Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The Doomswoman An Historical Romance of Old California online

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gasped Don Guillermo. "Thou little rat! Thou wouldst make a Christmas
doll of thyself with satin that is too heavy for thy grandmother, and
eke out thy dumpy inches with a train? Oh, Mother of God!" He turned
to the captain, who was smoking complacently, assured of the issue.
"I will let them carry these things home; but to-morrow one-half, at
least, comes back." And he stamped wrathfully down the deck.

"Send the rest," said Chonita to the captain, "and thou shalt have a
bag of gold to-night."

[Footnote A: In writing of Casa Grande and its inmates, no reference
to the distinguished De la Guerra family of Santa Barbara is intended,
beyond the description of their house and state and of the general
characteristics of the founder of the family fortunes in California.]


The next morning Chonita, clad in a long gown of white wool, a silver
cross at her throat, her hair arranged like a coronet, sat in a large
chair in the dispensary. Her father stood beside a table, parcelling
drugs. The sick-poor of Santa Barbara passed them in a long line.

The Doomswoman exercised her power to heal, the birthright of the

"I wonder if I can," she said to me, laying her white fingers on a
knotted arm, "or if it is my father's medicines. I have no right to
question this beautiful faith of my country, but I really don't see
how I do it. Still, I suppose it is like many things in our religion,
not for mere human beings to understand. This pleases my vanity, at
least. I wonder if I shall have cause to exercise my other endowment."

"To curse?"

"Yes: I think I might do that with something more of sincerity."

The men, women, and children, native Californians and Indians,
scrubbed for the occasion, filed slowly past her, and she touched all
kindly and bade them be well. They regarded her with adoring eyes and
bent almost to the ground.

"Perhaps they will help me out of purgatory," she said; "and it is
something to be on a pedestal; I should not like to come down. It is
a cheap victory, but so are most of the victories that the world knows

When she had touched nearly a hundred, they gathered about her, and
she spoke a few words to them.

"My friends, go, and say, 'I shall be well.' Does not the Bible say
that faith shall make ye whole? Cling to your faith! Believe! Believe!
Else will you feel as if the world crumbled beneath your feet!
And there is nothing, nothing to take its place. What folly, what
presumption, to suggest that anything can - a mortal passion - " She
stopped suddenly, and continued coldly, "Go, my friends; words do not
come easily to me to-day. Go, and God grant that you may be well and


We sat in the sala the next evening, awaiting the return of the
prodigal and his deliverer. The night was cool, and the doors were
closed; coals burned in a roof-tile. The room, unlike most Californian
salas, boasted a carpet, and the furniture was covered with green rep,
instead of the usual black horse-hair.

Don Guillermo patted the table gently with his open palm, accompanying
the tinkle of Prudencia's guitar and her light monotonous voice. She
sat on the edge of a chair, her solemn eyes fixed on a painting of
Reinaldo which hung on the wall. Doña Trinidad was sewing as usual,
and dressed as simply as if she looked to her daughter to maintain the
state of the Iturbi y Moncadas. Above a black silk skirt she wore a
black shawl, one end thrown over her shoulder. About her head was a
close black silk turban, concealing, with the exception of two soft
gray locks on either side of her face, what little hair she may still
have possessed. Her white face was delicately cut: the lines of time
indicated spiritual sweetness rather than strength.

Chonita roved between the sala and an adjoining room where four Indian
girls embroidered the yellow poppies on the white satin. I was reading
one of her books, - the "Vicar of Wakefield."

"Wilt thou be glad to see Reinaldo, my Prudencia?" asked Don
Guillermo, as the song finished.

"Ay!" and the girl blushed.

"Thou wouldst make a good wife for Reinaldo, and it is well that he
marry. It is true that he has a gay spirit and loves company, but you
shall live here in this house, and if he is not a devoted husband he
shall have no money to spend. It is time he became a married man and
learned that life was not made for dancing and flirting; then, too,
would his restless spirit get him into fewer broils. I have heard
him speak twice of no other woman, excepting Valencia Menendez, and I
would not have her for a daughter; and I think he loves thee."

"Sure!" said Doña Trinidad.

"That is love, I suppose," said Chonita, leaning back in her chair and
forgetting the poppies. "With her a placid contented hope, with him a
calm preference for a malleable woman. If he left her for another she
would cry for a week, then serenely marry whom my father bade her, and
forget Reinaldo in the _donas_ of the bridegroom. The birds do almost
as well."

