Produced by David Reed
By Helen Hunt Jackson
IT was sheep-shearing time in Southern California, but sheep-shearing
was late at the Senora Moreno's. The Fates had seemed to combine to
put it off. In the first place, Felipe Moreno had been ill. He was the
Senora's eldest son, and since his father's death had been at the head
of his mother's house. Without him, nothing could be done on the ranch,
the Senora thought. It had been always, "Ask Senor Felipe," "Go to Senor
Felipe," "Senor Felipe will attend to it," ever since Felipe had had the
dawning of a beard on his handsome face.
In truth, it was not Felipe, but the Senora, who really decided all
questions from greatest to least, and managed everything on the place,
from the sheep-pastures to the artichoke-patch; but nobody except the
Senora herself knew this. An exceedingly clever woman for her day and
generation was Senora Gonzaga Moreno, - as for that matter, exceedingly
clever for any day and generation; but exceptionally clever for the day
and generation to which she belonged. Her life, the mere surface of it,
if it had been written, would have made a romance, to grow hot and
cold over: sixty years of the best of old Spain, and the wildest of New
Spain, Bay of Biscay, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, - the waves of them
all had tossed destinies for the Senora. The Holy Catholic Church had
had its arms round her from first to last; and that was what had brought
her safe through, she would have said, if she had ever said anything
about herself, which she never did, - one of her many wisdoms. So quiet,
so reserved, so gentle an exterior never was known to veil such an
imperious and passionate nature, brimful of storm, always passing
through stress; never thwarted, except at peril of those who did it;
adored and hated by turns, and each at the hottest. A tremendous force,
wherever she appeared, was Senora Moreno; but no stranger would suspect
it, to see her gliding about, in her scanty black gown, with her rosary
hanging at her side, her soft dark eyes cast down, and an expression of
mingled melancholy and devotion on her face. She looked simply like a
sad, spiritual-minded old lady, amiable and indolent, like her race, but
sweeter and more thoughtful than their wont. Her voice heightened this
mistaken impression. She was never heard to speak either loud or fast.
There was at times even a curious hesitancy in her speech, which came
near being a stammer, or suggested the measured care with which people
speak who have been cured of stammering. It made her often appear as if
she did not known her own mind; at which people sometimes took heart;
when, if they had only known the truth, they would have known that the
speech hesitated solely because the Senora knew her mind so exactly that
she was finding it hard to make the words convey it as she desired, or
in a way to best attain her ends.
About this very sheep-shearing there had been, between her and the head
shepherd, Juan Canito, called Juan Can for short, and to distinguish him
from Juan Jose, the upper herdsman of the cattle, some discussions which
would have been hot and angry ones in any other hands than the Senora's.
Juan Canito wanted the shearing to begin, even though Senor Felipe were
ill in bed, and though that lazy shepherd Luigo had not yet got back
with the flock that had been driven up the coast for pasture.
"There were plenty of sheep on the place to begin with," he said one
morning, - "at least a thousand;" and by the time they were done, Luigo
would surely be back with the rest; and as for Senor Felipe's being in
bed, had not he, Juan Canito, stood at the packing-bag, and handled the
wool, when Senor Felipe was a boy? Why could he not do it again? The
Senora did not realize how time was going; there would be no shearers
to be hired presently, since the Senora was determined to have none
but Indians. Of course, if she would employ Mexicans, as all the other
ranches in the valley did, it would be different; but she was resolved
upon having Indians, - "God knows why," he interpolated surlily, under
"I do not quite understand you, Juan," interrupted Senora Moreno at the
precise instant the last syllable of this disrespectful ejaculation had
escaped Juan's lips; "speak a little louder. I fear I am growing deaf in
my old age."
What gentle, suave, courteous tones! and the calm dark eyes rested on
Juan Canito with a look to the fathoming of which he was as unequal
as one of his own sheep would have been. He could not have told why he
instantly and involuntarily said, "Beg your pardon, Senora."
"Oh, you need not ask my pardon, Juan," the Senora replied with
exquisite gentleness; "it is not you who are to blame, if I am deaf. I
have fancied for a year I did not hear quite as well as I once did.
