HotFreeBooks.com
The Splendid Idle Forties - Stories of Old California
by Gertrude Atherton
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"I kiss thy little feet. I kiss thy tiny hands. I kiss—ay, Eulogia! Adios! Adios!

"PABLO."

Eulogia could not resist that letter. Her scruples vanished, and, after an entire day of agonized composition, she sent these lines:—

"You can come back to San Luis Obispo.

"EULOGIA AMATA FRANCISCA GUADALUPE CARILLO."

VI

Another year had passed. No answer had come from Pablo Ignestria. Nor had he returned to San Luis Obispo. Two months after Eulogia had sent her letter, she received one from Graciosa La Cruz, containing the information that Ignestria had married the invalid girl whose love for him had been the talk of Monterey for many years. And Eulogia? Her flirtations had earned her far and wide the title of Dona Coquetta, and she was cooler, calmer, and more audacious than ever.

"Dost thou never intend to marry?" demanded Dona Pomposa one day, as she stood over the kitchen stove stirring red peppers into a saucepan full of lard.

Eulogia was sitting on the table swinging her small feet. "Why do you wish me to marry? I am well enough as I am. Was Elena Castanares so happy with the man who was mad for her that I should hasten to be a neglected wife? Poor my Elena! Four years, and then consumption and death. Three children and an indifferent husband, who was dying of love when he could not get her."

"Thou thinkest of unhappy marriages because thou hast just heard of Elena's death. But there are many others."

"Did you hear of the present she left her mother?"

"No." Dona Pomposa dropped her spoon; she dearly loved a bit of gossip. "What was it?"

"You know that a year ago Elena went home to Los Quervos and begged Don Roberto and Dona Jacoba on her knees to forgive her, and they did, and were glad to do it. Dona Jacoba was with her when she was so ill at the last, and just before she died Elena said: 'Mother, in that chest you will find a legacy from me. It is all of my own that I have in the world, and I leave it to you. Do not take it until I am dead.' And what do you think it was? The greenhide reata."

"Mother of God! But Jacoba must have felt as if she were already in purgatory."

"It is said that she grew ten years older in the night."

"May the saints be praised, my child can leave me no such gift. But all men are not like Dario Castanares. I would have thee marry an American. They are smart and know how to keep the gold. Remember, I have little now, and thou canst not be young forever."

"I have seen no American I would marry."

"There is Don Abel Hudson."

"I do not trust that man. His tongue is sweet and his face is handsome, but always when I meet him I feel a little afraid, although it goes away in a minute. The Senor Dumas says that a woman's instincts—"

"To perdition with Senor Dumas! Does he say that a chit's instincts are better than her mother's? Don Abel throws about the money like rocks. He has the best horses at the races. He tells me that he has a house in Yerba Buena—"

"San Francisco. And I would not live in that bleak and sandy waste. Did you notice how he limped at the ball last night?"

"No. What of that? But I am not in love with Don Abel Hudson if thou art so set against him. It is true that no one knows just who he is, now I think of it. I had not made up my mind that he was the husband for thee. But let it be an American, my Eulogia. Even when they have no money they will work for it, and that is what no Californian will do—"

But Eulogia had run out of the room: she rarely listened to the end of her mother's harangues. She draped a reboso about her head, and went over to the house of Graciosa La Cruz. Her friend was sitting by her bedroom window, trimming a yellow satin bed-spread with lace, and Eulogia took up a half-finished sheet and began fastening the drawn threads into an intricate pattern.

"Only ten days more, my Graciosa," she said mischievously. "Art thou going to run back to thy mother in thy night-gown, like Josefita Olvera?"

"Never will I be such a fool! Eulogia, I have a husband for thee."

"To the tunnel of the mission with husbands! I shall be an old maid like Aunt Anastacia, fat, with black whiskers."

Graciosa laughed. "Thou wilt marry and have ten children."

"By every station in the mission I will not. Why bring more women into the world to suffer?"

"Ay, Eulogia! thou art always saying things I cannot understand and that thou shouldst not think about. But I have a husband for thee. He came from Los Angeles this morning, and is a friend of my Carlos. His name is not so pretty—Tomas Garfias. There he rides now."

Eulogia looked out of the window with little curiosity. A small young man was riding down the street on a superb horse coloured like golden bronze, with silver mane and tail. His saddle of embossed leather was heavily mounted with silver; the spurs were inlaid with gold and silver, and the straps of the latter were worked with gleaming metal threads. He wore a light red serape, heavily embroidered and fringed. His botas of soft deerskin, dyed a rich green and stamped with Aztec Eagles, were tied at the knee by a white silk cord wound about the leg and finished with heavy silver tassels. His short breeches were trimmed with gold lace. As he caught Graciosa's eye he raised his sombrero, then rode through the open door of a neighbouring saloon and tossed off an American drink without dismounting from his horse.

Eulogia lifted her shoulders. "I like his saddle and his horse, but he is too small. Still, a new man is not disagreeable. When shall I meet him?"

"To-night, my Eulogia. He goes with us to Miramar."

VII

A party of young people started that night for a ball at Miramar, the home of Don Polycarpo Quijas. Many a caballero had asked the lady of his choice to ride on his saddle while he rode on the less comfortable aquera behind and guided his horse with arm as near her waist as he dared. Dona Pomposa, with a small brood under her wing, started last of all in an American wagon. The night was calm, the moon was high, the party very gay.

Abel Hudson and the newcomer, Don Tomas Garfias, sat on either side of Eulogia, and she amused herself at the expense of both.

"Don Tomas says that he is handsomer than the men of San Luis," she said to Hudson. "Do not you think he is right? See what a beautiful curl his mustachios have, and what a droop his eyelids. Holy Mary!—how that yellow ribbon becomes his hair! Ay, senor! Why have you come to dazzle the eyes of the poor girls of San Luis Obispo?"

"Ah, senorita," said the little dandy, "it will do their eyes good to see an elegant young man from the city. And they should see my sister. She would teach them how to dress and arrange their hair."

"Bring her to teach us, senor, and for reward we will find her a tall and modest husband such as the girls of San Luis Obispo admire. Don Abel, why do you not boast of your sisters? Have you none, nor mother, nor father, nor brother? I never hear you speak of them. Maybe you grow alone out of the earth."

Hudson's gaze wandered to the canon they were approaching. "I am alone, senorita; a lonely man in a strange land."

"Is that the reason why you are such a traveller, senor? Are you never afraid, in your long lonely rides over the mountains, of that dreadful bandit, John Power, who murders whole families for the sack of gold they have under the floor? I hope you always carry plenty of pistols, senor."

"True, dear senorita. It is kind of you to put me on my guard. I never had thought of this man."

"This devil, you mean. When last night I saw you come limping into the room—"

"Ay, yi, yi, Dios!" "Maria!" "Dios de mi alma!" "Dios de mi vida!" "Cielo santo!"

A wheel had given way, and the party was scattered about the road.

No one was hurt, but loud were the lamentations. No Californian had ever walked six miles, and the wheel was past repair. But Abel Hudson came to the rescue.

"Leave it to me," he said. "I pledge myself to get you there," and he went off in the direction of a ranch-house.

"Ay! the good American! The good American!" cried the girls. "Eulogia! how canst thou be so cold to him? The handsome stranger with the kind heart!"

"His heart is like the Sacramento Valley, veined with gold instead of blood." "Holy Mary!" she cried some moments later, "what is he bringing? The wagon of the country!"

Abel Hudson was standing erect on the low floor of a wagon drawn by two strong black mules. The wagon was a clumsy affair,—a large wooden frame covered with rawhide, and set upon a heavy axle. The wheels were made of solid sections of trees, and the harness was of greenhide. An Indian boy sat astride one of the mules. On either side rode a vaquero, with his reata fastened to the axle-tree.

"This is the best I can do," said Hudson. "There is probably not another American wagon between San Luis and Miramar. Do you think you can stand it?"

The girls shrugged their pretty shoulders. The men swore into their mustachios. Dona Pomposa groaned at the prospect of a long ride in a springless wagon. But no one was willing to return, and when Eulogia jumped lightly in, all followed, and Hudson placed them as comfortably as possible, although they were obliged to sit on the floor.

The wagon jolted down the canon, the mules plunging, the vaqueros shouting; but the moon glittered like a silvered snow peak, the wild green forest was about them, and even Eulogia grew a little sentimental as Abel Hudson's blue eyes bent over hers and his curly head cut off Dona Pomposa's view.

"Dear senorita," he said, "thy tongue is very sharp, but thou hast a kind heart. Hast thou no place in it for Abel Hudson?"

"In the sala, senor—where many others are received—with mamma and Aunt Anastacia sitting in the corner."

He laughed. "Thou wilt always jest! But I would take all the rooms, and turn every one out, even to Dona Pomposa and Dona Anastacia!"

"And leave me alone with you! God of my soul! How I should yawn!"

"Oh, yes, Dona Coquetta, I am used to such pretty little speeches. When you began to yawn I should ride away, and you would be glad to see me when I returned."

"What would you bring me from the mountains, senor?"

