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one gets from a hand or a foot, - this is to triumph, indeed: to be as
nearly controller and conqueror of Fates as fate permits. There have
been men prominent in the world's affairs at one time and another, who
have sought and studied such a power and have acquired it to a
great degree. By it they have manipulated legislators, ambassadors,
sovereigns; and have grasped, held, and played with the destinies
of empires. But it is to be questioned whether even in these notable
instances there has ever been such marvellous completeness of success
as is sometimes seen in the case of a woman in whom the power is an
instinct and not an attainment; a passion rather than a purpose.
Between the two results, between the two processes, there is just that
difference which is always to be seen between the stroke of talent and
the stroke of genius.

Senora Moreno's was the stroke of genius.


THE Senora Moreno's house was one of the best specimens to be found
in California of the representative house of the half barbaric, half
elegant, wholly generous and free-handed life led there by Mexican men
and women of degree in the early part of this century, under the rule of
the Spanish and Mexican viceroys, when the laws of the Indies were still
the law of the land, and its old name, "New Spain," was an ever-present
link and stimulus to the warmest memories and deepest patriotisms of its

It was a picturesque life, with more of sentiment and gayety in it, more
also that was truly dramatic, more romance, than will ever be seen
again on those sunny shores. The aroma of it all lingers there still;
industries and inventions have not yet slain it; it will last out its
century, - in fact, it can never be quite lost, so long as there is left
standing one such house as the Senora Moreno's.

When the house was built, General Moreno owned all the land within a
radius of forty miles, - forty miles westward, down the valley to the
sea; forty miles eastward, into the San Fernando Mountains; and good
forty miles more or less along the coast. The boundaries were not very
strictly defined; there was no occasion, in those happy days, to reckon
land by inches. It might be asked, perhaps, just how General Moreno
owned all this land, and the question might not be easy to answer. It
was not and could not be answered to the satisfaction of the United
States Land Commission, which, after the surrender of California,
undertook to sift and adjust Mexican land titles; and that was the
way it had come about that the Senora Moreno now called herself a poor
woman. Tract after tract, her lands had been taken away from her; it
looked for a time as if nothing would be left. Every one of the claims
based on deeds of gift from Governor Pio Fico, her husband's most
intimate friend, was disallowed. They all went by the board in one
batch, and took away from the Senora in a day the greater part of
her best pasture-lands. They were lands which had belonged to the
Bonaventura Mission, and lay along the coast at the mouth of the valley
down which the little stream which ran past her house went to the sea;
and it had been a great pride and delight to the Senora, when she was
young, to ride that forty miles by her husband's side, all the way on
their own lands, straight from their house to their own strip of shore.
No wonder she believed the Americans thieves, and spoke of them always
as hounds. The people of the United States have never in the least
realized that the taking possession of California was not only a
conquering of Mexico, but a conquering of California as well; that the
real bitterness of the surrender was not so much to the empire which
gave up the country, as to the country itself which was given up.
Provinces passed back and forth in that way, helpless in the hands of
great powers, have all the ignominy and humiliation of defeat, with none
of the dignities or compensations of the transaction.

Mexico saved much by her treaty, spite of having to acknowledge herself
beaten; but California lost all. Words cannot tell the sting of such
a transfer. It is a marvel that a Mexican remained in the country;
probably none did, except those who were absolutely forced to it.

Luckily for the Senora Moreno, her title to the lands midway in the
valley was better than to those lying to the east and the west, which
had once belonged to the missions of San Fernando and Bonaventura;
and after all the claims, counter-claims, petitions, appeals, and
adjudications were ended, she still was left in undisputed possession of
what would have been thought by any new-comer into the country to be a
handsome estate, but which seemed to the despoiled and indignant Senora
a pitiful fragment of one. Moreover, she declared that she should never
feel secure of a foot of even this. Any day, she said, the United States
Government might send out a new Land Commission to examine the decrees
of the first, and revoke such as they saw fit. Once a thief, always a
thief. Nobody need feel himself safe under American rule. There was
no knowing what might happen any day; and year by year the lines of
sadness, resentment, anxiety, and antagonism deepened on the Senora's
fast aging face.