Don Guillermo smiled indulgently. Prudencia did not know whether
to cry or not. Doña Trinidad, who never thought of replying to her
daughter, said, -

"Chonita mia, Liseta and Tomaso wish to marry, and thy father will
give them the little house by the creek."

"Yes, mamacita?" said Chonita, absently: she felt no interest in the
loves of the Indians.

"We have a new Father in the Mission," continued her mother,
remembering that she had not acquainted her daughter with all the
important events of her absence. "And Don Rafael Guzman's son was
drafted. That was a judgment for not marrying when his father bade
him. For that I shall be glad to have Reinaldo marry. I would not have
him go to the war to be killed."

"No," said Don Guillermo. "He must be a diputado to Mexico. I would
not lose my only son in battle. I am ambitious for him; and so art
thou, Chonita, for thy brother? Is it not so?"

"Yes. I have it in me to stab the heart of any man who rolls a stone
in his way."

"My daughter," said Don Guillermo, with the accent of duty rather than
of reproof, "thou must love without vengeance. Sustain thy brother,
but harm not his enemy. I would not have thee hate even an Estenega,
although I cannot love them myself. But we will not talk of the
Estenegas. Dost thou realize that our Reinaldo will be with us this
night? We must all go to confession to-morrow, - thy mother and myself,
Eustaquia, Reinaldo, Prudencia, and thyself."

Chonita's face became rigid. "I cannot go to confession," she said.
"It may be months before I can: perhaps never."


"Can one go to confession with a hating and an unforgiving heart? Ay!
that I never had gone to Monterey! At least I had the consolation of
my religion before. Now I fight the darkness by myself. Do not ask
me questions, for I shall not answer them. But taunt me no more with

Even Don Guillermo was dumb. In all the twenty-four years of her life
she never had betrayed violence of spirit before: even her hatred of
the Estenegas had been a religion rather than a personal feeling. It
was the first glimpse of her soul that she had accorded them, and they
were aghast. What - what had happened to this proud, reserved, careless
daughter of the Iturbi y Moncadas?

Doña Trinidad drew down her mouth. Prudencia began to cry. Then,
for the moment, Chonita was forgotten. Two horses galloped into the


The door had but an inside knob: Don Guillermo threw it open as a
young man sprang up the three steps of the corridor, followed by a
little man who carefully picked his way.

"Yes, I am here, my father, my mother, my sister, my Prudencia! Ay,
Eustaquia, thou too." And the pride of the house kissed each in turn,
his dark eyes wandering absently about the room. He was a dashing
caballero, and as handsome as any ever born in the Californias. The
dust of travel had been removed - at a saloon - from his blue velvet
gold-embroidered serape, which he immediately flung on the floor. His
short jacket and trousers were also of dark-blue velvet, the former
decorated with buttons of silver filigree, the latter laced with
silver cord over spotless linen. The front of his shirt was covered
with costly lace. His long botas were of soft yellow leather stamped
with designs in silver and gartered with blue ribbon. The clanking
spurs were of silver inlaid with gold. The sash, knotted gracefully
over his hip, was of white silk. His curled black hair was tied with a
blue ribbon, and clung, clustering and damp, about a low brow. He bore
a strange resemblance to Chonita, in spite of the difference of color,
but his eyes were merely large and brilliant: they had no stars in
their shallows. His mouth was covered by a heavy silken mustache, and
his profile was bold. At first glance he impressed one as a perfect
type of manly strength, aggressively decided of character. It was only
when he cast aside the wide sombrero - which, when worn a little
back, most becomingly framed his face - that one saw the narrow,
insignificant head.

For a time there was no conversation, only a series of exclamations.
Chonita alone was calm, smiling a loving welcome. In the excitement of
the first moments little notice was taken of the devoted bailer, who
ardently regarded Chonita.

Don Juan de la Borrasca was flouting his sixties, fighting for his
youth as a parent fights for its young. His withered little face wore
the complacent smile of vanity; his arched brows furnished him with a
supercilious expression which atoned for his lack of inches, - he was
barely five feet two. His large curved nose was also a compensating
gift from the godmother of dignity, and he carried himself so erectly
that he looked like a toy general. His small black eyes were bright
as glass beads, and his hair was ribboned as bravely as Reinaldo's. He
was clad in silk attire, - red silk embroidered with butterflies. His
little hands were laden with rings; carbuncles glowed in the lace of
his shirt. He was moderately wealthy, but a stanch retainer of the
house of Iturbi y Moncada, the devoted slave of Chonita.