He looked at her steadily. "Gold, senorita. I know of many rich veins. I have a little canon suspected by no one else, where I pick out a sack full of gold in a day. Gold makes the life of a beloved wife very sweet, senorita."

"In truth I should like the gold better than yourself, senor," said Eulogia, frankly. "For if you will have the truth—Ay! Holy heaven! This is worse than the other!"

A lurch, splash, and the party with shrill cries sprang to their feet; the low cart was filling with water. They had left the canon and were crossing a slough; no one had remembered that it would be high tide. The girls, without an instant's hesitation, whipped their gowns up round their necks; but their feet were wet and their skirts draggled. They made light of it, however, as they did of everything, and drove up to Miramar amidst high laughter and rattling jests.

Dona Luisa Quijas, a handsome shrewd-looking woman, magnificently dressed in yellow satin, the glare and sparkle of jewels on her neck, came out upon the corridor to meet them.

"What is this? In a wagon of the country! An accident? Ay, Dios de mi vida, the slough! Come in—quick! quick! I will give you dry clothes. Trust these girls to take care of their gowns. Mary! What wet feet! Quick! quick! This way, or you will have red noses to-morrow," and she led them down the corridor, past the windows through which they could see the dancers in the sala, and opened the door of her bedroom.

"There, my children, help yourselves," and she pulled out the capacious drawers of her chest. "All is at your service." She lifted out an armful of dry underclothing, then went to the door of an adjoining room and listened, her hand uplifted.

"Didst thou have to lock him up?" asked Dona Pomposa, as she drew on a pair of Dona Luisa's silk stockings.

"Yes! yes! And such a time, my friend! Thou knowest that after I fooled him the last time he swore I never should have another ball. But, Dios de mi alma! I never was meant to be bothered with a husband, and have I not given him three children twenty times handsomer than himself? Is not that enough? By the soul of Saint Luis the Bishop, I will continue to promise, and then get absolution at the mission, but I will not perform! Well, he was furious, my friend; he had spent a sack of gold on that ball, and he swore I never should have another. So this time I invited my guests, and told him nothing. At seven to-night I persuaded him into his room, and locked the door. But, madre de Dios! Diego had forgotten to screw down the window, and he got out. I could not get him back, Pomposa, and his big nose was purple with rage. He swore that he would turn every guest away from the door; he swore that he would be taking a bath on the corridor when they came up, and throw insults in their faces. Ay, Pomposa! I went down on my knees. I thought I should not have my ball—such cakes as I had made, and such salads! But Diego saved me. He went into Don Polycarpo's room and cried 'Fire!' Of course the old man ran there, and then we locked him in. Diego had screwed down the window first. Dios de mi vida! but he is terrible, that man! What have I done to be punished with him?"

"Thou art too handsome and too cruel, my Luisa. But, in truth, he is an old wild-cat. The saints be praised that he is safe for the night. Did he swear?"

"Swear! He has cursed the skin off his throat and is quiet now. Come, my little ones, are you ready? The caballeros are dry in Diego's clothes by this time, and waiting for their waltzes;" and she drove them through the door into the sala with a triumphant smile on her dark sparkling face.

The rest of the party had been dancing for an hour, and all gathered about the girls to hear the story of the accident, which was told with many variations. Eulogia as usual was craved for dances, but she capriciously divided her favours between Abel Hudson and Don Tomas Garfias. During the intervals, when the musicians were silent and the girls played the guitar or threw cascarones at their admirers, she sat in the deep window-seat watching the ponderous waves of the Pacific hurl themselves against the cliffs, whilst Hudson pressed close to her side, disregarding the insistence of Garfias. Finally, the little Don from the City of the Angels went into the dining room to get a glass of angelica, and Hudson caught at his chance.

"Senorita," he exclaimed, interrupting one of her desultory remarks, "for a year I have loved you, and, for many reasons, I have not dared to tell you. I must tell you now. I have no reason to think you care more for me than for a dozen other men, but if you will marry me, senorita, I will build you a beautiful American house in San Luis Obispo, and you can then be with your friends when business calls me away."

"And where will you live when you are away from me?" asked Eulogia, carelessly. "In a cave in the mountains? Be careful of the bandits."

"Senorita," he replied calmly, "I do not know what you mean by the things you say sometimes. Perhaps you have the idea that I am another person—John Power, or Pio Lenares, for instance. Do you wish me to bring you a certificate to the effect that I am Abel Hudson? I can do so, although I thought that Californians disdained the written form and trusted to each other's honour, even to the selling of cattle and lands."

"You are not a Californian."

"Ah, senorita—God! what is that?"

A tremendous knocking at the outer door sounded above the clear soprano of Graciosa La Cruz.

"A late guest, no doubt. You are white like the wall. I think the low ceilings are not so good for your health, senor, as the sharp air of the mountains. Ay, Dios!" The last words came beneath her breath, and she forgot Abel Hudson. The front doors had been thrown open, and a caballero in riding-boots and a dark scrape wound about his tall figure had entered the room and flung his sombrero and saddle-bags into a corner. It was Pablo Ignestria.

"At your feet, senora," he said to Dona Luisa, who held out both hands, welcome on her charming face. "I am an uninvited guest, but when I arrived at San Luis and found that all the town had come to one of Dona Luisa's famous balls, I rode on, hoping that for friendship's sake she would open her hospitable doors to a wanderer, and let him dance off the stiffness of a long ride."

"You are welcome, welcome, Pablo," said Dona Luisa. "Go to the dining room and get a glass of aguardiente; then come back and dance until dawn."

Ignestria left the room with Diego Quijas, but returned in a few moments and walked directly over to Eulogia, ignoring the men who stood about her.

"Give me this dance," he whispered eagerly. "I have something to say to thee. I have purposely come from Monterey to say it."

Eulogia was looking at him with angry eyes, her brain on fire. But curiosity triumphed, and she put her hand on his shoulder as the musicians swept their guitars with lithe fingers, scraped their violins, and began the waltz.

"Eulogia!" exclaimed Ignestria; "dost thou suspect why I have returned?"

"Why should I suspect what I have not thought about?"

"Ay, Eulogia! Art thou as saucy as ever? But I will tell thee, beloved one. The poor girl who bore my name is dead, and I have come to beg an answer to my letter. Ay, little one, I feel thy love. Why couldst thou not have sent me one word? I was so angry when passed week after week and no answer came, that in a fit of spleen I married the poor sick girl. And what I suffered, Eulogia, after that mad act! Long ago I told myself that I should have come back for my answer, that you had sworn you would write no letter; I should have let you have your little caprices, but I did not reason until—"

"I answered your letter!" exclaimed Eulogia, furiously. "You know that I answered it! You only wished to humble me because I had sworn I would write to no man. Traitor! I hate you! You were engaged to the girl all the time you were here."

"Eulogia! Believe! Believe!"

"I would not believe you if you kissed the cross! You said to yourself, 'That little coquette, I will teach her a lesson. To think the little chit should fancy an elegant Montereno could fall in love with her!' Ah! ha! Oh, Dios! I hate thee, thou false man-of-the-world! Thou art the very picture of the men I have read about in the books of the Senor Dumas; and yet I was fooled by thy first love-word! But I never loved you. Never, never! It was only a fancy—because you were from Monterey. I am glad you did not get my letter, for I hate you! Mother of Christ! I hate you!"

He whirled her into the dining room. No one else was there. He kissed her full on the mouth.

"Dost thou believe me now?" he asked.

She raised her little hand and struck him on the face, but the sting was not hotter than her lips had been.

"May the saints roll you in perdition!" she cried hoarsely. "May they thrust burning coals into the eyes that lied to me! May the devils bite off the fingers that made me shame myself! God! God! I hate you! I—I, who have fooled so many men, to have been rolled in the dust by you!"

He drew back and regarded her sadly.

"I see that it is no use to try to convince you," he said; "and I have no proof to show that I never received your letter. But while the stars jewel the heavens, Eulogia, I shall love thee and believe that thou lovest me."

He opened the door, and she swept past him into the sala. Abel Hudson stepped forward to offer his arm, and for the moment Pablo forgot Eulogia.

"John Power!" he cried.

Hudson, with an oath, leaped backward, sprang upon the window-seat, and smashing the pane with his powerful hand disappeared before the startled men thought of stopping him.

"Catch him! Catch him!" cried Ignestria, excitedly. "It is John Power. He stood me up a year ago."

He whipped his pistol from the saddle-bags in the corner, and opening the door ran down the road, followed by the other men, shouting and firing their pistols into the air. But they were too late. Power had sprung upon Ignestria's horse, and was far on his way.

VIII

The next day Eulogia went with her mother and Aunt Anastacia to pay a visit of sympathy to Dona Jacoba at Los Quervos. Eulogia's eyes were not so bright nor her lips so red as they had been the night before, and she had little to say as the wagon jolted over the rough road, past the cypress fences, then down between the beautiful tinted hills of Los Quervos. Dona Pomposa sat forward on the high seat, her feet dangling just above the floor, her hands crossed as usual over her stomach, a sudden twirl of thumbs punctuating her remarks. She wore a loose black gown trimmed with ruffles, and a black reboso about her head. Aunt Anastacia was attired in a like manner, but clutched the side of the wagon with one hand and an American sunshade with the other.

