I had been there before, but never in such a heartsick and forlorn condition. I was too overwrought to think, yet had to do something to ease the tension. I moved around and looked toward Jakie's grave, then returned to the side of the tree-trunk which had escaped the ravages of fire, and ran my finger up and down, feeling the holes which the red-headed woodpecker had bored and filled with acorns.
A flutter in the air aroused me. It was the old white-faced owl leaving the hollow in the live oak for the night's hunt. I faced about and saw her mate fly after her. Then in the stillness that followed, I stretched both arms toward heaven and cried aloud, "O God, I'm all alone; take care of me!"
The spell was broken. I grew calmer and began to think and to plan. I pictured Georgia asleep in a pretty house two miles away, wondered how I could get word to her and what she would say when told that we would go away together from Sonoma, and not take anything that grandpa or grandma had given us.
I remembered that of the fund which we had started by hemming new, and washing soiled handkerchiefs for the miners, there still remained in her trunk seven dollars and eighty-five cents, and in mine seven dollars and fifty cents. If this was not enough to take us to Sacramento, we might get a chance as Sister Leanna had, to work our way.
I was still leaning against the tree-trunk when the moon began to peep over the eastern mountains, and I vowed by its rising that before it came up in its full, Georgia and I should be in Sacramento.
I heard grandma's call from the door, which she opened and quickly closed, and I knew by experience that I should find a lighted candle on the table, and that no one would be in the room to say good-night. I slept little, but when I arose in the morning I was no longer trouble tossed. I knew what I would say to grandma if she should give me the chance.
Grandpa, who had come home very late, did not know what had happened, and he and I breakfasted with the men, and grandma and the Steins came after we left the room. No one offered to help me that morning, still I got through my duties before grandma called me to her. She seemed more hurt than angry, and began by saying:
"On account of thy bad conduct, Mrs. Stein is going to shorten her stay. She is going to leave on Tuesday, and wants me to go with her. She says that she has kept back the worst things that thou hast told about me, but will tell them to me on the road."
Trembling with indignation, I exclaimed, "Oh, grandma, thou hast always told us that it is wrong to speak of the faults of a guest in the house, but what dost thou think of one who hath done what Mrs. Stein hath done? I did say some of the things she told thee, but I did not say them in that way. I didn't give them that meaning. I didn't utter one unkind word against thee or grandpa. I have not been false to thee. To prove it, I promise to stay and take care of everything while thou goest and hearest what more she hath to tell, but after the home-coming, I leave. Nothing that thou canst say will make me change my mind. I am thankful for the home I have had, but will not be a burden to thee longer. I came to thee poor, and I will go away poor."
The Brunner conveyance was at the door on Tuesday morning when grandma and her guest came out to begin their journey. Grandpa helped grandma and the widow on to the back seat. While he was putting Johnnie in front with the driver, I stepped close to the vehicle, and extended my hand to grandma, saying, "Good-bye, don't worry about the dairy while thou art gone, for everything will be attended to until thy return; but remember—then I go."
On the way back to the house grandpa asked why I did not treat the widow more friendly, and I answered, "Because I don't believe in her." To my surprise, he replied, "I don't either, but grandma is like a little child in her hands."
I felt that I ought to tell him I should soon go away, but I had never gone to him with home troubles, and knew that it would not be right to speak of them in grandma's absence; so he quietly went to his duties and I to mine. Yet I could not help wondering how grandma could leave me in full charge of her possessions if she believed the stories that had been told her. I felt so sure that the guilty one would be found out that it made me light-hearted.
Mrs. Blake came and spent the night with me, and the following morning helped to get the breakfast and talked over the cleaning that I wished to do before grandma's return on the coming Saturday morning. But
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,
and unseen hands were shaping a different course for me! I had the milk skimmed, and a long row of clean pans in the sunshine before time to hurry the dinner for grandpa and the three men. I was tired, for I had carried most of the milk to the pig troughs after having finished work which grandma and I had always done together; so I sat down under the tree to rest and meditate.
My thoughts followed the travellers with many questions, and the wish that I might hear what Mrs. Stein had to say. I might have overstayed my time, if the flock of goats had not come up and smelled my hands, nibbled at the hem of my apron, and tried to chew the cape of my sun-bonnet. I sprang up and with a shout and clap of my hands, scattered them, and entered the log kitchen, reclosing the lower section of the divided door, to keep them from following me within.
I prepared the dinner, and if it lacked the flavor of grandma's cooking, those who ate it did not tell me. Grandpa lingered a moment to bestow a meed of praise on my work, then went off to the back corral to slaughter a beef for the shop. I began clearing the table, and was turning from it with a vegetable dish in each hand when I caught sight of the shadow of a tall silk hat in the open space above the closed half door. Then the hat and its wearer appeared.
Leaning over the edge of the door, he gazed at me standing there as if I were nailed to the floor. I was speechless with amazement, and it seemed a long while before he remarked lightly, "You don't seem to know me."
"Yes, you are Mr. Wilder, my brother-in-law," I stammered. "Where is Elitha?"
He informed me that she and their little daughter were at the hotel in town, where they had arrived about noon, and that she wanted Georgia and me to be prompt in coming to her at four o'clock. I told him that we could not do so, because Georgia was at Mrs. Bergwald's, grandma on a journey beyond Bodego, and I at home in charge of the work.
In surprise he listened, then asked, "But aren't you at all anxious to see your sister and little niece?"
Most earnestly, I replied that I was. Nevertheless, as grandma was away, I could not leave the place until after the day's work was done. Then I enumerated what was before me. He agreed that there was quite enough to keep me busy, yet insisted that I ought to keep the appointment for four o'clock. After his departure, I rushed out to grandpa, told him who had come and gone, and what had passed between us. He too, regretted the situation, but promised that I should spend the evening at the hotel.
I fairly flew about my work that afternoon, and my brain was as active as my hands and feet. I was certain that brother and sister had come for us, and the absorbing query was, "How did they happen to arrive at this particular time?" I also feared there was more trouble before me, and remembered my promise to grandma with twinges of regret.
