Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The Splendid Idle Forties Stories of Old California online

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"Ay, señorita, but thou art cruel! Does no man please thee?"

"_Men_ please me. How tiresome to dance with a woman!"

"And that is all the use thou hast for us? For us who would die for
thee?"

"In a barrel of aguardiente? I prefer thee to dance with. To tell the
truth, thy step suits mine."

"Ay, señorita mia! thou canst put honey on thy tongue. God of my life,
señorita - I fling my heart at thy feet!"

"I fear to break it, señor, for I have faith that it is made of thin
glass. It would cut my feet. I like better this smooth floor. Who is
that standing by the window? He has not danced to-night?"

"Don Pablo Ignestria of Monterey. He says the women of San Luis are not
half so beautiful nor so elegant as the women of Monterey; he says they
are too dark and too small. He does not wish to dance with any one; nor
do any of the girls wish to dance with him. They are very angry."

"I wish to dance with him. Bring him to me."

"But, señorita, I tell thee thou wouldst not like him. Holy heaven! Why
do those eyes flash so? Thou lookest as if thou wouldst fight with thy
little fists."

"Bring him to me."

Don Carmelo walked obediently over to Don Pablo, although burning with
jealousy.

"Señor, at your service," he said. "I wish to introduce you to the most
charming señorita in the room."

"Which?" asked Ignestria, incuriously.

Don Carmelo indicated Eulogia with a grand sweep of his hand.

"That little thing? Why, there are a dozen prettier girls in the room
than she, and I have not cared to meet any of them!"

"But she has commanded me to take you to her, señor, and - look at the
men crowding about her - do you think I dare to disobey?"

The stranger's dark gray eyes became less insensible. He was a handsome
man, with a tall figure, and a smooth strong face; but about him hung
the indolence of the Californian.

"Very well," he said, "take me to her."

He asked her to dance, and after a waltz Eulogia said she was tired, and
they sat down within a proper distance of Doña Pomposa's eagle eye.

"What do you think of the women of San Luis Obispo?" asked Eulogia,
innocently. "Are not they handsome?"

"They are not to be compared with the women of Monterey - since you ask
me."

"Because they find the men of San Luis more gallant than the Señor Don
Pablo Ignestria!"

"Do they? One, I believe, asked to have me introduced to her!"

"True, señor. I wished to meet you that you might fall in love with me,
and that the ladies of San Luis might have their vengeance."

He stared at her.

"Truly, señorita, but you do not hide your cards. And why, then, should
I fall in love with you?"

"Because I am different from the women of Monterey."

"A good reason why I should not. I have been in every town in
California, and I admire no women but those of my city."

"And because you will hate me first."

"And if I hate you, how can I love you?"

"It is the same. You hate one woman and love another. Each is the same
passion, only to a different person out goes a different side. Let the
person loved or hated change his nature, and the passion will change."

He looked at her with more interest.

"In truth I think I shall begin with love and end with hate, señorita.
But that wisdom was not born in your little head; for sixteen years, I
think, have not sped over it, no? It went in, if I mistake not, through
those bright eyes."

"Yes, señor, that is true. I am not content to be just like other girls
of sixteen. I want to _know_ - _to know._ Have you ever read any books,
señor?"

"Many." He looked at her with a lively interest now. "What ones have you
read?"

"Only the beautiful romances of the Señor Dumas. I have seen no others,
for there are not many books in San Luis. Have you read others?"

"A great many others. Two wonderful Spanish books - 'Don Quixote de la
Mancha' and 'Gil Blas,' and the romances of Sir Waltere Scote - a man of
England, and some lives of famous men, señorita. A great man lent them
to me - the greatest of our Governors - Alvarado."

"And you will lend them to me?" cried Eulogia, forgetting her coquetry,
"I want to read them."

"Aha! Those cool eyes can flash. That even little voice can break in
two. By the holy Evangelists, señorita, thou shalt have every book I
possess."

"Will the Señorita Doña Eulogia favour us with a song?"

Don Carmelo was bowing before her, a guitar in his hand, his wrathful
eyes fixed upon Don Pablo.

"Yes," said Eulogia.

She took the guitar and sang a love-song in a manner which can best be
described as no manner at all; her expression never changed, her voice
never warmed. At first the effect was flat, then the subtle fascination
of it grew until the very memory of impassioned tones was florid and
surfeiting. When she finished, Ignestria's heart was hammering upon the
steel in which he fancied he had prisoned it.


IV

"Well," said Eulogia to Padre Moraga two weeks later, "am I not La
Favorita?"

"Thou art, thou little coquette. Thou hast a power over men which thou
must use with discretion, my Eulogia. Tell thy beads three times a day
and pray that thou mayest do no harm."

"I wish to do harm, my father, for men have broken the hearts of women
for ages - "

"Chut, chut, thou baby! Men are not so black as they are painted. Harm
no one, and the world will be better that thou hast lived in it."

"If I scratch, fewer women will be scratched," and she raised her
shoulders beneath the flowered muslin of her gown, swung her guitar
under her arm, and walked down the grove, the silver leaves shining
above her smoky hair.

The padre had bidden all the young people of the upper class to a picnic
in the old mission garden. Girls in gay muslins and silk rebosos were
sitting beneath the arches of the corridor or flitting under the trees
where the yellow apricots hung among the green leaves. Languid and
sparkling faces coquetted with caballeros in bright calico jackets and
knee-breeches laced with silken cord, their slender waists girt with
long sashes hanging gracefully over the left hip. The water rilled in
the winding creek, the birds carolled in the trees; but above all rose
the sound of light laughter and sweet strong voices.

