"He will not yield. He would have marched upon Monterey and forced them to give him battle here but for this base desertion. Now he will go to Los Angeles and command the men of the South to rally about him."
"I knew that he would not kiss the boots of the Americans like the rest of our men! Oh, the cowards! I could almost say to-night that I like better the Americans than the men of my own race. They are Castros! I shall hate their flag so long as life is in me; but I cannot hate the brave men who fight for it. But my pain is light to thine. Thy heart is wrung, and I am sorry for thee."
"My day is over. Misfortune is upon us. Even if my husband's life is spared—ay! shall I ever see him again?—his position will be taken from him, for the Americans will conquer in the end. He will be Commandante-General of the army of the Californias no longer, but—holy God!—a ranchero, a caballero! He at whose back all California has galloped! Thou knowest his restless aspiring soul, Eustaquia, his ambition, his passionate love of California. Can there be happiness for such a man humbled to the dust—no future! no hope? Ay!"—she sprang to her feet with arms uplifted, her small slender form looking twice its height as it palpitated against the shadows, "I feel the bitterness of that spirit! I know how that great heart is torn. And he is alone!" She flung herself across Dona Eustaquia's knees and burst into violent sobbing.
Dona Eustaquia laid her strong arm about her friend, but her eyes were more angry than soft. "Weep no more, Modeste," she said. "Rather, arise and curse those who have flung a great man into the dust. But comfort thyself. Who can know? Thy husband, weary with fighting, disgusted with men, may cling the closer to thee, and with thee and thy children forget the world in thy redwood forests or between the golden hills of thy ranchos."
Dona Modeste shook her head. "Thou speakest the words of kindness, but thou knowest Jose. Thou knowest that he would not be content to be as other men. And, ay! Eustaquia, to think that it was opposite our own dear home, our favourite home, that the American flag should first have been raised! Opposite the home of Jose Castro!"
"To perdition with Fremont! Why did he, of all places, select San Juan Bautista in which to hang up his American rag?"
"We never can live there again. The Gabilan Mountains would shut out the very face of the sun from my husband."
"Do not weep, my Modeste; remember thy other beautiful ranchos. Dios de mi alma!" she added with a flash of humour, "I revere San Juan Bautista for your husband's sake, but I weep not that I shall visit you there no more. Every day I think to hear that the shaking earth of that beautiful valley has opened its jaws and swallowed every hill and adobe. God grant that Fremont's hair stood up more than once. But go to bed, my friend. Look, I will put you there." As if Dona Modeste were an infant, she undressed and laid her between the linen sheets with their elaborate drawn work, then made her drink a glass of angelica, folded and laid away the satin coverlet, and left the house.
She walked up the plaza slowly, holding her head high. Monterey at that time was infested by dogs, some of them very savage. Dona Eustaquia's strong soul had little acquaintance with fear, and on her way to General Castro's house she had paid no attention to the snarling muzzles thrust against her gown. But suddenly a cadaverous creature sprang upon her with a savage yelp and would have caught her by the throat had not a heavy stick cracked its skull. A tall officer in the uniform of the United States navy raised his cap from iron-gray hair and looked at her with blue eyes as piercing as her own.
"You will pardon me, madam," he said, "if I insist upon attending you to your door. It is not safe for a woman to walk alone in the streets of Monterey at night."
Dona Eustaquia bent her head somewhat haughtily. "I thank you much, senor, for your kind rescue. I would not like, at all, to be eaten by the dogs. But I not like to trouble you to walk with me. I go only to the house of the Senor Larkin. It is there, at the end of the little street beyond the plaza."
"My dear madam, you must not deprive the United States of the pleasure of protecting California. Pray grant my humble request to walk behind you and keep off the dogs."
Her lips pressed each other, but pride put down the bitter retort.
"Walk by me, if you wish," she said graciously. "Why are you not at the house of Don Thomas Larkin?"
"I am on my way there now. Circumstances prevented my going earlier." His companion did not seem disposed to pilot the conversation, and he continued lamely, "Have you noticed, madam, that the English frigate Collingwood is anchored in the bay?"
"I saw it in the morning." She turned to him with sudden hope. "Have they—the English—come to help California?"
"I am afraid, dear madam, that they came to capture California at the first whisper of war between Mexico and the United States; you know that England has always cast a covetous eye upon your fair land. It is said that the English admiral stormed about the deck in a mighty rage to-day when he saw the American flag flying on the fort."
"All are alike!" she exclaimed bitterly, then controlled herself. "You—do you admeer our country, senor? Have you in America something more beautiful than Monterey?"
The officer looked about him enthusiastically, glad of a change of topic, for he suspected to whom he was talking. "Madam, I have never seen anything more perfect than this beautiful town of Monterey. What a situation! What exquisite proportions! That wide curve of snow-white sand about the dark blue bay is as exact a crescent as if cut with a knife. And that semicircle of hills behind the town, with its pine and brush forest tapering down to the crescent's points! Nor could anything be more picturesque than this scattered little town with its bright red tiles above the white walls of the houses and the gray walls of the yards; its quaint church surrounded by the ruins of the old presidio; its beautiful, strangely dressed women and men who make this corner of the earth resemble the pages of some romantic old picture-book—"
"Ay!" she interrupted him. "Much better you feel proud that you conquer us; for surely, senor, California shall shine like a diamond in the very centre of America's crown." Then she held out her hand impulsively.
"Mucho gracias, senor—pardon—thank you very much. If you love my country, senor, you must be my friend and the friend of my daughter. I am the Senora Dona Eustaquia Carillo de Ortega, and my house is there on the hill—you can see the light, no? Always we shall be glad to see you."
He doffed his cap again and bent over her hand.
"And I, John Brotherton, a humble captain in the United States navy, do sincerely thank the most famous woman of Monterey for her gracious hospitality. And if I abuse it, lay it to the enthusiasm of the American who is not the conqueror but the conquered."
"That was very pretty—speech. When you abuse me I put you out the door. This is the house of Don Thomas Larkin, where is the ball. You come in, no? You like I take your arm? Very well"
And so the articles of peace were signed.
"Yes, yes, indeed, Blandina," exclaimed Benicia, "they had no chance at all last night, for we danced until dawn, and perhaps they were afraid of Don Thomas Larkin. But we shall talk and have music to-night, and those fine new tables that came on the last ship from Boston must not be destroyed."
"Well, if you really think—" said Blandina, who always thought exactly as Benicia did. She opened a door and called:—
"Well, my sister?"
A dreamy-looking young man in short jacket and trousers of red silk entered the room, sombrero in one hand, a cigarito in the other.
"Flujencio, you know it is said that these 'Yankees' always 'whittle' everything. We are afraid they will spoil the furniture to-night; so tell one of the servants to cut a hundred pine slugs, and you go down to the store and buy a box of penknives. Then they will have plenty to amuse themselves with and will not cut the furniture."
"True! True! What a good idea! Was it Benicia's?" He gave her a glance of languid adoration. "I will buy those knives at once, before I forget it," and he tossed the sombrero on his curls and strode out of the house.
"How dost thou like the Senor Lieutenant Russell, Benicia?"
Benicia lifted her chin, but her cheeks became very pink.
"Well enough. But he is like all the Americans, very proud, and thinks too well of his hateful country. But I shall teach him how to flirt. He thinks he can, but he cannot."
"Thou canst do it, Benicia—look! look!"
Lieutenant Russell and a brother officer were sauntering slowly by and looking straight through the grated window at the beautiful girls in their gayly flowered gowns. They saluted, and the girls bent their slender necks, but dared not speak, for Dona Francesca Hernandez was in the next room and the door was open. Immediately following the American officers came Don Fernando Altimira on horseback. He scowled as he saw the erect swinging figures of the conquerors, but Benicia kissed the tips of her fingers as he flung his sombrero to the ground, and he galloped, smiling, on his way.
That night the officers of the United States squadron met the society of Monterey at the house of Don Jorje Hernandez. After the contradanza, to which they could be admiring spectators only, much to the delight of the caballeros, Benicia took the guitar presented by Flujencio, and letting her head droop a little to one side like a lily bent on its stalk by the breeze, sang the most coquettish song she knew. Her mahogany brown hair hung unconfined over her white shoulders and gown of embroidered silk with its pointed waist and full skirt. Her large brown eyes were alternately mischievous and tender, now and again lighted by a sudden flash. Her cheeks were pink; her round babylike arms curved with all the grace of the Spanish woman. As she finished the song she dropped her eyelids for a moment, then raised them slowly and looked straight at Russell.
"By Jove, Ned, you are a lucky dog!" said a brother officer. "She's the prettiest girl in the room! Why don't you fling your hat at her feet, as these ardent Californians do?"
"My cap is in the next room, but I will go over and fling myself there instead."
Russell crossed the room and sat down beside Benicia.
"I should like to hear you sing under those cypresses out on the ocean about six or eight miles from here," he said to her. "I rode down the coast yesterday. Jove! what a coast it is!"
"We will have a merienda there on some evening," said Dona Eustaquia, who sat beside her daughter. "It is very beautiful on the big rocks to watch the ocean, under the moonlight."
"Good! You will not forget that?"
She smiled at his boyishness. "It will be at the next moon. I promise."
Benicia sang another song, and a half-dozen caballeros stood about her, regarding her with glances languid, passionate, sentimental, reproachful, determined, hopeless. Russell, leaning back in his chair, listened to the innocent thrilling voice of the girl, and watched her adorers, amused and stimulated. The Californian beauty was like no other woman he had known, and the victory would be as signal as the capture of Monterey. "More blood, perhaps," he thought, "but a victory is a poor affair unless painted in red. It will do these seething caballeros good to learn that American blood is quite as swift as Californian."
As the song finished, the musicians began a waltz; Russell took the guitar from Benicia's hand and laid it on the floor.
"This waltz is mine, senorita," he said.
"I no know—"
"Senorita!" said Don Fernando Altimira, passionately, "the first waltz is always mine. Thou wilt not give it to the American?"
"And the next is mine!"
"And the next contradanza!"
The girl's faithful retinue protested for their rights. Russell could not understand, but he translated their glances, and bent his lips to Benicia's ear. That ear was pink and her eyes were bright with roguish triumph.
"I want this dance, dear senorita. I may go away any day. Orders may come to-morrow which will send me where I never can see you again. You can dance with these men every night of the year—"
"I give to you," said Benicia, rising hurriedly. "We must be hospitable to the stranger who comes to-day and leaves to-morrow," she said in Spanish to the other men. "I have plenty more dances for you."