At half-past four, I was feeding the hens in the yard, and, looking up, saw a strange carriage approaching. Instantly, I guessed who was in it, and was at the gate before it stopped. Elitha greeted me kindly, but not cordially. She asked why I had not come as requested, and then said, "Go, bring the silver thimble Frances left here, and the coral necklace I gave you."
In my nervous haste I could not find the thimble, but carried out the necklace. She next bade me take the seat beside her, thus disclosing her intention of carrying me on, picking up Georgia and proceeding to Sacramento. She was annoyed by my answer and disappointed in what she termed my lack of pride. Calling my attention to my peculiar style of dress and surroundings, to my stooped shoulders and callous hands, she bade me think twice before I refused the comfortable home she had to offer.
When assured that I would gladly go on Saturday, but was unwilling to leave in grandma's absence, she did not urge further, simply inquired the way to Georgia, and left me.
I was nursing my disappointment and watching the disappearing carriage, when Mr. Knipp, the brewer, with his load of empty kegs drew up, and asked what I was thinking about so hard. It was a relief to see his jolly, good-natured face, and I told him briefly that our people were in town and wished to take us home with them. He got down from his wagon to say confidentially:
"Thou must not leave grandpa and grandma, because the old man is always kind to thee, and though she may sometimes wag a sharp tongue, she means well. Be patient, by-and-by thou wilt have a nice property, the country will have more people for hire, and thou wilt not have so hard to work."
When I told him that I did not want the property, and that there were other things I did care for, he continued persuasively:
"Women need not so much learning from books. Grandma would not know how to scold so grandly if she remembered not so many fine words from 'Wilhelm Tell' and the other books that she knoweth by heart." And he climbed back and drove off, believing that he had done me a good turn.
To my great satisfaction, Georgia arrived about dark, saying that Benjamin had brought her and would call for us later to spend the evening with them. When we reached the hotel, Elitha received us affectionately, and did not refer to the disappointments of the afternoon. The time was given up to talk about plans for our future, and that night when we two crept into bed, I felt that I had been eased of a heavy burden, for Benjamin was willing to await grandma's return.
He also told us that early next morning he would go to Santa Rosa, the county seat, and apply to be made our guardian in place of Hiram Miller, and would also satisfy any claim grandma might have to us, or against us, adding that we need not take anything away with us, except our keepsakes.
GRANDMA'S RETURN—GOOD-BYE TO THE DUMB CREATURES—GEORGIA AND I ARE OFF FOR SACRAMENTO.
Meanwhile, grandma and her friends had reached Bodego and spent the night there. She had not learned anything more terrible that I had said about her, and at breakfast told Mrs. Stein that she had had a dream foreboding trouble, and would not continue the journey to the Stein home. The widow coaxed and insisted that she go the few remaining miles to see her children. Then she waxed indignant and let slip the fact that she considered it an outrage that American, instead of European born children should inherit the Brunner property, and that she had hoped that grandma would select two of her daughters to fill the places from which Georgia and I should be expelled.
Grandma took a different view of the matter, and started homeward immediately after breakfast.
That very afternoon, on the Santa Rosa road, whom should she pass but our brother Ben. They recognized each other, but were too astonished to speak. Grandma ordered her driver to whip up, saying that she had just seen the red-whiskered imp of darkness who had troubled her sleep, and she must get to town as fast as possible.
She stopped first at the butcher shop. Before grandpa could express surprise at her unexpected return, she showered him with questions in regard to happenings at home, and being informed, took him to task for having permitted us to visit our people at the hotel. He innocently remarked that he knew of no reason why we should not see our relatives; that Georgia was spending the day with them; and that we both had his permission to go again in the evening. In conclusion he said that I had been a faithful, hard working little housekeeper, and she would find everything in order at home.
Grandma arrived at home before sunset, too excited to be interested in dairy matters. She told me all about her trip, even to the name she had called my brother-in-law, adding that she knew he was "not red-whiskered, but he was next door to it." Later, when he came, she did not receive him pleasantly, nor would she let us go to Elitha. Brusquely, she demanded to know if I had written to him to come for us, and would not believe him when he assured her that neither he nor our sisters had received letter or message from us in months.
After his departure, I could see that she was no longer angry, and I dreaded the ensuing day, which was destined to be my last on that farm.
It came with a rosy dawn, and I was up to meet it, and to say good-bye to the many dumb creatures that I had cared for. The tension I was under lent me strength to work faster than usual. When the breakfast call sounded, I had finished in the corrals, and was busy in the hen houses, having taken care to keep out of grandpa's sight; for I knew how he would miss me, and I did not want to say the parting words. After he and the men were gone, grandma came, and watched me finish my task, then said kindly,
"Come, Eliza, and eat thy breakfast."
I looked up and replied,
"Grandma, I ate my last meal in thy house last night. Dost thou not remember, I told thee that I would take care of everything until thy return, and then would not be a burden to thee longer? I have kept my word, and am going away this morning."
"Thou are mine, and canst not go; but if thou wilt not eat, come and help me with the dishes," she replied nervously.
I had planned to slip off and change my dress before meeting her, but now, after a breath of hesitation, I went to dry the dishes, hoping that our talk would soon be over. I knew it would be hard for both of us, for dear, childish grandma was ready to forgive and forget what she termed our little troubles. I, however, smarting under the wrong and injustice that had been done me, felt she had nothing to forgive, and that matters between us had reached the breaking-point.
She was still insisting on her right to keep me, when a slight sound caused us both to turn, and meeting Georgia's anxious, listening gaze, grandma appealed to her, saying,
"Thou hast heard thy sister's talk, but thou hast not been in this fuss, and surely wilt not leave me?"
"Yes, I am going with Eliza," was the prompt answer, which had no sooner left her lips, than grandma resorted to her last expedient: she ordered us both to our room, and forbade us to leave it until she should hear from grandpa.
What message she sent him by the milker we never learned. Georgia, being already dressed for the journey, and her trunk containing most of her possessions being at Mrs. Bergwald's, had nothing to do but await results.