"Poor Jacoba!" exclaimed Dona Pomposa; "her stern heart is heavy this day. But she has such a sense of her duty, Anastacia. Only that makes her so stern."

"O-h-h-h, y-e-e-s." When Aunt Anastacia was preoccupied or excited, these words came from her with a prolonged outgoing and indrawing.

"I must ask her for the recipe for those cakes—the lard ones, Anastacia. I have lost it."

"O-h-h, y-e-e-s. I love those cakes. Madre de Dios! It is hot!"

"I wonder will she give Eulogia a mantilla when the chit marries. She has a chest full."

"Surely. Jacoba is generous."

"Poor my friend! Ay, her heart—Holy Mary! What is that?"

She and Aunt Anastacia stumbled to their feet. The sound of pistol shots was echoing between the hills. Smoke was rising from the willow forest that covered the centre of the valley.

The Indian whipped up his horses with an excited grunt, the two old women reeling and clutching wildly at each other. At the same time they noticed a crowd of horsemen galloping along the hill which a sudden turn in the road had opened to view.

"It is the Vigilantes," said Eulogia, calmly, from the front seat. "They are after John Power and Pio Lenares and their lieutenants. After that awful murder in the mountains the other day, the men of San Luis and the ranchos swore they would hunt them out, and this morning they traced them to Los Quervos. I suppose they have made a barricade in the willows, and the Vigilantes are trying to fire them out."

"Heart of Saint Peter! Thou little brat! Why didst thou not tell us of this before, and not let us come here to be shot by flying bullets?"

"I forgot," said Eulogia, indifferently.

They could see nothing; but curiosity, in spite of fear, held them to the spot. Smoke and cries, shouts and curses, came from the willows; flocks of agitated crows circled screaming through the smoke. The men on the hill, their polished horses and brilliant attire flashing in the sun, kept up a ceaseless galloping, hallooing, and waving of sombreros. The beautiful earth-green and golden hills looked upon a far different scene from the gay cavalcades to which they were accustomed. Even Don Roberto Duncan, a black silk handkerchief knotted about his head, was dashing, on his gray horse, up and down the valley between the hills and the willows, regardless of chance bullets. And over all shone the same old sun, indifferent alike to slaughter and pleasure.

"Surely, Anastacia, all those bullets must shoot some one."

"O—h—h, y—e—e—s." Her sister was grasping the sunshade with both hands, her eyes starting from her head, although she never removed their gaze from the central volume of smoke.

"Ay, we can sleep in peace if those murdering bandits are killed!" exclaimed Dona Pomposa. "I have said a rosary every night for five years that they might be taken. And, holy heaven! To think that we have been petting the worst of them as if he were General Castro or Juan Alvarado. To think, my Eulogia!—that thirsty wild-cat has had his arm about thy waist more times than I can count."

"He danced very well—aha!"

Aunt Anastacia gurgled like an idiot. Dona Pomposa gave a terrific shriek, which Eulogia cut in two with her hand. A man had crawled out of the brush near them. His face was black with powder, one arm hung limp at his side. Dona Pomposa half raised her arm to signal the men on the hill, but her daughter gave it such a pinch that she fell back on the seat, faint for a moment.

"Let him go," said Eulogia. "Do you want to see a man cut in pieces before your eyes? You would have to say rosaries for the rest of your life." She leaned over the side of the wagon and spoke to the dazed man, whose courage seemed to have deserted him.

"Don Abel Hudson, you do not look so gallant as at the ball last night, but you helped us to get there, and I will save you now. Get into the wagon, and take care you crawl in like a snake that you may not be seen."

"No—no!" cried the two older women, but in truth they were too terrified not to submit. Power swung himself mechanically over the wheel, and lay on the floor of the wagon. Eulogia, in spite of a protesting whimper from Aunt Anastacia, loosened that good dame's ample outer skirt and threw it over the fallen bandit. Then the faithful Benito turned his horse and drove as rapidly toward the town as the rough roads would permit. They barely had started when they heard a great shouting behind them, and turned in apprehension, whilst the man on the floor groaned aloud in his fear. But the Vigilantes rode by them unsuspecting. Across their saddles they carried the blackened and dripping bodies of Lenares and his lieutenants; through the willows galloped the caballeros in search of John Power. But they did not find him, then nor after. Dona Pomposa hid him in her woodhouse until midnight, when he stole away and was never seen near San Luis again. A few years later came the word that he had been assassinated by one of his lieutenants in Lower California, and his body eaten by wild hogs.

IX

"Al contado plasentero Del primer beso de amor, Un fuego devorador Que en mi pecho siento ardor.

"Y no me vuelvas a besar Por que me quema tu aliento, Ya desfayeserme siento, Mas enbriagada de amor.

"Si a cuantas estimas, das Beso en pruebas de amor; Si me amas hasme el favor De no besarme jamas."

A caballero on a prancing horse sang beneath Eulogia's window, his jingling spurs keeping time to the tinkling of his guitar. Eulogia turned over in bed, pulling the sheet above her ears, and went to sleep.

The next day, when Don Tomas Garfias asked her hand of her mother, Dona Coquetta accepted him with a shrug of her shoulders.

"And thou lovest me, Eulogia?" murmured the enraptured little dandy as Dona Pomposa and Aunt Anastacia good-naturedly discussed the composition of American pies.

"No."

"Ay! senorita! Why, then, dost thou marry me? No one compels thee."

"It pleases me. What affair of thine are my reasons if I consent to marry you?"

"Oh, Eulogia, I believe thou lovest me! Why not? Many pretty girls have done so before thee. Thou wishest only to tease me a little."

"Well, do not let me see too much of you before the wedding-day, or I may send you back to those who admire you more than I do."

"Perhaps it is well that I go to San Francisco to remain three months," said the young man, sulkily; he had too much vanity to be enraged. "Wilt thou marry me as soon as I return?"

"As well then as any other time."

Garfias left San Luis a few days later to attend to important business in San Francisco, and although Dona Pomposa and Aunt Anastacia began at once to make the wedding outfit, Eulogia appeared to forget that she ever had given a promise of marriage. She was as great a belle as ever, for no one believed that she would keep faith with any man, much less with such a ridiculous scrap as Garfias. Her flirtations were more calmly audacious than ever, her dancing more spirited; in every frolic she was the leader.

Suddenly Dona Pomposa was smitten with rheumatism. She groaned by night and shouted by day. Eulogia, whose patience was not great, organized a camping party to the sulphur springs of the great rancho, Paso des Robles. The young people went on horseback; Dona Pomposa and Aunt Anastacia in the wagon with the tents and other camping necessities. Groans and shrieks mingled with the careless laughter of girls and caballeros, who looked upon rheumatism as the inevitable sister of old age; but when they entered the park-like valley after the ride over the beautiful chrome mountains, Dona Pomposa declared that the keen dry air had already benefited her.

That evening, when the girls left their tents, hearts fluttered, and gay muslin frocks waved like agitated banners. Several Americans were pitching their tents by the spring. They proved to be a party of mining engineers from San Francisco, and although there was only one young man among them, the greater was the excitement. Many of the girls were beautiful, with their long braids and soft eyes, but Eulogia, in her yellow gown, flashed about like a succession of meteors, as the Americans drew near and proffered their services to Dona Pomposa.

The young man introduced himself as Charles Rogers. He was a good-looking little fellow, in the lighter American style. His well-attired figure was slim and active, his mouse-coloured hair short and very straight, his shrewd eyes were blue. After a few moments' critical survey of the charming faces behind Dona Pomposa, he went off among the trees, and returning with a bunch of wild flowers walked straight over to Eulogia and handed them to her.

She gave him a roguish little courtesy. "Much thanks, senor. You must scuse my English; I no spik often. The Americanos no care for the flores?"

"I like them well enough, but I hope you will accept these."

"Si, senor." She put them in her belt. "You like California?"

"Very much. It is full of gold, and, I should say, excellent for agriculture."

"But it no is beautiful country?"

"Oh, yes, it does very well, and the climate is pretty fair in some parts."

"You living in San Francisco?"

"I am a mining engineer, and we have got hold of a good thing near here."

"The mine—it is yours?"

"Only a part of it."

"The Americanos make all the money now."

"The gold was put here for some one to take out. You Californians had things all your own way for a hundred years, but you let it stay there."

"Tell me how you take it out."

He entered into a detailed and somewhat technical description, but her quick mind grasped the meaning of unfamiliar words.

"You like make the money?" she asked, after he had finished.

"Of course. What else is a man made for? Life is a pretty small affair without money."

"We no have much now, but we live very happy. The Americanos love the money, though. Alway I see that."

"Americans have sense."

He devoted himself to her during the ten days of their stay, and his business shrewdness and matter-of-fact conversation attracted the keen-witted girl, satiated with sighs and serenades. Always eager for knowledge, she learned much from him of the Eastern world. She did not waste a glance on her reproachful caballeros, but held long practical conversations with Rogers under the mending wing of Dona Pomposa, who approved of the stranger, having ascertained his abilities and prospects from the older men of his party.

