The Splendid Idle Forties: Stories of Old California

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”'IT WAS ONLY THE PEARLS YOU WANTED.'”]

THE SPLENDID IDLE FORTIES

_STORIES OF OLD CALIFORNIA_

BY

GERTRUDE ATHERTON

AUTHOR OF ”THE CONQUEROR,” ”SENATOR NORTH” ”THE ARISTOCRATS,” ETC.

_WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY HARRISON FISHER_

1902

TO

THE BOHEMIAN CLUB

OF SAN FRANCISCO

AS A SLIGHT ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF

ITS COURTESY IN PLACING

ITS FINE

LIBRARY OF CALIFORNIAN LITERATURE

AT MY DISPOSAL

NOTE

This is a revised and enlarged edition of the volume which was issuedsome years ago under the title, ”Before the Gringo Came.”

CONTENTS

THE PEARLS OF LORETO

THE EARS OF TWENTY AMERICANS

THE WASH-TUB MAIL

THE CONQUEST OF DONA JACOBA

A RAMBLE WITH EULOGIA

THE ISLE OF SKULLS

THE HEAD OF A PRIEST

LA PERDIDA

LUKARI'S STORY

NATALIE IVANHOFF: A MEMORY OF FORT ROSS

THE VENGEANCE OF PADRE ARROYO

THE BELLS OF SAN GABRIEL

WHEN THE DEVIL WAS WELL

THE PEARLS OF LORETO

I

Within memory of the most gnarled and coffee-coloured Montereno neverhad there been so exciting a race day. All essential conditions seemedto have held counsel and agreed to combine. Not a wreath of fog floatedacross the bay to dim the sparkling air. Every horse, every vaquero,was alert and physically perfect. The rains were over; the dust was notgathered. Pio Pico, Governor of the Californias, was in Monterey onone of his brief infrequent visits. Clad in black velvet, covered withjewels and ropes of gold, he sat on his big chestnut horse at the upperend of the field, with General Castro, Dona Modeste Castro, and otherprominent Monterenos, his interest so keen that more than once theofficial dignity relaxed, and he shouted ”Brava!” with the rest.

And what a brilliant sight it was! The flowers had faded on the hills,for June was upon them; but gayer than the hills had been was therace-field of Monterey. Caballeros, with silver on their wide gray hatsand on their saddles of embossed leather, gold and silver embroidery ontheir velvet serapes, crimson sashes about their slender waists, silverspurs and buckskin botas, stood tensely in their stirrups as the racersflew by, or, during the short intervals, pressed each other with eagerwagers. There was little money in that time. The golden skeleton withinthe sleeping body of California had not yet been laid bare. But ranchoswere lost and won; thousands of cattle would pass to other hands at thenext rodeo; many a superbly caparisoned steed would rear and plungebetween the spurs of a new master.

And caballeros were not the only living pictures of that memorable dayof a time for ever gone. Beautiful women in silken fluttering gowns,bright flowers holding the mantilla from flushed awakened faces, sattheir impatient horses as easily as a gull rides a wave. The sun beatdown, making dark cheeks pink and white cheeks darker, but those greateyes, strong with their own fires, never faltered. The old women inattendance grumbled vague remonstrances at all things, from the heat tointercepted coquetries. But their charges gave the good duenas littleheed. They shouted until their little throats were hoarse, smashedtheir fans, beat the sides of their mounts with their tender hands, inimitation of the vaqueros.

”It is the gayest, the happiest, the most careless life in the world,”thought Pio Pico, shutting his teeth, as he looked about him. ”But howlong will it last? Curse the Americans! They are coming.”

But the bright hot spark that convulsed assembled Monterey shot from noordinary condition. A stranger was there, a guest of General Castro, DonVicente de la Vega y Arillaga, of Los Angeles. Not that a stranger wasmatter for comment in Monterey, capital of California, but this strangerhad brought with him horses which threatened to disgrace the famouswinners of the North. Two races had been won already by the blackSouthern beasts.

”Dios de mi alma!” cried the girls, one to the other, ”their coats areblacker than our hair! Their nostrils pulse like a heart on fire! Theireyes flash like water in the sun! Ay! the handsome stranger, will heroll us in the dust? Ay! our golden horses, with the tails and manes ofsilver--how beautiful is the contrast with the vaqueros in their blackand silver, their soft white linen! The shame! the shame!--if they areput to shame! Poor Guido! Will he lose this day, when he has won somany? But the stranger is so handsome! Dios de mi vida! his eyes arelike dark blue stars. And he is so cold! He alone--he seems not to care.Madre de Dios! Madre de Dios! he wins again! No! no! no! Yes! Ay! yi!yi! B-r-a-v-o!”

Guido Cabanares dug his spurs into his horse and dashed to the head ofthe field, where Don Vicente sat at the left of General Castro. He wasfollowed hotly by several friends, sympathetic and indignant. As herode, he tore off his serape and flung it to the ground; even his silkriding-clothes sat heavily upon his fury. Don Vicente smiled, and rodeforward to meet him.

”At your service, senor,” he said, lifting his sombrero.

”Take your mustangs back to Los Angeles!” cried Don Guido, besidehimself with rage, the politeness and dignity of his race routed bypassion. ”Why do you bring your hideous brutes here to shame me in theeyes of Monterey? Why--”

”Yes! Why? Why?” demanded his friends, surrounding De la Vega. ”This isnot the humiliation of a man, but of the North by the accursed South!You even would take our capital from us! Los Angeles, the capital of theCalifornias!”

”What have politics to do with horse-racing?” asked De la Vega, coldly.”Other strangers have brought their horses to your field, I suppose.”

”Yes, but they have not won. They have not been from the South.”

By this time almost every caballero on the field was wheeling about Dela Vega. Some felt with Cabanares, others rejoiced in his defeat, butall resented the victory of the South over the North.

”Will you run again?” demanded Cabanares.

”Certainly. Do you think of putting your knife into my neck?”

Cabanares drew back, somewhat abashed, the indifference of the othersputtering like water on his passion.

”It is not a matter for blood,” he said sulkily; ”but the head is hotand words are quick when horses run neck to neck. And, by the Mother ofGod, you shall not have the last race. My best horse has not run. VivaEl Rayo!”

”Viva El Rayo!” shouted the caballeros.

”And let the race be between you two alone,” cried one. ”The North orthe South! Los Angeles or Monterey! It will be the race of our life.”

”The North or the South!” cried the caballeros, wheeling and gallopingacross the field to the donas. ”Twenty leagues to a real for GuidoCabanares.”

”What a pity that Ysabel is not here!” said Dona Modeste Castro to PioPico. ”How those green eyes of hers would flash to-day!”