I quickly changed my working suit for a better one, which had been given me by a German friend from San Francisco. Then I laid out my treasured keepsakes. In my nervous energy, nothing was forgotten. I took pains that my clothes against the wall should hang in straight rows, that the folded ones should lie in neat piles in my pretty Chinese trunk, and that the bunch of artificial flowers which I had always kept for a top centre mark, should be exactly in the middle; finally, that the gray gauze veil used as a fancy covering of the whole should be smoothly tucked in around the clothing. This done, I gave a parting glance at the dainty effect, dropped the cover, snapped the queer little brass padlock in place, put the key on the table, and covered the trunk so that its embossed figures of birds and flowers should be protected from harm.
We had not remembered to tell Elitha about the hundred dollars which Jakie had willed us, so decided to let grandma keep it to cover some of the expense we had been to her, also not to ask for our little trinkets stored in her closet.
With the bundle containing my keepsakes, I now sat down by Georgia and listened with bated breath to the sound of grandma's approaching footsteps. She entered and hastily began,
"Grandpa says, if you want to go, and your people are here to take you, we have no right to keep you; but that I am not to part with you bad friends. So I came to shake hands and say good-bye. But I don't forgive you for going away, and I never want to see you or hear from you again!"
She did not ask to see what we were taking away, nor did her good-bye seem like parting.
The fear that something might yet arise to prevent our reaching brother and sister impelled us to run the greater part of the distance to the hotel, and in less than an hour thereafter, we were in the carriage with them on the way to Mrs. Bergwald's, prior to taking the road to Sacramento.
Off at last, without a soul in the town knowing it!
Georgia, who had neither said nor done anything to anger grandma, was easier in mind and more comfortable in body, than I, who, fasting, had borne the trials of the morning. I could conceal the cause, but not the faint and ill feeling which oppressed me during the morning drive and continued until I had had something to eat at the wayside inn, and a rest, while the horses were enjoying their nooning.
I had also been too miserable to feel any interest in what occurred at Mrs. Bergwald's after we stopped to let Georgia get her keepsakes. But when the day's travel was over, and we were comfortably housed for the night, Georgia and I left our brother and sister to their happy hour with their child, and sat close together on the outer doorsteps to review the events of the day. Our world during that solemn hour was circumscribed, reaching back only to the busy scenes of the morning, and forward to the little home that should open to us on the morrow.
When we resumed travel, we did not follow the pioneers' trail, once marked by hoof of deer, elk, and antelope, nor the winding way of the Spanish cabellero, but took the short route which the eager tradesman and miner had hewn and tramped into shape.
On reaching the ferry across the Sacramento River, I gazed at the surrounding country in silent amazement. Seven and a half years with their marvellous influx of brawn and brain, and their output of gold, had indeed changed every familiar scene, except the snow-capped Sierras, wrapped in their misty cloak of autumnal blue. The broad, deep river had given up both its crystal floods and the wild, free song which had accompanied it to the sea, and become a turbid waterway, encumbered with busy craft bringing daily supplies to countless homes, and carrying afar the long hidden wealth of ages.
The tule flat between the water front and Sutter's Fort had become a bustling city. The streets running north and south were numbered from first to twenty-eighth, and those east and west lettered from A to Z, and thriving, light-hearted throngs were pursuing their various occupations upon ground which had once seemed like a Noah's ark to me. Yes, this was the very spot where with wondering eyes I had watched nature's untamed herds winding through the reedy paths to the river bank, to quench their morning and evening thirst.
As we crossed from J Street to K, brother remarked, "Our journey will end on this street; which of you girls will pick out the house before we come to it?"
Elitha would not help us, but smiled, when, after several guesses, I said that I wished it to be a white house with brownish steps and a dark door with a white knob. Hence, great was my satisfaction when near the southeast corner of Eighteenth and K streets, we halted in front of a cottage of that description; and it was regarded as a lucky omen for me, that my first wish amid new scenes should be realized.
The meeting with Sister Frances and the novelty of the new situation kept up a pleasurable excitement until bed-time. Then in the stillness of the night, in the darkness of the new chamber, came the recollection that at about that hour one week ago, I, sorrowing and alone, had stood by a weird old tree-trunk in Sonoma, and vowed by the rising moon that before it should come up again in its full, Georgia and I would be in Sacramento. I did not sleep until I had thanked the good Father for sending help to me in my time of need.
THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF SACRAMENTO—A GLIMPSE OF GRANDPA—THE RANCHO DE LOS CAZADORES—MY SWEETEST PRIVILEGE—LETTERS FROM THE BRUNNERS.
It is needless to say that we were grateful for our new home, and tried to express our appreciation in words and by sharing the household duties, and by helping to make the neat clothing provided for us.
The first Monday in October was a veritable red-letter day. Aglow with bright anticipations, we hurried off to public school with Frances. Not since our short attendance at the pioneer school in Sonoma had Georgia and I been schoolmates, and never before had we three sisters started out together with books in hand; nor did our expectations overreach the sum of happiness which the day had in store for us.
The supposition that grandpa and grandma had passed out of our lives was soon disproved; for as I was crossing our back yard on the Saturday of that first week of school, I happened to look toward Seventeenth Street, and saw a string of wagons bringing exhibits from the fair grounds. Beside the driver of a truck carrying a closed cage marked, "Buffalo," stood grandpa. He had risen from his seat, leaned back against the front of the cage, folded his arms and was looking at me. My long black braids had been cut off, and my style of dress changed, still he had recognized me. I fled into the house, and told Elitha what I had seen. She, too, was somewhat disquieted, and replied musingly,
"The old gentleman is lonely, and may have come to take you girls back with him."
His presence in Sacramento so soon after our reaching there did seem significant, because he had bought that buffalo in 1851, before she was weaned from the emigrant cow that had suckled and led her in from the great buffalo range, and he had never before thought of exhibiting her.