On the morning of their return to San Luis Obispo, Rogers and Eulogia were standing somewhat apart, whilst the vaqueros rounded up the horses that had strayed at will through the valley. Rogers plucked one of the purple autumn lilies and handed it to her.

"Senorita," he said, "suppose you marry me. It is a good thing for a man to be married in a wild country like this; he is not so apt to gamble and drink. And although I've seen a good many pretty girls, I've seen no one so likely to keep me at home in the evening as yourself. What do you say?"

Eulogia laughed. His wooing interested her.

"I promise marry another man; not I think much I ever go to do it."

"Well, let him go, and marry me."

"I no think I like you much better. But I spose I must get marry some day. Here my mother come. Ask her. I do what she want."

Dona Pomposa was trotting toward them, and while she struggled for her lost breath Eulogia repeated the proposal of the American, twanging her guitar the while.

The old lady took but one moment to make up her mind. "The American," she said rapidly in Spanish. "Garfias is rich now, but in a few years the Americans will have everything. Garfias will be poor; this man will be rich. Marry the American," and she beamed upon Rogers.

Eulogia shrugged her shoulders and turned to her practical wooer.

"My mother she say she like you the best."

"Then I may look upon that little transaction as settled?"

"Si you like it."

"Which art thou going to marry, Eulogia?" asked one of the girls that night, as they rode down the mountain.

"Neither," said Eulogia, serenely.

X

Eulogia had just passed through an animated interview with her mother. Dona Pomposa had stormed and Eulogia had made an occasional reply in her cool monotonous voice, her gaze absently fixed on the gardens of the mission.

"Thou wicked little coquette!" cried Dona Pomposa, her voice almost worn out. "Thou darest repeat to me that thou wilt not marry the Senor Rogers!"

"I will not. It was amusing to be engaged to him for a time, but now I am tired. You can give him what excuse you like, but tell him to go."

"And the clothes I have made—the chests of linen with the beautiful deshalados that nearly put out Aunt Anastacia's eyes! The new silk gowns! Dias de mi vida! The magnificent bed-spread with the lace as deep as my hand!"

"They will keep until I do marry. Besides, I need some new clothes."

"Dost thou indeed, thou little brat! Thou shalt not put on a smock or a gown in that chest if thou goest naked! But thou shalt marry him, I say!"

"No."

"Oh, thou ice-hearted little devil!" Even Dona Pomposa's stomach was trembling with rage, and her fingers were jumping. "Whom then wilt thou marry? Garfias?"

"No."

"Thou wilt be an old maid like Aunt Anastacia."

"Perhaps."

"O—h—h—Who is this?"

A stranger in travelling scrape and riding-boots had dashed up to the house, and flung himself from his horse. He knocked loudly on the open door, then entered without waiting for an invitation, and made a deep reverence to Dona Pomposa.

"At your service, senora. At your service, senorita. I come from the Senor Don Tomas Garfias. Word has reached him that the Senorita Eulogia is about to marry an American. I humbly ask you to tell me if this be true or not. I have been told in town that the wedding is set for the day after to-morrow."

"Ask her!" cried Dona Pomposa, tragically, and she swung herself to the other end of the room.

"Senorita, at your feet."

"You can tell your friend that I have no more intention of marrying the American than I have of marrying him."

"Senorita! But he expected to return next week and marry you."

"We expect many things in this world that we do not get."

"But—a thousand apologies for my presumption, senorita—why did you not write and tell him?"

"I never write letters."

"But you could have sent word by some friend travelling to San Francisco, senorita."

"He would find it out in good time. Why hurry?"

"Ay, senorita, well are you named Dona Coquetta. You are famous even to San Francisco. I will return to my poor friend. At your service, senora. At your service, senorita," and he bowed himself out, and galloped away.

Dona Pomposa threw herself into her chair, and wept aloud.

"Mother of God! I had thought to see her married to a thrifty American! What have I done to be punished with so heartless a child? And the Americans will have all the money! The little I have will go, too! We shall be left sitting in the street. And we might have a wooden house in San Francisco, and go to the theatre! Oh, Mother of God, why dost thou not soften the heart of the wicked—"

Eulogia slipped out of the window, and went into the mission gardens. She walked slowly through the olive groves, lifting her arms to part the branches where the little purple spheres lay in their silver nests. Suddenly she came face to face with Pablo Ignestria.

Her cynical brain informed her stormy heart that any woman must succumb finally to the one man who had never bored her.



THE ISLE OF SKULLS

I

The good priests of Santa Barbara sat in grave conference on the long corridor of their mission. It was a winter's day, and they basked in the sun. The hoods of their brown habits peaked above faces lean and ascetic, fat and good-tempered, stern, intelligent, weak, commanding. One face alone was young.

But for the subject under discussion they would have been at peace with themselves and with Nature. In the great square of the mission the Indians they had Christianized worked at many trades. The great aqueduct along the brow of one of the lower hills, the wheat and corn fields on the slopes, the trim orchards and vegetable gardens in the canons of the great bare mountains curving about the valley, were eloquent evidence of their cleverness and industry. From the open door of the church came the sound of lively and solemn tunes: the choir was practising for mass. The day was as peaceful as only those long drowsy shimmering days before the Americans came could be. And yet there was dissent among the padres.

Several had been speaking together, when one of the older men raised his hand with cold impatience.

"There is only one argument," he said. "We came here, came to the wilderness out of civilization, for one object only—to lead the heathen to God. We have met with a fair success. Shall we leave these miserable islanders to perish, when we have it in our power to save?"

"But no one knows exactly where this island is, Father Jimeno," replied the young priest. "And we know little of navigation, and may perish before we find it. Our lives are more precious than those of savages."

"In the sight of God one soul is of precisely the same value as another, Father Carillo."

The young priest scowled. "We can save. They cannot."

"If we refuse to save when the power is ours, then the savage in his extremest beastiality has more hope of heaven than we have."

Father Carillo looked up at the golden sun riding high in the dark blue sky, down over the stately oaks and massive boulders of the valley where quail flocked like tame geese. He had no wish to leave his paradise, and as the youngest and hardiest of the priests, he knew that he would be ordered to take charge of the expedition.

"It is said also," continued the older man, "that once a ship from the Continent of Europe was wrecked among those islands—"

"No? No?" interrupted several of the priests.

"It is more than probable that there were survivors, and that their descendants live on this very island to-day. Think of it, my brother! Men and women of our own blood, perhaps, living like beasts of the field! Worshipping idols! Destitute of morality! Can we sit here in hope of everlasting life while our brethren perish?"

"No!" The possibility of rescuing men of European blood had quenched dissent. Even Carillo spoke as spontaneously as the others.

As he had anticipated, the expedition was put in his charge. Don Guillermo Iturbi y Moncada, the magnate of the South, owned a small schooner, and placed it at the disposal of the priests.

Through the wide portals of the mission church, two weeks later, rolled the solemn music of high mass. The church was decorated as for a festival. The aristocrats of the town knelt near the altar, the people and Indians behind.

Father Carillo knelt and took communion, the music hushing suddenly to rise in more sonorous volume. Then Father Jimeno, bearing a cross and chanting the rosary, descended the altar steps and walked toward the doors. On either side of him a page swung a censer. Four women neophytes rose from among the worshippers, and shouldering a litter on which rested a square box containing an upright figure of the Holy Virgin followed with bent heads. The Virgin's gown was of yellow satin, covered with costly Spanish lace; strands of Baja Californian pearls bedecked the front of her gown. Behind this resplendent image came the other priests, two and two, wearing their white satin embroidered robes, chanting the sacred mysteries. Father Carillo walked last and alone. His thin clever face wore an expression of nervous exaltation.

As the procession descended the steps of the church, the bells rang out a wild inspiring peal. The worshippers rose, and forming in line followed the priests down the valley.

When they reached the water's edge, Father Jimeno raised the cross above his head, stepped with the other priests into a boat, and was rowed to the schooner. He sprinkled holy water upon the little craft; then Father Carillo knelt and received the blessing of each of his brethren. When he rose all kissed him solemnly, then returned to the shore, where the whole town knelt. The boat brought back the six Indians who were to give greeting and confidence to their kinsmen on the island, and the schooner was ready to sail. As she weighed anchor, the priests knelt in a row before the people, Father Jimeno alone standing and holding the cross aloft with rigid arms.

Father Carillo stood on deck and watched the white mission under the mountain narrow to a thread, the kneeling priests become dots of reflected light. His exaltation vanished. He was no longer the chief figure in a picturesque panorama. He set his lips and his teeth behind them. He was a very ambitious man. His dreams leapt beyond California to the capital of Spain. If he returned with his savages, he might make success serve as half the ladder. But would he return?

Wind and weather favoured him. Three days after leaving Santa Barbara he sighted a long narrow mountainous island. He had passed another of different proportions in the morning, and before night sighted still another, small and oval. But the lofty irregular mass, some ten miles long and four miles wide, which he approached at sundown, was the one he sought. The night world was alight under the white blaze of the moon; the captain rode into a small harbour at the extreme end of the island and cast anchor, avoiding reefs and shoals as facilely as by midday. Father Carillo gave his Indians orders to be ready to march at dawn.