It gave her unspeakable satisfaction, when the Commissioners, laying out
a road down the valley, ran it at the back of her house instead of
past the front. "It is well," she said. "Let their travel be where it
belongs, behind our kitchens; and no one have sight of the front doors
of our houses, except friends who have come to visit us." Her enjoyment
of this never flagged. Whenever she saw, passing the place, wagons
or carriages belonging to the hated Americans, it gave her a distinct
thrill of pleasure to think that the house turned its back on them. She
would like always to be able to do the same herself; but whatever she,
by policy or in business, might be forced to do, the old house, at any
rate, would always keep the attitude of contempt, - its face turned away.

One other pleasure she provided herself with, soon after this road was
opened, - a pleasure in which religious devotion and race antagonism were
so closely blended that it would have puzzled the subtlest of priests to
decide whether her act were a sin or a virtue. She caused to be set
up, upon every one of the soft rounded hills which made the beautiful
rolling sides of that part of the valley, a large wooden cross; not a
hill in sight of her house left without the sacred emblem of her faith.
"That the heretics may know, when they go by, that they are on the
estate of a good Catholic," she said, "and that the faithful may be
reminded to pray. There have been miracles of conversion wrought on the
most hardened by a sudden sight of the Blessed Cross."

There they stood, summer and winter, rain and shine, the silent, solemn,
outstretched arms, and became landmarks to many a guideless traveller
who had been told that his way would be by the first turn to the left
or the right, after passing the last one of the Senora Moreno's crosses,
which he couldn't miss seeing. And who shall say that it did not
often happen that the crosses bore a sudden message to some idle
heart journeying by, and thus justified the pious half of the Senora's
impulse? Certain it is, that many a good Catholic halted and crossed
himself when he first beheld them, in the lonely places, standing out in
sudden relief against the blue sky; and if he said a swift short prayer
at the sight, was he not so much the better?

The house, was of adobe, low, with a wide veranda on the three sides of
the inner court, and a still broader one across the entire front, which
looked to the south. These verandas, especially those on the inner
court, were supplementary rooms to the house. The greater part of the
family life went on in them. Nobody stayed inside the walls, except when
it was necessary. All the kitchen work, except the actual cooking, was
done here, in front of the kitchen doors and windows. Babies slept,
were washed, sat in the dirt, and played, on the veranda. The women said
their prayers, took their naps, and wove their lace there. Old Juanita
shelled her beans there, and threw the pods down on the tile floor,
till towards night they were sometimes piled up high around her, like
corn-husks at a husking. The herdsmen and shepherds smoked there,
lounged there, trained their dogs there; there the young made love, and
the old dozed; the benches, which ran the entire length of the walls,
were worn into hollows, and shone like satin; the tiled floors also were
broken and sunk in places, making little wells, which filled up in times
of hard rains, and were then an invaluable addition to the children's
resources for amusement, and also to the comfort of the dogs, cats, and
fowls, who picked about among them, taking sips from each.

The arched veranda along the front was a delightsome place. It must
have been eighty feet long, at least, for the doors of five large rooms
opened on it. The two westernmost rooms had been added on, and made four
steps higher than the others; which gave to that end of the veranda the
look of a balcony, or loggia. Here the Senora kept her flowers; great
red water-jars, hand-made by the Indians of San Luis Obispo Mission,
stood in close rows against the walls, and in them were always growing
fine geraniums, carnations, and yellow-flowered musk. The Senora's
passion for musk she had inherited from her mother. It was so strong
that she sometimes wondered at it; and one day, as she sat with Father
Salvierderra in the veranda, she picked a handful of the blossoms, and
giving them to him, said, "I do not know why it is, but it seems to me
if I were dead I could be brought to life by the smell of musk."