”She would not come,” said the Governor. ”She said she was tired of therace.”

”Of whom do you speak?” asked De la Vega, who had rejoined them.

”Of Ysabel Herrera, La Favorita of Monterey,” answered Pio Pico. ”Themost beautiful woman in the Californias, since Chonita Iturbi y Moncada,my Vicente. It is at her uncle's that I stay. You have heard me speak ofmy old friend; and surely you have heard of her.”

”Ay!” said De la Vega. ”I have heard of her.”

”Viva El Rayo!”

”Ay, the ugly brute!”

”What name? Vitriolo? Mother of God! Diablo or Demonio would suit himbetter. He looks as if he had been bred in hell. He will not stand thequirto; and El Rayo is more lightly built. We shall beat by a dozenlengths.”

The two vaqueros who were to ride the horses had stripped to their softlinen shirts and black velvet trousers, cast aside their sombreros, andbound their heads with tightly knotted handkerchiefs. Their spurs werefastened to bare brown heels; the cruel quirto was in the hand of each;they rode barebacked, winding their wiry legs in and out of a horse-hairrope encircling the body of the animal. As they slowly passed the crowdon their way to the starting-point at the lower end of the field, andlistened to the rattling fire of wagers and comments, they lookeddefiant, and alive to the importance of the coming event.

El Rayo shone like burnished copper, his silver mane and tail glitteringas if powdered with diamond-dust. He was long and graceful of body, thinof flank, slender of leg. With arched neck and flashing eyes, he walkedwith the pride of one who was aware of the admiration he excited.

Vitriolo was black and powerful. His long neck fitted into well-placedshoulders. He had great depth of girth, immense length fromshoulder-points to hips, big cannon-bones, and elastic pasterns. Therewas neither amiability nor pride in his mien; rather a sullen sense ofbrute power, such as may have belonged to the knights of the MiddleAges. Now and again he curled his lips away from the bit and laid hisears back as if he intended to eat of the elegant Beau Brummel steppingso daintily beside him. Of the antagonistic crowd he took not theslightest notice.

”The race begins! Holy heaven!” The murmur rose to a shout--a deephoarse shout strangely crossed and recrossed by long silver notes; athrilling volume of sound rising above a sea of flashing eyes and partedlips and a vivid moving mass of colour.

Twice the horses scored, and were sent back. The third time they boundedby the starting-post neck and neck, nose to nose. Jose Abrigo, treasurerof Monterey, dashed his sombrero, heavy with silver eagles, to theground, and the race was begun.

Almost at once the black began to gain. Inch by inch he fought his wayto the front, and the roar with which the crowd had greeted the startdropped into the silence of apprehension.

El Rayo was not easily to be shaken off. A third of the distance hadbeen covered, and his nose was abreast of Vitriolo's flank. The vaquerossat as if carved from sun-baked clay, as lightly as if hollowed,watching each other warily out of the corners of their eyes.

The black continued to gain. Halfway from home light was visible betweenthe two horses. The pace became terrific, the excitement so intense thatnot a sound was heard but that of racing hoofs. The horses swept onwardlike projectiles, the same smoothness, the same suggestion of eternalflight. The bodies were extended until the tense muscles rose under thesatin coats. Vitriolo's eyes flashed viciously; El Rayo's strained withdetermination. Vitriolo's nostrils were as red as angry craters; ElRayo's fluttered like paper in the wind.

Three-quarters of the race was run, and the rider of Vitriolo could tellby the sound of the hoof-beats behind him that he had a good lead of atleast two lengths over the Northern champion. A smile curled the cornersof his heavy lips; the race was his already.

Suddenly El Rayo's vaquero raised his hand, and down came the maddeningquirto, first on one side, then on the other. The spurs dug; the bloodspurted. The crowd burst into a howl of delight as their favouriteresponded. Startled by the sound, Vitriolo's rider darted a glance overhis shoulder, and saw El Rayo bearing down upon him like a thunder-bolt,regaining the ground that he had lost, not by inches, but by feet. Twohundred paces from the finish he was at the black's flanks; one hundredand fifty, he was at his girth; one hundred, and the horses were neckand neck; and still the quirto whirred down on El Rayo's heaving flanks,the spurs dug deeper into his quivering flesh.

The vaquero of Vitriolo sat like an image, using neither whip nor spur,his teeth set, his eyes rolling from the goal ahead to the rider at hisside.

The breathless intensity of the spectators had burst. They had begun toclick their teeth, to mutter hoarsely, then to shout, to gesticulate,to shake their fists in each other's face, to push and scramble for abetter view.

”Holy God!” cried Pio Pico, carried out of himself, ”the South is lost!Vitriolo the magnificent! Ah, who would have thought? The black by thegold! Ay! What! No! Holy Mary! Holy God!--”

Six strides more and the race is over. With the bark of a coyote thevaquero of the South leans forward over Vitriolo's neck. The big blackresponds like a creature of reason. Down comes the quirto once--onlyonce. He fairly lifts his horse ahead and shoots into victory, winner bya neck. The South has vanquished the North.

The crowd yelled and shouted until it was exhausted. But even Cabanaresmade no further demonstration toward De la Vega. Not only was he wearyand depressed, but the victory had been nobly won.

It grew late, and they rode to the town, caballeros pushing as close todonas as they dared, duenas in close attendance, one theme on the lipsof all. Anger gave place to respect; moreover, De la Vega was the guestof General Castro, the best-beloved man in California. They were willingto extend the hand of friendship; but he rode last, between the Generaland Dona Modeste, and seemed to care as little for their good will asfor their ill.

Pio Pico rode ahead, and as the cavalcade entered the town he broke fromit and ascended the hill to carry the news to Ysabel Herrera.

Monterey, rising to her pine-spiked hills, swept like a crescent moonabout the sapphire bay. The surf roared and fought the white sand hillsof the distant horn; on that nearest the town stood the fort, grimand rude, but pulsating with military life, and alert for Americanonslaught. In the valley the red-tiled white adobe houses studded alittle city which was a series of corners radiating from a centralirregular street. A few mansions were on the hillside to the right,brush-crowded sand banks on the left; the perfect curve of hills, thickwith pine woods and dense green undergrowth, rose high above and aroundall, a rampart of splendid symmetry.

”Ay! Ysabel! Ysabel!” cried the young people, as they swept down thebroad street. ”Bring her to us, Excellency. Tell her she shall not knowuntil she comes down. We will tell her. Ay! poor Guido!”

The Governor turned and waved his hand, then continued the ascent of thehill, toward a long low house which showed no sign of life.