The following afternoon, as we were returning from Sunday school, a hand suddenly reached out of the crowd on J Street and touched Georgia's shoulder, then stopped me. A startled backward glance rested on Castle, our old enemy, who said,
"Come. Grandpa is in town, and wants to see you." We shook our heads. Then he looked at Frances, saying, "All of you, come and see the large seal and other things at the fair."
But she replied, emphatically, "We have not permission," and grasping a hand of each, hurried us homeward. For days thereafter, we were on the alert guarding against what we feared might happen.
Our alarm over, life moved along smoothly. Elitha admonished us to forget the past, and prepare for the future. She forbade Georgia and me to use the German language in speaking with each other, giving as a reason that we should take Frances into our confidence and thoughts as closely as we took one another.
I was never a morbid child, and the days that I did not find a sunbeam in life, I was apt to hunt for a rainbow. But there, in sight of the Sierras, the feeling again haunted me that perhaps my mother did not die, but had strayed from the trail and later reached the settlement and could not find us. Each middle-aged woman that I saw ahead of me on the street would thrill me with expectation, and I would quicken my steps in order to get a view of her face. When I gave up this illusion, I still prayed that Keseberg would send for me some day, and let me know her end, and give me a last message. I wanted his call to me to be voluntary, so that I might know that his words were true. These hopes and prayers were sacred, even from Georgia.
On the twenty-fourth of March, 1856, brother Ben took us all to pioneer quarters on Rancho de los Cazadores, where their growing interests required the personal attention of the three brothers. There we became familiar with the pleasures, and also the inconveniences and hardships of life on a cattle ranch. We were twenty miles from town, church, and school; ten miles from the post office; and close scrutiny far and wide disclosed but one house in range. Our supply of books was meagre, and for knowledge of current events, we relied on The Sacramento Union, and on the friends who came to enjoy the cattleman's hospitality.
My sweetest privilege was an occasional visit to cousin Frances Bond, my mother's niece, who, with her husband and child, had settled on a farm about twelve miles from us. She also had grown up a motherless girl, but had spent a part of her young ladyhood at our home in Illinois. She had helped my mother to prepare for our long journey and would have crossed the plains with us had her father granted her wish. She was particularly fond of us "three little ones" whom she had caressed in babyhood. She related many pleasing incidents connected with those days, and spoke feelingly, yet guardedly, of our experiences in the mountains. Like Elitha, she hoped we would forget them, and as she watched me cheerfully adapting myself to new surroundings, she imagined that time and circumstances were dimming the past from my memory.
She did not understand me. I was light-hearted because I was old enough to appreciate the blessings that had come to me; old enough to look ahead and see the pure, intelligent womanhood opening to me; and trustful enough to believe that my expectations in life would be realized. So I gathered counsel and comfort from the lips of that sympathetic cousin, and loved her word pictures of the home where I was born.
Nor could change of circumstances wean my grateful thoughts from Grandpa and Grandma Brunner. At times, I seemed to listen for the sound of his voice, and to hear hers so near and clear that in the night, I often started up out of sleep in answer to her dream calls. Finally I determined to disregard her parting words, and write her. Georgia was sure that I would get a severe answer, but Elitha's ready permission made the letter easier to write. Weeks elapsed without a reply, and I had about given up looking for it, when late in August, William, the youngest Wilder brother, saddled his horse, and upon mounting, called out,
"I'm off to Sacramento, Eliza, to bring you that long-expected letter. It was misdirected, and is advertised in The Sacramento Union's list of uncalled-for mail."
He left me in a speculative mood, wondering if it was from grandma; which of her many friends had written it for her; and if it was severe, as predicted by Georgia. Great was my delight when the letter was handed me, and I opened it and read:
SONOMA, July 3, 1856
To Miss ELIZA P. DONNER: CASADOR RANCHO, COSUMNE RIVER NEAR SACRAMENTO CITY.
Your letter of the fifteenth of June came duly to hand, giving me great satisfaction in regard to your health, as well as keeping me and grandfather in good memory.
I have perused the contents of your letter with great interest. I am glad to learn that you enjoy a country life. We have sold lately twelve cows, and are milking fifteen at present. You want to know how Flower is coming on: had you not better come and see for yourself? Hard feelings or ill will we have none against you; and why should I not forgive little troubles that are past and gone by?
I know that you saw grandfather in Sacramento; he saw you and knew you well too. Why did you not go and speak to him?
The roses you planted on Jacob's grave are growing beautifully, and our garden looks well. Grandfather and myself enjoy good health, and we wish you the same for all time to come. We give you our love, and remain,
In parental affection, MARY AND CHRISTIAN BRUNNER.
(Give our love also to Georgia.)
Georgia was as much gratified by the contents of the letter as I, and we each sent an immediate answer, addressed to grandpa and grandma, expressing our appreciation of their forgiving words, regret for trouble and annoyances we had caused them, thanks for their past kindness, and the hope that they would write to us again when convenient. We referred to our contentment in our new home, and avoided any words which they might construe as a wish to return.
There was no long waiting for the second letter, nor mistake in address. It was dated just three days prior to the first anniversary of our leaving Sonoma, and here speaks for itself:
SONOMA, Sept. 11, 1856 GEORGIA AND ELIZA DONNER. MY DEAR CHILDREN:
Your two letters dated August thirty-first reached us in due season.
We were glad to hear from you, and it is our wish that you do well. Whenever you are disposed to come to us again our doors shall be open to you, and we will rejoice to see you.
We are glad to see that you acknowledge your errors, for it shows good hearts, and the right kind of principles; for you should always remember that in showing respect to old age you are doing yourself honor, and those who know you will respect you. All your cows are doing well.
I am inclined to think that the last letter we wrote you, you did not get. We mention this to show you that we always write to you.
Your mother desires to know if you have forgotten the time when she used to have you sleep with her, each in one arm, showing the great love and care she had for you; she remembers, and can't forget.
Your grandfather informs you that he still keeps the butcher shop, and bar-room, and that scarcely a day passes without his thinking of you. He still feels very bad that you did not, before going away, come to him and say "Good-bye grandfather." He forgives you, however, and hopes you will come and see him. When you get this letter you must write.