"It is in your blood, Senora," the old monk replied. "When I was last in
your father's house in Seville, your mother sent for me to her room,
and under her window was a stone balcony full of growing musk, which so
filled the room with its odor that I was like to faint. But she said
it cured her of diseases, and without it she fell ill. You were a baby

"Yes," cried the Senora, "but I recollect that balcony. I recollect
being lifted up to a window, and looking down into a bed of blooming
yellow flowers; but I did not know what they were. How strange!"

"No. Not strange, daughter," replied Father Salvierderra. "It would have
been stranger if you had not acquired the taste, thus drawing it in with
the mother's milk. It would behoove mothers to remember this far more
than they do."

Besides the geraniums and carnations and musk in the red jars, there
were many sorts of climbing vines, - some coming from the ground, and
twining around the pillars of the veranda; some growing in great bowls,
swung by cords from the roof of the veranda, or set on shelves against
the walls. These bowls were of gray stone, hollowed and polished,
shining smooth inside and out. They also had been made by the Indians,
nobody knew how many ages ago, scooped and polished by the patient
creatures, with only stones for tools.

Among these vines, singing from morning till night, hung the
Senora's canaries and finches, half a dozen of each, all of different
generations, raised by the Senora. She was never without a young
bird-family on hand; and all the way from Bonaventura to Monterey, it
was thought a piece of good luck to come into possession of a canary or
finch of Senora Moreno's 'raising.

Between the veranda and the river meadows, out on which it looked, all
was garden, orange grove, and almond orchard; the orange grove always
green, never without snowy bloom or golden fruit; the garden never
without flowers, summer or winter; and the almond orchard, in early
spring, a fluttering canopy of pink and white petals, which, seen from
the hills on the opposite side of the river, looked as if rosy sunrise
clouds had fallen, and become tangled in the tree-tops. On either hand
stretched away other orchards, - peach, apricot, pear, apple pomegranate;
and beyond these, vineyards. Nothing was to be seen but verdure or
bloom or fruit, at whatever time of year you sat on the Senora's south

A wide straight walk shaded by a trellis so knotted and twisted with
grapevines that little was to be seen of the trellis wood-work, led
straight down from the veranda steps, through the middle of the garden,
to a little brook at the foot of it. Across this brook, in the shade
of a dozen gnarled old willow-trees, were set the broad flat stone
washboards on which was done all the family washing. No long dawdling,
and no running away from work on the part of the maids, thus close to
the eye of the Senora at the upper end of the garden; and if they had
known how picturesque they looked there, kneeling on the grass, lifting
the dripping linen out of the water, rubbing it back and forth on the
stones, sousing it, wringing it, splashing the clear water in each
other's faces, they would have been content to stay at the washing day
in and day out, for there was always somebody to look on from above.
Hardly a day passed that the Senora had not visitors. She was still
a person of note; her house the natural resting-place for all who
journeyed through the valley; and whoever came, spent all of his time,
when not eating, sleeping, or walking over the place, sitting with the
Senora on the sunny veranda. Few days in winter were cold enough, and
in summer the day must be hot indeed to drive the Senora and her friends
indoors. There stood on the veranda three carved oaken chairs, and a
carved bench, also of oak, which had been brought to the Senora for safe
keeping by the faithful old sacristan of San Luis Rey, at the time of
the occupation of that Mission by the United States troops, soon after
the conquest of California. Aghast at the sacrilegious acts of the
soldiers, who were quartered in the very church itself, and amused
themselves by making targets of the eyes and noses of the saints'
statues, the sacristan, stealthily, day by day and night after night,
bore out of the church all that he dared to remove, burying some
articles in cottonwood copses, hiding others in his own poor little
hovel, until he had wagon-loads of sacred treasures. Then, still more
stealthily, he carried them, a few at a time, concealed in the bottom of
a cart, under a load of hay or of brush, to the house of the Senora, who
felt herself deeply honored by his confidence, and received everything
as a sacred trust, to be given back into the hands of the Church again,
whenever the Missions should be restored, of which at that time all
Catholics had good hope. And so it had come about that no bedroom in the
Senora's house was without a picture or a statue of a saint or of the
Madonna; and some had two; and in the little chapel in the garden the
altar was surrounded by a really imposing row of holy and apostolic
figures, which had looked down on the splendid ceremonies of the San
Luis Rey Mission, in Father Peyri's time, no more benignly than they
now did on the humbler worship of the Senora's family in its diminished
estate. That one had lost an eye, another an arm, that the once
brilliant colors of the drapery were now faded and shabby, only enhanced
the tender reverence with which the Senora knelt before them, her eyes
filling with indignant tears at thought of the heretic hands which
had wrought such defilement. Even the crumbling wreaths which had been
placed on some of the statues' heads at the time of the last ceremonial
at which they had figured in the Mission, had been brought away with
them by the devout sacristan, and the Senora had replaced each one,
holding it only a degree less sacred than the statue itself.