But about the Indians, Juan; did not Senor Felipe tell you that he
had positively engaged the same band of shearers we had last autumn,
Alessandro's band from Temecula? They will wait until we are ready for
them. Senor Felipe will send a messenger for them. He thinks them the
best shearers in the country. He will be well enough in a week or two,
he thinks, and the poor sheep must bear their loads a few days longer.
Are they looking well, do you think, Juan? Will the crop be a good one?
General Moreno used to say that you could reckon up the wool-crop to a
pound, while it was on the sheep's backs."
"Yes, Senora," answered the mollified Juan; "the poor beasts look
wonderfully well considering the scant feed they have had all winter.
We'll not come many pounds short of our last year's crop, if any.
Though, to be sure, there is no telling in what case that - Luigo will
bring his flock back."
The Senora smiled, in spite of herself, at the pause and gulp with which
Juan had filled in the hiatus where he had longed to set a contemptuous
epithet before Luigo's name.
This was another of the instances where the Senora's will and Juan
Canito's had clashed and he did not dream of it, having set it all down
as usual to the score of young Senor Felipe.
Encouraged by the Senora's smile, Juan proceeded: "Senor Felipe can see
no fault in Luigo, because they were boys together; but I can tell him,
he will rue it, one of these mornings, when he finds a flock of sheep
worse than dead on his hands, and no thanks to anybody but Luigo. While
I can have him under my eye, here in the valley, it is all very well;
but he is no more fit to take responsibility of a flock, than one of
the very lambs themselves. He'll drive them off their feet one day, and
starve them the next; and I've known him to forget to give them water.
When he's in his dreams, the Virgin only knows what he won't do."
During this brief and almost unprecedented outburst of Juan's the
Senora's countenance had been slowly growing stern. Juan had not seen
it. His eyes had been turned away from her, looking down into the
upturned eager face of his favorite collie, who was leaping and
gambolling and barking at his feet.
"Down, Capitan, down!" he said in a fond tone, gently repulsing him;
"thou makest such a noise the Senora can hear nothing but thy voice."
"I heard only too distinctly, Juan Canito," said the Senora in a sweet
but icy tone. "It is not well for one servant to backbite another.
It gives me great grief to hear such words; and I hope when Father
Salvierderra comes, next month, you will not forget to confess this sin
of which you have been guilty in thus seeking to injure a fellow-being.
If Senor Felipe listens to you, the poor boy Luigo will be cast out
homeless on the world some day; and what sort of a deed would that be,
Juan Canito, for one Christian to do to another? I fear the Father will
give you penance, when he hears what you have said."
"Senora, it is not to harm the lad," Juan began, every fibre of his
faithful frame thrilling with a sense of the injustice of her reproach.
But the Senora had turned her back. Evidently she would hear no more
from him then. He stood watching her as she walked away, at her usual
slow pace, her head slightly bent forward, her rosary lifted in her left
hand, and the fingers of the right hand mechanically slipping the beads.
"Prayers, always prayers!" thought Juan to himself, as his eyes followed
her. "If they'll take one to heaven, the Senora'll go by the straight
road, that's sure! I'm sorry I vexed her. But what's a man to do, if
he's the interest of the place at heart, I'd like to know. Is he to
stand by, and see a lot of idle mooning louts run away with everything?
Ah, but it was an ill day for the estate when the General died, - an ill
day! an ill day! And they may scold me as much as they please, and set
me to confessing my sins to the Father; it's very well for them, they've
got me to look after matters. Senor Felipe will do well enough when he's
a man, maybe; but a boy like him! Bah!" And the old man stamped his
foot with a not wholly unreasonable irritation, at the false position in
which he felt himself put.
"Confess to Father Salvierderra, indeed!" he muttered aloud. "Ay, that
will I. He's a man of sense, if he is a priest," - at which slip of the
tongue the pious Juan hastily crossed himself, - "and I'll ask him to
give me some good advice as to how I'm to manage between this young boy
at the head of everything, and a doting mother who thinks he has the
wisdom of a dozen grown men. The Father knew the place in the olden
time. He knows it's no child's play to look after the estate even now,
much smaller as it is! An ill day when the old General died, an ill
day indeed, the saints rest his soul!" Saying this, Juan shrugged his
shoulders, and whistling to Capitan, walked towards the sunny veranda of
the south side of the kitchen wing of the house, where it had been for
twenty odd years his habit to sit on the long bench and smoke his pipe
of a morning. Before he had got half-way across the court-yard, however,
a thought struck him. He halted so suddenly that Capitan, with the quick
sensitiveness of his breed, thought so sudden a change of purpose could
only come from something in connection with sheep; and, true to his
instinct of duty, pricked up his ears, poised himself for a full run,
and looked up in his master's face waiting for explanation and signal.