CHRISTIAN BRUNNER, MARY BRUNNER.
Letters following the foregoing assured us that grandma had become fully satisfied that the stories told her by Mrs. Stein were untrue. She freely acknowledged that she was miserable and forlorn without us, and begged us to return to the love and trust which awaited us at our old home. This, however, we could not do.
Before the close of the Winter, Frances and Georgia began preparations for boarding school in Sacramento, and I being promised like opportunities for myself later, wrote all about them to grandma, trusting that this course would convince her that we were permanently separated from her, and that Elitha and her husband had definite plans for our future. I received no response to this, but Georgia's first communication from school contained the following paragraph:
I saw Sallie Keiberg last week, who told me that her mother had a letter from the old lady (Grandma Brunner) five weeks ago. A man brought it. And that the old lady had sent us by him some jewellery, gold breast-pins, earrings, and wristlets. He stopped at the William Tell Hotel. And that is all they know about him and the presents.
TRAGEDY IN SONOMA—CHRISTIAN BRUNNER IN A PRISON CELL—ST. CATHERINE'S CONVENT AT BENICIA—ROMANCE OF SPANISH CALIFORNIA—THE BEAUTIFUL ANGEL IN BLACK—THE PRAYER OF DONA CONCEPCION ARGUELLO REALIZED—MONASTIC BITES.
Time passed. Not a word had come to me from Sonoma in months, when Benjamin handed me the Union, and with horror I read the headlines to which he pointed: "TRAGEDY IN SONOMA. CHRISTIAN BRUNNER, AN OLD RESIDENT, SLAYS HIS OWN NEPHEW!"
From the lurid details published, I learned that the Brunners had asked this nephew to come to them, and had sent him money to defray his expenses from Switzerland to California. Upon his arrival in Sonoma, he had settled himself in the proffered home, and at once begun a life of extravagance, at the expense of his relatives. He was repeatedly warned against trifling with their affection, and wasting their hard-earned riches. Then patience ceased, and he was forbidden the house of his uncle.
Meanwhile, his aunt became seriously ill, and the young man visited her secretly, and prevailed upon her to give him, in the event of her death, certain cattle and other property which stood in her name. She, however, recovered health; and he in the presence of his uncle, insisted that she had given him the property outright, and he wanted possession. This made trouble between the old couple, and the wife took refuge with friends in San Francisco. The night after her departure, the husband entered his own room and found the nephew in his bed. Thoroughly enraged, he ordered him up and out of his sight, and was insolently told by the young man that he was owner of that property and in rightful possession of the same. At this, his uncle snatched his pistol from the table at the bedside, and fired the fatal shot.
This almost incredible news was so harrowing that I could scarcely think of anything, except grandpa chained in a prison cell, grandma in hiding away from home, and excited groups of people gathering about the thoroughfares of Sonoma discussing the tragedy.
I was not sorry that at this time an epidemic of measles broke out in Sacramento, and Georgia became one of its early victims. This brought both girls back to the ranch, and during Georgia's convalescence, we had many serious talks about the Brunners' troubles. We wrote to grandma, but received no answer, and could only wait to learn what would be done with grandpa. He was arraigned and held; but the date set for trial was not fixed before Benjamin took Frances and Georgia to Benicia, to enter the September term of St. Catherine's Convent School.
Upon Ben's return, I observed that he and Elitha were keeping from me some mysterious but pleasurable secret. It came out a few days later when Elitha began making a black and a white uniform which would fit no one except me. When ready to try them on, she informed me that we would have to sew early and late, that I might be ready to enter the convent by the first of October, and thereby reap the benefit of the institution's established custom—"That when more than two of a family become pupils the same term, the third one shall be received free of charge (except incidentals) with the understanding that the family thus favored shall exert its influence toward bringing an additional pupil into the school."
Friends who had religious prejudices advised Ben against putting us under Catholic influence, but he replied good-naturedly: "The school is excellent, the girls are Protestants, and I am not afraid. Besides, I have told them all the horrible and uncanny stories that I have heard about convents, and they will not care to meddle with anything outside of the prescribed course of study."
He was twenty years older than I, and had such conservative and dignified ways, that I often stood in awe of him. So when he let the convent gate close behind us with a loud click and said, "Now, you are a goner," I scanned his face apprehensively, but seeing nothing very alarming, silently followed him through the massive door which was in charge of a white-robed nun of the Dominican order.
Presently Mother Mary Superior and my two sisters came to us in the reception room and my brother deposited the fund for my school incidentals, and after a brief conversation, departed. The preparations in connection with my coming had been so rapidly carried out that I had had little time in which to question or anticipate what my reception at the convent might be. Now, however, Mother Mary, with open watch in hand, stood before me, saying,
"Your sister Georgia cried twice as long as expected when she came; still I will allow you the regular five minutes."
"I don't wish to cry," was my timid response.
"But," she insisted, "you must shed a few entrance tears to—" Before she finished her sentence, and without thinking that it would be overreaching a stranger's privilege, I impulsively threw my arms around her neck, laid my cheek against hers, and whispered, "Please don't make me cry."
She drew me closer to her, and her lips touched my forehead, and she said, "No, child, you need not." Then she bade me go with my sisters and become acquainted with my new surroundings.
I was at once made to feel that I was welcome to every advantage and privilege accorded to Frances and Georgia. The following Monday, soon after breakfast, I slipped unobserved from the recreation room and made my way to the children's dormitory, where Sister Mary Joseph was busily engaged. I told her that I had come to help make beds and that I hoped she would also let me wash or wipe the silverware used at the noon and evening meals. She would not accept my services until she became thoroughly satisfied that I had not offered them because I felt that I was expected to do so, but because I earnestly desired to do whatever I could in return for the educational and cultural advantages so freely tendered me by the convent.
By the end of the week I knew the way to parts of the buildings not usually open to pupils. Up in the clothes room, I found Sister Mary Frances, and on assuring her that I only wanted occupation for part of my leisure time, she let me help her to sort and distribute the clothing of the small girls, on Saturdays. Sister Rose let me come to her in the kitchen an hour on Sundays, and other light tasks were assigned me at my request.