This chapel was dearer to the Senora than her house. It had been built
by the General in the second year of their married life. In it her four
children had been christened, and from it all but one, her handsome
Felipe, had been buried while they were yet infants. In the General's
time, while the estate was at its best, and hundreds of Indians living
within its borders, there was many a Sunday when the scene to be
witnessed there was like the scenes at the Missions, - the chapel full of
kneeling men and women; those who could not find room inside kneeling
on the garden walks outside; Father Salvierderra, in gorgeous
vestments, coming, at close of the services, slowly down the aisle, the
close-packed rows of worshippers parting to right and left to let him
through, all looking up eagerly for his blessing, women giving him
offerings of fruit or flowers, and holding up their babies that he might
lay his hands on their heads. No one but Father Salvierderra had ever
officiated in the Moreno chapel, or heard the confession of a Moreno. He
was a Franciscan, one of the few now left in the country; so revered and
beloved by all who had come under his influence, that they would wait
long months without the offices of the Church, rather than confess
their sins or confide their perplexities to any one else. From this
deep-seated attachment on the part of the Indians and the older Mexican
families in the country to the Franciscan Order, there had grown up,
not unnaturally, some jealousy of them in the minds of the later-come
secular priests, and the position of the few monks left was not wholly a
pleasant one. It had even been rumored that they were to be forbidden
to continue longer their practice of going up and down the country,
ministering everywhere; were to be compelled to restrict their labors
to their own colleges at Santa Barbara and Santa Inez. When something
to this effect was one day said in the Senora Moreno's presence, two
scarlet spots sprang on her cheeks, and before she bethought herself,
she exclaimed, "That day, I burn down my chapel!"

Luckily, nobody but Felipe heard the rash threat, and his exclamation of
unbounded astonishment recalled the Senora to herself.

"I spoke rashly, my son," she said. "The Church is to be obeyed always;
but the Franciscan Fathers are responsible to no one but the Superior of
their own order; and there is no one in this land who has the authority
to forbid their journeying and ministering to whoever desires their
offices. As for these Catalan priests who are coming in here, I cannot
abide them. No Catalan but has bad blood in his veins!"

There was every reason in the world why the Senora should be thus warmly
attached to the Franciscan Order. From her earliest recollections the
gray gown and cowl had been familiar to her eyes, and had represented
the things which she was taught to hold most sacred and dear. Father
Salvierderra himself had come from Mexico to Monterey in the same ship
which had brought her father to be the commandante of the Santa Barbara
Presidio; and her best-beloved uncle, her father's eldest brother, was
at that time the Superior of the Santa Barbara Mission. The sentiment
and romance of her youth were almost equally divided between the
gayeties, excitements, adornments of the life at the Presidio, and the
ceremonies and devotions of the life at the Mission. She was famed as
the most beautiful girl in the country. Men of the army, men of the
navy, and men of the Church, alike adored her. Her name was a toast
from Monterey to San Diego. When at last she was wooed and won by Felipe
Moreno, one of the most distinguished of the Mexican Generals, her
wedding ceremonies were the most splendid ever seen in the country.
The right tower of the Mission church at Santa Barbara had been just
completed, and it was arranged that the consecration of this tower
should take place at the time of her wedding, and that her wedding feast
should be spread in the long outside corridor of the Mission building.
The whole country, far and near, was bid. The feast lasted three days;
open tables to everybody; singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and making
merry. At that time there were long streets of Indian houses stretching
eastward from the Mission; before each of these houses was built a booth
of green boughs. The Indians, as well as the Fathers from all the other
Missions, were invited to come. The Indians came in bands, singing songs
and bringing gifts. As they appeared, the Santa Barbara Indians went
out to meet them, also singing, bearing gifts, and strewing seeds on
the ground, in token of welcome. The young Senora and her bridegroom,
splendidly clothed, were seen of all, and greeted, whenever they
appeared, by showers of seeds and grains and blossoms. On the third
day, still in their wedding attire, and bearing lighted candles in their
hands, they walked with the monks in a procession, round and round the
new tower, the monks chanting, and sprinkling incense and holy water
on its walls, the ceremony seeming to all devout beholders to give a
blessed consecration to the union of the young pair as well as to the
newly completed tower. After this they journeyed in state, accompanied
by several of the General's aids and officers, and by two Franciscan
Fathers, up to Monterey, stopping on their way at all the Missions, and
being warmly welcomed and entertained at each.