The next morning the priest arrayed himself in his white satin garments, embroidered about the skirt with gold and on the chest with a purple cross pointed with gold. The brown woollen habit of his voyage was left behind. None knew better than he the value of theatric effect upon the benighted mind. His Indians wore gayly striped blankets of their own manufacture, and carried baskets containing presents and civilized food.

Bearing a large gilt cross, Father Carillo stepped on shore, waved farewell to the captain, and directed his Indians to keep faithfully in the line of march: they might come upon the savages at any moment. They toiled painfully through a long stretch of white sand, then passed into a grove of banana trees, dark, cold, noiseless, but for the rumble of the ocean. When they reached the edge of the grove, Father Carillo raised his cross and commanded the men to kneel. Rumour had told him what to expect, and he feared the effect on his simple and superstitious companions. He recited a chaplet, then, before giving them permission to rise, made a short address.

"My children, be not afraid at what meets your eyes. The ways of all men are not our ways. These people have seen fit to leave their dead unburied on the surface of the earth. But these poor bones can do you no more harm than do those you have placed beneath the ground in Santa Barbara. Now rise and follow me, nor turn back as you fear the wrath of God."

He turned and strode forward, with the air of one to whom fear had no meaning; but even he closed his eyes for a moment in horror. The poor creatures behind mumbled and crossed themselves and clung to each other. The plain was a vast charnel-house. The sun, looking over the brow of an eastern hill, threw its pale rays upon thousands of crumbling skeletons, bleached by unnumbered suns, picked bare by dead and gone generations of carrion, white, rigid, sinister. Detached skulls lay in heaps, grinning derisively. Stark digits pointed threateningly, as if the old warriors still guarded their domain. Other frames lay face downward, as though the broken teeth had bitten the dust in battle. Slender forms lay prone, their arms encircling cooking utensils, beautiful in form and colour. Great bowls and urns, toy canoes, mortars and pestles, of serpentine, sandstone, and steatite, wrought with a lost art,—if, indeed, the art had ever been known beyond this island,—and baked to richest dyes, were placed at the head and feet of skeletons more lofty in stature than their fellows.

Father Carillo sprinkled holy water right and left, bidding his Indians chant a rosary for the souls which once had inhabited these appalling tenements. The Indians obeyed with clattering teeth, keeping their eyes fixed stonily upon the ground lest they stumble and fall amid yawning ribs.

The ghastly tramp lasted two hours. The sun spurned the hill-top and cast a flood of light upon the ugly scene. The white bones grew whiter, dazzling the eyes of the living. They reached the foot of a mountain and began a toilsome ascent through a dark forest. Here new terrors awaited them. Skeletons sat propped against trees, grinning out of the dusk, gleaming in horrid relief against the mass of shadow. Father Carillo, with one eye over his shoulder, managed by dint of command, threats, and soothing words to get his little band to the top of the hill. Once, when revolt seemed imminent, he asked them scathingly if they wished to retrace their steps over the plain unprotected by the cross, and they clung to his skirts thereafter. When they reached the summit, they lay down to rest and eat their luncheon, Father Carillo reclining carefully on a large mat: his fine raiment was a source of no little anxiety. No skeletons kept them company here. They had left the last many yards below.

"Anacleto," commanded the priest, at the end of an hour, "crawl forward on thy hands and knees and peer over the brow of the mountain. Then come back and tell me if men like thyself are below."

Anacleto obeyed, and returned in a few moments with bulging eyes and a broad smile of satisfaction. People were in the valley—a small band. They wore feathers like birds, and came and went from the base of the hill. There were no wigwams, no huts.

Father Carillo rose at once. Bidding his Indians keep in the background, he walked to the jutting brow of the hill, and throwing a rapid glance downward came to a sudden halt. With one hand he held the cross well away from him and high above his head. The sun blazed down on the burnished cross; on the white shining robes of the priest; on his calm benignant face thrown into fine relief by the white of the falling sleeve.

In a moment a low murmur arose from the valley, then a sudden silence. Father Carillo, glancing downward, saw that the people had prostrated themselves.

He began the descent, holding the cross aloft, chanting solemnly; his Indians, to whom he had given a swift signal, following and lifting up their voices likewise. The mountain on this side was bare, as if from fire, the incline shorter and steeper. The priest noted all things, although he never forgot his lines.

Below was a little band of men and women. A broad plain swept from the mountain's foot, a forest broke its sweep, and the ocean thundered near. The people were clad in garments made from the feathered skins of birds, and were all past middle age. The foot of the mountain was perforated with caves.

When he stood before the trembling awe-struck savages, he spoke to them kindly and bade them rise. They did not understand, but lifted their heads and stared appealingly. He raised each in turn. As they once more looked upon his full magnificence, they were about to prostrate themselves again when they caught sight of the Indians. Those dark stolid faces, even that gay attire, they could understand. Glancing askance at the priest, they drew near to their fellow-beings, touched their hands to the strangers' breasts, and finally kissed them.

Father Carillo was a man of tact.

"My children," he said to his flock, "do you explain as best you-can to these our new friends what it is we have come to do. I will go into the forest and rest."

He walked swiftly across the plain, and parting the clinging branches of two gigantic ferns, entered the dim wood. He laid the heavy cross beneath a tree, and strolled idly. It was a forest of fronds. Lofty fern trees waved above wide-leaved palms. Here and there a little marsh with crowding plant life held the riotous groves apart. Down the mountain up which the forest spread tumbled a creek over coloured rocks, then wound its way through avenues, dark in the shadows, sparkling where the sunlight glinted through the tall tree-tops. Red lilies were everywhere. The aisles were vocal with whispering sound.

The priest threw himself down on a bed of dry leaves by the creek. After a time his eyes closed. He was weary, and slept.

He awoke suddenly, the power of a steadfast gaze dragging his brain from its rest. A girl sat on a log in the middle of the creek. Father Carillo stared incredulously, believing himself to be dreaming. The girl's appearance was unlike anything he had ever seen. Like the other members of her tribe, she wore a garment of feathers, and her dark face was cast in the same careless and gentle mould; but her black eyes had a certain intelligence, unusual to the Indians of California, and the hair that fell to her knees was the colour of flame. Apparently she was not more than eighteen years old.

Father Carillo, belonging to a period when bleached brunettes were unknown, hastily crossed himself.

"Who are you?" he asked.

His voice was deep and musical. It had charmed many a woman's heart, despite the fact that he had led a life of austerity and sought no woman's smiles. But this girl at the sound of it gave a loud cry and bounded up the mountain, leaping through the brush like a deer.



The priest rose, drank of the bubbles in the stream, and retraced his steps. He took up the burden of the cross again and returned to the village. There he found the savage and the Christianized sitting together in brotherly love. The islanders were decked with the rosaries presented to them, and the women in their blankets were swollen with pride. All had eaten of bread and roast fowl, and made the strangers offerings of strange concoctions in magnificent earthen dishes. As the priest appeared the heathen bowed low, then gathered about him. Their awe had been dispelled, and they responded to the magnetism of his voice and smile. He knew many varieties of the Indian language, and succeeded in making them understand that he wished them to return with him, and that he would make them comfortable and happy. They nodded their heads vigorously as he spoke, but pointed to their venerable chief, who sat at the entrance of his cave eating of a turkey's drumstick. Father Carillo went over to the old man and saluted him respectfully. The chief nodded, waved his hand at a large flat stone, and continued his repast, his strong white teeth crunching bone as well as flesh. The priest spread his handkerchief on the stone, seated himself, and stated the purpose of his visit. He dwelt at length upon the glories of civilization. The chief dropped his bone after a time and listened attentively. When the priest finished, he uttered a volley of short sentences.

"Good. We go. Great sickness come. All die but us. Many, many, many. We are strong no more. No children come. We are old—all. One young girl not die. The young men die. The young women die. The children die. No more will come. Yes, we go."

"And this young girl with the hair—" The priest looked upward. The sun had gone. He touched the gold of the cross, then his own hair.

"Dorthe," grunted the old man, regarding his bare drumstick regretfully.

"Who is she? Where did she get such a name? Why has she that hair?"

Out of another set of expletives Father Carillo gathered that Dorthe was the granddaughter of a man who had been washed ashore after a storm, and who had dwelt on the island until he died. He had married a woman of the tribe, and to his daughter had given the name of Dorthe—or so the Indians had interpreted it—and his hair, which was like the yellow fire. This girl had inherited both. He had been very brave and much beloved, but had died while still young. Their ways were not his ways, Father Carillo inferred, and barbarism had killed him.

The priest did not see Dorthe again that day. When night came, he was given a cave to himself. He hung up his robes on a jutting point of rock, and slept the sleep of the weary. At the first shaft of dawn he rose, intending to stroll down to the beach in search of a bay where he could bathe; but as he stepped across the prostrate Californians, asleep at the entrance of his cave, he paused abruptly, and changed his plans.

