The Doomswoman: An Historical Romance of Old CaliforniaGertrude Franklin Horn Atherton / History & Fiction
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_Gertrude Atherton_ PHOTOGRAPHED BY MRS. LOUNSBERY]
An Historical Romance of Old California
It was at Governor Alvarado's house in Monterey that Chonita firstknew of Diego Estenega. I had told him much of her, but had nevercared to mention the name of Estenega in the presence of an Iturbi yMoncada.
Chonita came to Monterey to stand godmother to the child of Alvaradoand of her friend Dona Martina, his wife. She arrived the morningbefore the christening, and no one thought to tell her that Estenegawas to be godfather. The house was full of girls, relatives ofthe young mother, gathered for the ceremony and subsequent week offestivities. Benicia, my little one, was at the rancho with YsabelHerrera, and I was staying with the Alvarados. So many were the gueststhat Chonita and I slept together. We had not seen each other for ayear, and had so much to say that we did not sleep at all. She wasten years younger than I, but we were as close friends as she with heralternate frankness and reserve would permit. But I had spent severalmonths of each year since childhood at her home in Santa Barbara,and I knew her better than she knew herself; when, later, I read herjournal, I found little in it to surprise me, but much to fill andcover with shapely form the skeleton of the story which passed ingreater part before my eyes.
We were discussing the frivolous mysteries of dress, if I rememberaright, when she laid her hand on my mouth suddenly.
Hush! she said.
A caballero serenaded his lady at midnight in Monterey.
The tinkle of a guitar, the jingling of spurs, fell among the strongtones of a man's voice.
Chonita had been serenaded until she had fled to the mountains forsleep, but she crept to the foot of the bed and knelt there, herhand at her throat. A door opened, and, one by one, out of the blackbeyond, five white-robed forms flitted into the room. They looked likepuffs of smoke from a burning moon. The heavy wooden shutters wereopen, and the room was filled with cold light.
The girls waltzed on the bare floor, grouped themselves inmock-dramatic postures, then, overcome by the strange magnetism of thesinger, fell into motionless attitudes, listening intently. How wellI remember that picture, although I have almost forgotten the names ofthe girls!
In the middle of the room two slender figures embraced each other,their black hair falling loosely over their white gowns. On thewindow-step knelt a tall girl, her head pensively supported by herhand, a black shawl draped gracefully about her; at her feet sata girl with head bowed to her knees. Between the two groups was asolitary figure, kneeling with hand pressed to the wall and faceuplifted.
When the voice ceased I struck a match, and five pairs of little handsapplauded enthusiastically. He sang them another song, then gallopedaway.
It is Don Diego Estenega, said one of the girls. He rarely sings,but I have heard him before.
An Estenega! exclaimed Chonita.
Yes; of the North, thou knowest. His Excellency thinks there isno man in the Californias like him,--so bold and so smart. Thourememberest the books that were burned by the priests when thegovernor was a boy, because he had dared to read them, no? Well, whenDiego Estenega heard of that, he made his father send to Boston andMexico for those books and many more, and took them up to his redwoodforests in the north, far away from the priests. And they say he hadread other books before, although such a lad; his father had broughtthem from Spain, and never cared much for the priests. And he has beento Mexico and America and Europe! God of my soul! it is said that heknows more than his Excellency himself,--that his mind works faster.Ay! but there was a time when he was wild,--when the mescal burnthis throat like hornets and the aguardiente was like scorpions inhis brain; but that was long ago, before he was twenty; now he isthirty-four. He amuses himself sometimes with the girls,--_valgameDios!_ he has made hot tears flow,--but I suppose we do not knowenough for him, for he marries none. Ay! but he has a charm.
Like what does he look? A beautiful caballero, I suppose, with eyesthat melt and a mouth that trembles like a woman in the palsy.
Ay, no, my Chonita; thou art wrong. He is not beautiful at all. He israther haggard, and wears no mustache, and he has the profile of thegreat man, fine and aquiline and severe, excepting when he smiles, andthen sometimes he looks kind and sometimes he looks like a devil. Hehas not the beauty of color; his hair is brown, I think, and his eyesare gray, and set far back; but how they flash! I think they couldburn if they looked too long. He is tall and straight and very strong,not so indolent as most of our men. They call him The American becausehe moves so quickly and gets so cross when people do not think fastenough. _He_ thinks like lightning strikes. Ay! they all say that hewill be governor in his time; that he would have been long ago, but hehas been away so much. It must be that he has seen and admired thee,my Chonita, and discovered thy grating. Thou art happy that thou toohast read the books. Thou and he will be great friends, I know!
Yes! exclaimed Chonita, scornfully. It is likely. Thou hastforgotten--perhaps--the enmity between the Capulets and the Montagueswas a sallow flame to the bitter hatred, born of jealousy in love,politics, and social precedence, which exists between the Estenegasand the Iturbi y Moncadas?