After the dance, salads and cakes, claret and water, were brought to the women by Indian girls, who glided about the room with borrowed grace, their heads erect, the silver trays held well out. They wore bright red skirts and white smocks of fine embroidered linen, open at the throat, the sleeves very short. Their coarse hair hung in heavy braids; their bright little eyes twinkled in square faces scrubbed until they shone like copper.
"Captain," said Russell to Brotherton, as the men followed the host into the supper room, "let us buy a ranch, marry two of these stunning girls, and lie round in hammocks whilst these Western houris bring us aguardiente and soda. What an improvement on Byron and Tom Moore! It is all so unhackneyed and unexpected. In spite of Dana and Robinson I expected mud huts and whooping savages. This is Arcadia, and the women are the most elegant in America."
"Look here, Ned," said his captain, "you had better do less flirting and more thinking while you are in this odd country. Your talents will get rusty, but you can rub them up when you get home. Neither Californian men nor women are to be trifled with. This is the land of passion, not of drawing-room sentiment."
"Perhaps I am more serious than you think. What is the matter?" He spoke to a brother officer who had joined them and was laughing immoderately.
"Do you see those Californians grinning over there?" The speaker beckoned to a group of officers, who joined him at once. "What job do you suppose they have put up on us? What do you suppose that mysterious table in the sala means, with its penknives and wooden sticks? I thought it was a charity bazaar. Well, it is nothing more nor less than a trick to keep us from whittling up the furniture. We are all Yankees to them, you know. Preserve my Spanish!"
The officers shouted with delight. They marched solemnly back into the sala, and seating themselves in a deep circle about the table, whittled the slugs all over the floor, much to the satisfaction of the Californians.
After the entertainment was over, Russell strolled about the town. The new moon was on the sky, the stars thick and bright; but dark corners were everywhere, and he kept his hand on his pistol. He found himself before the long low house of Dona Eustaquia Ortega. Not a light glimmered; the shutters were of solid wood. He walked up and down, trying to guess which was Benicia's room.
"I am growing as romantic as a Californian," he thought; "but this wonderful country pours its colour all through one's nature. If I could find her window, I believe I should serenade her in true Spanish fashion. By Jove, I remember now, she said something about looking through her window at the pines on the hill. It must be at the back of the house, and how am I going to get over that great adobe wall? That gate is probably fastened with an iron bar—ah!"
He had walked to the corner of the wall surrounding the large yard behind and at both sides of Dona Eustaquia's house, and he saw, ascending a ladder, a tall figure, draped in a serape, its face concealed by the shadow of a sombrero. He drew his pistol, then laughed at himself, although not without annoyance. "A rival; and he has got ahead of me. He is going to serenade her."
The caballero seated himself uncomfortably on the tiles that roofed the wall, removed his sombrero, and Russell recognized Fernando Altimira. A moment later the sweet thin chords of the guitar quivered in the quiet air, and a tenor, so fine that even Russell stood entranced, sang to Benicia one of the old songs of Monterey:—
Una mirada un suspiro, Una lagrima querida, Es balsamo a la herida Que abriste en mi corazon.
Por esa lagrima cara Objeto de mi termina, Yo te ame bella criatura Desde que te vi llorar.
Te acuerdas de aquella noche En que triste y abatida Una lagrima querida Vi de tus ojos brotar.
Although Russell was at the base of the high wall he saw that a light flashed. The light was followed by the clapping of little hands. "Jove!" he thought, "am I really jealous? But damn that Californian!"
Altimira sang two more songs and was rewarded by the same demonstrations. As he descended the ladder and reached the open street he met Russell face to face. The two men regarded each other for a moment. The Californian's handsome face was distorted by a passionate scowl; Russell was calmer, but his brows were lowered.
Altimira flung the ladder to the ground, but fire-blooded as he was, the politeness of his race did not desert him, and his struggle with English flung oil upon his passion.
"Senor," he said, "I no know what you do it by the house of the Senorita Benicia so late in the night. I suppose you have the right to walk in the town si it please yourself."
"Have I not the same right as you—to serenade the Senorita Benicia? If I had known her room, I should have been on the wall before you."
Altimira's face flushed with triumph. "I think the Senorita Benicia no care for the English song, senor. She love the sweet words of her country: she no care for words of ice."
Russell smiled. "Our language may not be as elastic as yours, Don Fernando, but it is a good deal more sincere. And it can express as much and perhaps—"
"You love Benicia?" interrupted Altimira, fiercely.
"I admire the Senorita Ortega tremendously. But I have seen her twice only, and although we may love longer, we take more time to get there, perhaps, than you do."
"Ay! Dios de mi vida! You have the heart of rock! You chip it off in little pieces, one to-day, another to-morrow, and give to the woman. I, senor, I love Benicia, and I marry her. You understand? Si you take her, I cut the heart from your body. You understand?"
"I understand. We understand each other." Russell lifted his cap. The Californian took his sombrero from his head and made a long sweeping bow; and the two men parted.
On the twenty-third of July, Commodore Sloat transferred his authority to Commodore Stockton, and the new commander of the Pacific squadron organized the California Battalion of Mounted Riflemen, appointing Fremont major and Gillespie captain. He ordered them South at once to intercept Castro. On the twenty-eighth, Stockton issued a proclamation in which he asserted that Mexico was the instigator of the present difficulties, and justified the United States in seizing the Californias. He denounced Castro in violent terms as an usurper, a boasting and abusive chief, and accused him of having violated every principle of national hospitality and good faith toward Captain Fremont and his surveying party. Stockton sailed for the South the same day in the Congress, leaving a number of officers to Monterey and the indignation of the people.
"By Jove, I don't dare to go near Dona Eustaquia," said Russell to Brotherton. "And I'm afraid we won't have our picnic. It seems to me the Commodore need not have used such strong language about California's idol. The very people in the streets are ready to unlimb us; and as for the peppery Dona—"
"Speak more respectfully of Dona Eustaquia, young man," said the older officer, severely. "She is a very remarkable woman and not to be spoken slightingly of by young men who are in love with her daughter."
"God forbid that I should slight her, dear Captain. Never have I so respected a woman. She frightens the life out of me every time she flashes those eyes of hers. But let us go and face the enemy at once, like the brave Americans we are."
"Very well." And together they walked along Alvarado Street from the harbour, then up the hill to the house of Dona Eustaquia.
That formidable lady and her daughter were sitting on the corridor dressed in full white gowns, slowly wielding large black fans, for the night was hot. Benicia cast up her eyes expressively as she rose and courtesied to the officers, but her mother merely bent her head; nor did she extend her hand. Her face was very dark.
Brotherton went directly to the point.
"Dear Dona Eustaquia, we deeply regret that our Commodore has used such harsh language in regard to General Castro. But remember that he has been here a few days only and has had no chance to learn the many noble and valiant qualities of your General. He doubtless has been prejudiced against him by some enemy, and he adores Fremont:—there is the trouble. He resents Castro's treating Fremont as an enemy before the United States had declared its intentions. But had he been correctly informed, he undoubtedly would have conceived the same admiration and respect for your brave General that is felt by every other man among us."
Dona Eustaquia looked somewhat mollified, but shook her head sternly. "Much better he took the trouble to hear true. He insult all Californians by those shemful words. All the enemies of our dear General be glad. And the poor wife! Poor my Modeste! She fold the arms and raise the head, but the heart is broken."
"Jove! I almost wish they had driven us out! Dear senora—" Russell and Benicia were walking up and down the corridor—"we have become friends, true friends, as sometimes happens—not often—between man and woman. Cease to think of me as an officer of the United States navy, only as a man devoted to your service. I have already spent many pleasant hours with you. Let me hope that while I remain here neither Commodore Stockton nor party feeling will exclude me from many more."
She raised her graceful hand to her chin with a gesture peculiar to her, and looked upward with a glance half sad, half bitter.
"I much appreciate your friendship, Capitan Brotherton. You give me much advice that is good for me, and tell me many things. It is like the ocean wind when you have live long in the hot valley. Yes, dear friend, I forget you are in the navy of the conqueror."
"Mamacita," broke in Benicia's light voice, "tell us now when we can have the peek-neek."
"Castro," said Russell, lifting his cap, "peace be with thee."
The great masses of rock on the ocean's coast shone white in the moonlight. Through the gaunt outlying rocks, lashed apart by furious storms, boiled the ponderous breakers, tossing aloft the sparkling clouds of spray, breaking in the pools like a million silver fishes. High above the waves, growing out of the crevices of the massive rocks of the shore, were weird old cypresses, their bodies bent from the ocean as if petrified in flight before the mightier foe. On their gaunt outstretched arms and gray bodies, seamed with time, knobs like human muscles jutted; between the broken bark the red blood showed. From their angry hands, clutching at the air or doubled in imprecation, long strands of gray-green moss hung, waving and coiling, in the night wind. Only one old man was on his hands and knees as if to crawl from the field; but a comrade spurned him with his foot and wound his bony hand about the coward's neck. Another had turned his head to the enemy, pointing his index finger in scorn, although he stood alone on high.
All along the cliffs ran the ghostly army, sometimes with straining arms fighting the air, sometimes thrust blankly outward, all with life quivering in their arrested bodies, silent and scornful in their defeat. Who shall say what winter winds first beat them, what great waves first fought their deathless trunks, what young stars first shone over them? They have outstood centuries of raging storm and rending earthquake. Tradition says that until convulsion wrenched the Golden Gate apart the San Franciscan waters rolled through the long valleys and emptied into the Bay of Monterey. But the old cypresses were on the ocean just beyond; the incoming and the outgoing of the inland ocean could not trouble them; and perhaps they will stand there until the end of time.
Down the long road by the ocean rode a gay cavalcade. The caballeros had haughtily refused to join the party, and the men wore the blue and gold of the United States.
But the women wore fluttering mantillas, and their prancing high-stepping horses were trapped with embossed leather and silver. In a lumbering "wagon of the country," drawn by oxen, running on solid wheels cut from the trunks of trees, but padded with silk, rode some of the older people of the town, disapproving, but overridden by the impatient enthusiasm of Dona Eustaquia. Through the pine woods with their softly moving shadows and splendid aisles, out between the cypresses and rocky beach, wound the stately cavalcade, their voices rising above the sociable converse of the seals and the screeching of the seagulls spiking the rocks where the waves fought and foamed. The gold on the shoulders of the men flashed in the moonlight; the jewels of the women sparkled and winked. Two by two they came like a conquering army to the rescue of the cypresses. Brotherton, who rode ahead with Dona Eustaquia, half expected to see the old trees rise upright with a deep shout of welcome.