On the far edge of the ocean the rising diadem of the sun sent great bubbles of colour up through a low bank of pale green cloud to the gray night sky and the sulky stars. And, under the shadow of the cacti and palms, in rapt mute worship, knelt the men and women the priest had come to save, their faces and clasped hands uplifted to the waking sun.

Father Carillo awoke his Indians summarily.

"Gather a dozen large stones and build an altar—quick!" he commanded.

The sleepy Indians stumbled to their feet, obeyed orders, and in a few moments a rude altar was erected. The priest propped the cross on the apex, and, kneeling with his Indians, slowly chanted a mass. The savages gathered about curiously; then, impressed by the solemnity of the priest's voice and manner, sank to their knees once more, although directing to the sun an occasional glance of anxiety. When the priest rose, he gave them to understand that he was deeply gratified by their response to the religion of civilization, and pointed to the sun, now full-orbed, amiably swimming in a jewelled mist. Again they prostrated themselves, first to him, then to their deity, and he knew that the conquest was begun.

After breakfast they were ready to follow him. They had cast their feathered robes into a heap, and wore the blankets, one and all. Still Dorthe had not appeared. The chief sent a man in search of her, and when, after some delay, she entered his presence, commanded her to make herself ready to go with the tribe. For a time she protested angrily. But when she found that she must go or remain alone, she reluctantly joined the forming procession, although refusing to doff her bird garment, and keeping well in the rear that she might not again look upon that terrible presence in white and gold, that face with its strange pallor and piercing eyes. Father Carillo, who was very much bored, would have been glad to talk to her, but recognized that he must keep his distance if he wished to include her among his trophies.

The natives knew of a shorter trail to the harbour, and one of them led the way, Father Carillo urging his footsteps, for the green cloud of dawn was now high and black and full. A swift wind was rustling the tree-tops and tossing the ocean white. As they skirted the plain of the dead, the priest saw a strange sight. The wind had become a gale. It caught up great armfuls of sand from the low dunes, and hurled them upon the skeletons, covering them from sight. Sometimes a gust would snatch the blanket from one to bury another more deeply; and for a moment the old bones would gleam again, to be enveloped in the on-rushing pillar of whirling sand. Through the storm leaped the wild dogs, yelping dismally.

When the party reached the stretch beyond the banana grove, they saw the schooner tossing and pulling at her anchor. The captain shouted to them to hurry. The boat awaiting them at the beach was obliged to make three trips. Father Carillo went in the first boat; Dorthe remained for the last. She was the last, also, to ascend the ladder at the ship's side. As she put her foot on deck, and confronted again the pale face and shining robes of the young priest, she screamed, and leapt from the vessel into the waves. The chief and his tribe shouted their entreaties to return. But she had disappeared, and the sky was black. The captain refused to lower the boat again. He had already weighed anchor, and he hurriedly represented that to remain longer in the little bay, with its reefs and rocks, its chopping waves, would mean death to all. The priest was obliged to sacrifice the girl to the many lives in his keep.

II

Dorthe darted through the hissing waves, undismayed by the darkness or the screaming wind; she and the ocean had been friends since her baby days. When a breaker finally tossed her on the shore, she scrambled to the bank, then stood long endeavouring to pierce the rain for sight of the vessel. But it was far out in the dark. Dorthe was alone on the island. For a time she howled in dismal fashion. She was wholly without fear, but she had human needs and was lonesome. Then reason told her that when the storm was over the ship would return to seek her; and she fled and hid in the banana grove. The next morning the storm had passed; but the ship was nowhere to be seen, and she started for home.

The wind still blew, but it had veered. This time it caught the sand from the skeletons, and bore it rapidly back to the dunes. Dorthe watched the old bones start into view. Sometimes a skull would thrust itself suddenly forth, sometimes a pair of polished knees; and once a long finger seemed to beckon. But it was an old story to Dorthe, and she pursued her journey undisturbed.

She climbed the mountain, and went down into the valley and lived alone. Her people had left their cooking utensils. She caught fish in the creek, and shot birds with her bow and arrow. Wild fruits and nuts were abundant. Of creature comforts she lacked nothing. But the days were long and the island was very still. For a while she talked aloud in the limited vocabulary of her tribe. After a time she entered into companionship with the frogs and birds, imitating their speech. Restlessness vanished, and she existed contentedly enough.

Two years passed. The moon flooded the valley one midnight. Dorthe lay on the bank of the creek in the fern forest. She and the frogs had held long converse, and she was staring up through the feathery branches, waving in the night wind, at the calm silver face which had ignored her overtures. Upon this scene entered a man. He was attenuated and ragged. Hair and beard fell nearly to his waist. He leaned on a staff, and tottered like an old man.

He stared about him sullenly. "Curse them!" he said aloud. "Why could they not have died and rotted before we heard of them?"

Dorthe, at the sound of a human voice, sprang to her feet with a cry. The man, too, gave a cry—the ecstatic cry of the unwilling hermit who looks again upon the human face.

"Dorthe! Thou? I thought thou wast dead—drowned in the sea."

Dorthe had forgotten the meaning of words, but her name came to her familiarly. Then something stirred within her, filling her eyes with tears. She went forward and touched the stranger, drawing her hand over his trembling arms.

"Do you not remember me, Dorthe?" asked the man, softly. "I am the priest—was, for I am not fit for the priesthood now. I have forgotten how to pray."

She shook her head, but smiling, the instinct of gregariousness awakening.

He remembered his needs, and made a gesture which she understood. She took his hand, and led him from the forest to her cave. She struck fire from flint into a heap of fagots beneath a swinging pot. In a little time she set before him a savoury mess of birds. He ate of it ravenously. Dorthe watched him with deep curiosity. She had never seen hunger before. She offered him a gourd of water, and he drank thirstily. When he raised his face his cheeks were flushed, his eyes brighter.

He took her hand and drew her down beside him.

"I must talk," he said. "Even if you cannot understand, I must talk to a human being. I must tell some one the story of these awful years. The very thought intoxicates me. We were shipwrecked, Dorthe. The wind drove us out of our course, and we went to pieces on the rocks at the foot of this island. Until to-night I did not know that it was this island. I alone was washed on shore. In the days that came I grew to wish that I, too, had perished. You know nothing of what solitude and savagery mean to the man of civilization—and to the man of ambition. Oh, my God! I dared not leave the shore lest I miss the chance to signal a passing vessel. There was scarcely anything to maintain life on that rocky coast. Now and again I caught a seagull or a fish. Sometimes I ventured inland and found fruit, running back lest a ship should pass. There I stayed through God knows how many months and years. I fell ill many times. My limbs are cramped and twisted with rheumatism. Finally, I grew to hate the place beyond endurance. I determined to walk to the other end of the island. It was only when I passed, now and again, the unburied dead and the pottery that I suspected I might be on your island. Oh, that ghastly company! When night came, they seemed to rise and walk before me. I cried aloud and cursed them. My manhood has gone, I fear. I cannot tell how long that terrible journey lasted,—months and months, for my feet are bare and my legs twisted. What kind fate guided me to you?"

He gazed upon her, not as man looks at woman, but as mortal looks adoringly upon the face of mortal long withheld.

Dorthe smiled sympathetically. His speech and general appearance struck a long-dormant chord; but in her mind was no recognition of him.

He fell asleep suddenly and profoundly. As Dorthe watched, she gradually recalled the appearance of the old who had lain screaming on the ground drawing up their cramped limbs. She also recalled the remedy. Not far from the edge of the forest was a line of temascals, excavations covered with mud huts, into which her people had gone for every ill. She ran to one, and made a large fire within; the smoke escaped through an aperture in the roof. Then she returned, and, taking the emaciated figure in her arms, bore him to the hut and placed him in the corner farthest from the fire. She went out and closed the door, but thrust her head in from time to time. He did not awaken for an hour. When he did, he thought he had entered upon the fiery sequel of unfaith. The sweat was pouring from his body. The atmosphere could only be that of the nether world. As his brain cleared he understood, and made no effort to escape: he knew the virtues of the temascal. As the intense heat sapped his remaining vitality he sank into lethargy. He was aroused by the shock of cold water, and opened his eyes to find himself struggling in the creek, Dorthe holding him down with firm arms. After a moment she carried him back to the plain and laid him in the sun to dry. His rags still clung to him. She regarded them with disfavour, and fetched the Chief's discarded plumage. As soon as he could summon strength he tottered into the forest and made his toilet. As he was a foot and a half taller than the Chief had been, he determined to add a flounce as soon as his health would permit. Dorthe, however, looked approval when he emerged, and set a bowl of steaming soup before him.

He took the temascal twice again, and at the end of a week the drastic cure had routed his rheumatism. Although far from strong, he felt twenty years younger. His manhood returned, and with it his man's vanity. He did not like the appearance of his reflected image in the still pools of the wood. The long beard and head locks smote him sorely. He disliked the idea of being a fright, even though Dorthe had no standards of comparison; but his razors were at the bottom of the sea.

After much excogitation he arrived at a solution. One day, when Dorthe was on the other side of the mountain shooting birds,—she would kill none of her friends in the fern forest,—he tore dried palm leaves into strips, and setting fire to them singed his hair and beard to the roots. It was a long and tedious task. When it was finished the pool told him that his chin and head were like unto a stubbled field. But he was young and well-looking once more.