He alighted and glanced into a room opening upon the corridor whichtraversed the front. The room was large and dimly lighted by deeply setwindows. The floor was bare, the furniture of horse-hair; saints andfamily portraits adorned the white walls; on a chair lay a guitar;it was a typical Californian sala of that day. The ships brought fewluxuries, beyond raiment and jewels, to even the wealthy of thatisolated country.

”Ysabel,” called the Governor, ”where art thou? Come down to the townand hear the fortune of the races. Alvarado Street streams like a comet.Why should the Star of Monterey withhold her light?”

A girl rose from a sofa and came slowly forward to the corridor.Discontent marred her face as she gave her hand to the Governor tokiss, and looked down upon the brilliant town. The Senorita Dona YsabelHerrera was poor. Were it not for her uncle she would not have where tolay her stately head--and she was La Favorita of Monterey, the proudestbeauty in California! Her father had gambled away his last acre, hishorse, his saddle, the serape off his back; then sent his motherlessgirl to his brother, and buried himself in Mexico. Don Antonio took thechild to his heart, and sent for a widowed cousin to be her duena. Hebought her beautiful garments from the ships that touched the port, buthad no inclination to gratify her famous longing to hang ropes of pearlsin her soft black hair, to wind them about her white neck, and band themabove her green resplendent eyes.

”Unbend thy brows,” said Pio Pico. ”Wrinkles were not made for youth.”

Ysabel moved her brows apart, but the clouds still lay in her eyes.

”Thou dost not ask of the races, O thou indifferent one! What is thetrouble, my Ysabel? Will no one bring the pearls? The loveliest girl inall the Californias has said, 'I will wed no man who does not bring mea lapful of pearls,' and no one has filled the front of that prettyflowered gown. But have reason, nina. Remember that our Alta Californiahas no pearls on its shores, and that even the pearl fisheries of theterrible lower country are almost worn out. Will nothing less contentthee?”

”No, senor.”

”Dios de mi alma! Thou hast ambition. No woman has had more offered herthan thou. But thou art worthy of the most that man could give. Had Inot a wife myself, I believe I should throw my jewels and my ugly oldhead at thy little feet.”

Ysabel glanced with some envy at the magnificent jewels with which theGovernor of the Californias was hung, but did not covet the owner. Anuglier man than Pio Pico rarely had entered this world. The upper lip ofhis enormous mouth dipped at the middle; the broad thick underlip hungdown with its own weight. The nose was big and coarse, althoughthere was a certain spirited suggestion in the cavernous nostrils.Intelligence and reflectiveness were also in his little eyes, and theywere far apart. A small white mustache grew above his mouth; about hischin, from ear to ear, was a short stubby beard, whiter by contrast withhis copper-coloured skin. He looked much like an intellectual bear.

And Ysabel? In truth, she had reason for her pride. Her black hair,unblemished by gloss or tinge of blue, fell waving to her feet.California, haughty, passionate, restless, pleasure-loving, looked fromher dark green eyes; the soft black lashes dropped quickly when theybecame too expressive. Her full mouth was deeply red, but only a faintpink lay in her white cheeks; the nose curved at bridge and nostrils.About her low shoulders she held a blue reboso, the finger-tips of eachslim hand resting on the opposite elbow. She held her head a littleback, and Pio Pico laughed as he looked at her.

”Dios!” he said, ”but thou might be an Estenega or an Iturbi y Moncada.Surely that lofty head better suits old Spain than the republic ofMexico. Draw the reboso about thy head now, and let us go down. Theyexpect thee.”

She lifted the scarf above her hair, and walked down the steep ruttedhill with the Governor, her flowered gown floating with a silken rustleabout her. In a few moments she was listening to the tale of the races.

”Ay, Ysabel! Dios de mi alma! What a day! A young senor from Los Angeleswon the race--almost all the races--the Senor Don Vicente de la Vega yArillaga. He has never been here, before. His horses! Madre de Dios!They ran like hares. Poor Guido! Valgame Dios! Even thou wouldst havebeen moved to pity. But he is so handsome! Look! Look! He comes now,side by side with General Castro. Dios! his serape is as stiff with goldas the vestments of the padre.”

Ysabel looked up as a man rode past. His bold profile and thin face werepassionate and severe; his dark blue eyes were full of power. Such aface was rare among the languid shallow men of her race.

”He rides with General Castro,” whispered Benicia Ortega. ”He stays withhim. We shall see him at the ball to-night.”

As Don Vicente passed Ysabel their eyes met for a moment. His openedsuddenly with a bold eager flash, his arched nostrils twitching. Thecolour left her face, and her eyes dropped heavily.

Love needed no kindling in the heart of the Californian.

II

The people of Monterey danced every night of their lives, and wentnowhere so promptly as to the great sala of Dona Modeste Castro, theirleader of fashion, whose gowns were made for her in the city of Mexico.

Ysabel envied her bitterly. Not because the Dona Modeste's skin waswhiter than her own, for it could not be, nor her eyes greener, for theywere not; but because her jewels were richer than Pio Pico's, andupon all grand occasions a string of wonderful pearls gleamed in herstorm-black hair. But one feminine compensation had Ysabel: she wastaller; Dona Modeste's slight elegant figure lacked Ysabel's gracefulinches, and perhaps she too felt a pang sometimes as the girl undulatedabove her like a snake about to strike.

At the fashionable hour of ten Monterey was gathered for the dance. Allthe men except the officers wore black velvet or broadcloth coats andwhite trousers. All the women wore white, the waist long and pointed,the skirt full. Ysabel's gown was of embroidered crepe. Her hair wascoiled about her head, and held by a tortoise comb framed with a narrowband of gold. Pio Pico, splendid with stars and crescents and rings andpins, led her in, and with his unique ugliness enhanced her beauty.

She glanced eagerly about the room whilst replying absently to thecaballeros who surrounded her. Don Vicente de la Vega was not there. Thethick circle about her parted, and General Castro bent over her hand,begging the honour of the contradanza. She sighed, and for the momentforgot the Southerner who had flashed and gone like the beginning of adream. Here was a man--the only man of her knowledge whom she could haveloved, and who would have found her those pearls. Californians had solittle ambition! Then she gave a light audacious laugh. Governor Picowas shaking hands cordially with General Castro, the man he hated bestin California.

No two men could have contrasted more sharply than Jose Castro andPio Pico--with the exception of Alvarado the most famous men of theircountry. The gold trimmings of the general's uniform were his onlyjewels. His hair and beard--the latter worn _a la Basca_, a narrow stripcurving from upper lip to ear--were as black as Pio Pico's once hadbeen. The handsomest man in California, he had less consciousness thanthe least of the caballeros. His deep gray eyes were luminous withenthusiasm; his nose was sharp and bold; his firm sensitive mouth wascut above a resolute chin. He looked what he was, the ardent patriot ofa doomed cause.