When they reached a point where the sloping rocks rose high above surf and spray, they dismounted, leaving the Indian servants to tether the horses. They climbed down the big smooth rocks and sat about in groups, although never beyond the range of older eyes, the cypresses lowering above them, the ocean tearing through the outer rocks to swirl and grumble in the pools. The moon was so bright, its light so broad and silver, they almost could imagine they saw the gorgeous mass of colour in the pools below.
"You no have seaweed like that in Boston," said Benicia, who had a comprehensive way of symbolizing the world by the city from which she got many of her clothes and all of her books.
"Indeed, no!" said Russell. "The other day I sat for hours watching those great bunches and strands that look like richly coloured chenille. And there were stones that looked like big opals studded with vivid jewels. God of my soul, as you say, it was magnificent! I never saw such brilliant colour, such delicate tints! And those great rugged defiant rocks out there, lashed by the waves! Look at that one; misty with spray one minute, bare and black the next! They look like an old castle which has been battered down with cannon. Captain, do you not feel romantic?"
"I feel that I never want to go into an art gallery again. No wonder the women of California are original."
"Benicia," said Russell, "I have tried in vain to learn a Spanish song. But teach me a Spanish phrase of endearment. All our 'darlings' and 'dearests' are too flat for California."
"Bueno; I teach you. Say after me: Mi muy querida prima. That is very sweet. Say."
"Que—What is it in English?"
"My—very—darling—first. It no sound so pretty in English."
"It does very well. My—very—darling—first—if all these people were not about us, I should kiss you. You look exactly like a flower."
"Si you did, Senor Impertinencio, you get that for thanks."
Russell jumped to his feet with a shout, and shook from his neck a little crab with a back like green velvet and legs like carven garnet.
"Did you put that crab on my neck, senorita?"
A sulky silence of ten minutes ensued, during which Benicia sent little stones skipping down into the silvered pools, and Russell, again recumbent, stared at the horizon.
"Si you no can talk," she said finally, "I wish you go way and let Don Henry Tallant come talk to me. He look like he want."
"No doubt he does; but he can stay where he is. Let me kiss your hand, Benicia, and I will forgive you."
Benicia hit his mouth lightly with the back of her hand, but he captured it and kissed it several times.
"Your mustache feels like the cat's," said she.
He flung the hand from him, but laughed in a moment. "How sentimental you are! Making love to you is like dragging a cannon uphill! Will you not at least sing me a love-song? And please do not make faces in the tender parts."
Benicia tossed her spirited head, but took her guitar from its case and called to the other girls to accompany her. They withdrew from their various flirtations with audible sighs, but it was Benicia's merienda, and in a moment a dozen white hands were sweeping the long notes from the strings.
Russell moved to a lower rock, and lying at Benicia's feet looked upward. The scene was all above him—the great mass of white rocks, whiter in the moonlight; the rigid cypresses aloft; the beautiful faces, dreamy, passionate, stolid, restless, looking from the lace mantillas; the graceful arms holding the guitars; the sweet rich voices threading through the roar of the ocean like the melody in a grand recitativo; the old men and women crouching like buzzards on the stones, their sharp eyes never closing; enfolding all with an almost palpable touch, the warm voluptuous air. Now and again a bird sang a few notes, a strange sound in the night, or the soft wind murmured like the ocean's echo through the pines.
The song finished. "Benicia, I love you," whispered Russell.
"We will now eat," said Benicia. "Mamma,"—she raised her voice,—"shall I tell Raphael to bring down the supper?"
The girl sprang lightly up the rocks, followed by Russell. The Indian servants were some distance off, and as the young people ran through a pine grove the bold officer of the United States squadron captured the Californian and kissed her on the mouth. She boxed his ears and escaped to the light.
Benicia gave her orders, Raphael and the other Indians followed her with the baskets, and spread the supper of tomales and salads, dulces and wine, on a large table-like rock, just above the threatening spray; the girls sang each in turn, whilst the others nibbled the dainties Dona Eustaquia had provided, and the Americans wondered if it were not a vision that would disappear into the fog bearing down upon them.
A great white bank, writhing and lifting, rolling and bending, came across the ocean slowly, with majestic stealth, hiding the swinging waves on which it rode so lightly, shrouding the rocks, enfolding the men and women, wreathing the cypresses, rushing onward to the pines.
"We must go," said Dona Eustaquia, rising. "There is danger to stay. The lungs, the throat, my children. Look at the poor old cypresses."
The fog was puffing through the gaunt arms, festooning the rigid hands. It hung over the green heads, it coiled about the gray trunks. The stern defeated trees looked like the phantoms of themselves, a long silent battalion of petrified ghosts. Even Benicia's gay spirit was oppressed, and during the long ride homeward through the pine woods she had little to say to her equally silent companion.
Dona Eustaquia seldom gave balls, but once a week she opened her salas to the more intellectual people of the town. A few Americans were ever attendant; General Vallejo often came from Sonoma to hear the latest American and Mexican news in her house; Castro rarely had been absent; Alvarado, in the days of his supremacy, could always be found there, and she was the first woman upon whom Pio Pico called when he deigned to visit Monterey. A few young people came to sit in a corner with Benicia, but they had little to say.
The night after the picnic some fifteen or twenty people were gathered about Dona Eustaquia in the large sala on the right of the hall; a few others were glancing over the Mexican papers in the little sala on the left. The room was ablaze with many candles standing, above the heads of the guests, in twisted silver candelabra, the white walls reflecting their light. The floor was bare, the furniture of stiff mahogany and horse-hair, but no visitor to that quaint ugly room ever thought of looking beyond the brilliant face of Dona Eustaquia, the lovely eyes of her daughter, the intelligence and animation of the people she gathered about her. As a rule Dona Modeste Castro's proud head and strange beauty had been one of the living pictures of that historical sala, but she was not there to-night.
As Captain Brotherton and Lieutenant Russell entered, Dona Eustaquia was waging war against Mr. Larkin.
"And what hast thou to say to that proclamation of thy little American hero, thy Commodore"—she gave the word a satirical roll, impossible to transcribe—"who is heir to a conquest without blood, who struts into history as the Commander of the United States Squadron of the Pacific, holding a few hundred helpless Californians in subjection? O warlike name of Sloat! O heroic name of Stockton! O immortal Fremont, prince of strategists and tacticians, your country must be proud of you! Your newspapers will glorify you! Sometime, perhaps, you will have a little history bound in red morocco all to yourselves; whilst Castro—" she sprang to her feet and brought her open palm down violently upon the table, "Castro, the real hero of this country, the great man ready to die a thousand deaths for the liberty of the Californians, a man who was made for great deeds and born for fame, he will be left to rust and rot because we have no newspapers to glorify him, and the Gringos send what they wish to their country! Oh, profanation! That a great man should be covered from sight by an army of red ants!"
"By Jove!" said Russell, "I wish I could understand her! Doesn't she look magnificent?"
Captain Brotherton made no reply. He was watching her closely, gathering the sense of her words, full of passionate admiration for the woman. Her tall majestic figure was quivering under the lash of her fiery temper, quick to spring and strike. The red satin of her gown and the diamonds on her finely moulded neck and in the dense coils of her hair grew dim before the angry brilliancy of her eyes.
The thin sensitive lips of Mr. Larkin curled with their accustomed humour, but he replied sincerely, "Yes, Castro is a hero, a great man on a small canvas—"
"And they are little men on a big canvas!" interrupted Dona Eustaquia.
Mr. Larkin laughed, but his reply was non-committal. "Remember, they have done all that they have been called upon to do, and they have done it well. Who can say that they would not be as heroic, if opportunity offered, as they have been prudent?"
Dona Eustaquia shrugged her shoulders disdainfully, but resumed her seat. "You will not say, but you know what chance they would have with Castro in a fair fight. But what chance has even a great man, when at the head of a few renegades, against the navy of a big nation? But Fremont! Is he to cast up his eyes and draw down his mouth to the world, whilst the man who acted for the safety of his country alone, who showed foresight and wisdom, is denounced as a violator of international courtesy?"
"No," said one of the American residents who stood near, "history will right all that. Some day the world will know who was the great and who the little man."
"Some day! When we are under our stones! This swaggering Commodore Stockton adores Fremont and hates Castro. His lying proclamation will be read in his own country—"
The door opened suddenly and Don Fernando Altimira entered the room. "Have you heard?" he cried. "All the South is in arms! The Departmental Assembly has called the whole country to war, and men are flocking to the standard! Castro has sworn that he will never give up the country under his charge. Now, Mother of God! let our men drive the usurper from the country."
Even Mr. Larkin sprang to his feet in excitement. He rapidly translated the news to Brotherton and Russell.
"Ah! There will be a little blood, then," said the younger officer. "It was too easy a victory to count."
Every one in the room was talking at once. Dona Eustaquia smote her hands together, then clasped and raised them aloft.
"Thanks to God!" she cried. "California has come to her senses at last!"
Altimira bent his lips to her ear. "I go to fight the Americans," he whispered.
She caught his hand between both her own and pressed it convulsively to her breast. "Go," she said, "and may God and Mary protect thee. Go, my son, and when thou returnest I will give thee Benicia. Thou art a son after my heart, a brave man and a good Catholic."
Benicia, standing near, heard the words. For the first time Russell saw the expression of careless audacity leave her face, her pink colour fade.
"What is that man saying to your mother?" he demanded.
"She promise me to him when he come back; he go to join General Castro."
"Benicia!" He glanced about. Altimira had left the house. Every one was too excited to notice them. He drew her across the hall and into the little sala, deserted since the startling news had come. "Benicia," he said hurriedly, "there is no time to be lost. You are such a butterfly I hardly know whether you love me or not."
"I no am such butterfly as you think," said the girl, pathetically. "I often am very gay, for that is my spirit, senor; but I cry sometimes in the night."
"Well, you are not to cry any more, my very darling first!" He took her in his arms and kissed her, and she did not box his ears. "I may be ordered off at any moment, and what may they not do with you while I am gone? So I have a plan! Marry me to-morrow!"