But Juan did not observe him.
"Ha!" he said, "Father Salvierderra comes next month, does he? Let's
see. To-day is the 25th. That's it. The sheep-shearing is not to come
off till the Father gets here. Then each morning it will be mass in the
chapel, and each night vespers; and the crowd will be here at least
two days longer to feed, for the time they will lose by that and by
the confessions. That's what Senor Felipe is up to. He's a pious lad.
I recollect now, it was the same way two years ago. Well, well, it is a
good thing for those poor Indian devils to get a bit of religion now and
then; and it's like old times to see the chapel full of them kneeling,
and more than can get in at the door; I doubt not it warms the Senora's
heart to see them all there, as if they belonged to the house, as
they used to: and now I know when it's to be, I have only to make my
arrangements accordingly. It is always in the first week of the month
the Father gets here. Yes; she said, 'Senor Felipe will be well enough
in a week or two, he thinks.' Ha! ha! It will be nearer two; ten days or
thereabouts. I'll begin the booths next week. A plague on that Luigo for
not being back here. He's the best hand I have to cut the willow boughs
for the roofs. He knows the difference between one year's growth and
another's; I'll say that much for him, spite of the silly dreaming head
he's got on his shoulders."
Juan was so pleased with his clearing up in his mind as to Senor
Felipe's purpose about the time of the sheep-shearing, that it put him
in good humor for the day, - good humor with everybody, and himself most
of all. As he sat on the low bench, his head leaning back against the
whitewashed wall, his long legs stretched out nearly across the whole
width of the veranda, his pipe firm wedged in the extreme left corner
of his mouth, his hands in his pockets, he was the picture of placid
content. The troop of youngsters which still swarmed around the kitchen
quarters of Senora Moreno's house, almost as numerous and inexplicable
as in the grand old days of the General's time, ran back and forth
across Juan's legs, fell down between them, and picked themselves up by
help of clutches at his leather trousers, all unreproved by Juan, though
loudly scolded and warned by their respective mothers from the kitchen.
"What's come to Juan Can to be so good-natured to-day?" saucily asked
Margarita, the youngest and prettiest of the maids, popping her head out
of a window, and twitching Juan's hair. He was so gray and wrinkled
that the maids all felt at ease with him. He seemed to them as old as
Methuselah; but he was not really so old as they thought, nor they so
safe in their tricks. The old man had hot blood in his veins yet, as the
under-shepherds could testify.
"The sight of your pretty face, Senorita Margarita," answered Juan
quickly, cocking his eye at her, rising to his feet, and making a mock
bow towards the window.
"He! he! Senorita, indeed!" chuckled Margarita's mother, old Marda the
cook. "Senor Juan Canito is pleased to be merry at the doors of his
betters;" and she flung a copper saucepan full of not over-clean water
so deftly past Juan's head, that not a drop touched him, and yet he had
the appearance of having been ducked. At which bit of sleight-of-hand
the whole court-yard, young and old, babies, cocks, hens, and turkeys,
all set up a shout and a cackle, and dispersed to the four corners of
the yard as if scattered by a volley of bird-shot. Hearing the racket,
the rest of the maids came running, - Anita and Maria, the twins, women
forty years old, born on the place the year after General Moreno brought
home his handsome young bride; their two daughters, Rosa and Anita the
Little, as she was still called, though she outweighed her mother; old
Juanita, the oldest woman in the household, of whom even the Senora was
said not to know the exact age or history; and she, poor thing, could
tell nothing, having been silly for ten years or more, good for nothing
except to shell beans: that she did as fast and well as ever, and was
never happy except she was at it. Luckily for her, beans are the one
crop never omitted or stinted on a Mexican estate; and for sake of old
Juanita they stored every year in the Moreno house, rooms full of beans
in the pod (tons of them, one would think), enough to feed an army. But
then, it was like a little army even now, the Senora's household; nobody
ever knew exactly how many women were in the kitchen, or how many men
in the fields. There were always women cousins, or brother's wives or
widows or daughters, who had come to stay, or men cousins, or sister's
husbands or sons, who were stopping on their way up or down the valley.