He went out and confronted Dorthe. She dropped her birds, her bow and arrow, and stared at him. Then he saw recognition leap to her eyes; but this time no fear. He was far from being the gorgeous apparition of many moons ago. And, so quickly does solitude forge its links, she smiled brightly, approvingly, and he experienced a glow of content.

The next day he taught her the verbal synonym of many things, and she spoke the words after him with rapt attention. When he finished the lesson, she pounded, in a wondrous mortar, the dried flour of the banana with the eggs of wild fowl, then fried the paste over the fire he had built. She brought a dish of nuts and showed him gravely how to crack them with a stone, smiling patronizingly at his ready skill. When the dinner was cooked, she offered him one end of the dish as usual, but he thought it was time for another lesson. He laid a flat stone with palm leaves, and set two smaller dishes at opposite ends. Then with a flat stick he lifted the cakes from the fry-pan, and placed an equal number on each plate. Dorthe watched these proceedings with expanded eyes, but many gestures of impatience. She was hungry. He took her hand and led her ceremoniously to the head of the table, motioning to her to be seated. She promptly went down on her knees, and dived at the cakes with both hands. But again he restrained her. He had employed a part of his large leisure fashioning rude wood forks with his ragged pocket-knife. There were plenty of bone knives on the island. He sat himself opposite, and gave her a practical illustration of the use of the knife and fork. She watched attentively, surreptitiously whisking morsels of cake into her mouth. Finally, she seized the implements of civilization beside her plate, and made an awkward attempt to use them. The priest tactfully devoted himself to his own dinner. Suddenly he heard a cry of rage, and simultaneously the knife and fork flew in different directions. Dorthe seized a cake in each hand, and stuffed them into her mouth, her eyes flashing defiance. The priest looked at her reproachfully, then lowered his eyes. Presently she got up, found the knife and fork, and made a patient effort to guide the food to its proper place by the new and trying method This time the attempt resulted in tears—a wild thunder shower. The priest went over, knelt beside her, and guided the knife through the cake, the fork to her mouth. Dorthe finished the meal, then put her head on his shoulder and wept bitterly. The priest soothed her, and made her understand that she had acquitted herself with credit; and the sun shone once more.

An hour later she took his hand, and led him to the creek in the forest.

"C—c—ruck! C—c—ruck!" she cried.

"C—c—ruck! C—c—ruck!" came promptly from the rushes. She looked at him triumphantly.

"Curruck," he said, acknowledging the introduction.

She laughed outright at his poor attempt, startling even him with the discordant sound. She sprang to his side, her eyes rolling with terror. But he laughed himself, and in a few moments she was attempting to imitate him. Awhile later she introduced him to the birds; but he forbore to trill, having a saving sense of humour.

The comrades of her solitude were deserted. She made rapid progress in human speech. Gradually her voice lost its cross between a croak and a trill and acquired a feminine resemblance to her instructor's. At the end of a month they could speak together after a fashion. When she made her first sentence, haltingly but surely, she leaped to her feet and executed a wild war dance. They were on the plain of the dead. She flung her supple legs among the skeletons, sending the bones flying, her bright hair tossing about her like waves of fire. The priest watched her with bated breath, half expecting to see the outraged warriors arise in wrath. The gaunt dogs that were always prowling about the plain fled in dismay.

The month had passed very agreeably to the priest. After the horrors of his earlier experience it seemed for a time that he had little more to ask of life. Dorthe knew nothing of love; but he knew that if no ship came, she would learn, and he would teach her. He had loved no woman, but he felt that in this vast solitude he could love Dorthe and be happy with her. In the languor of convalescence he dreamed of the hour when he should take her in his arms and see the frank regard in her eyes for the last time. The tranquil air was heavy with the perfumes of spring. The palms were rigid. The blue butterflies sat with folded wings. The birds hung their drowsy heads.

But with returning strength came the desire for civilization, the awakening of his ambitions, the desire for intellectual activity. He stood on the beach for hours at a time, straining his eyes for passing ships. He kept a fire on the cliffs constantly burning. Dorthe's instincts were awakening, and she was vaguely troubled. The common inheritance was close upon her.

The priest now put all thoughts of love sternly from him. Love meant a lifetime on the island, for he would not desert her, and to take her to Santa Barbara would mean the death of all his hopes. And yet in his way he loved her, and there were nights when he sat by the watch-fire and shed bitter tears. He had read the story of Juan and Haidee, by no means without sympathy, and he wished more than once that he had the mind and nature of the poet; but to violate his own would be productive of misery to both. He was no amorous youth, but a man with a purpose, and that, for him, was the end of it. But he spent many hours with her, talking to her of life beyond the island, a story to which she listened with eager interest.

One night as he was about to leave her, she dropped her face into her hands and cried heavily. Instinctively he put his arms about her, and she as instinctively clung to him, terrified and appealing. He kissed her, not once, but many times, intoxicated and happy. She broke from him suddenly and ran to her cave; and he, chilled and angry, went to his camp-fire.

It was a very brilliant night. An hour later he saw something skim the horizon. Later still he saw that the object was closer, and that it was steering for the harbour. He ran to meet it.

Twice he stopped. The magnetism of the only woman that had ever awakened his love drew him back. He thought of her despair, her utter and, this time, unsupportable loneliness; the careless girl with the risen sun would be a broken-hearted woman.

But he ran on.

Spain beckoned. The highest dignities of the Church were his. He saw his political influence a byword in Europe. He felt Dorthe's arms about him, her soft breath on his cheek, and uttered a short savage scream; but he went on.

When he reached the harbour three men had already landed. They recognized him, and fell at his feet. And when he told them that he was alone on the island, they reembarked without question. And he lived, and forgot, and realized his great ambitions.

Thirty years later a sloop put into the harbour of the island for repairs. Several of the men went on shore. They discovered footprints in the sand. Wondering, for they had sailed the length of the island and seen no sign of habitation, they followed the steps. They came upon a curious creature which was scraping with a bone knife the blubber from a seal. At first they thought it was a bird of some unknown species, so sharp was its beak, so brilliant its plumage. But when they spoke to it and it sprang aside and confronted them, they saw that the creature was an aged woman. Her face was like an old black apple, within whose skin the pulp had shrunk and withered as it lay forgotten on the ground. Her tawny hair hung along her back like a ragged mat. There was no light in the dim vacuous eyes. She wore a garment made of the unplucked skins of birds. They spoke to her. She uttered a gibberish unknown to them with a voice that croaked like a frog's, then went down on her creaking knees and lifted her hands to the sun.



THE HEAD OF A PRIEST

I

"Dona Concepcion had the greatest romance of us all; so she should not chide too bitterly."

"But she has such a sense of her duty! Such a sense of her duty! Ay, Dios de mi alma! Shall we ever grow like that?"

"If we have a Russian lover who is killed in the far North, and we have a convent built for us, and teach troublesome girls. Surely, if one goes through fire, one can become anything—"

"Ay, yi! Look! Look!"

Six dark heads were set in a row along the edge of a secluded corner of the high adobe wall surrounding the Convent of Monterey. They looked for all the world like a row of charming gargoyles—every mouth was open—although there was no blankness in those active mischief-hunting eyes. Their bodies, propped on boxes, were concealed by the wall from the passer-by, and from the sharp eyes of duenas by a group of trees just behind them. Their section of the wall faced the Presidio, which in the early days of the eighteenth century had not lost an adobe, and was full of active life. At one end was the house of the Governor of all the Californias, at another the church, which is all that stands to-day. Under other walls of the square were barracks, quarters for officers and their families, store-rooms for ammunition and general supplies in case of a raid by hostile tribes (when all the town must be accommodated within the security of those four great walls), and a large hall in which many a ball was given. The aristocratic pioneers of California loved play as well as work. Beyond were great green plains alive with cattle, and above all curved the hills dark with pines. Three soldiers had left the Presidio and were sauntering toward the convent.

"It is Enrico Ortega!" whispered Eustaquia Carillo, excitedly.

"And Ramon de Castro!" scarcely breathed Elena Estudillo.

"And Jose Yorba!"

"Not Pepe Gomez? Ay, yi!"

"Nor Manuel Ameste!"

The only girl who did not speak stood at the end of the row. Her eyes were fixed on the church, whose windows were dazzling with the reflected sunlight of the late afternoon.

The officers, who apparently had been absorbed in conversation and their fragrant cigaritos, suddenly looked up and saw the row of handsome and mischievous faces. They ran forward, and dashed their sombreros into the dust before the wall.

"At your feet, senoritas! At your feet!" they cried.

"Have they any?" whispered one. "How unreal they look! How symbolical!"

"The rose in your hair, Senorita Eustaquia, for the love of Heaven!" cried Ortega, in a loud whisper.

She detached the rose, touched it with her lips, and cast it to the officer. He almost swallowed it in the ardour of his caresses.