"To-morrow. At your friend Blandina's house. The Hernandez like the Americans; in fact, as we all know, Tallant is in love with Blandina and the old people do not frown. They will let us marry there."
"Ay! Cielo santo! What my mother say? She kill me!"
"She will forgive you, no matter how angry she may be at first. She loves you—almost as much as I do."
The girl withdrew from his arms and walked up and down the room. Her face was very pale, and she looked older. On one side of the room hung a large black cross, heavily mounted with gold. She leaned her face against it and burst into tears. "Ay, my home! My mother!" she cried under her breath. "How I can leave you? Ay, triste de mi!" She turned suddenly to Russell, whose face was as white as her own, and put to him the question which we have not yet answered. "What is this love?" she said rapidly. "I no can understand. I never feel before. Always I laugh when men say they love me; but I never laugh again. In my heart is something that shake me like a lion shake what it go to kill, and make me no care for my mother or my God—and you are a Protestant! I have love my mother like I have love that cross; and now a man come—a stranger! a conqueror! a Protestant! an American! And he twist my heart out with his hands! But I no can help. I love you and I go."
The next morning, Dona Eustaquia looked up from her desk as Benicia entered the room. "I am writing to Alvarado," she said. "I hope to be the first to tell him the glorious news. Ay! my child, go to thy altar and pray that the bandoleros may be driven wriggling from the land like snakes out of a burning field!"
"But, mother, I thought you had learned to like the Gringos."
"I like the Gringos well enough, but I hate their flag! Ay! I will pull it down with my own hands if Castro and Pico roll Stockton and Fremont in the dust!"
"I am sorry for that, my mother, for I am going to marry an American to-day."
Her mother laughed and glanced over the closely written page.
"I am going to marry the Lieutenant Russell at Blandina's house this morning."
"Ay, run, run. I must finish my letter."
Benicia left the sala and crossing her mother's room entered her own. From the stout mahogany chest she took white silk stockings and satin slippers, and sitting down on the floor put them on. Then she opened the doors of her wardrobe and looked for some moments at the many pretty frocks hanging there. She selected one of fine white lawn, half covered with deshalados, and arrayed herself. She took from the drawer of the wardrobe a mantilla of white Spanish lace, and draped it about her head and shoulders, fastening it back above one ear with a pink rose. Around her throat she clasped a string of pearls, then stood quietly in the middle of the room and looked about her. In one corner was a little brass bedstead covered with a heavy quilt of satin and lace. The pillow-cases were almost as fine and elaborate as her gown. In the opposite corner was an altar with little gold candlesticks and an ivory crucifix. The walls and floor were bare but spotless. The ugly wardrobe built into the thick wall never had been empty: Dona Eustaquia's generosity to the daughter she worshipped was unbounded.
Benicia drew a long hysterical breath and went over to the window. It looked upon a large yard enclosed by the high adobe wall upon which her lovers so often had sat and sung to her. No flowers were in the garden, not even a tree. It was as smooth and clean as the floor of a ballroom. About the well in the middle were three or four Indian servants quarrelling good-naturedly. The house stood on the rise of one of the crescent's horns. Benicia looked up at the dark pine woods on the hill. What days she had spent there with her mother! She whirled about suddenly and taking a large fan from the table returned to the sala.
Dona Eustaquia laughed. "Thou silly child, to dress thyself like a bride. What nonsense is this?"
"I will be a bride in an hour, my mother."
"Go! Go, with thy nonsense! I have spoiled thee! What other girl in Monterey would dare to dress herself like this at eleven in the morning? Go! And do not ruin that mantilla, for thou wilt not get another. Thou art going to Blandina's, no? Be sure thou goest no farther! I would not let thee go there alone were it not so near. And be sure thou speakest to no man in the street."
"No, mamacita, I will speak to no man in the street, but one awaits me in the house. Hasta luego." And she flitted out of the door and up the street.
A few hours later Dona Eustaquia sat in the large and cooler sala with Captain Brotherton. He read Shakespeare to her whilst she fanned herself, her face aglow with intelligent pleasure. She had not broached to him the uprising in the South lest it should lead to bitter words. Although an American and a Protestant, few friends had ever stood so close to her.
He laid down the book as Russell and Benicia entered the room. Dona Eustaquia's heavy brows met.
"Thou knowest that I do not allow thee to walk with on the street," she said in Spanish.
"But, mamacita, he is my husband. We were married this morning at Blandina's," Excitement had tuned Benicia's spirit to its accustomed pitch, and her eyes danced with mischief. Moreover, although she expected violent reproaches, she knew the tenacious strength of her mother's affection, and had faith in speedy forgiveness.
Brotherton opened his eyes, but Dona Eustaquia moved back her head impatiently. "That silly joke!" Then she smiled at her own impatience. What was Benicia but a spoiled child, and spoiled children would disobey at times. "Welcome, my son," she said to Russell, extending her hand. "We celebrate your marriage at the supper to-night, and the Captain helps us, no? my friend."
"Let us have chicken with red pepper and tomato sauce," cried Russell. "And rice with saffron; and that delightful dish with which I remonstrate all night—olives and cheese and hard-boiled eggs and red peppers all rolled up in corn-meal cakes."
"Enchiladas? You have them! Now, both you go over to the corner and talk not loud, for I wish to hear my friend read."
Russell, lifting his shoulders, did as he was bidden. Benicia, with a gay laugh, kissed her mother and flitted like a butterfly about the room, singing gay little snatches of song.
"Oh, mamacita, mamacita," she chanted. "Thou wilt not believe thou hast lost thy little daughter. Thou wilt not believe thou hast a son. Thou wilt not believe I shall sleep no more in the little brass bed—"
"Benicia, hold thy saucy tongue! Sit down!" And this Benicia finally consented to do, although smothered laughter came now and again from the corner.
Dona Eustaquia sat easily against the straight back of her chair, looking very handsome and placid as Brotherton read and expounded "As You Like It" to her. Her gown of thin black silk threw out the fine gray tones of her skin; about her neck and chest was a heavy chain of Californian gold; her dense lustreless hair was held high with a shell comb banded with gold; superb jewels weighted her little white hands; in her small ears were large hoops of gold studded with black pearls. She was perfectly contented in that hour. Her woman's vanity was at peace and her eager mind expanding.
The party about the supper table in the evening was very gay. The long room was bare, but heavy silver was beyond the glass doors of the cupboard; a servant stood behind each chair; the wines were as fine as any in America, and the favourite dishes of the Americans had been prepared. Even Brotherton, although more nervous than was usual with him, caught the contagion of the hour and touched his glass more than once to that of the woman whose overwhelming personality had more than half captured a most indifferent heart.
After supper they sat on the corridor, and Benicia sang her mocking love-songs and danced El Son to the tinkling of her own guitar.
"Is she not a light-hearted child?" asked her mother. "But she has her serious moments, my friend. We have been like the sisters. Every path of the pine woods we walk together, arm in arm. We ride miles on the beach and sit down on the rocks for hours and try to think what the seals say one to the other. Before you come I have friends, but no other companion; but it is good for me you come, for she think only of flirting since the Americans take Monterey. Mira! Look at her flash the eyes at Senor Russell. It is well he has the light heart like herself."
Brotherton made no reply.
"Give to me the guitar," she continued.
Benicia handed her the instrument and Dona Eustaquia swept the chords absently for a moment then sang the song of the troubadour. Her rich voice was like the rush of the wind through the pines after the light trilling of a bird, and even Russell sat enraptured. As she sang the colour came into her face, alight with the fire of youth. Her low notes were voluptuous, her high notes rang with piercing sadness. As she finished, a storm of applause came from Alvarado Street, which pulsed with life but a few yards below them.
"No American woman ever sang like that," said Brotherton. He rose and walked to the end of the corridor. "But it is a part of Monterey."
"Most enchanting of mothers-in-law," said Russell, "you have made it doubly hard for us to leave you; but it grows late and my wife and I must go. Good night," and he raised her hand to his lips.
"Good night, my son."
"Mamacita, good night," and Benicia, who had fluttered into the house and found a reboso, kissed her mother, waved her hand to Brotherton, and stepped from the corridor to the street.
"Come here, senorita!" cried her mother. "No walk to-night, for I have not the wish to walk myself."
"But I go with my husband, mamma."
"Oh, no more of that joke without sense! Senor Russell, go home, that she have reason for one moment."
"But, dear Dona Eustaquia, won't you understand that we are really married?"
Dona Eustaquia's patience was at an end. She turned to Brotherton and addressed a remark to him. Russell and Benicia conferred a moment, then the young man walked rapidly down the street.
"Has he gone?" asked Dona Eustaquia. "Then let us go in the house, for the fog comes from the bay."
They went into the little sala and sat about the table. Dona Eustaquia picked up a silver dagger she used as a paper cutter and tapped a book with it.
"Ay, this will not last long," she said to Brotherton. "I much am afraid your Commodore send you to the South to fight with our men."
"I shall return," said Brotherton, absently. His eyes were fixed on the door.
"But it will not be long that you will be there, my friend. Many people are not killed in our wars. Once there was a great battle at Point Rincon, near Santa Barbara, between Castro and Carillo. Carillo have been appointed governor by Mejico, and Alvarado refuse to resign. They fight for three days, and Castro manage so well he lose only one man, and the others run away and not lose any."
Brotherton laughed. "I hope all our battles may be as bloodless," he said, and then drew a short breath.
Russell, accompanied by Don Jorje and Dona Francesca Hernandez and the priest of Monterey, entered the room.
Dona Eustaquia rose and greeted her guests with grace and hospitality.
"But I am glad to see you, my father, my friends. And you always are welcome, Senor Russell; but no more joke. Where is our Blandina? Sit down—Why, what is it?"
The priest spoke.
"I have that to tell you, Dona Eustaquia, which I fear will give you great displeasure. I hoped not to be the one to tell it. I was weak to consent, but these young people importuned me until I was weary. Dona Eustaquia, I married Benicia to the Senor Russell to-day."
Dona Eustaquia's head had moved forward mechanically, her eyes staring incredulously from the priest to the other members of the apprehensive group. Suddenly her apathy left her, her arm curved upward like the neck of a snake; but as she sprang upon Benicia her ferocity was that of a tiger.
"What!" she shrieked, shaking the girl violently by the shoulder. "What! ingrate! traitor! Thou hast married an American, a Protestant!"