She was the first to remember him, and held out her hand for him to
kiss. "Thou hast the gratitude of my heart, dear friend," she said,
as the little dandy curved over it. "I thank thee a thousand times for
bringing my brother back to me."

"Ay, Doña Chonita, thanks be to God and Mary that I was enabled so to
do. Had my mission proved unsuccessful I should have committed a crime
and gone to prison with him. Never would I have returned here. Dueño
adorado, ever at thy feet."

Chonita smiled kindly, but she was listening to her brother, who was
now expatiating upon his wrongs to a sympathetic audience.

"Holy heaven!" he exclaimed, striding up and down the room, "that an
Iturbi y Moncada, the descendant of twenty generations, should be put
to shame, to disgrace and humiliation, by being cast into a common
prison! That an ardent patriot, a loyal subject of Mexico, should be
accused of conspiring against the judgment of an Alvarado! Carillo was
my friend, and had his cause been a just one I had gone with him to
the gates of death or the chair of state. But could I, _I_, conspire
against a wise and great man like Juan Bautista Alvarado? No! not even
if Carillo had asked me so to do. But, by the stars of heaven, he
did not. I had been but the guest of his bounty for a month; and the
suspicious rascals who spied upon us, the poor brains who compose the
Departmental Junta, took it for granted that an Iturbi y Moncada could
not be blind to Carillo's plots and plans and intrigues, that, having
been the intimate of his house and table, I must perforce aid and abet
whatever schemes engrossed him. Ay, more often than frequently did
a dark surmise cross my mind, but I brushed it aside as one does the
prompting of evil desires. I would not believe that a Carillo would
plot, conspire, and rise again, after the terrible lesson he had
received in 1838. Alvarado holds California to his heart; Castro, the
Mars of the nineteenth century, hovers menacingly on the horizon. Who,
who, in sober reason, would defy that brace of frowning gods?"

His eloquence was cut short by respiratory interference, but he
continued to stride from one end of the room to the other, his
face flushed with excitement. Prudencia's large eyes followed him,
admiration paralyzing her tongue. Doña Trinidad smiled upward with
the self-approval of the modest barn-yard lady who has raised a
magnificent bantam. Don Guillermo applauded loudly. Only Chonita
turned away, the truth smiting her for the first time.

"Words! words!" she thought, bitterly. "_He_ would have said all that
in two sentences. Is it true - _ay, triste de mi!_ - what he said of my
brother? I hate him, yet his brain has cut mine and wedged there. My
head bows to him, even while all the Iturbi y Moncada in me arises to
curse him. But my brother! my brother! he is so much younger. And if
he had had the same advantages - those years in Mexico and America and
Europe - would he not know as much as Diego Estenega? Oh, sure! sure!"

"My son," Don Guillermo was saying, "God be thanked that thou didst
not merit thy imprisonment. I should have beaten thee with my cane and
locked thee in thy room for a month hadst thou disgraced my name.
But, as it happily is, thou must have compensation for unjust
treatment. - Prudencia, give me thy hand."

The girl rose, trembling and blushing, but crossed the room with
stately step and stood beside her uncle. Don Guillermo took her hand
and placed it in Reinaldo's. "Thou shalt have her, my son," he said.
"I have divined thy wishes."

Reinaldo kissed the small fingers fluttering in his, making a great
flourish. He was quite ready to marry, and his pliant little cousin
suited him better than any one he knew. "Day-star of my eyes!" he
exclaimed, "consolation of my soul! Memories of injustice, discomfort,
and sadness fall into the waters of oblivion rolling at thy feet. I
see neither past nor future. The rose-hued curtain of youth and hope
falls behind and before us."

"Yes, yes," assented Prudencia, delightedly. "My Reinaldo! my

We congratulated them severally and collectively, and, when the
ceremony was over, Reinaldo cried, with even more enthusiasm than he
had yet shown, "My mother, for the love of Mary give me something to
eat, - tamales, salad, chicken, dulces. Don Juan and I are as empty as

Doña Trinidad smiled with the pride of the Californian housewife. "It
is ready, my son. Come to the dining-room, no?"