Then did I eat the bread of independence, take a wholesome interest in my studies, and enjoy the friends I gained!
My seat in the refectory was between my sister Georgia and Miss Cayitana Payne, a wealthy Spanish girl. Near neighbors were the two Estudillo sisters, who were prouder of their Castilian lineage than of the princely estate which they had inherited through it. To them I was in a measure indebted for pleasing conversation at table. My abundant glossy black hair and brunette type had first attracted their attention, and suggested the probability of Spanish blood in my veins. After they had learned otherwise, those points of resemblance still awoke in them an unobtrusive interest in my welfare. I became aware of its depth one evening in the recreation room while Georgia was home for a month on sick leave.
I was near Miss Dolores Estudillo, and overheard her say quietly to her sister, in Spanish, "Magdalena, see how care-free the young girl at my side seems tonight. The far-away look so often in her eyes leads me to think that our dear Lord has given her many crosses to bear. Her hands show marks of hard work and her clothing is inexpensive, yet she appears of good birth and when I can throw pleasure in her way, I mean to do it."
Whereupon Miss Magdalena turned to me and asked, "Do you live in Sacramento, Miss Donner?"
"No, I live on a ranch twenty miles from the city."
"Do your parents like it there?"
"I have no parents, they died when I was four years old."
She did not ask another question, nor did she know that I had caught the note of sympathy in her apology as she turned away. From that time on, she and her coterie of young friends showed me many delicate attentions.
While still a new pupil, I not infrequently met Sister Dominica resting at the foot of the steps after her walk in the sunshine, and with a gracious, "Thank you," she would permit me to assist her up the flight of stairs leading to her apartment. Bowed by age, and wasted by disease, she was patiently awaiting the final summons. I became deeply interested in her before I learned that this wan bit of humanity was the once winsome daughter of Commandante Arguello, and the heroine of a pathetic romance of Spanish California's day.
The hero was Rezanoff, an officer of high repute, sent by Russia in 1806 to inspect its establishment at the port of Sitka, Alaska. Finding the colony there in almost destitute condition, he had embarked on the first voyage of a Russian vessel to the port of San Francisco, California. There being no commercial treaty between the two ports, Rezanoff made personal appeal for help to Governor Arrillago, and later to Commandante Arguello. After many difficulties and delays, he succeeded in obtaining the sorely needed supplies.
Meanwhile, the young officer frequently met in her father's house the vivacious Dona Concepcion Arguello, and Cupid soon joined their hearts with an immortal chain.
After their betrothal, Rezanoff hastened back to the destitute colony with supplies. Then he sped on toward St. Petersburg, buoyant with a lover's hope of obtaining his sovereign's sanction to his marriage, and perhaps an appointment to Spain, which would enable him to give his bride a distinguished position in the country of her proud ancestors. Alas, death overtook the lover en route across the snows of Siberia.
When Dona Concepcion learned of her bereavement, her lamentations were tearless, her sorrow inconsolable. She turned from social duties and honors, and, clad in mourning weeds, devoted her time and means to the poor and the afflicted, among whom she became known and idolized as "the beautiful angel in black." After the death of her parents, she endowed St. Catherine's Convent with her inheritance, took the vows of the Dominican nun, and the world saw her no more.
Early in her sorrow, she had prayed that death might come to her in the season when the snow lay deep on Siberia's plain; and her prayer was realized, for it was on a bleak winter morning that we pupils gathered in silence around the breakfast table, knowing that Sister Dominica lay upon her bier in the chapel.
The meal was nearly finished when Sister Amelda entered, and spoke to a couple of the Spanish young ladies, who bowed and immediately withdrew. As she came down the line selecting other Spanish friends of the dead, she stopped beside me long enough to say:
"You also may go to her. You comforted her in life, and it is fitting that you should be among those who keep the last watch, and that your prayers mingle with theirs."
After her burial, which was consecrated by monastic rites, I returned to the schoolroom with reverential memories of Sister Dominica, the once "beautiful angel in black."
The school year closed in July, 1858, and I left the convent with regret. The gentle, self-sacrificing conduct of the nuns had destroyed the effect of the prejudicial stories I had heard against conventual life. The tender, ennobling influences which had surrounded me had been more impressive than any I had experienced during orphanhood, and I dreaded what the noisy world might again have in store for me.
My sister Frances and William R. Wilder, who had been betrothed for more than a year, and had kept their secret until we three returned from the convent, were married November 24, 1858, and soon thereafter moved to a pleasant home of their own on a farm adjoining Rancho de los Cazadores. The following January, Georgia and I entered public school in Sacramento, where we spent a year and a half in earnest and arduous study.
[Footnote 17: The subject of a poem by Bret Harte, and of a novel by Mrs. Gertrude Atherton.]
THE CHAMBERLAIN FAMILY, COUSINS OF DANIEL WEBSTER—JEFFERSON GRAMMAR SCHOOL—FURTHER CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS OF THE DONNER PARTY—PATERNAL ANCESTRY—S.O. HOUGHTON—DEATH TAKES ONE OF THE SEVEN SURVIVING DONNERS.
Our school home in Sacramento was with friends who not only encouraged our desire for knowledge, but made the acquirement pleasant. The head of the house was Mr. William E. Chamberlain, cashier of D.O. Mills's bank. His wife, Charlotte, was a contributor to The Sacramento Union and leading magazines. Their daughter, Miss Florence, taught in the public schools; and their son, William E., Jr., was a high-school student, preparing for Harvard.
In addition to their superior personal attainments, Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, each—for they were cousins—had the distinction of being first cousins to Daniel Webster, and this fact also served to bring to their home guests of note and culture. Georgia and I were too closely occupied with lessons to venture often beyond the school-girl precinct, but the intellectual atmosphere which pervaded the house, and the books to which we had access, were of inestimable advantage. Furthermore, the tuition fees required of non-resident pupils entitled them to choice of district, and we fortunately had selected Jefferson Grammar School, No. 4, in charge of Mr. Henry A. White, one of the ablest educators in the city.