General Moreno was much beloved by both army and Church. In many of the
frequent clashings between the military and the ecclesiastical powers
he, being as devout and enthusiastic a Catholic as he was zealous and
enthusiastic a soldier, had had the good fortune to be of material
assistance to each party. The Indians also knew his name well, having
heard it many times mentioned with public thanksgivings in the Mission
churches, after some signal service he had rendered to the Fathers
either in Mexico or Monterey. And now, by taking as his bride the
daughter of a distinguished officer, and the niece of the Santa Barbara
Superior, he had linked himself anew to the two dominant powers and
interests of the country.

When they reached San Luis Obispo, the whole Indian population turned
out to meet them, the Padre walking at the head. As they approached the
Mission doors the Indians swarmed closer and closer and still closer,
took the General's horse by the head, and finally almost by actual force
compelled him to allow himself to be lifted into a blanket, held high
up by twenty strong men; and thus he was borne up the steps, across
the corridor, and into the Padre's room. It was a position ludicrously
undignified in itself, but the General submitted to it good-naturedly.

"Oh, let them do it, if they like," he cried, laughingly, to Padre
Martinez, who was endeavoring to quiet the Indians and hold them back.
"Let them do it. It pleases the poor creatures."

On the morning of their departure, the good Padre, having exhausted all
his resources for entertaining his distinguished guests, caused to
be driven past the corridors, for their inspection, all the poultry
belonging to the Mission. The procession took an hour to pass. For
music, there was the squeaking, cackling, hissing, gobbling, crowing,
quacking of the fowls, combined with the screaming, scolding, and
whip-cracking of the excited Indian marshals of the lines. First came
the turkeys, then the roosters, then the white hens, then the black, and
then the yellow, next the ducks, and at the tail of the spectacle
long files of geese, some strutting, some half flying and hissing in
resentment and terror at the unwonted coercions to which they were
subjected. The Indians had been hard at work all night capturing,
sorting, assorting, and guarding the rank and file of their novel
pageant. It would be safe to say that a droller sight never was seen,
and never will be, on the Pacific coast or any other. Before it was done
with, the General and his bride had nearly died with laughter; and the
General could never allude to it without laughing almost as heartily

At Monterey they were more magnificently feted; at the Presidio, at the
Mission, on board Spanish, Mexican, and Russian ships lying in harbor,
balls, dances, bull-fights, dinners, all that the country knew of
festivity, was lavished on the beautiful and winning young bride. The
belles of the coast, from San Diego up, had all gathered at Monterey for
these gayeties, but not one of them could be for a moment compared to
her. This was the beginning of the Senora's life as a married woman.
She was then just twenty. A close observer would have seen even then,
underneath the joyous smile, the laughing eye, the merry voice, a look
thoughtful, tender, earnest, at times enthusiastic. This look was the
reflection of those qualities in her, then hardly aroused, which made
her, as years developed her character and stormy fates thickened around
her life, the unflinching comrade of her soldier husband, the passionate

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 2 of 35)