She led the way, followed by the family, Reinaldo and Prudencia
lingering. As the others crossed the threshold he drew her back.

"A lump of tallow, dost thou hear, my Prudencia?" he whispered,
hurriedly. "Put it under the green bench. I must have it to-night."

"Ay! Reinaldo - "

"Do not refuse, my Prudencia, if thou lovest me. Wilt thou do it?"

"Sure, my Reinaldo."


The family retired early in its brief seasons of reclusion, and at ten
o'clock Casa Grande was dark and quiet. Reinaldo opened his door and
listened cautiously, then stepped softly to the green bench and felt
beneath for the lump of tallow. It was there. He returned to his room
and swung himself from his window into the yard, about which were
irregularly disposed the manufactories of the Indians, a high wall
protecting the small town. All was quiet here, and had been for hours.
He stole to the wooden tower and mounted a ladder, lifting it from
story to story until he reached the attic under the pointed roof. Then
he lit a candle, and, removing a board from the floor, peered down
into the room whose door was always so securely locked. The stars
shone through the uncurtained windows and were no yellower than the
gold coins heaped on the large table and overflowing the baskets.
Reinaldo took a long pole from a corner and applied to one end a piece
of the soft tallow. He lowered the pole and pressed it firmly into the
pile of gold on the table. The pole was withdrawn, and this ingenious
fisherman removed a large gold fish from the bait. He fished patiently
for an hour, then filled a bag he had brought for the purpose, and
returned as he had come. Not to his bed, however. Once more he opened
his door and stole forth, this time to the town, to hold high revel
around the gaming-table, where he was welcomed hilariously by his boon

A wild fandango in a neighboring booth provided relaxation for the
gamblers. In an hour or two Reinaldo found his way to this well-known
haven. Black-eyed dancing-girls in short skirts of tawdry satin
trimmed with cotton lace, mock jewels on their bare necks and in their
coarse black hair, flew about the room and screamed with delight as
Reinaldo flung gold pieces among them. The excitement continued in all
its variations until morning. Men bet and lost all the gold they had
brought with them, then sold horse, serape, and sombrero to the
men who neither drank nor gambled, but came prepared for close and
profitable bargains. Reinaldo lost his purloins, won them again, stood
upon the table and spoke with torrential eloquence of his wrongs and
virtues, kissed all the girls, and when by easy and rapid stages he
had succeeded in converting himself into a tank of aguardiente, he was
carried home and put to bed by such of his companions as were sober
enough to make no noise.


Chonita, clad in a black gown, walked slowly up and down the corridor
of Casa Grande. The rain should have dripped from the eaves, beaten
with heavy monotony upon the hard clay of the court-yard, to accompany
her mood, but it did not. The sky was blue without fleck of cloud, the
sun like the open mouth of a furnace of boiling gold, the air as warm
and sweet and drowsy as if it never had come in shock with human care.
Prudencia sat on the green bench, drawing threads in a fine linen
smock, her small face rosy with contentment.

"Why dost thou wear that black gown this beautiful morning?" she
demanded, suddenly. "And why dost thou walk when thou canst sit down?"

"I had a dream last night. Dost thou believe in dreams?" She had as
much regard for her cousin's opinion as for the twittering of a bird,
but she felt the necessity of speech at times, and at least this child
never remembered what she said.

"Sure, my Chonita. Did not I dream that the good captain would bring
pink silk stockings? and are they not my own this minute?" And she
thrust a diminutive foot from beneath the hem of her gown, regarding
it with admiration. "And did not I dream that Tomaso and Liseta would
marry? What was thy dream, my Chonita?"

"I do not know what the first part was; something very sad. All I
remember is the roar of the ocean and another roar like the wind
through high trees. Then a moment that shook and frightened me, but
sweeter than anything I know of, so I cannot define it. Then a swift
awful tragedy - I cannot recall the details of that, either. The whole
dream was like a black mass of clouds, cut now and again by a scythe
of lightning. But then, like a vision within a dream, I seemed to
stand there and see myself, clad in a black gown, walking up and
down this corridor, or one like it, up and down, up and down, never
resting, never daring to rest, lest I hear the ceaseless clatter of
a lonely fugitive's horse. When I awoke I was as cold as if I had
received the first shock of the surf. I cannot say why I put on this
black gown to-day. I make no haste to feel as I did when I wore it in
that dream, - the desolation, - the endlessness; but I did."