Benicia burst into terrified sobs. Russell swung the girl from her mother's grasp and placed his arm around her.
"She is mine now," he said. "You must not touch her again."
"Yours! Yours!" screamed Dona Eustaquia, beside herself. "Oh, Mother of God!" She snatched the dagger from the table and, springing backward, plunged it into the cross.
"By that sign I curse thee," she cried. "Accursed be the man who has stolen my child! Accursed be the woman who has betrayed her mother and her country! God! God!—I implore thee, let her die in her happiest hour."
On August twelfth Commodore Hull arrived on the frigate Warren, from Mazatlan, and brought the first positive intelligence of the declaration of war between Mexico and the United States. Before the middle of the month news came that Castro and Pico, after gallant defence, but overwhelmed by numbers, had fled, the one to Sonora, the other to Baja California. A few days after, Stockton issued a proclamation to the effect that the flag of the United States was flying over every town in the territory of California; and Alcalde Colton announced that the rancheros were more than satisfied with the change of government.
A month later a mounted courier dashed into Monterey with a note from the Alcalde of Los Angeles, wrapped about a cigarito and hidden in his hair. The note contained the information that all the South was in arms again, and that Los Angeles was in the hands of the Californians. Russell was ordered to go with Captain Mervine, on the Savannah, to join Gillespie at San Pedro; Brotherton was left at Monterey with Lieutenant Maddox and a number of men to quell a threatened uprising. Later came the news of Mervine's defeat and the night of Talbot from Santa Barbara; and by November California was in a state of general warfare, each army receiving new recruits every day.
Dona Eustaquia, hard and stern, praying for the triumph of her people, lived alone in the old house. Benicia, praying for the return of her husband and the relenting of her mother, lived alone in her little house on the hill. Friends had interceded, but Dona Eustaquia had closed her ears. Brotherton went to her one day with the news that Lieutenant Russell was wounded.
"I must tell Benicia," he said, "but it is you who should do that."
"She betray me, my friend."
"Oh, Eustaquia, make allowance for the lightness of youth. She barely realized what she did. But she loves him now, and suffers bitterly. She should be with you."
"Ay! She suffer for another! She love a strange man—an American—better than her mother! And it is I who would die for her! Ay, you cold Americans! Never you know how a mother can love her child."
"The Americans know how to love, senora. And Benicia was thoroughly spoiled by her devoted mother. She was carried away by her wild spirits, nothing more."
"Then much better she live on them now."
Dona Eustaquia sat with her profile against the light. It looked severe and a little older, but she was very handsome in her rich black gown and the gold chain about her strong throat. Her head, as usual, was held a little back. Brotherton sat down beside her and took her hand.
"Eustaquia," he said, "no friendship between man and woman was ever deeper and stronger than ours. In spite of the anxiety and excitement of these last months we have found time to know each other very intimately. So you will forgive me if I tell you that the more a friend loves you the more he must be saddened by the terrible iron in your nature. Only the great strength of your passions has saved you from hardening into an ugly and repellent woman. You are a mother; forgive your child; remember that she, too, is about to be a mother—"
She caught his hand between both of hers with a passionate gesture. "Oh, my friend," she said, "do not too much reproach me! You never have a child, you cannot know! And remember we all are not make alike. If you are me, you act like myself. If I am you, I can forgive more easy. But I am Eustaquia Ortega, and as I am make, so I do feel now. No judge too hard, my friend, and—infelez de mi! do not forsake me."
"I will never forsake you, Eustaquia." He rose suddenly. "I, too, am a lonely man, if not a hard one, and I recognize that cry of the soul's isolation."
He left her and went up the hill to Benicia's little house, half hidden by the cypress trees that grew before it.
She was sitting in her sala working an elaborate deshalados on a baby's gown. Her face was pale, and the sparkle had gone out of it; but she held herself with all her mother's pride, and her soft eyes were deeper. She rose as Captain Brotherton entered, and took his hand in both of hers. "You are so good to come to me, and I love you for your friendship for my mother. Tell me how she is."
"She is well, Benicia." Then he exclaimed suddenly: "Poor little girl! What a child you are—not yet seventeen."
"In a few months, senor. Sit down. No? And I no am so young now. When we suffer we grow more than by the years; and now I go to have the baby, that make me feel very old."
"But it is very sad to see you alone like this, without your husband or your mother. She will relent some day, Benicia, but I wish she would do it now, when you most need her."
"Yes, I wish I am with her in the old house," said the girl, pathetically, although she winked back the tears. "Never I can be happy without her, even si he is here, and you know how I love him. But I have love her so long; she is—how you say it?—like she is part of me, and when she no spik to me, how I can be happy with all myself when part is gone. You understand, senor?"
"Yes, Benicia, I understand." He looked through the bending cypresses, down the hill, upon the fair town. He had no relish for the task which had brought him to her. She looked up and caught the expression of his face.
"Senor!" she cried sharply. "What you go to tell me?"
"There is a report that Ned is slightly wounded; but it is not serious. It was Altimira who did it, I believe."
She shook from head to foot, but was calmer than he had expected. She laid the gown on a chair and stood up. "Take me to him. Si he is wound, I go to nurse him."
"My child! You would die before you got there. I have sent a special courier to find out the truth. If Ned is wounded, I have arranged to have him sent home immediately."
"I wait for the courier come back, for it no is right I hurt the baby si I can help. But si he is wound so bad he no can come, then I go to him. It no is use for you to talk at all, senor, I go."
Brotherton looked at her in wonderment. Whence had the butterfly gone? Its wings had been struck from it and a soul had flown in.
"Let me send Blandina to you," he said. "You must not be alone."
"I am alone till he or my mother come. I no want other. I love Blandina before, but now she make me feel tired. She talk so much and no say anything. I like better be alone."
"Poor child!" said Brotherton, bitterly, "truly do love and suffering age and isolate." He motioned with his hand to the altar in her bedroom, seen through the open door. "I have not your faith, I am afraid I have not much of any; but if I cannot pray for you, I can wish with all the strength of a man's heart that happiness will come to you yet, Benicia."
She shook her head. "I no know; I no believe much happiness come in this life. Before, I am like a fairy; but it is only because I no am unhappy. But when the heart have wake up, senor, and the knife have gone in hard, then, after that, always, I think, we are a little sad."
General Kearney and Lieutenant Beale walked rapidly up and down before the tents of the wretched remnant of United States troops with which the former had arrived overland in California. It was bitterly cold in spite of the fine drizzling rain. Lonely buttes studded the desert, whose palms and cacti seemed to spring from the rocks; high on one of them was the American camp. On the other side of a river flowing at the foot of the butte, the white tents of the Californians were scattered among the dark huts of the little pueblo of San Pasqual.
"Let me implore you, General," said Beale, "not to think of meeting Andres Pico. Why, your men are half starved; your few horses are broken-winded; your mules are no match for the fresh trained mustangs of the enemy. I am afraid you do not appreciate the Californians. They are numerous, brave, and desperate. If you avoid them now, as Commodore Stockton wishes, and join him at San Diego, we stand a fair chance of defeating them. But now Pico's cavalry and foot are fresh and enthusiastic—in painful contrast to yours. And, moreover, they know every inch of the ground."
Kearney impatiently knocked the ashes out of his pipe. He had little regard for Stockton, and no intention of being dictated to by a truculent young lieutenant who spoke his mind upon all occasions.
"I shall attack them at daybreak," he said curtly. "I have one hundred and thirty good men; and has not Captain Gillespie joined me with his battalion? Never shall it be said that I turned aside to avoid a handful of boasting Californians. Now go and get an hour's sleep before we start."
The young officer shrugged his shoulders, saluted, and walked down the line of tents. A man emerged from one of them, and he recognized Russell.
"Hello, Ned," he said. "How's the arm?"
"'Twas only a scratch. Is Altimira down there with Pico, do you know? He is a brave fellow! I respect that man; but we have an account to settle, and I hope it will be done on the battle-field."
"He is with Pico, and he has done some good fighting. Most of the Californians have. They know how to fight and they are perfectly fearless. Kearney will find it out to-morrow. He is mad to attack them. Why, his men are actually cadaverous. Bueno! as they say here; Stockton sent me to guide him to San Diego. If he prefers to go through the enemy's lines, there is nothing for me to do but take him."
"Yes, but we may surprise them. I wish to God this imitation war were over!"
"It will be real enough before you get through. Don't worry. Well, good night. Luck to your skin."
At daybreak the little army marched down the butte, shivering with cold, wet to the skin. Those on horseback naturally proceeded more rapidly than those mounted upon the clumsy stubborn mules; and Captain Johnson, who led the advance guard of twelve dragoons, found himself, when he came in sight of the enemy's camp, some distance ahead of the main body of Kearney's small army. To his surprise he saw that the Californians were not only awake, but horsed and apparently awaiting him. Whether he was fired by valour or desperation at the sight is a disputed point; but he made a sudden dash down the hill and across the river, almost flinging himself upon the lances of the Californians.
Captain Moore, who was ambling down the hill on an old white horse at the head of fifty dragoons mounted on mules, spurred his beast as he witnessed the foolish charge of the advance, and arrived upon the field in time to see Johnson fall dead and to take his place. Pico, seeing that reenforcements were coming, began to retreat, followed hotly by Moore and the horsed dragoons. Suddenly, however, Fernando Altimira raised himself in his stirrups, looked back, laughed and galloped across the field to General Pico.
"Look!" he said. "Only a few men on horses are after us. The mules are stumbling half a mile behind."
Pico wheeled about, gave the word of command, and bore down upon the Americans. Then followed a hand-to-hand conflict, the Californians lancing and using their pistols with great dexterity, the Americans doing the best they could with their rusty sabres and clubbed guns.
They were soon reenforced by Moore's dragoons and Gillespie's battalion, despite the unwilling mules; but the brutes kicked and bucked at every pistol shot and fresh cloud of smoke. The poor old horses wheezed and panted, but stood their ground when not flung out of position by the frantic mules. The officers and soldiers of the United States army were a sorry sight, and in pointed contrast to the graceful Californians on their groomed steeds, handsomely trapped, curvetting and rearing and prancing as lightly as if on the floor of a circus. Kearney cursed his own stupidity, and Pico laughed in his face. Beale felt satisfaction and compunction in saturating the silk and silver of one fine saddle with the blood of its owner. The point of the dying man's lance pierced his face, but he noted the bleaching of Kearney's, as one dragoon after another was flung upon the sharp rocks over which his bewildered brute stumbled, or was caught and held aloft in the torturing arms of the cacti.