Several resident families had also taken advantage of this privilege, and elected to pay tuition and place their children under his instruction, thus bringing together forty-nine energetic boys and girls to whet each other's ambition and incite class rivalry. Among the number were the five clever children of the Hon. Tod Robinson; three sons of Judge Robert Robinson; Colonel Zabriskie's pretty daughter Annie; Banker Swift's stately Margaret; General Redding's two sons; Dr. Oatman's son Eugene; beloved Nelly Upton, daughter of the editor of The Sacramento Union; Daniel Yost; Agnes Toll, the sweet singer; and Eliza Denison, my chum.
At the end of the term, The Daily Union closed its account of the public examination of Jefferson Grammar School with the following statement: "Among Mr. White's pupils are two young ladies, survivors of the terrible disaster which befell the emigration of 1846 among the snows of the California mountains."
Even this cursory reference was a matter of regret to Georgia and me. We had entered school silent in regard to personal history, and did not wish public attention turned toward ourselves even in an indirect way, fearing it might lead to a revival of the false and sensational accounts of the past, and we were not prepared to correct them, nor willing they should be spread. Pursued by these fears, we returned to the ranch, where Elitha and her three black-eyed little daughters welcomed our home-coming and brightened our vacation.
Almost coincident, however, with the foregoing circumstance, Georgia came into possession of "What I Saw in California," by Edwin Bryant; and we found that the book did contain many facts in connection with our party's disaster, but they were so interwoven with wild rumors, and the false and sensational statements quoted from The California Star, that they proved nothing, yet gave to the untrue that appearance of truth which is so difficult to correct.
The language employed in description seemed to us so coarse and brutal that we could not forgive its injustice to the living, and to the memory of the dead. We could but feel that had simple facts been stated, there would have been no harrowing criticism on account of long unburied corpses found in the lake cabins. Nor would the sight of mutilated dead have suggested that the starving survivors had become "gloating cannibals, preying on the bodies of their companions." Bare facts would have shown that the living had become too emaciated, too weak, to dig graves, or to lift or drag the dead up the narrow snow steps, even had open graves awaited their coming. Aye, more, would have shown conclusively that mutilation of the bodies of those who had perished was never from choice, never cannibalistic, but dire necessity's last resort to ease torturing hunger, to prevent loss of reason, to save life. Loss of reason was more dreaded than death by the starving protectors of the helpless.
Fair statements would also have shown that the First Relief reached the camps with insufficient provision to meet the pressing needs of the unfortunate. Consequently, it felt the urgency of haste to get as many refugees as possible to Bear Valley before storms should gather and delays defeat the purpose of its coming; that it divided what it could conscientiously spare among those whom it was obliged to leave, cut wood for the fires, and endeavored to give encouragement and hope to the desponding, but did not remain long enough to remove or bury the dead.
Each succeeding party actuated by like anxieties and precautions, departed with its charges, leaving pitiable destitution behind; leaving mournful conditions in camp,—conditions attributable as much to the work of time and atmospheric agencies as to the deplorable expedients to which the starving were again and again reduced.
With trembling hand Georgia turned the pages, from the sickening details of the Star to the personal observations of Edwin Bryant, who in returning to the United States in the Summer of 1847, crossed the Sierra Nevadas with General Kearney and escort, reached the lake cabins June 22, and wrote as follows:
A halt was called for the purpose of interring the remains. Near the principal lake cabin I saw two bodies entire, except the abdomens had been cut open and entrails extracted. Their flesh had been either wasted by famine or evaporated by exposure to dry atmosphere, and presented the appearance of mummies. Strewn around the cabins were dislocated and broken skulls (in some instances sawed asunder with care for the purpose of extracting the brains). Human skeletons, in short, in every variety of mutilation. A more appalling spectacle I never witnessed. The remains were, by order of General Kearney, collected and buried under supervision of Major Sword. They were interred in a pit dug in the centre of one of the cabins for a cache. These melancholy duties to the dead being performed, the cabins, by order of Major Sword, were fired and, with everything surrounding them connected with the horrible and melancholy tragedy, consumed.
The body of (Captain) George Donner was found in his camp about eight miles distant. He had been carefully laid out by his wife, and a sheet was wrapped around the corpse. This sad office was probably the last act she performed before visiting the camp of Keseberg. He was buried by a party of men detailed for that purpose.
I knew the Donners well; their means in money and merchandise which they had brought with them were abundant. Mr. Donner was a man of about sixty, and was at the time of leaving the United States a highly respectable citizen of Illinois, a farmer of independent means. Mrs. Donner was considerably younger than her husband, an energetic woman of refined education.
After Georgia left me, I reopened the book, and pondered its revelations, many of them new to us both; and most of them I marked for later investigation.
Bryant found no human bones at Donner's camp. His description of that camp was all-important, proving that my father's body had not been mutilated, but lay in his mountain hut three long months, sacred as when left by my little mother, who had watched over him to the pitiful end, had closed his eyes, folded his arms across his breast, and wrapped the burial sheet about his precious form. There, too, was proof of his last resting-place, just as had been told me in sight of Jakie's grave, by the Cherokee woman in Sonoma.
The book had also a copy of Colonel McKinstrey's letter to the General Relief Committee in San Francisco, reporting the return of the first rescuers with refugees. In speaking of the destitution of the unfortunates in camp, he used the following words sympathically:
When the party arrived at camp, it was obliged to guard the little stock of provisions it had carried over the mountains on its back on foot, for the relief of the poor beings, as they were in such a starving condition that they would have immediately used up all the little store. They even stole the buckskin strings from the party's snowshoes and ate them.
I at once recognized this friendly paragraph as the one which had had its kindness extracted, and been abbreviated and twisted into that cruel taunt which I had heard in my childhood from the lips of "Picayune Butler."
A careful study of Bryant's work increased my desire to sift that of Thornton, for I had been told that it not only contained the "Fallon Diary," but lengthier extracts from the Star, and I wanted to compare and analyze those details which had been published as "Thrilling Events in California History." I was unable to procure the book then, but resolved to do so when opportunity should occur. Naturally, we who see history made, are solicitous that it be accurately recorded, especially when it vitally concerns those near to us.