"That was a strange dream, my Chonita," said Prudencia, threading her
needle. "Thou must have eaten too many dulces for supper: didst thou?"

"No," said Chonita, shortly, "I did not."

She continued her aimless walk, wondering at her depression of
spirits. All her life she had felt a certain mental loneliness, but
a healthy body rarely harbors an invalid soul, and she had only to
spring on a horse and gallop over the hills to feel as happy as a
young animal. Moreover, the world - all the world she knew - was at her
feet; nor had she ever known the novelty of an ungratified wish. Once
in a while her father arose in an obdurate mood, but she had only to
coax, or threaten tears, - never had she been seen to shed one, - or
stamp her foot, to bring that doting parent to terms. It is true
that she had had her morbid moments, an abrupt impatient desire for
something that was not all light and pleasure and gold and adulation;
but, being a girl of will and sense, she had turned resolutely from
the troublous demands of her deeper soul, regarding them as coals
fallen from a mind that burned too hotly at times.

This morning, however, she let the blue waters rise, not so much
because they were stronger than her will, as because she wished to
understand what was the matter with her. She was filled with a dull
dislike of every one she had ever known, of every condition which
had surrounded her from birth. She felt a deep disgust of placid
contentment, of the mere enjoyment of sunshine and air. She recalled
drearily the clock-like revolutions of the year which brought
bull-fights, races, rodeos, church celebrations; her mother's
anecdotes of the Indians; her father's manifold interests, ever the
theme of his tongue; Reinaldo's grandiloquent accounts of his exploits
and intentions; Prudencia's infinite nothings. She hated the balls of
which she was La Favorita, the everlasting serenades, the whole life
of pleasure which made that period of California the most perfected
Arcadia the modern world has known. Some time during the past few
weeks the girl had crossed her hands over her breast and lain down in
her eternal tomb. The woman had arisen and come forth, blinded as yet
by the light, her hands thrust out gropingly.

"It is that man," she told herself, with angry frankness. "I had
not talked with him ten minutes before I felt as I do when the scene
changes suddenly in one of Shakespeare's plays, - as if I had been
flung like a meteor into a new world. I felt the necessity for mental
alertness for the first time in my life; always, before, I had striven
to conceal what I knew. The natural consequences, of course, were
first the desire to feel that stimulation again and again, then to
realize the littleness of everything but mental companionship. I have
read that people who begin with hate sometimes end with love; and if I
were a book woman I suppose I should in time love this man whom I now
so hate, even while I admire. But I am no lump of wax in the hands
of a writer of dreams. I am Chonita Iturbi y Moncada, and he is Diego
Estenega. I could no more love him than could the equator kiss the
poles. Only, much as I hate him, I wish I could see him again. He
knows so much more than any one else. I should like to talk to him,
to ask him many things. He has sworn to marry me." Her lip curled
scornfully, but a sudden glow rushed over her. "Had he not been an
Estenega, - yes, I could have loved him, - that calm, clear-sighted
love that is born of regard; not a whirlwind and a collapse, like most
love. I should like to sit with my hands in my lap and hear him talk
forever. And we cannot even be friends. It is a pity."

The girl's mind was like a splendid castle only one wing of which had
ever been illuminated. By the light of the books she had read, and
of acute observation in a little sphere, she strove to penetrate the
thick walls and carry the torch into broader halls and lofty towers.
But superstition, prejudice, bitter pride, inexperience of life,
conjoined their shoulders and barred the way. As Diego Estenega had
discerned, under the thick Old-World shell of inherited impressions
was a plastic being of all womanly possibilities. But so little did
she know of herself, so futile was her struggle in the dark with only
sudden flashes to blind her and distort all she saw, that with nothing
to shape that moulding kernel it would shrink and wither, and in a few
years she would be but a polished shell, perfect of proportion, hollow
at the core.

But if strong intellectual juices sank into that sweet, pliant kernel,
developing it into the perfected form of woman, establishing the
current between the brain and the passions, finishing the work, or
leaving it half completed, as Circumstance vouchsafed? - what then?

"Ay, Señor!" exclaimed Prudencia, as two people, mounted on horses
glistening with silver, galloped into the court-yard. "Valencia and

I came out of the sala at that moment and watched them alight: Adan,
that faithful, dog-like adorer, of whose kind every beautiful woman

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