On the edge of the battle two men had forgotten the Aztec Eagle and the Stars and Stripes; they fought for love of a woman. Neither had had time to draw his pistol; they fought with lance and sabre, thrusting and parrying. Both were skilful swordsmen, but Altimira's horse was far superior to Russell's, and he had the advantage of weapons.
"One or the other die on the rocks," said the Californian, "and si I kill you, I marry Benicia."
Russell made no reply. He struck aside the man's lance and wounded his wrist. But Altimira was too excited to feel pain. His face was quivering with passion.
It is not easy to parry a lance with a sabre, and still more difficult to get close enough to wound the man who wields it. Russell rose suddenly in his stirrups, described a rapid half-circle with his weapon, brought it down midway upon the longer blade, and snapped the latter in two. Altimira gave a cry of rage, and spurring his horse sought to ride his opponent down; but Russell wheeled, and the two men simultaneously snatched their pistols from the holsters. Altimira fired first, but his hand was unsteady and his ball went through a cactus. Russell raised his pistol with firm wrist, and discharged it full in the face of the Californian.
Then he looked over the field. Moore, fatally lanced, lay under a palm, and many of his men were about him. Gillespie was wounded, Kearney had received an ugly thrust. The Californians, upon the arrival of the main body of the enemy's troops, had retreated unpursued; the mules attached to one of the American howitzers were scampering over to the opposite ranks, much to the consternation of Kearney. The sun, looking over the mountain, dissipated the gray smoke, and cast a theatrical light on the faces of the dead. Russell bent over Altimira. His head was shattered, but his death was avenged. Never had an American troop suffered a more humiliating defeat. Only six Californians lay on the field; and when the American surgeon, after attending to his own wounded, offered his services to Pico's, that indomitable general haughtily replied that he had none.
"By Jove!" said Russell to Beale that night, "you know your Californians! I am prouder than ever of having married one! That army is of the stuff of which my mother-in-law is made!"
That was a gay Christmas at Monterey, despite the barricades in the street. News had come of the defeat of Kearney at San Pasqual, and the Monterenos, inflated with hope and pride, gave little thought to the fact that his forces were now joined with Stockton's at San Diego.
On Christmas eve light streamed from every window, bonfires flared on the hills; the streets were illuminated, and every one was abroad. The clear warm night was ablaze with fireworks; men and women were in their gala gowns; rockets shot upward amidst shrieks of delight which mingled oddly with the rolling of drums at muster; even the children caught the enthusiasm, religious and patriotic.
"I suppose you would be glad to see even your friends driven out," said Brotherton to Dona Eustaquia, as they walked through the brilliant town toward the church: bells called them to witness the dramatic play of "The Shepherds."
"I be glad to see the impertinent flag come down," said she, frankly; "but you can make resignation from the army, and have a little store on Alvarado Street. You can have beautiful silks and crepes from America. I buy of you."
"Thanks," he said grimly. "You would put a dunce cap on poor America, and stand her in a corner. If I resign, Dona Eustaquia, it will be to become a ranchero, not a shopkeeper. To tell the truth, I have little desire to leave California again."
"But you were make for the fight," she said, looking up with some pride at the tall military figure, the erect head and strong features. "You not were make to lie in the hammock and horseback all day."
"But I should do a good deal else, senora. I should raise cattle with some method; and I should have a library—and a wife."
"Ah! you go to marry?"
"Some day, I hope. It would be lonely to be a ranchero without a wife."
"What is the matter with those women?"
A group of old women stood by the roadside. Their forms were bent, their brown faces gnarled like apples. Some were a shapeless mass of fat, others were parchment and bone; about the head and shoulders of each was a thick black shawl. Near them stood a number of young girls clad in muslin petticoats, flowered with purple and scarlet. Bright satin shoes were on their feet, cotton rebosas covered their pretty, pert little heads. All were looking in one direction, whispering and crossing themselves.
Dona Eustaquia glanced over her shoulder, then leaned heavily on Brotherton's arm.
"It is Benicia," she said. "It is because she was cursed and is with child that they cross themselves."
Brotherton held her arm closely and laid his hand on hers, but he spoke sternly.
"The curse is not likely to do her any harm. You prayed that she should die when happiest, and you have done your best to make her wretched."
She did not reply, and they walked slowly onward. Benicia followed, leaning on the arm of an Indian servant. Her friends avoided her, for they bitterly resented Altimira's death. But she gave them little regret. Since her husband could not be with her on this Christmas eve, she wished only for reconciliation with her mother. In spite of the crowd she followed close behind Dona Eustaquia and Brotherton, holding her head proudly, but ready to fall at the feet of the woman she worshipped.
"My friend," said Dona Eustaquia, after a moment, "perhaps it is best that I do not forgive her. Were she happy, then might the curse come true."
"She has enough else to make her unhappy. Besides, who ever heard of a curse coming true? It has worked its will already for the matter of that. You kept your child from happiness with her husband during the brief time she had him. The bitterness of death is a small matter beside the bitterness of life. You should be satisfied."
"You are hard, my friend."
"I see your other faults only to respect and love them."
"Does she look ill, Captain?"
"She cannot be expected to look like the old Benicia. Of course she looks ill, and needs care."
"Look over the shoulder. Does she walk heavily?"
"Very. But as haughtily as do you."
"Talk of other things for a little while, my friend."
"Truly there is much to claim the interest to-night. This may be an old scene to you, but it is novel and fascinating to me. How lovely are those stately girls, half hidden by their rebosas, telling their beads as they hurry along. It is the very coquetry of religion. And those—But here we are."
The church was handsomer without than within, for the clever old padres that built it had more taste than their successors. About the whitewashed walls of the interior were poor copies of celebrated paintings—the Passion of Christ, and an extraordinary group of nude women and grinning men representing the temptation of St. Anthony. In a glass case a beautiful figure of the Saviour reclined on a stiff couch clumsily covered with costly stuffs. The Virgin was dressed much like the aristocratic ladies of Monterey, and the altar was a rainbow of tawdry colours.
But the ceremonies were interesting, and Brotherton forgot Benicia for the hour. After the mass the priest held out a small waxen image of the infant Jesus, and all approached and kissed it. Then from without came the sound of a guitar; the worshippers arose and ranged themselves against the wall; six girls dressed as shepherdesses; a man representing Lucifer; two others, a hermit and the lazy vagabond Bartola; a boy, the archangel Gabriel, entered the church. They bore banners and marched to the centre of the building, then acted their drama with religious fervour.
The play began with the announcement by Gabriel of the birth of the Saviour, and exhortations to repair to the manger. On the road came the temptation of Lucifer; the archangel appeared once more; a violent altercation ensued in which all took part, and finally the prince of darkness was routed. Songs and fanciful by-play, brief sermons, music, gay and solemn, diversified the strange performance. When all was over, the players were followed by an admiring crowd to the entertainment awaiting them.
"Is it not beautiful—our Los Pastores?" demanded Dona Eustaquia, looking up at Brotherton, her fine face aglow with enthusiasm. "Do not you feel the desire to be a Catholic, my friend?"
"Rather would I see two good Catholics united, dear senora," and he turned suddenly to Benicia, who also had remained in the church, almost at her mother's side.
"Mamacita!" cried Benicia.
Dona Eustaquia opened her arms and caught the girl passionately to her heart; and Brotherton left the church.
The April flowers were on the hills. Beds of gold-red poppies and silver-blue baby eyes were set like tiles amidst the dense green undergrowth beneath the pines, and on the natural lawns about the white houses. Although hope of driving forth the intruder had gone forever in January, Monterey had resumed in part her old gayety; despair had bred philosophy. But Monterey was Monterey no longer. An American alcalde with a power vested in no judge of the United States ruled over her; to add injury to insult, he had started a newspaper. The town was full of Americans; the United States was constructing a fort on the hill; above all, worse than all, the Californians were learning the value of money. Their sun was sloping to the west.
A thick India shawl hung over the window of Benicia's old room in her mother's house, shutting out the perfume of the hills. A carpet had been thrown on the floor, candles burned in the pretty gold candlesticks that had stood on the altar since Benicia's childhood. On the little brass bedstead lay Benicia, very pale and very pretty, her transparent skin faintly reflecting the pink of the satin coverlet. By the bed sat an old woman of the people. Her ragged white locks were bound about by a fillet of black silk; her face, dark as burnt umber, was seamed and lined like a withered prune; even her long broad nose was wrinkled; her dull eyes looked like mud-puddles; her big underlip was pursed up as if she had been speaking mincing words, and her chin was covered with a short white stubble. Over her coarse smock and gown she wore a black cotton reboso. In her arms she held an infant, muffled in a white lace mantilla.
Dona Eustaquia came in and bent over the baby, her strong face alight with joy.
"Didst thou ever nurse so beautiful a baby?" she demanded.
The old woman grunted; she had heard that question before.
"See how pink and smooth it is—not red and wrinkled like other babies! How becoming is that mantilla! No, she shall not be wrapped in blankets, cap, and shawls."
"She catch cold, most likely," grunted the nurse.
"In this weather? No; it is soft as midsummer. I cannot get cool. Ay, she looks like a rosebud lying in a fog-bank!" She touched the baby's cheek with her finger, then sat on the bed, beside her daughter. "And how dost thou feel, my little one? Thou wert a baby thyself but yesterday, and thou art not much more to-day."
"I feel perfectly well, my mother, and—ay, Dios, so happy! Where is Edourdo?"
"Of course! Always the husband! They are all alike! Hast thou not thy mother and thy baby?"
"I adore you both, mamacita, but I want Edourdo. Where is he?"
Her mother grimaced. "I suppose it is no use to protest. Well, my little one, I think he is at this moment on the hill with Lieutenant Ord."
"Why did he not come to see me before he went out?"
"He did, my daughter, but thou wert asleep. He kissed thee and stole away."
"Right there on your cheek, one inch below your eyelashes."
"When will he return?"
"Holy Mary! For dinner, surely, and that will be in an hour."
"When can I get up?"
"In another week. Thou art so well! I would not have thee draw too heavily on thy little strength. Another month and thou wilt not remember that thou hast been ill. Then we will go to the rancho, where thou and thy little one will have sun all day and no fog."