”Senorita,” he said, as he led Ysabel out to the sweet monotonous musicof the contradanza, ”did you see the caballero who rode with me to-day?”

A red light rose to Ysabel's cheek. ”Which one, commandante? Many rodewith you.”

”I mean him who rode at my right, the winner of the races, Vicente, sonof my old friend Juan Bautista de la Vega y Arillaga, of Los Angeles.”

”It may be. I think I saw a strange face.”

”He saw yours, Dona Ysabel, and is looking upon you now from thecorridor without, although the fog is heavy about him. Cannot you seehim--that dark shadow by the pillar?”

Ysabel never went through the graceful evolutions of the contradanzaas she did that night. Her supple slender body curved and swayed andglided; her round arms were like lazy snakes uncoiling; her exquisitelypoised head moved in perfect concord with her undulating hips. Her eyesgrew brighter, her lips redder. The young men who stood near gave asloud a vent to their admiration as if she had been dancing El Son aloneon the floor. But the man without made no sign.

After the dance was over, General Castro led her to her duena, andhanding her a guitar, begged a song.

She began a light love-ballad, singing with the grace and style of herSpanish blood; a little mocking thing, but with a wild break now andagain. As she sang, she fixed her eyes coquettishly on the adoring faceof Guido Cabanares, who stood beside her, but saw every movement of theform beyond the window. Don Guido kept his ardent eyes riveted uponher but detected no wandering in her glances. His lips trembled as helistened, and once he brushed the tears from his eyes. She gave hima little cynical smile, then broke her song in two. The man on thecorridor had vaulted through the window.

Ysabel, clinching her hands the better to control her jumping nerves,turned quickly to Cabanares, who had pressed behind her, and was pouringwords into her ear.

”Ysabel! Ysabel! hast thou no pity? Dost thou not see that I am fit toset the world on fire for love of thee? The very water boils as I drinkit--”

She interrupted him with a scornful laugh, the sharper that her voicemight not tremble. ”Bring me my pearls. What is love worth when it willnot grant one little desire?”

He groaned. ”I have found a vein of gold on my rancho. I can pick thelittle shining pieces out with my fingers. I will have them beaten intoa saddle for thee--”

But she had turned her back flat upon him, and was making a deepcourtesy to the man whom General Castro presented.

”I appreciate the honour of your acquaintance,” she murmuredmechanically.

”At your feet, senorita,” said Don Vicente.

The art of making conversation had not been cultivated among theCalifornians, and Ysabel plied her large fan with slow grace, at a lossfor further remark, and wondering if her heart would suffocate her. ButDon Vicente had the gift of words.

”Senorita,” he said, ”I have stood in the chilling fog and felt thewarmth of your lovely voice at my heart. The emotions I felt my poortongue cannot translate. They swarm in my head like a hive of puzzledbees; but perhaps they look through my eyes,” and he fixed his powerfuland penetrating gaze on Ysabel's green depths.

A waltz began, and he took her in his arms without asking herindulgence, and regardless of the indignation of the mob of men abouther. Ysabel, whose being was filled with tumult, lay passive as he heldher closer than man had ever dared before.

”I love you,” he said, in his harsh voice. ”I wish you for my wife. Atonce. When I saw you to-day standing with a hundred other beautifulwomen, I said: 'She is the fairest of them all. I shall have her.' AndI read the future in”--he suddenly dropped the formal ”you”--”in thineeyes, carina. Thy soul sprang to mine. Thy heart is locked in my heartcloser, closer than my arms are holding thee now.”

The strength of his embrace was violent for a moment; but Ysabel mighthave been cut from marble. Her body had lost its swaying grace; itwas almost rigid. She did not lift her eyes. But De la Vega was notdiscouraged.

The music finished, and Ysabel was at once surrounded by a determinedretinue. This intruding Southerner was welcome to the honours of therace-field, but the Star of Monterey was not for him. He smiled as hesaw the menace of their eyes.

”I would have her,” he thought, ”if they were a regiment ofCastros--which they are not.” But he had not armed himself againstdiplomacy.

”Senor Don Vicente de la Vega y Arillaga,” said Don Guido Cabanares, whohad been selected as spokesman, ”perhaps you have not learned duringyour brief visit to our capital that the Senorita Dona Ysabel Herrera,La Favorita of Alta California, has sworn by the Holy Virgin, by theblessed Junipero Serra, that she will wed no man who does not bring hera lapful of pearls. Can you find those pearls on the sands of the South,Don Vicente? For, by the holy cross of God, you cannot have her withoutthem!”

For a moment De la Vega was disconcerted.

”Is this true?” he demanded, turning to Ysabel.

”What, senor?” she asked vaguely. She had not listened to the words ofher protesting admirer.

A sneer bent his mouth. ”That you have put a price upon yourself? Thatthe man who ardently wishes to be your husband, who has even won yourlove, must first hang you with pearls like--” He stopped suddenly, theblood burning his dark face, his eyes opening with an expression ofhorrified hope. ”Tell me! Tell me!” he exclaimed. ”Is this true?”

For the first time since she had spoken with him Ysabel was herself. Shecrossed her arms and tapped her elbows with her pointed fingers.

”Yes,” she said, ”it is true.” She raised her eyes to his and regardedhim steadily. They looked like green pools frozen in a marble wall.

The harp, the flute, the guitar, combined again, and once more he swungher from a furious circle. But he was safe; General Castro had joinedit. He waltzed her down the long room, through one adjoining, then intoanother, and, indifferent to the iron conventions of his race, closedthe door behind them. They were in the sleeping-room of Dona Modeste.The bed with its rich satin coverlet, the bare floor, the simplefurniture, were in semi-darkness; only on the altar in the corner werecandles burning. Above it hung paintings of saints, finely executed byMexican hands; an ebony cross spread its black arms against the whitewall; the candles flared to a golden Christ. He caught her hands and ledher over to the altar.

”Listen to me,” he said. ”I will bring you those pearls. You shall havesuch pearls as no queen in Europe possesses. Swear to me here, with yourhands on this altar, that you will wed me when I return, no matter howor where I find those pearls.”

He was holding her hands between the candelabra. She looked at him witheyes of passionate surrender; the man had conquered worldly ambitions.But he answered her before she had time to speak.

”You love me, and would withdraw the conditions. But I am ready to do adaring and a terrible act. Furthermore, I wish to show you that I cansucceed where all other men have failed. I ask only two things now.First, make me the vow I wish.”

”I swear it,” she said.

”Now,” he said, his voice sinking to a harsh but caressing whisper,”give me one kiss for courage and hope.”

She leaned slowly forward, the blood pulsing in her lips; but she hadbeen brought up behind grated windows, and she drew back. ”No,” shesaid, ”not now.”

For a moment he looked rebellious; then he laid his hands on hershoulders and pressed her to her knees. He knelt behind her, andtogether they told a rosary for his safe return.

He left her there and went to his room. From his saddle-bag he tooka long letter from an intimate friend, one of the younger Franciscanpriests of the Mission of Santa Barbara, where he had been educated. Hesought this paragraph:--

”Thou knowest, of course, my Vicente, of the pearl fisheries of BajaCalifornia. It is whispered--between ourselves, indeed, it isquite true--that a short while ago the Indian divers discovered anextravagantly rich bed of pearls. Instead of reporting to any of thecompanies, they have hung them all upon our Most Sacred Lady of Loreto,in the Mission of Loreto; and there, by the grace of God, they willremain. They are worth the ransom of a king, my Vicente, and the Churchhas come to her own again.”

III

The fog lay thick on the bay at dawn next morning. The white waves hidthe blue, muffled the roar of the surf. Now and again a whale threw avolume of spray high in the air, a geyser from a phantom sea. Above thewhite sands straggled the white town, ghostly, prophetic.

De la Vega, a dark sombrero pulled over his eyes, a dark serapeenveloping his tall figure, rode, unattended and watchful, out of thetown. Not until he reached the narrow road through the brush forestbeyond did he give his horse rein. The indolence of the Californian wasno longer in his carriage; it looked alert and muscular; recklessnessaccentuated the sternness of his face.

As he rode, the fog receded slowly. He left the chaparral and rode bygreen marshes cut with sloughs and stained with vivid patches oforange. The frogs in the tules chanted their hoarse matins. Throughbrush-covered plains once more, with sparsely wooded hills in thedistance, and again the tules, the marsh, the patches of orange. He rodethrough a field of mustard; the pale yellow petals brushed his darkface, the delicate green leaves won his eyes from the hot glare of theascending sun, the slender stalks, rebounding, smote his horse's flanks.He climbed hills to avoid the wide marshes, and descended into willowgroves and fields of daisies. Before noon he was in the San JuanMountains, thick with sturdy oaks, bending their heads before themadrono, that belle of the forest, with her robes of scarlet and hercrown of bronze. The yellow lilies clung to her skirts, and the buckeyeflung his flowers at her feet. The last redwoods were there, piercingthe blue air with their thin inflexible arms, gray as a dusty band offriars. Out by the willows, whereunder crept the sluggish river, thenbetween the hills curving about the valley of San Juan Bautista.

At no time is California so beautiful as in the month of June. De laVega's wild spirit and savage purpose were dormant for the moment as herode down the valley toward the mission. The hills were like gold, likemammoth fawns veiled with violet mist, like rich tan velvet. Afar, bareblue steeps were pink in their chasms, brown on their spurs. The darkyellow fields were as if thick with gold-dust; the pale mustard was awaving yellow sea. Not a tree marred the smooth hills. The earth sentforth a perfume of its own. Below the plateau from which rose the whitewalls of the mission was a wide field of bright green corn risingagainst the blue sky.

The padres in their brown hooded robes came out upon the long corridorof the mission and welcomed the traveller. Their lands had gone fromthem, their mission was crumbling, but the spirit of hospitalitylingered there still. They laid meat and fruit and drink on a tablebeneath the arches, then sat about him and asked him eagerly for news ofthe day. Was it true that the United States of America were at war withMexico, or about to be? True that their beloved flag might fall, andthe stars and stripes of an insolent invader rise above the fort ofMonterey?

De la Vega recounted the meagre and conflicting rumours which hadreached California, but, not being a prophet, could not tell them thatthey would be the first to see the red-white-and-blue fluttering on themountain before them. He refused to rest more than an hour, but mountedthe fresh horse the padres gave him and went his way, riding hard andrelentlessly, like all Californians.

He sped onward, through the long hot day, leaving the hills for themarshes and a long stretch of ugly country, traversing the beautiful SanAntonio Valley in the night, reaching the Mission of San Miguel at dawn,resting there for a few hours. That night he slept at a hospitableranch-house in the park-like valley of Paso des Robles, a grim silentfigure amongst gay-hearted people who delighted to welcome him. Theearly morning found him among the chrome hills; and at the Mission ofSan Luis Obispo the good padres gave him breakfast. The little valley,round as a well, its bare hills red and brown, gray and pink, violet andblack, from fire, sloping steeply from a dizzy height, impressed himwith a sense of being prisoned in an enchanted vale where no message ofthe outer world could come, and he hastened on his way.

Absorbed as he was, he felt the beauty he fled past. A line of goldenhills lay against sharp blue peaks. A towering mass of gray rocks hadbeen cut and lashed by wind and water, earthquake and fire, into thesemblance of a massive castle, still warlike in its ruin. He slept for afew hours that night in the Mission of Santa Ynes, and was high in theSanta Barbara Mountains at the next noon. For brief whiles he forgothis journey's purpose as his horse climbed slowly up the steep trails,knocking the loose stones down a thousand feet and more upon a roof oftree-tops which looked like stunted brush. Those gigantic masses ofimmense stones, each wearing a semblance to the face of man or beast;those awful chasms and stupendous heights, densely wooded, bare, andmany-hued, rising above, beyond, peak upon peak, cutting through thevisible atmosphere--was there no end? He turned in his saddle and lookedover low peaks and canons, rivers and abysms, black peaks smiting thefiery blue, far, far, to the dim azure mountains on the horizon.

”Mother of God!” he thought. ”No wonder California still shakes! I wouldI could have stood upon a star and beheld the awful throes of thiscountry's birth.” And then his horse reared between the sharp spurs andgalloped on.

He avoided the Mission of Santa Barbara, resting at a rancho outsidethe town. In the morning, supplied as usual with a fresh horse, he fledonward, with the ocean at his right, its splendid roar in his ears. Thecliffs towered high above him; he saw no man's face for hours together;but his thoughts companioned him, savage and sinister shapes whirlingabout the figure of a woman. On, on, sleeping at ranchos or missions,meeting hospitality everywhere, avoiding Los Angeles, keeping close tothe ponderous ocean, he left civilization behind him at last, andwith an Indian guide entered upon that desert of mountain-tops, BajaCalifornia.

Rapid travelling was not possible here. There were no valleys worthy thename. The sharp peaks, multiplying mile after mile, were like teeth ofgigantic rakes, black and bare. A wilderness of mountain-tops, desolateas eternity, arid, parched, baked by the awful heat, the silence neverbroken by the cry of a bird, a hut rarely breaking the barren monotony,only an infrequent spring to save from death. It was almost impossibleto get food or fresh horses. Many a night De la Vega and his stoicalguide slept beneath a cactus, or in the mocking bed of a creek. Themustangs he managed to lasso were almost unridable, and would havebucked to death any but a Californian. Sometimes he lived on cactusfruit and the dried meat he had brought with him; occasionally he shota rabbit. Again he had but the flesh of the rattlesnake roasted overcoals. But honey-dew was on the leaves.

He avoided the beaten trail, and cut his way through naked bushes spikedwith thorns, and through groves of cacti miles in length. When the thickfog rolled up from the ocean he had to sit inactive on the rocks, orlose his way. A furious storm dashed him against a boulder, breaking hismustang's leg; then a torrent, rising like a tidal wave, thundered downthe gulch, and catching him on its crest, flung him upon a tree ofthorns. When dawn came he found his guide dead. He cursed his luck, andwent on.

Lassoing another mustang, he pushed on, having a general idea of thedirection he should take. It was a week before he reached Loreto, a weekof loneliness, hunger, thirst, and torrid monotony. A week, too, ofthought and bitterness of spirit. In spite of his love, which nevercooled, and his courage, which never quailed, Nature, in her guise offoul and crooked hag, mocked at earthly happiness, at human hope, atyouth and passion.

If he had not spent his life in the saddle, he would have been worn outwhen he finally reached Loreto, late one night. As it was, he slept in ahut until the following afternoon. Then he took a long swim in the bay,and, later, sauntered through the town.

The forlorn little city was hardly more than a collection of Indians'huts about a church in a sandy waste. No longer the capital, even thebarracks were toppling. When De la Vega entered the mission, not a whiteman but the padre and his assistant was in it; the building was throngedwith Indian worshippers. The mission, although the first built inCalifornia, was in a fair state of preservation. The Stations in theirbattered frames were mellow and distinct. The gold still gleamed in thevestments of the padre.

For a few moments De la Vega dared not raise his eyes to the Lady ofLoreto, standing aloft in the dull blaze of adamantine candles. When hedid, he rose suddenly from his knees and left the mission. The pearlswere there.

It took him but a short time to gain the confidence of the priest andthe little population. He offered no explanation for his coming, beyondthe curiosity of the traveller. The padre gave him a room in themission, and spent every hour he could spare with the brilliantstranger. At night he thanked God for the sudden oasis in his life'sdesolation. The Indians soon grew accustomed to the lonely figurewandering about the sand plains, or kneeling for hours together beforethe altar in the church. And whom their padre trusted was to them assacred and impersonal as the wooden saints of their religion.

IV

The midnight stars watched over the mission. Framed by the cross-shapedwindow sunk deep in the adobe wall above the entrance, a mass of themassumed the form of the crucifix, throwing a golden trail full upon theLady of Loreto, proud in her shining pearls. The long narrow body of thechurch seemed to have swallowed the shadows of the ages, and to yawn formore.

De la Vega, booted and spurred, his serape folded about him, hissombrero on his head, opened the sacristy door and entered the church.In one hand he held a sack; in the other, a candle sputtering in abottle. He walked deliberately to the foot of the altar. In spite ofhis intrepid spirit, he stood appalled for a moment as he saw the dimradiance enveloping the Lady of Loreto. He scowled over his shoulder atthe menacing emblem of redemption and crossed himself. But had it beenthe finger of God, the face of Ysabel would have shone between. Heextinguished his candle, and swinging himself to the top of the altarplucked the pearls from the Virgin's gown and dropped them into thesack. His hand trembled a little, but he held his will between histeeth.

How quiet it was! The waves flung themselves upon the shore withthe sullen wrath of impotence. A seagull screamed now and again, anexclamation-point in the silence above the waters. Suddenly De la Vegashook from head to foot, and snatched the knife from his belt. A faintcreaking echoed through the hollow church. He strained his ears, holdinghis breath until his chest collapsed with the shock of outrushing air.But the sound was not repeated, and he concluded that it had been but avibration of his nerves. He glanced to the window above the doors. Thestars in it were no longer visible; they had melted into bars of flame.The sweat stood cold on his face, but he went on with his work.

A rope of pearls, cunningly strung together with strands of sea-weed,was wound about the Virgin's right arm. De la Vega was too nervous touncoil it; he held the sack beneath, and severed the strands with hisknife. As he finished, and was about to stoop and cut loose the pearlsfrom the hem of the Virgin's gown, he uttered a hoarse cry and stoodrigid. A cowled head, with thin lips drawn over yellow teeth, furiouseyes burning deep in withered sockets, projected on its long neck fromthe Virgin's right and confronted him. The body was unseen.

”Thief!” hissed the priest. ”Dog! Thou wouldst rob the Church? Accursed!accursed!”

There was not one moment for hesitation, one alternative. Before thepriest could complete his malediction, De la Vega's knife had flashedthrough the fire of the cross. The priest leaped, screeching, thenrolled over and down, and rebounded from the railing of the sanctuary.

V

Ysabel sat in the low window-seat of her bedroom, pretending to draw thethreads of a cambric handkerchief. But her fingers twitched, and hereyes looked oftener down the hill than upon the delicate work whichrequired such attention. She wore a black gown flowered with yellowroses, and a slender ivory cross at her throat. Her hair hung in twoloose braids, sweeping the floor. She was very pale, and her pallor wasnot due to the nightly entertainments of Monterey.

Her duena sat beside her. The old woman was the colour of strong coffee;but she, too, looked as if she had not slept, and her straight old lipscurved tenderly whenever she raised her eyes to the girl's face.

There was no carpet on the floor of the bedroom of La Favorita ofMonterey, the heiress of Don Antonio Herrera, and the little bedsteadin the corner was of iron, although a heavy satin coverlet trimmed withlace was on it. A few saints looked down from the walls; the furniturewas of native wood, square and ugly; but it was almost hidden under finelinen elaborately worked with the deshalados of Spain.

The supper hour was over, and the light grew dim. Ysabel tossed thehandkerchief into Dona Juana's lap, and stared through the grating.Against the faded sky a huge cloud, shaped like a fire-breathing dragon,was heavily outlined. The smoky shadows gathered in the woods. Thehoarse boom of the surf came from the beach; the bay was uneasy, and thetide was high: the earth had quaked in the morning, and a wind-stormfought the ocean. The gay bright laughter of women floated up from thetown. Monterey had taken her siesta, enjoyed her supper, and was readyto dance through the night once more.

”He is dead,” said Ysabel.

”True,” said the old woman.

”He would have come back to me before this.”

”True.”

”He was so strong and so different, mamita.”

”I never forget his eyes. Very bold eyes.”

”They could be soft, macheppa.”

”True. It is time thou dressed for the ball at the Custom-house,ninita.”

Ysabel leaned forward, her lips parting. A man was coming up the hill.He was gaunt; he was burnt almost black. Something bulged beneath hisserape.

Dona Juana found herself suddenly in the middle of the room. Ysabeldarted through the only door, locking it behind her. The indignant duenaalso recognized the man, and her position. She trotted to the door andthumped angrily on the panel; sympathetic she was, but she never couldso far forget herself as to permit a young girl to talk with a manunattended.

”Thou shalt not go to the ball to-night,” she cried shrilly. ”Thou shaltbe locked in the dark room. Thou shalt be sent to the rancho. Open!open! thou wicked one. Madre de Dios! I will beat thee with my ownhands.”

But she was a prisoner, and Ysabel paid no attention to her threats. Thegirl was in the sala, and the doors were open. As De la Vega crossed thecorridor and entered the room she sank upon a chair, covering her facewith her hands.

He strode over to her, and flinging his serape from his shoulder openedthe mouth of a sack and poured its contents into her lap. Pearls of allsizes and shapes--pearls black and pearls white, pearls pink and pearlsfaintly blue, pearls like globes and pearls like pears, pearls as bigas the lobe of Pio Pico's ear, pearls as dainty as bubbles of frost--alapful of gleaming luminous pearls, the like of which caballero hadnever brought to dona before.

For a moment Ysabel forgot her love and her lover. The dream of alifetime was reality. She was the child who had cried for the moon andseen it tossed into her lap.

She ran her slim white fingers through the jewels. She took up handfulsand let them run slowly back to her lap. She pressed them to her face;she kissed them with little rapturous cries. She laid them against herbreast and watched them chase each other down her black gown. Then atlast she raised her head and met the fierce sneering eyes of De la Vega.

”So it is as I might have known. It was only the pearls you wanted. Itmight have been an Indian slave who brought them to you.”

She took the sack from his hand and poured back the pearls. Then shelaid the sack on the floor and stood up. She was no longer pale, and hereyes shone brilliantly in the darkening room.

”Yes,” she said; ”I forgot for a moment. But during many terrible weeks,senor, my tears have not been for the pearls.”

The sudden light that was De la Vega's chiefest charm sprang to hiseyes. He took her hands and kissed them passionately.

”That sack of pearls would be a poor reward for one tear. But thou hastshed them for me? Say that again. Mi alma! mi alma!”

”I never thought of the pearls--at least not often. At last, not at all.I have been very unhappy, senor. Ay!”

The maiden reserve which had been knit like steel about her plasticyears burst wide. ”Thou art ill! What has happened to thee? Ay, Dios!what it is to be a woman and to suffer! Thou wilt die! Oh, Mother ofGod!”

”I shall not die. Kiss me, Ysabel. Surely it is time now.”

But she drew back and shook her head.

He exclaimed impatiently, but would not release her hand. ”Thou meanestthat, Ysabel?”

”We shall be married soon--wait.”

”I had hoped you would grant me that. For when I tell you where I gotthose pearls you may drive me from you in spite of your promise--driveme from you with the curse of the devout woman on your lips. I mightinvent some excuse to persuade you to fly with me from Californiato-night, and you would never know. But I am a man--a Spaniard--and a Dela Vega. I shall not lie to you.”

She looked at him with wide eyes, not understanding, and he went on, hisface savage again, his voice harsh. He told her the whole story ofthat night in the mission. He omitted nothing--the menacing cross, thesacrilegious theft, the deliberate murder; the pictures were paintedwith blood and fire. She did not interrupt him with cry or gasp, but herexpression changed many times. Horror held her eyes for a time, thenslowly retreated, and his own fierce pride looked back at him. Shelifted her head when he had finished, her throat throbbing, her nostrilstwitching.

”Thou hast done that--for me?”

”Ay, Ysabel!”

”Thou hast murdered thy immortal soul--for me?”

”Ysabel!”

”Thou lovest me like that! O God, in what likeness hast thou made me? Inwhatsoever image it may have been, I thank Thee--and repudiate Thee!”

She took the cross from her throat and broke it in two pieces with herstrong white fingers.

”Thou art lost, eternally damned: but I will go down to hell with thee.”And she threw herself upon him and kissed him on the mouth.

For a moment he forgot the lesson thrust into his brain by the hideousfingers of the desert. He was almost happy. He put his hands about herwarm face after a time. ”We must go to-night,” he said. ”I went toGeneral Castro's to change my clothes, and learned that a ship sailsfor the United States to-night. We will go on that. I dare not delaytwenty-four hours. It may be that they are upon my heels now. How can wemeet?”

Her thoughts had travelled faster than his words, and she answered atonce: ”There is a ball at the Custom-house to-night. I will go. You willhave a boat below the rocks. You know that the Custom-house is on therocks at the end of the town, near the fort. No? It will be easier forme to slip from the ball-room than from this house. Only tell me whereyou will meet me.”

”The ship sails at midnight. I too will go to the ball; for with me youcan escape more easily. Have you a maid you can trust?”

”My Luisa is faithful.”

”Then tell her to be on the beach between the rocks of the Custom-houseand the Fort with what you must take with you.”

Again he kissed her many times, but softly. ”Wear thy pearls to-night. Iwish to see thy triumphant hour in Monterey.”

”Yes,” she said, ”I shall wear the pearls.”

VI

The corridor of the Custom-house had been enclosed to protect themusicians and supper table from the wind and fog. The store-room hadbeen cleared, the floor scrubbed, the walls hung with the colours ofMexico. All in honour of Pio Pico, again in brief exile from his belovedLos Angeles. The Governor, blazing with diamonds, stood at the upper endof the room by Dona Modeste Castro's side. About them were Castro andother prominent men of Monterey, all talking of the rumoured war betweenthe United States and Mexico and prophesying various results. NeitherPico nor Castro looked amiable. The Governor had arrived in the morningto find that the General had allowed pasquinades representing hisExcellency in no complimentary light to disfigure the streets ofMonterey. Castro, when taken to task, had replied haughtily that itwas the Governor's place to look after his own dignity; he, theCommandante-General of the army of the Californias, had more importantmatters to attend to. The result had been a furious war of words, endingin a lame peace.

”Tell us, Excellency,” said Jose Abrigo, ”what will be the outcome?”

”The Americans can have us if they wish,” said Pio Pico, bitterly. ”Wecannot prevent.”

”Never!” cried Castro. ”What? We cannot protect ourselves against theinvasion of bandoleros? Do you forget what blood stings the veins ofthe Californian? A Spaniard stand with folded arms and see his countryplucked from him! Oh, sacrilege! They will never have our Californiaswhile a Californian lives to cut them down!”

”Bravo! bravo!” cried many voices.

”I tell you--” began Pio Pico, but Dona Modeste interrupted him. ”Nomore talk of war to-night,” she said peremptorily. ”Where is Ysabel?”

”She sent me word by Dona Juana that she could not make herself ready intime to come with me, but would follow with my good friend, Don Antonio,who of course had to wait for her. Her gown was not finished, I believe.I think she had done something naughty, and Dona Juana had tried topunish her, but had not succeeded. The old lady looked very sad.Ah, here is Dona Ysabel now!”

”How lovely she is!” said Dona Modeste. ”I think--What! what!--”

”Dios de mi Alma!” exclaimed Pio Pico, ”where did she get those pearls?”

The crowd near the door had parted, and Ysabel entered on the arm of heruncle. Don Antonio's form was bent, and she looked taller by contrast.His thin sharp profile was outlined against her white neck, bared forthe first time to the eyes of Monterey. Her shawl had just been laidaside, and he was near-sighted and did not notice the pearls.

She had sewn them all over the front of her white silk gown. She hadwound them in the black coils of her hair. They wreathed her neck androped her arms. Never had she looked so beautiful. Her great green eyeswere as radiant as spring. Her lips were redder than blood. A pink flameburned in her oval cheeks. Her head moved like a Californian lily on itsstalk. No Montereno would ever forget her.

”El Son!” cried the young men, with one accord. Her magnificent beautyextinguished every other woman in the room. She must not hide her lightin the contradanza. She must madden all eyes at once.

Ysabel bent her head and glided to the middle of the room. The otherwomen moved back, their white gowns like a snowbank against the garishwalls. The thin sweet music of the instruments rose above the boom ofthe tide. Ysabel lifted her dress with curving arms, displaying archedfeet clad in flesh-coloured stockings and white slippers, and danced ElSon.

Her little feet tapped time to the music; she whirled her body withutmost grace, holding her head so motionless that she could havebalanced a glass of water upon it. She was inspired that night; andwhen, in the midst of the dance, De la Vega entered the room, a sort ofmadness possessed her. She invented new figures. She glided back andforth, bending and swaying and doubling until to the eyes of herbewildered admirers the outlines of her lovely body were gone. Even thewomen shouted their approval, and the men went wild. They pulled theirpockets inside out and flung handfuls of gold at her feet. Those whohad only silver cursed their fate, but snatched the watches from theirpockets, the rings from their fingers, and hurled them at her withshouts and cheers. They tore the lace ruffles from their shirts; theyrushed to the next room and ripped the silver eagles from their hats.Even Pio Pico flung one of his golden ropes at her feet, a hot blaze inhis old ugly face, as he cried:--

”Brava! brava! thou Star of Monterey!”

Guido Cabanares, desperate at having nothing more to sacrifice to hisidol, sprang upon a chair, and was about to tear down the Mexican flag,when the music stopped with a crash, as if musicians and instruments hadbeen overturned, and a figure leaped into the room.

The women uttered a loud cry and crossed themselves. Even the men fellback. Ysabel's swaying body trembled and became rigid. De la Vega, whohad watched her with folded arms, too entranced to offer her anythingbut the love that shook him, turned livid to his throat. A friar, hishood fallen back from his stubbled head, his brown habit stiff withdirt, smelling, reeling with fatigue, stood amongst them. His eyes weredeep in his ashen face. They rolled about the room until they met De laVega's.

General Castro came hastily forward. ”What does this mean?” he asked.”What do you wish?”

The friar raised his arm, and pointed his shaking finger at De la Vega.

”Kill him!” he said, in a loud hoarse whisper. ”He has desecrated theMother of God!”

Every caballero in the room turned upon De la Vega with furioussatisfaction. Ysabel had quickened their blood, and they were willingto cool it in vengeance on the man of whom they still were jealous, andwhom they suspected of having brought the wondrous pearls which coveredtheir Favorita to-night.

”What? What?” they cried eagerly. ”Has he done this thing?”

”He has robbed the Church. He has stripped the Blessed Virgin of herjewels. He--has--murdered--a--priest of the Holy Catholic Church.”

Horror stayed them for a moment, and then they rushed at De la Vega. ”Hedoes not deny it!” they cried. ”Is it true? Is it true?” and they surgedabout him hot with menace.

”It is quite true,” said De la Vega, coldly. ”I plundered the shrine ofLoreto and murdered its priest.”

The women panted and gasped; for a moment even the men were stunned,and in that moment an ominous sound mingled with the roar of the surf.Before the respite was over Ysabel had reached his side.

”He did it for me!” she cried, in her clear triumphant voice. ”Forme! And although you kill us both, I am the proudest woman in all theCalifornias, and I love him.”

”Good!” cried Castro, and he placed himself before them. ”Stand back,every one of you. What? are you barbarians, Indians, that you would doviolence to a guest in your town? What if he has committed a crime? Ishe not one of you, then, that you offer him blood instead of protection?Where is your pride of caste? your _hospitality_? Oh, perfidy! Fallback, and leave the guest of your capital to those who are compelled tojudge him.”

The caballeros shrank back, sullen but abashed. He had touched the quickof their pride.

”Never mind!” cried the friar. ”You cannot protect him from _that_.Listen!”

Had the bay risen about the Custom-house?

”What is that?” demanded Castro, sharply.

”The poor of Monterey; those who love their Cross better than thearistocrats love their caste. They know.”

De la Vega caught Ysabel in his arms and dashed across the room andcorridor. His knife cut a long rift in the canvas, and in a moment theystood upon the rocks. The shrieking crowd was on the other side of theCustom-house.

”Marcos!” he called to his boatman, ”Marcos!”

No answer came but the waves tugging at the rocks not two feet belowthem. He could see nothing. The fog was thick as night.

”He is not here, Ysabel. We must swim. Anything but to be torn to piecesby those wild-cats. Are you afraid?”

”No,” she said.

He folded her closely with one arm, and felt with his foot for the edgeof the rocks. A wild roar came from behind. A dozen pistols were firedinto the air. De la Vega reeled suddenly. ”I am shot, Ysabel,” he said,his knees bending. ”Not in this world, my love!”

She wound her arms about him, and dragging him to the brow of the rocks,hurled herself outward, carrying him with her. The waves tossed them onhigh, flung them against the rocks and ground them there, playing withthem like a lion with its victim, then buried them.