When it came to the pay-roll, Senor Felipe knew to whom he paid wages;
but who were fed and lodged under his roof, that was quite another
thing. It could not enter into the head of a Mexican gentleman to make
either count or account of that. It would be a disgraceful niggardly
To the Senora it seemed as if there were no longer any people about the
place. A beggarly handful, she would have said, hardly enough to do the
work of the house, or of the estate, sadly as the latter had dwindled.
In the General's day, it had been a free-handed boast of his that never
less than fifty persons, men, women and children, were fed within his
gates each day; how many more, he did not care, nor know. But that time
had indeed gone, gone forever; and though a stranger, seeing the sudden
rush and muster at door and window, which followed on old Marda's
letting fly the water at Juan's head, would have thought, "Good heavens,
do all those women, children, and babies belong in that one house!" the
Senora's sole thought, as she at that moment went past the gate, was,
"Poor things! how few there are left of them! I am afraid old Marda has
to work too hard. I must spare Margarita more from the house to help
her." And she sighed deeply, and unconsciously held her rosary nearer to
her heart, as she went into the house and entered her son's bedroom. The
picture she saw there was one to thrill any mother's heart; and as it
met her eye, she paused on the threshold for a second, - only a second,
however; and nothing could have astonished Felipe Moreno so much as to
have been told that at the very moment when his mother's calm voice was
saying to him, "Good morning, my son, I hope you have slept well, and
are better," there was welling up in her heart a passionate ejaculation,
"O my glorious son! The saints have sent me in him the face of his
father! He is fit for a kingdom!"
The truth is, Felipe Moreno was not fit for a kingdom at all. If he had
been, he would not have been so ruled by his mother without ever finding
it out. But so far as mere physical beauty goes, there never was a
king born, whose face, stature, and bearing would set off a crown or a
throne, or any of the things of which the outside of royalty is made up,
better than would Felipe Moreno's. And it was true, as the Senora said,
whether the saints had anything to do with it or not, that he had the
face of his father. So strong a likeness is seldom seen. When Felipe
once, on the occasion of a grand celebration and procession, put on the
gold-wrought velvet mantle, gayly embroidered short breeches fastened at
the knee with red ribbons, and gold-and-silver-trimmed sombrero, which
his father had worn twenty-five years before, the Senora fainted at her
first look at him, - fainted and fell; and when she opened her eyes, and
saw the same splendid, gayly arrayed, dark-bearded man, bending over her
in distress, with words of endearment and alarm, she fainted again.
"Mother, mother mia," cried Felipe, "I will not wear them if it makes
you feel like this! Let me take them off. I will not go to their cursed
parade;" and he sprang to his feet, and began with trembling fingers to
unbuckle the sword-belt.
"No, no, Felipe," faintly cried the Senora, from the ground. "It is my
wish that you wear them;" and staggering to her feet, with a burst of
tears, she rebuckled the old sword-belt, which her fingers had so many
times - never unkissed - buckled, in the days when her husband had bade
her farewell and gone forth to the uncertain fates of war. "Wear
them!" she cried, with gathering fire in her tones, and her eyes dry
of tears, - "wear them, and let the American hounds see what a Mexican
officer and gentleman looked like before they had set their base,
usurping feet on our necks!" And she followed him to the gate, and stood
erect, bravely waving her handkerchief as he galloped off, till he was
out of sight. Then with a changed face and a bent head she crept slowly
to her room, locked herself in, fell on her knees before the Madonna at
the head of her bed, and spent the greater part of the day praying that
she might be forgiven, and that all heretics might be discomfited. From
which part of these supplications she derived most comfort is easy to
Juan Canito had been right in his sudden surmise that it was for Father
Salvierderra's coming that the sheep-shearing was being delayed, and not
in consequence of Senor Felipe's illness, or by the non-appearance of
Luigo and his flock of sheep. Juan would have chuckled to himself still
more at his perspicacity, had he overheard the conversation going on
between the Senora and her son, at the very time when he, half asleep
on the veranda, was, as he would have called it, putting two and two
together and convincing himself that old Juan was as smart as they were,
and not to be kept in the dark by all their reticence and equivocation.