"Have I not a good husband, mamacita?"
"Yes; I love him like my own son. Had he been unkind to thee, I should have killed him with my own hands; but as he has his lips to thy little slipper, I forgive him for being an American."
"And you no longer wish for a necklace of American ears! Oh, mamma!"
Dona Eustaquia frowned, then sighed. "I do not know the American head for which I have not more like than hate, and they are welcome to their ears; but the spirit of that wish is in my heart yet, my child. Our country has been taken from us; we are aliens in our own land; it is the American's. They—holy God!—permit us to live here!"
"But they like us better than their own women."
"Perhaps; they are men and like what they have not had too long."
"Mamacita, I am thirsty."
"What wilt thou have? A glass of water?"
"Water has no taste."
Dona Eustaquia left the room and returned with an orange. "This will be cool and pleasant on so warm a day. It is just a little sour," she said; but the nurse raised her bony hand.
"Do not give her that," she said in her harsh voice. "It is too soon."
"Nonsense! The baby is two weeks old. Why, I ate fruit a week after childing. Look how dry her mouth is! It will do her good."
She pared the orange and gave it to Benicia, who ate it gratefully.
"It is very good, mamita. You will spoil me always, but that is because you are so good. And one day I hope you will be as happy as your little daughter; for there are other good Americans in the world. No? mamma. I think—Mamacita!"
She sprang upward with a loud cry, the body curving rigidly; her soft brown eyes stared horribly; froth gathered about her mouth; she gasped once or twice, her body writhing from the agonized arms that strove to hold it, then fell limply down, her features relaxing.
"She is dead," said the nurse.
"Benicia!" whispered Dona Eustaquia. "Benicia!"
"You have killed her," said the old woman, as she drew the mantilla about the baby's face.
Dona Eustaquia dropped the body and moved backward from the bed. She put out her hands and went gropingly from the room to her own, and from thence to the sala. Brotherton came forward to meet her.
"Eustaquia!" he cried. "My friend! My dear! What has happened? What—"
She raised her hand and pointed to the cross. The mark of the dagger was still there.
"Benicia!" she uttered. "The curse!" and then she fell at his feet.
THE WASH-TUB MAIL
"Mariquita! Thou good-for-nothing, thou art wringing that smock in pieces! Thy senora will beat thee! Holy heaven, but it is hot!"
"For that reason I hurry, old Faquita. Were I as slow as thou, I should cook in my own tallow."
"Aha, thou art very clever! But I have no wish to go back to the rancho and wash for the cooks. Ay, yi! I wonder will La Tulita ever give me her bridal clothes to wash. I have no faith that little flirt will marry the Senor Don Ramon Garcia. He did not well to leave Monterey until after the wedding. And to think—Ay! yi!"
"Thou hast a big letter for the wash-tub mail, Faquita."
"Aha, my Francesca, thou hast interest! I thought thou wast thinking only of the bandits."
Francesca, who was holding a plunging child between her knees, actively inspecting its head, grunted but did not look up, and the oracle of the wash-tubs, provokingly, with slow movements of her knotted coffee-coloured arms, flapped a dainty skirt, half-covered with drawn work, before she condescended to speak further.
Twenty women or more, young and old, dark as pine cones, stooped or sat, knelt or stood, about deep stone tubs sunken in the ground at the foot of a hill on the outskirts of Monterey. The pines cast heavy shadows on the long slope above them, but the sun was overhead. The little white town looked lifeless under its baking red tiles, at this hour of siesta. On the blue bay rode a warship flying the American colours. The atmosphere was so clear, the view so uninterrupted, that the younger women fancied they could read the name on the prow: the town was on the right; between the bay and the tubs lay only the meadow, the road, the lake, and the marsh. A few yards farther down the road rose a hill where white slabs and crosses gleamed beneath the trees. The roar of the surf came refreshingly to their hot ears. It leaped angrily, they fancied, to the old fort on the hill where men in the uniform of the United States moved about with unsleeping vigilance. It was the year 1847. The Americans had come and conquered. War was over, but the invaders guarded their new possessions.
The women about the tubs still bitterly protested against the downfall of California, still took an absorbing interest in all matters, domestic, social, and political. For those old women with grizzled locks escaping from a cotton handkerchief wound bandwise about their heads, their ample forms untrammelled by the flowing garment of calico, those girls in bright skirts and white short-sleeved smock and young hair braided, knew all the news of the country, past and to come, many hours in advance of the dons and donas whose linen they washed in the great stone tubs: the Indians, domestic and roving, were their faithful friends.
"Sainted Mary, but thou art more slow than a gentleman that walks!" cried Mariquita, an impatient-looking girl. "Read us the letter. La Tulita is the prettiest girl in Monterey now that the Senorita Ysabel Herrera lies beneath the rocks, and Benicia Ortega has died of her childing. But she is a flirt—that Tulita! Four of the Gringos are under her little slipper this year, and she turn over the face and roll in the dirt. But Don Ramon, so handsome, so rich—surely she will marry him."
Faquita shook her head slowly and wisely. "There—come —yesterday—from—the—South—a—young—lieutenant—of—America." She paused a moment, then proceeded leisurely, though less provokingly. "He come over the great American deserts with General Kearney last year and help our men to eat the dust in San Diego. He come only yesterday to Monterey, and La Tulita is like a little wild-cat ever since. She box my ears this morning when I tell her that the Americans are bandoleros, and say she never marry a Californian. And never Don Ramon Garcia, ay, yi!"
By this time the fine linen was floating at will upon the water, or lying in great heaps at the bottom of the clear pools. The suffering child scampered up through the pines with whoops of delight. The washing-women were pressed close about Faquita, who stood with thumbs on her broad hips, the fingers contracting and snapping as she spoke, wisps of hair bobbing back and forth about her shrewd black eyes and scolding mouth.
"Who is he? Where she meet him?" cried the audience. "Oh, thou old carreta! Why canst thou not talk faster?"
"If thou hast not more respect, Senorita Mariquita, thou wilt hear nothing. But it is this. There is a ball last night at Dona Maria Ampudia's house for La Tulita. She look handsome, that witch! Holy Mary! When she walk it was like the tule in the river. You know. Why she have that name? She wear white, of course, but that frock—it is like the cobweb, the cloud. She has not the braids like the other girls, but the hair, soft like black feathers, fall down to the feet. And the eyes like blue stars! You know the eyes of La Tulita. The lashes so long, and black like the hair. And the sparkle! No eyes ever sparkle like those. The eyes of Ysabel Herrera look like they want the world and never can get it. Benicia's, pobrecita, just dance like the child's. But La Tulita's! They sparkle like the devil sit behind and strike fire out red-hot iron—"
"Mother of God!" cried Mariquita, impatiently, "we all know thou art daft about that witch! And we know how she looks. Tell us the story."
"Hush thy voice or thou wilt hear nothing. It is this way. La Tulita have the castanets and just float up and down the sala, while all stand back and no breathe only when they shout. I am in the garden in the middle the house, and I stand on a box and look through the doors. Ay, the roses and the nasturtiums smell so sweet in that little garden! Well! She dance so beautiful, I think the roof go to jump off so she can float up and live on one the gold stars all by herself. Her little feet just twinkle! Well! The door open and Lieutenant Ord come in. He have with him another young man, not so handsome, but so straight, so sharp eye and tight mouth. He look at La Tulita like he think she belong to America and is for him. Lieutenant Ord go up to Dona Maria and say, so polite: 'I take the liberty to bring Lieutenant'—I no can remember that name, so American! 'He come to-day from San Diego and will stay with us for a while.' And Dona Maria, she smile and say, very sweet, 'Very glad when I have met all of our conquerors.' And he turn red and speak very bad Spanish and look, look, at La Tulita. Then Lieutenant Ord speak to him in English and he nod the head, and Lieutenant Ord tell Dona Maria that his friend like be introduced to La Tulita, and she say, 'Very well,' and take him over to her who is now sit down. He ask her to waltz right away, and he waltz very well, and then they dance again, and once more. And then they sit down and talk, talk. God of my soul, but the caballeros are mad! And Dona Maria! By and by she can stand it no more and she go up to La Tulita and take away from the American and say, 'Do you forget—and for a bandolero—that you are engage to my nephew?' And La Tulita toss the head and say: 'How can I remember Ramon Garcia when he is in Yerba Buena? I forget he is alive.' And Dona Maria is very angry. The eyes snap. But just then the little sister of La Tulita run into the sala, the face red like the American flag. 'Ay, Herminia!' she just gasp. 'The donas! The donas! It has come!'"
"The donas!" cried the washing-women, old and young. "Didst thou see it, Faquita? Oh, surely. Tell us, what did he send? Is he a generous bridegroom? Were there jewels? And satins? Of what was the rosary?"
"Hush the voice or you will hear nothing. The girls all jump and clap their hands and they cry: 'Come, Herminia. Come quick! Let us go and see.' Only La Tulita hold the head very high and look like the donas is nothing to her, and the Lieutenant look very surprise, and she talk to him very fast like she no want him to know what they mean. But the girls just take her hands and pull her out the house. I am after. La Tulita look very mad, but she cannot help, and in five minutes we are at the Casa Rivera, and the girls scream and clap the hands in the sala for Dona Carmen she have unpack the donas and the beautiful things are on the tables and the sofas and the chairs, Mother of God!"
"Go on! Go on!" cried a dozen exasperated voices.
"Well! Such a donas. Ay, he is a generous lover. A yellow crepe shawl embroidered with red roses. A white one with embroidery so thick it can stand up. A string of pearls from Baja California. (Ay, poor Ysabel Herrera!) Hoops of gold for the little ears of La Tulita. A big chain of California gold. A set of topaz with pearls all round. A rosary of amethyst—purple like the violets. A big pin painted with the Ascension, and diamonds all round. Silks and satins for gowns. A white lace mantilla, Dios de mi alma! A black one for the visits. And the night-gowns like cobwebs. The petticoats!" She stopped abruptly.
"And the smocks?" cried her listeners, excitedly. "The smocks? They are more beautiful than Blandina's? They were pack in rose-leaves—"
"Ay! yi! yi! yi!" The old woman dropped her head on her breast and waved her arms. She was a study for despair. Even she did not suspect how thoroughly she was enjoying herself.
"What! What! Tell us! Quick, thou old snail. They were not fine? They had not embroidery?"