They took their dinner behind the arches, at a table the length of the
corridor, and two of the young men played the guitar and sang, whilst
the others delighted their keen palates with the goods the padre had
provided.

Don Pablo sat by Eulogia, a place he very often managed to fill; but he
never had seen her for a moment alone.

"I must go soon, Eulogia," he murmured, as the voices waxed louder.
"Duty calls me back to Monterey."

"I am glad to know thou hast a sense of thy duty."

"Nothing but that would take me away from San Luis Obispo. But both my
mother and - and - a dear friend are ill, and wish to see me."

"Thou must go to-night. How canst thou eat and be gay when thy mother
and - and - a dear friend are ill?"

"Ay, Eulogia! wouldst thou scoff over my grave? I go, but it is for thee
to say if I return."

"Do not tell me that thou adorest me here at the table. I shall blush,
and all will be about my smarting ears like the bees down in the padre's
hive."

"I shall not tell thee that before all the world, Eulogia. All I ask
is this little favour: I shall send thee a letter the night I leave.
Promise me that thou wilt answer it - to Monterey."

"No, sir! Long ago, when I was twelve, I made a vow I would never write
to a man. I never break that vow."

"Thou wilt break it for me, Eulogia."

"And why for you, señor? Half the trouble in the world has been made on
paper."

"Oh, thou wise one! What trouble can a piece of paper make when it lies
on a man's heart?"

"It can crackle when another head lies on it."

"No head will ever lie here but - "

"Mine?"

"Eulogia!"

"To thee, Señorita Doña Eulogia," cried a deep voice. "May the jewels in
thine eyes shine by the stars when thou art above them. May the tears
never dim them while they shine for us below," and a caballero pushed
back his chair, leaned forward, and touched her glass with his, then
went down on one knee and drank the red wine.

Eulogia threw him a little absent smile, sipped her wine, and went on
talking to Ignestria in her soft monotonous voice.

"My friend - Graciosa La Cruz - went a few weeks ago to Monterey for a
visit. You will tell her I think of her, no?"

"I will dance with her often because she is your friend - until I return
to San Luis Obispo."

"Will that be soon, señor?"

"I told thee that would be as soon as thou wished. Thou wilt answer my
letter - promise me, Eulogia."

"I will not, señor. I intend to be wiser than other women. At the very
least, my follies shall not burn paper. If you want an answer, you will
return."

"I will _not_ return without that answer. I never can see thee alone,
and if I could, thy coquetry would not give me a plain answer. I must
see it on paper before I will believe."

"Thou canst wait for the day of resurrection for thy knowledge, then!"


V

Once more Aunt Anastacia rolled her large figure through Eulogia's
doorway and handed her a letter.

"From Don Pablo Ignestria, my baby," she said. "Oh, what a man! what a
caballero! And so smart. He waited an hour by the creek in the mission
gardens until he saw thy mother go out, and then he brought the note to
me. He begged to see thee, but I dared not grant that, niñita, for thy
mother will be back in ten minutes."

"Go downstairs and keep my mother there," commanded Eulogia, and Aunt
Anastacia rolled off, whilst her niece with unwonted nervousness opened
the letter.

"Sweet of my soul! Day-star of my life! I dare not speak to thee of love
because, strong man as I am, still am I a coward before those mocking
eyes. Therefore if thou laugh the first time thou readest that I love
thee, I shall not see it, and the second time thou mayest be more kind.
Beautiful and idolized Eulogia, men have loved thee, but never will be
cast at thy little feet a heart stronger or truer than mine. Ay, dueño
adorada, I love thee! Without hope? No! I believe that thou lovest me,
thou cold little one, although thou dost not like to think that the
heart thou hast sealed can open to let love in. But, Eulogia! Star of my
eyes! I love thee so I will break that heart in pieces, and give thee
another so soft and warm that it will beat all through the old house to
which I will take thee. For thou wilt come to me, thou little coquette?
Thou wilt write to me to come back and stand with thee in the mission
while the good padre asks the saints to bless us? Eulogia, thou hast
sworn thou wilt write to no man, but thou wilt write to me, my little
one. Thou wilt not break the heart that lives in thine.

"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 Doña Coquetta, and
she was cooler, calmer, and more audacious than ever.

"Dost thou never intend to marry?" demanded Doña 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 Castañares 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." Doña 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 Doña Jacoba on her knees to forgive her, and they did, and
were glad to do it. Doña 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 Castañares. 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 Señor Dumas says that a woman's instincts - "

"To perdition with Señor 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. Doña 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, señor! Why have you come to dazzle
the eyes of the poor girls of San Luis Obispo?"

"Ah, señorita," 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, señor, 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,
señorita; a lonely man in a strange land."

"Is that the reason why you are such a traveller, señor? 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, señor."

"True, dear señorita. 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. Doña 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 cañon, 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
Doña Pomposa's view.

"Dear señorita," 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, señor - 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 Doña Pomposa and Doña Anastacia!"

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

"Oh, yes, Doña 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, señor?"

He looked at her steadily. "Gold, señorita. I know of many rich veins.
I have a little cañon 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,
señorita."

"In truth I should like the gold better than yourself, señor," 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 cañon 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.

Doña 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 Doña Pomposa, as she drew on a
pair of Doña 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


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