Shortly before school reopened, Georgia and I spent the day with cousin Frances E. Bond; and in relating to her various incidents of our life, we spoke of the embarrassment we had felt in class the day that Mr. White asked every pupil whose ancestors had fought in the war of the American Revolution to rise, and Georgia and I were the only ones who remained seated. My cousin regarded us a moment and then said:
"Your Grandfather Eustis, although a widow's only son, and not yet sixteen years of age, enlisted when the Revolutionary War began. He was a sentinel at Old South Church, and finally, a prisoner aboard the Count d'Estang."
She would have stopped there, but we begged for all she knew about our mother's people, so she continued, mingling advice with information:
"I would rather that you should not know the difference between their position in life and your own; yet, if you must know it, the Eustis and the Wheelwright families, from whom you are descended, are among the most substantial and influential of New England. Their reputation, however, is not a prop for you to lean on. They are on the Atlantic coast, you on the Pacific; so your future depends upon your own merit and exertions."
This revelation of lineage, nevertheless, was an added incentive to strive for higher things; an inheritance more enduring than our little tin box and black silk stockings which had belonged to mother.
An almost indescribable joy was mine when, at a gathering of the school children to do honor to the citizens who had inaugurated the system of public instruction in Sacramento, I beheld on the platform Captain John A. Sutter. Memories both painful and grateful were evoked. It was he who had first sent food to the starving travellers in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was he who had laid his hand on my head, when a forlorn little waif at the Fort, tenderly saying, "Poor little girl, I wish I could give back what you have lost!"
To me, Captain Sutter had long been the embodiment of all that was good and grand; and now I longed to touch his hand and whisper to him gratitude too sacred for strangers' ears. But the opportunity was withheld until riper years.
During our last term at school, Georgia's health was so improved that my life was more free of cares and aglow with fairer promises. Miss Kate Robinson and I were rivals for school honors, and I studied as I never had studied before, for in the history, physiology, and rhetoric classes, she pressed me hard. At the close of the session the record showed a tie. Neither of us would accept determination by lot, and we respectfully asked the Honorable Board of Education to withhold the medal for that year.
About this time Georgia and I enjoyed a rare surprise. On his return from business one day, Mr. Chamberlain announced that a distinguished-appearing young lawyer, S.O. Houghton by name, had stopped at the bank that afternoon, to learn our address and say that he would call in the evening. We, knowing that he was the husband of our "little cousin Mary," were anxious to meet him and to hear of her, whom we had not seen since our journey across the snow. He came that evening, and told us of the cozy home in San Jose to which he had taken his young wife, and of her wish that we visit them the coming July or August.
Although letters had passed between us, up to this time we had known little of Mary's girlhood life. After we parted, in 1847, she was carried through to San Francisco, then called Yerba Buena, where her maimed foot was successfully treated by the surgeon of the United States ship Portsmouth. The citizens of that place purchased and presented to her the one hundred vara lot Number 38, and the lot adjoining to her brother George. Mr. Reed was appointed her guardian and given charge of her apportionment of funds realized from the sale of goods brought from her father's tents. She became a member of the Reed household in San Jose, and her life must have been cast in pleasant lines, for she always spoke of Mr. and Mrs. Reed with filial affection. Moreover, her brother had been industrious and prosperous, and had contributed generously to her comfort and happiness.
Some weeks later, we took Mr. Houghton's report home to Elitha. We also showed her a recent letter from Mary, sparkling with bright anticipations—anticipations never to be realized; for we girls were hardly settled on the ranch before a letter came from cousin George Donner, dated Sacramento, June 20, 1860. From this we learned that he had on that day been summoned to the bedside of his dying sister, and had come from his home on Putah Creek as fast as horse could carry him, yet had failed to catch the bay steamer; and while waiting for the next boat, was writing to us who could best understand his state of mind.
Next, a note from San Jose informed us that Mrs. Mary M. Houghton died June 21, 1860, leaving a namesake, a daughter two weeks old, and that her brother had reached there in time for the funeral.
Of the seven Donners who had survived the disaster, she was the first called by death, and we deeply mourned her loss, and grieved because another little Mary was motherless. The following August, Mr. Houghton made his first visit to Rancho de los Cazadores, and with fatherly pride, showed the likeness of his little girl, and promised to keep us all in touch with her by letter.
Mr. Houghton was closely identified with pioneer affairs, and we had many friends in common, especially among officers and soldiers of the Mexican War. He had enlisted in Company A of Stevenson's Regiment of New York Volunteers when barely eighteen years of age; and sailed with it from his native State on the twenty-sixth of September, 1846. After an eventful voyage by way of Cape Horn, the good ship Loo Choo, which bore him hither, cast anchor in the Bay of San Francisco, March 26, 1847, about the time the Third Relief was bringing us little girls over the mountains. His company being part of the detachment ordered to Mexico under Colonel Burton, he went at once into active service, was promoted through intermediate grades, and appointed lieutenant, and adjutant on the staff of Colonel Burton, before his twentieth year. Following an honorable discharge at the close of the war, and a year's exciting experiences in the gold fields, he settled in San Jose in November, 1849, then the capital city. His knowledge of the Spanish and French languages fitting him specially therefor, he turned his attention to legislative and municipal matters. As clerk of the Senate Judiciary Committee of the first session of the California Legislature, he helped to formulate statutes for enactment, they being promulgated in Spanish as well as English at that time. During the period between 1851 and 1860 he held several official positions, among them that of president of the City Council; and on his twenty-fifth birthday he was elected Mayor of San Jose. Meanwhile he had organized the Eagle Guard, one of the first independent military companies in the State, and had also been successively promoted from adjutant to ordnance officer, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, on Major-General Halleck's staff of the State Militia. Moreover, he had completed the study of law in the office of Judge W.T. Wallace, been admitted to the bar, and was now actively engaged in the practice of his profession.