"Juan Can is growing very impatient about the sheep-shearing," said
the Senora. "I suppose you are still of the same mind about it,
Felipe, - that it is better to wait till Father Salvierderra comes? As
the only chance those Indians have of seeing him is here, it would seem
a Christian duty to so arrange it, if it be possible; but Juan is very
restive. He is getting old, and chafes a little, I fancy, under your
control. He cannot forget that you were a boy on his knee. Now I, for my
part, am like to forget that you were ever anything but a man for me to
Felipe turned his handsome face toward his mother with a beaming smile
of filial affection and gratified manly vanity. "Indeed, my mother, if
I can be sufficient for you to lean on, I will ask nothing more of the
saints;" and he took his mother's thin and wasted little hands, both at
once, in his own strong right hand, and carried them to his lips as a
lover might have done. "You will spoil me, mother," he said, "you make
me so proud."
"No, Felipe, it is I who am proud," promptly replied the mother; "and I
do not call it being proud, only grateful to God for having given me
a son wise enough to take his father's place, and guide and protect me
through the few remaining years I have to live. I shall die content,
seeing you at the head of the estate, and living as a Mexican gentleman
should; that is, so far as now remains possible in this unfortunate
country. But about the sheep-shearing, Felipe. Do you wish to have it
begun before the Father is here? Of course, Alessandro is all ready
with his band. It is but two days' journey for a messenger to bring
him. Father Salvierderra cannot be here before the 10th of the month. He
leaves Santa Barbara on the 1st, and he will walk all the way, - a good
six days' journey, for he is old now and feeble; then he must stop
in Ventura for a Sunday, and a day at the Ortega's ranch, and at the
Lopez's, - there, there is a christening. Yes, the 10th is the very
earliest that he can be here, - near two weeks from now. So far as your
getting up is concerned, it might perhaps be next week. You will be
nearly well by that time."
"Yes, indeed," laughed Felipe, stretching himself out in the bed and
giving a kick to the bedclothes that made the high bedposts and the
fringed canopy roof shake and creak; "I am well now, if it were not for
this cursed weakness when I stand on my feet. I believe it would do me
good to get out of doors."
In truth, Felipe had been hankering for the sheep-shearing himself. It
was a brisk, busy, holiday sort of time to him, hard as he worked in it;
and two weeks looked long to wait.
"It is always thus after a fever," said his mother. "The weakness lasts
many weeks. I am not sure that you will be strong enough even in two
weeks to do the packing; but, as Juan Can said this morning, he stood
at the packing-bag when you were a boy, and there was no need of waiting
for you for that!"
"He said that, did he!" exclaimed Felipe, wrathfully. "The old man is
getting insolent. I'll tell him that nobody will pack the sacks but
myself, while I am master here; and I will have the sheep-shearing when
I please, and not before."
"I suppose it would not be wise to say that it is not to take place till
the Father comes, would it?" asked the Senora, hesitatingly, as if the
thing were evenly balanced in her mind. "The Father has not that hold
on the younger men he used to have, and I have thought that even in
Juan himself I have detected a remissness. The spirit of unbelief is
spreading in the country since the Americans are running up and down
everywhere seeking money, like dogs with their noses to the ground! It
might vex Juan if he knew that you were waiting only for the Father.
What do you think?"
"I think it is enough for him to know that the sheep-shearing waits for
my pleasure," answered Felipe, still wrathful, "and that is the end of
it." And so it was; and, moreover, precisely the end which Senora Moreno
had had in her own mind from the beginning; but not even Juan Canito
himself suspected its being solely her purpose, and not her son's. As
for Felipe, if any person had suggested to him that it was his mother,
and not he, who had decided that the sheep-shearing would be better
deferred until the arrival of Father Salvierderra from Santa Barbara,
and that nothing should be said on the ranch about this being the real
reason of the postponing, Felipe would have stared in astonishment, and
have thought that person either crazy or a fool.
To attain one's ends in this way is the consummate triumph of art. Never
to appear as a factor in the situation; to be able to wield other men,
as instruments, with the same direct and implicit response to will that