"Hush the voices. I tell you when I am ready. The girls are like crazy. They look like they go to eat the things. Only La Tulita sit on the chair in the door with her back to all and look at the windows of Dona Maria. They look like a long row of suns, those windows.
"I am the one. Suddenly I say: 'Where are the smocks?' And they all cry: 'Yes, where are the smocks? Let us see if he will be a good husband. Dona Carmen, where are the smocks?'
"Dona Carmen turn over everything in a hurry. 'I did not think of the smocks,' she say. 'But they must be here. Everything was unpack in this room.' She lift all up, piece by piece. The girls help and so do I. La Tulita sit still but begin to look more interested. We search everywhere—everywhere—for twenty minutes. There—are—no—smocks!"
"God of my life! The smocks! He did not forget!"
"He forget the smocks!"
There was an impressive pause. The women were too dumfounded to comment. Never in the history of Monterey had such a thing happened before.
Faquita continued: "The girls sit down on the floor and cry. Dona Carmen turn very white and go in the other room. Then La Tulita jump up and walk across the room. The lashes fall down over the eyes that look like she is California and have conquer America, not the other way. The nostrils just jump. She laugh, laugh, laugh. 'So!' she say, 'my rich and generous and ardent bridegroom, he forget the smocks of the donas. He proclaim as if by a poster on the streets that he will be a bad husband, a thoughtless, careless, indifferent husband. He has vow by the stars that he adore me. He has serenade beneath my window until I have beg for mercy. He persecute my mother. And now he flings the insult of insults in my teeth. And he with six married sisters!'
"The girls just sob. They can say nothing. No woman forgive that. Then she say loud, 'Ana,' and the girl run in. 'Ana,' she say, 'pack this stuff and tell Jose and Marcos take it up to the house of the Senor Don Ramon Garcia. I have no use for it.' Then she say to me: 'Faquita, walk back to Dona Maria's with me, no? I have engagement with the American.' And I go with her, of course; I think I go jump in the bay if she tell me; and she dance all night with that American. He no look at another girl—all have the eyes so red, anyhow. And Dona Maria is crazy that her nephew do such a thing, and La Tulita no go to marry him now. Ay, that witch! She have the excuse and she take it."
For a few moments the din was so great that the crows in a neighbouring grove of willows sped away in fear. The women talked all at once, at the top of their voices and with no falling inflections. So rich an assortment of expletives, secular and religious, such individuality yet sympathy of comment, had not been called upon for duty since the seventh of July, a year before, when Commodore Sloat had run up the American flag on the Custom-house. Finally they paused to recover breath. Mariquita's young lungs being the first to refill, she demanded of Faquita:—
"And Don Ramon—when does he return?"
"In two weeks, no sooner."
Two weeks later they were again gathered about the tubs.
For a time after arrival they forgot La Tulita—now the absorbing topic of Monterey—in a new sensation. Mariquita had appeared with a basket of unmistakable American underwear.
"What!" cried Faquita, shrilly. "Thou wilt defile these tubs with the linen of bandoleros? Hast thou had thy silly head turned with a kiss? Not one shirt shall go in this water."
Mariquita tossed her head defiantly. "Captain Brotherton say the Indian women break his clothes in pieces. They know not how to wash anything but dish-rags. And does he not go to marry our Dona Eustaquia?"
"The Captain is not so bad," admitted Faquita. The indignation of the others also visibly diminished: the Captain had been very kind the year before when gloom lay heavy on the town. "But," continued the autocrat, with an ominous pressing of her lips, "sure he must change three times a day. Is all that Captain Brotherton's?"
"He wear many shirts," began Mariquita, when Faquita pounced upon the basket and shook its contents to the grass.
"Aha! It seems that the Captain has sometimes the short legs and sometimes the long. Sometimes he put the tucks in his arms, I suppose. What meaning has this? Thou monster of hypocrisy!"
The old women scowled and snorted. The girls looked sympathetic: more than one midshipman had found favour in the lower quarter.
"Well," said Mariquita, sullenly, "if thou must know, it is the linen of the Lieutenant of La Tulita. Ana ask me to wash it, and I say I will."
At this announcement Faquita squared her elbows and looked at Mariquita with snapping eyes.
"Oho, senorita, I suppose thou wilt say next that thou knowest what means this flirtation! Has La Tulita lost her heart, perhaps? And Don Ramon—dost thou know why he leaves Monterey one hour after he comes?" Her tone was sarcastic, but in it was a note of apprehension.
Mariquita tossed her head, and all pressed close about the rivals.
"What dost thou know, this time?" inquired the girl, provokingly. "Hast thou any letter to read today? Thou dost forget, old Faquita, that Ana is my friend—"
"Throw the clothes in the tubs," cried Faquita, furiously. "Do we come here to idle and gossip? Mariquita, thou hussy, go over to that tub by thyself and wash the impertinent American rags. Quick. No more talk. The sun goes high."
No one dared to disobey the queen of the tubs, and in a moment the women were kneeling in irregular rows, tumbling their linen into the water, the brown faces and bright attire making a picture in the colorous landscape which some native artist would have done well to preserve. For a time no sound was heard but the distant roar of the surf, the sighing of the wind through the pines on the hill, the less romantic grunts of the women and the swish of the linen in the water. Suddenly Mariquita, the proscribed, exclaimed from her segregated tub:—
Heads flew up or twisted on their necks. A party of young people, attended by a duena, was crossing the meadow to the road. At the head of the procession were a girl and a man, to whom every gaze which should have been intent upon washing-tubs alone was directed. The girl wore a pink gown and a reboso. Her extraordinary grace made her look taller than she was; the slender figure swayed with every step. Her pink lips were parted, her blue starlike eyes looked upward into the keen cold eyes of a young man wearing the uniform of a lieutenant of the United States army.
The dominant characteristics of the young man's face, even then, were ambition and determination, and perhaps the remarkable future was foreshadowed in the restless scheming mind. But to-day his deep-set eyes were glowing with a light more peculiar to youth, and whenever bulging stones afforded excuse he grasped the girl's hand and held it as long as he dared. The procession wound past the tubs and crossing the road climbed up the hill to the little wooded cemetery of the early fathers, the cemetery where so many of those bright heads were to lie forgotten beneath the wild oats and thistles.
"They go to the grave of Benicia Ortega and her little one," said Francesca. "Holy Mary! La Tulita never look in a man's eyes like that before."
"But she have in his," said Mariquita, wisely.
"No more talk!" cried Faquita, and once more silence came to her own. But fate was stronger than Faquita. An hour later a little girl came running down, calling to the old woman that her grandchild, the consolation of her age, had been taken ill. After she had hurried away the women fairly leaped over one another in their efforts to reach Mariquita's tub.
"Tell us, tell us, chiquita," they cried, fearful lest Faquita's snubbing should have turned her sulky, "what dost thou know?"
But Mariquita, who had been biting her lips to keep back her story, opened them and spoke fluently.
"Ay, my friends! Dona Eustaquia and Benicia Ortega are not the only ones to wed Americans. Listen! La Tulita is mad for this man, who is no more handsome than the palm of my hand when it has all day been in the water. Yesterday morning came Don Ramon. I am in the back garden of the Casa Rivera with Ana, and La Tulita is in the front garden sitting under the wall. I can look through the doors of the sala and see and hear all. Such a handsome caballero, my friends! The gold six inches deep on the serape. Silver eagles on the sombrero. And the botas! Stamp with birds and leaves, ay, yi! He fling open the gates so bold, and when he see La Tulita he look like the sun is behind his face. (Such curls, my friends, tied with a blue ribbon!) But listen!
"'Mi querida!' he cry, 'mi alma!' (Ay, my heart jump in my throat like he speak to me.) Then he fall on one knee and try to kiss her hand. But she throw herself back like she hate him. Her eyes are like the bay in winter. And then she laugh. When she do that, he stand up and say with the voice that shake:—
"'What is the matter, Herminia? Do you not love me any longer?'
"'I never love you,' she say. 'They give me no peace until I say I marry you, and as I love no one else—I do not care much. But now that you have insult me, I have the best excuse to break the engagement, and I do it.'
"'I insult you?' He hardly can speak, my friends, he is so surprised and unhappy.
"'Yes; did you not forget the smocks?'
"'The—smocks!' he stammer, like that. 'The smocks?'
"'No one can be blame but you,' she say. 'And you know that no bride forgive that. You know all that it means.'
"'Herminia!' he say. 'Surely you will not put me; away for a little thing like that!'
"'I have no more to say,' she reply, and then she get up and go in the house and shut the door so I cannot see how he feel, but I am very sorry for him if he did forget the smocks. Well! That evening I help Ana water the flowers in the front garden, and every once in the while we look through the windows at La Tulita and the Lieutenant. They talk, talk, talk. He look so earnest and she—she look so beautiful. Not like a devil, as when she talk to Don Ramon in the morning, but like an angel. Sure, a woman can be both! It depends upon the man. By and by Ana go away, but I stay there, for I like look at them. After a while they get up and come out. It is dark in the garden, the walls so high, and the trees throw the shadows, so they cannot see me. They walk up and down, and by and by the Lieutenant take out his knife and cut a shoot from the rose-bush that climb up the house.
"'These Castilian roses,' he say, very soft, but in very bad Spanish, 'they are very beautiful and a part of Monterey—a part of you. Look, I am going to plant this here, and long before it grow to be a big bush I come back and you will wear its buds in your hair when we are married in that lovely old church. Now help me,' and then they kneel down and he stick it in the ground, and all their fingers push the earth around it. Then she give a little sob and say, 'You must go?'
"He lift her up and put his arms around her tight. 'I must go,' he say. 'I am not my own master, you know, and the orders have come. But my heart is here, in this old garden, and I come back for it.' And then she put her arms around him and he kiss her, and she love him so I forget to be sorry for Don Ramon. After all, it is the woman who should be happy. He hold her a long time, so long I am afraid Dona Carmen come out to look for her. I lift up on my knees (I am sit down before) and look in the window and I see she is asleep, and I am glad. Well! After a while they walk up and down again, and he tell her all about his home far away, and about some money he go to get when the law get ready, and how he cannot marry on his pay. Then he say how he go to be a great general some day and how she will be the more beautiful woman in—how you call it?—Washington, I think. And she cry and say she does not care, she only want him. And he tell her water the rose-bush every day and think of him, and he will come back before it is large, and every time a bud come out she can know he is thinking of her very hard."