None of the girls spoke. That would have seemed to them the height of impropriety. But Elena extended her arm over the wall so that her little hand hung just above young Castro's head. He leaped three times in the air, and finally succeeded in brushing his mustache against those coveted finger-tips: rewarded with an approving but tantalizing laugh. Meanwhile, Jose Yorba had torn a silver eagle from his sombrero, and flung it to Lola de Castro, who caught and thrust it in her hair.

"Ay, Dios! Dios! that the cruel wall divides us," cried Yorba.

"We will mount each upon the other's shoulder—"

"We will make a ladder from the limbs of the pines on the mountain—"

"Senoritas!"

The six heads dropped from the wall like so many Humpty-Dumpties. As they flashed about the officers caught a glimpse of horror in twelve expanded eyes. A tall woman, serenely beautiful, clad in a long gray gown fastened at her throat with a cross, stood just within the trees. The six culprits thought of the tragic romance which had given them the honour of being educated by Concepcion de Arguello, and hoped for some small measure of mercy. The girl who had looked over the heads of the officers, letting her gaze rest on the holy walls of the church, alone looked coldly unconcerned, and encountered steadily the sombre eyes of the convent's mistress.

"Was thy lover in the road below, Pilar?" asked Dona Concepcion, with what meaning five of the girls could not divine. For Pilar, the prettiest and most studious girl in the convent, cared for no man.

Pilar's bosom rose once, but she made no reply.

"Come," said Dona Concepcion, and the six followed meekly in her wake. She led them to her private sala, a bare cold room, even in summer. It was uncarpeted; a few religious prints were on the whitewashed walls; there were eight chairs, and a table covered with books and papers. The six shivered. To be invited to this room meant the greatest of honours or a lecture precursory to the severest punishment in the system of the convent. Dona Concepcion seated herself in a large chair, but her guests were not invited to relieve their weakened knees.

"Did you speak—any of you?" she asked in a moment.

Five heads shook emphatically.

"But?"

Eustaquia, Elena, and Lola drew a long breath, then confessed their misdoings glibly enough.

"And the others?"

"They had no chance," said Eustaquia, with some sarcasm.

"Thou wouldst have found a chance," replied the Lady Superior, coldly. "Thou art the first in all naughtiness, and thy path in life will be stormy if thou dost not curb thy love of adventure and insubordination."

She covered her face with her hand and regarded the floor for some moments in silence. It was the first performance of the kind that had come to her knowledge, and she was at a loss what to do. Finally she said severely: "Go each to your bed and remain there on bread and water for twenty-four hours. Your punishment shall be known at the Presidio. And if it ever happens again, I shall send you home in disgrace. Now go."

The luckless six slunk out of the room. Only Pilar stole a hasty glance at the Lady Superior. Dona Concepcion half rose from her chair, and opened her lips as if to speak again; then sank back with a heavy sigh.

The girls were serenaded that night; but the second song broke abruptly, and a heavy gate clanged just afterward. Concepcion de Arguello was still young, but suffering had matured her character, and she knew how to deal sternly with those who infringed her few but inflexible rules. It was by no means the first serenade she had interrupted, for she educated the flower of California, and it was no simple matter to prevent communication between the girls in her charge and the ardent caballeros. She herself had been serenaded more than once since the sudden death of her Russian lover; for she who had been the belle of California for three years before the coming of Rezanof was not lightly relinquished by the impassioned men of her own race; but both at Casa Grande, in Santa Barbara, where she found seclusion until her convent was built, and after her immolation in Monterey, she turned so cold an ear to all men's ardours that she soon came to be regarded as a part of four gray walls. How long it took her to find actual serenity none but herself and the dead priests know, but the old women who are dying off to-day remember her as consistently placid as she was firm. She was deeply troubled by the escapade of the little wretches on the wall, although she had dealt with it summarily and feared no further outbreak of the sort. But she was haunted by a suspicion that there was more behind, and to come. Pilar de la Torre and Eustaquia Carillo were the two most notable girls in the convent, for they easily took precedence of their more indolent mates and were constantly racing for honours. There the resemblance ended. Eustaquia, with her small brilliant eyes, irregular features, and brilliant colour, was handsome rather than beautiful, but full of fire, fascination, and spirit. Half the Presidio was in love with her, and that she was a shameless coquette she would have been the last to deny. Pilar was beautiful, and although the close long lashes of her eyes hid dreams, rather than fire, and her profile and poise of head expressed all the pride of the purest aristocracy California has had, nothing could divert attention from the beauty of her contours of cheek and figure, and of her rich soft colouring. The officers in church stood up to look at her; and at the balls and meriendas she attended in vacations the homage she received stifled and annoyed her. She was as cold and unresponsive as Concepcion de Arguello. People shrugged their shoulders and said it was as well. Her mother, Dona Brigida de la Torre of the great Rancho Diablo, twenty miles from Monterey, was the sternest old lady in California. It was whispered that she had literally ruled her husband with a greenhide reata, and certain it was that two years after the birth of Pilar (the thirteenth, and only living child) he had taken a trip to Mexico and never returned. It was known that he had sent his wife a deed of the rancho; and that was the last she ever heard of him. Her daughter, according to her imperious decree, was to marry Ygnacio Pina, the heir of the neighbouring rancho. Dona Brigida anticipated no resistance, not only because her will had never been crossed, but because Pilar was the most docile of daughters. Pilar was Dona Concepcion's favourite pupil, and when at home spent her time reading, embroidering, or riding about the rancho, closely attended. She rarely talked, even to her mother. She paid not the slightest attention to Ygnacio's serenades, and greeted him with scant courtesy when he dashed up to the ranch-house in all the bravery of silk and fine lawn, silver and lace. But he knew the value of Dona Brigida as an ally, and was content to amuse himself elsewhere.

The girls passed their twenty-four hours of repressed energy as patiently as necessity compelled. Pilar, alone, lay impassive in her bed, rarely opening her eyes. The others groaned and sighed and rolled and bounced about; but they dared not speak, for stern Sister Augusta was in close attendance. When the last lagging minute had gone and they were bidden to rise, they sprang from the beds, flung on their clothes, and ran noisily down the long corridors to the refectory. Dona Concepcion stood at the door and greeted them with a forgiving smile. Pilar followed some moments later. There was something more than coldness in her eyes as she bent her head to the Lady Superior, who drew a quick breath.

"She feels that she has been humiliated, and she will not forgive," thought Dona Concepcion. "Ay de mi! And she may need my advice and protection. I should have known better than to have treated her like the rest."

After supper the girls went at once to the great sala of the convent, and sat in silence, with bent heads and folded hands and every appearance of prayerful revery.

It was Saturday evening, and the good priest of the Presidio church would come to confess them, that they might commune on the early morrow. They heard the loud bell of the convent gate, then the opening and shutting of several doors; and many a glance flashed up to the ceiling as the brain behind scurried the sins of the week together. It had been arranged that the six leading misdemeanants were to go first and receive much sound advice, before the old priest had begun to feel the fatigue of the confessional. The door opened, and Dona Concepcion stood on the threshold. Her face was whiter than usual, and her manner almost ruffled.

"It is Padre Dominguez," she said. "Padre Estudillo is ill. If—-if—any of you are tired, or do not wish to confess to the strange priest, you may go to bed."

Not a girl moved. Padre Dominguez was twenty-five and as handsome as the marble head of the young Augustus which stood on a shelf in the Governor's sala. During the year of his work in Monterey more than one of the older girls had met and talked with him; for he went into society, as became a priest, and holidays were not unfrequent. But, although he talked agreeably, it was a matter for comment that he loved books and illuminated manuscripts more than the world, and that he was as ambitious as his superior abilities justified.

"Very well," said Dona Concepcion, impatiently. "Eustaquia, go in."

Eustaquia made short work of her confession. She was followed by Elena, Lola, Mariana, and Amanda. When the last appeared for a moment at the door, then courtesied a good night and vanished, Dona Concepcion did not call the expected name, and several of the girls glanced up in surprise. Pilar raised her eyes at last and looked steadily at the Lady Superior. The blood rose slowly up the nun's white face, but she said carelessly:—

"Thou art tired, mijita, no? Wilt thou not go to bed?"

"Not without making my confession, if you will permit me."

"Very well; go."

Pilar left the room and closed the door behind her. Alone in the hall, she shook suddenly and twisted her hands together. But, although she could not conquer her agitation, she opened the door of the chapel resolutely and entered. The little arched whitewashed room was almost dark. A few candles burned on the altar, shadowing the gorgeous images of Virgin and saints. Pilar walked slowly down the narrow body of the chapel until she stood behind a priest who knelt beside a table with his back to the door. He wore the brown robes of the Franciscan, but his lean finely proportioned figure manifested itself through the shapeless garment. He looked less like a priest than a masquerading athlete. His face was hidden in his hands.

Pilar did not kneel. She stood immovable and silent, and in a moment it was evident that she had made her presence felt. The priest stirred uneasily. "Kneel, my daughter," he said. But he did not look up. Pilar caught his hands in hers and forced them down upon the table. The priest, throwing back his head in surprise, met the flaming glance of eyes that dreamed no longer. He sprang to his feet, snatching back his hands. "Dona Pilar!" he exclaimed.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse