the Foothills by Bret Harte
As Father Felipe slowly toiled up the dusty road towards the Rancho
of the Blessed Innocents, he more than once stopped under the shadow
of a sycamore to rest his somewhat lazy mule and to compose his own
perplexed thoughts by a few snatches from his breviary. For the good
padre had some reason to be troubled. The invasion of Gentile
Americans that followed the gold discovery of three years before had
not confined itself to the plains of the Sacramento, but stragglers
had already found their way to the Santa Cruz Valley, and the
seclusion of even the mission itself was threatened. It was true that
they had not brought their heathen engines to disembowel the earth in
search of gold, but it was rumored that they had already speculated
upon the agricultural productiveness of the land, and had espied "the
fatness thereof." As he reached the higher plateau he could see the
afternoon sea-fog—presently to obliterate the fair prospect—already
pulling through the gaps in the Coast Range, and on a nearer slope—no
less ominously—the smoke of a recent but more permanently destructive
Yankee saw-mill was slowly drifting towards the valley.
"Get up, beast!" said the father, digging his heels into the
comfortable flanks of his mule with some human impatience, "or art
THOU, too, a lazy renegade? Thinkest thou, besotted one, that the
heretic will spare thee more work than the Holy Church."
The mule, thus apostrophized in ear and flesh, shook its head
obstinately as if the question was by no means clear to its mind, but
nevertheless started into a little trot, which presently brought it to
the low adobe wall of the courtyard of "The Innocents," and entered
the gate. A few lounging peons in the shadow of an archway took off
their broad-brimmed hats and made way for the padre, and a half dozen
equally listless vaqueros helped him to alight. Accustomed as he was
to the indolence and superfluity of his host's retainers, to-day it
nevertheless seemed to strike some note of irritation in his breast.
A stout, middle-aged woman of ungirt waist and beshawled head and
shoulders appeared at the gateway as if awaiting him. After a formal
salutation she drew him aside into an inner passage.
"He is away again, your Reverence," she said.
"Ah—always the same?"
"Yes, your Reverence—and this time to 'a meeting' of the heretics
at their pueblo, at Jonesville—where they will ask him of his land
for a road."
"At a MEETING?" echoed the priest uneasily.
"Ah yes! a meeting—where Tiburcio says they shout and spit on the
ground, your Reverence, and only one has a chair and him they call a
'chairman' because of it, and yet he sits not but shouts and spits
even as the others and keeps up a tapping with a hammer like a very
pico. And there it is they are ever 'resolving' that which is not,
and consider it even as done."
"Then he is still the same," said the priest gloomily, as the woman
paused for breath.
"Only more so, your Reverence, for he reads nought but the
newspaper of the Americanos that is brought in the ship, the 'New
York 'errald'—and recites to himself the orations of their
legislators. Ah! it was an evil day when the shipwrecked American
sailor taught him his uncouth tongue, which, as your Reverence knows,
is only fit for beasts and heathen incantation."
"Pray Heaven THAT were all he learned of him," said the priest
hastily, "for I have great fear that this sailor was little better
than an atheist and an emissary from Satan. But where are these
newspapers and the fantasies of publicita that fill his mind? I
would see them, my daughter."
"You shall, your Reverence, and more too," she replied eagerly,
leading the way along the passage to a grated door which opened upon
a small cell-like apartment, whose scant light and less air came
through the deeply embayed windows in the outer wall. "Here is his
In spite of this open invitation, the padre entered with that air
of furtive and minute inspection common to his order. His glance
fell upon a rude surveyor's plan of the adjacent embryo town of
Jonesville hanging on the wall, which he contemplated with a cold
disfavor that even included the highly colored vignette of the
projected Jonesville Hotel in the left-hand corner. He then passed
to a supervisor's notice hanging near it, which he examined with a
suspicion heightened by that uneasiness common to mere worldly
humanity when opposed to an unknown and unfamiliar language. But an
exclamation broke from his lips when he confronted an election placard
immediately below it. It was printed in Spanish and English, and
Father Felipe had no difficulty in reading the announcement that "Don
Jose Sepulvida would preside at a meeting of the Board of Education in
Jonesville as one of the trustees."
"This is madness," said the padre.
Observing that Dona Maria was at the moment preoccupied in
examining the pictorial pages of an illustrated American weekly which
had hitherto escaped his eyes, he took it gently from her hand.
"Pardon, your Reverence," she said with slightly acidulous
deprecation, "but thanks to the Blessed Virgin and your Reverence's
teaching, the text is but gibberish to me and I did but glance at the
"Much evil may come in with the eye," said the priest
sententiously, "as I will presently show thee. We have here," he
continued, pointing to an illustration of certain college athletic
sports, "a number of youthful cavaliers posturing and capering in a
partly nude condition before a number of shameless women, who emulate
the saturnalia of heathen Rome by waving their handkerchiefs. We have
here a companion picture," he said, indicating an illustration of
gymnastic exercises by the students of a female academy at
"Commencement," "in which, as thou seest, even the aged of both sexes
unblushingly assist as spectators with every expression of immodest
"Have they no bull-fights or other seemly recreation that they must
indulge in such wantonness?" asked Dona Maria indignantly, gazing,
however, somewhat curiously at the baleful representations.
"Of all that, my daughter, has their pampered civilization long
since wearied," returned the good padre, "for see, this is what they
consider a moral and even a religious ceremony." He turned to an
illustration of a woman's rights convention; "observe with what rapt
attention the audience of that heathen temple watch the inspired
ravings of that elderly priestess on the dais. It is even this kind
of sacrilegious performance that I am told thy nephew Don Jose
expounds and defends."
"May the blessed saints preserve us; where will it lead to?"
murmured the horrified Dona Maria.
"I will show thee," said Father Felipe, briskly turning the pages
with the same lofty ignoring of the text until he came to a
representation of a labor procession. "There is one of their
periodic revolutions unhappily not unknown even in Mexico. Thou
perceivest those complacent artisans marching with implements of
their craft, accompanied by the military, in the presence of their
own stricken masters. Here we see only another instance of the
instability of all communities that are not founded on the principles
of the Holy Church."
"And what is to be done with my nephew?"
The good father's brow darkened with the gloomy religious zeal of
two centuries ago. "We must have a council of the family, the
alcalde, and the archbishop, at ONCE," he said ominously. To the
mere heretical observer the conclusion might have seemed lame and
impotent, but it was as near the Holy inquisition as the year of
grace 1852 could offer.
A few days after this colloquy the unsuspecting subject of it, Don
Jose Sepulvida, was sitting alone in the same apartment. The fading
glow of the western sky, through the deep embrasured windows, lit up
his rapt and meditative face. He was a young man of apparently
twenty-five, with a colorless satin complexion, dark eyes alternating
between melancholy and restless energy, a narrow high forehead, long
straight hair, and a lightly penciled moustache. He was said to
resemble the well-known portrait of the Marquis of Monterey in the
mission church, a face that was alleged to leave a deep and lasting
impression upon the observers. It was undoubtedly owing to this
quality during a brief visit of the famous viceroy to a remote and
married ancestress of Don Jose at Leon that the singular resemblance
may be attributed.
A heavy and hesitating step along the passage stopped before the
grating. Looking up, Don Jose beheld to his astonishment the
slightly inflamed face of Roberto, a vagabond American whom he had
lately taken into his employment.
Roberto, a polite translation of "Bob the Bucker," cleaned out at a
monte-bank in Santa Cruz, penniless and profligate, had sold his
mustang to Don Jose and recklessly thrown himself in with the
bargain. Touched by the rascal's extravagance, the quality of the
mare, and observing that Bob's habits had not yet affected his seat
in the saddle, but rather lent a demoniac vigor to his chase of wild
cattle, Don Jose had retained rider and horse in his service as
Bucking Bob, observing that his employer was alone, coolly opened
the door without ceremony, shut it softly behind him, and then closed
the wooden shutter of the grating. Don Jose surveyed him with mild
surprise and dignified composure. The man appeared perfectly
sober,—it was a peculiarity of his dissipated habits that, when not
actually raving with drink, he was singularly shrewd and practical.
"Look yer, Don Kosay," he began in a brusque but guarded voice,
"you and me is pards. When ye picked me and the mare up and set us
on our legs again in this yer ranch, I allowed I'd tie to ye whenever
you was in trouble—and wanted me. And I reckon that's what's the
matter now. For from what I see and hear on every side, although
you're the boss of this consarn, you're surrounded by a gang of spies
and traitors. Your comings and goings, your ins and outs, is dogged
and followed and blown upon. The folks you trust is playing it on ye.
It ain't for me to say why or wherefore— what's their rights and
what's yourn—but I've come to tell ye that if you don't get up and get
outer this ranch them d—d priests and your own flesh and blood—your
aunts and your uncles and your cousins, will have you chucked outer
your property, and run into a lunatic asylum."
"Me—Don Jose Sepulvida—a lunatico! You are yourself crazy of
drink, friend Roberto."
"Yes," said Roberto grimly, "but that kind ain't ILLEGAL, while
your makin' ducks and drakes of your property and going into 'Merikin
ideas and 'Merikin speculations they reckon is. And speakin' on the
square, it ain't NAT'RAL."
Don Jose sprang to his feet and began to pace up and down his cell-
like study. "Ah, I remember now," he muttered, "I begin to
comprehend: Father Felipe's homilies and discourses! My aunt's too
affectionate care! My cousin's discreet consideration! The prompt
attention of my servants! I see it all! And you," he said, suddenly
facing Roberto, "why come you to tell me this?"
"Well, boss," said the American dryly, "I reckoned to stand by
"Ah," said Don Jose, visibly affected. "Good Roberto, come hither,
child, you may kiss my hand."
"If! it's all the same to you, Don Kosay,—THAT kin slide."
"Ah, if—yes," said Don Jose, meditatively putting his hand to his
forehead, "miserable that I am!—I remembered not you were Americano.
Pardon, my friend—embrace me—Conpanero y Amigo."
With characteristic gravity he reclined for a moment upon Robert's
astonished breast. Then recovering himself with equal gravity he
paused, lifted his hand with gentle warning, marched to a recess in
the corner, unhooked a rapier hanging from the wall, and turned to
"We will defend ourselves, friend Roberto. It is the sword of the
Comandante—my ancestor. The blade is of Toledo."
"An ordinary six-shooter of Colt's would lay over that," said
Roberto grimly—"but that ain't your game just now, Don Kosay. You
must get up and get, and at once. You must vamose the ranch afore
they lay hold of you and have you up before the alcalde. Once away
from here, they daren't follow you where there's 'Merikin law, and
when you kin fight 'em in the square."
"Good," said Don Jose with melancholy preciseness. "You are wise,
friend Roberto. We may fight them later, as you say—on the square,
or in the open Plaza. And you, camarado, YOU shall go with me—you and
Sincere as the American had been in his offer of service, he was
somewhat staggered at this imperative command. But only for a
moment. "Well," he said lazily, "I don't care if I do."
"But," said Don Jose with increased gravity, "you SHALL care,
friend Roberto. We shall make an alliance, an union. It is true, my
brother, you drink of whiskey, and at such times are even as a madman.
It has been recounted to me that it was necessary to your existence
that you are a lunatic three days of the week. Who knows? I myself,
though I drink not of aguardiente, am accused of fantasies for all
time. Necessary it becomes therefore that we should go TOGETHER. My
fantasies and speculations cannot injure you, my brother; your whiskey
shall not empoison me. We shall go together in the great world of
your American ideas of which I am much inflamed. We shall together
breathe as one the spirit of Progress and Liberty. We shall be even
as neophytes making of ourselves Apostles of Truth. I absolve and
renounce myself henceforth of my family. I shall take to myself the
sister and the brother, the aunt and the uncle, as we proceed. I
devote myself to humanity alone. I devote YOU, my friend, and the
mare—though happily she has not a Christian soul—to this glorious
The few level last rays of light lit up a faint enthusiasm in the
face of Don Jose, but without altering his imperturbable gravity. The
vaquero eyed him curiously and half doubtfully.
"We will go to-morrow," resumed Don Jose with solemn decision, "for
it is Wednesday. It was a Sunday that thou didst ride the mare up
the steps of the Fonda and demanded that thy liquor should be served
to thee in a pail. I remember it, for the landlord of the Fonda
claimed twenty pesos for damage and the kissing of his wife.
Therefore, by computation, good Roberto, thou shouldst be sober until
Friday, and we shall have two clear days to fly before thy madness
again seizes thee."
"They kin say what they like, Don Kosay, but YOUR head is level,"
returned the unabashed American, grasping Don Jose's hand. "All
right, then. Hasta manana, as your folks say."
"Hasta manana," repeated Don Jose gravely.
At daybreak next morning, while slumber still weighted the lazy
eyelids of "the Blessed Innocents," Don Jose Sepulvida and his trusty
squire Roberto, otherwise known as "Bucking Bob," rode forth unnoticed
from the corral.
Three days had passed. At the close of the third, Don Jose was
seated in a cosy private apartment of the San Mateo Hotel, where they
had halted for an arranged interview with his lawyer before reaching
San Francisco. From his window he could see the surrounding park-like
avenues of oaks and the level white high road, now and then clouded
with the dust of passing teams. But his eyes were persistently fixed
upon a small copy of the American Constitution before him. Suddenly
there was a quick rap on his door, and before he could reply to it a
man brusquely entered.
Don Jose raised his head slowly, and recognized the landlord. But
the intruder, apparently awed by the gentle, grave, and studious
figure before him, fell back for an instant in an attitude of surly
"Enter freely, my good Jenkinson," said Don Jose, with a quiet
courtesy that had all the effect of irony. "The apartment, such as
it is, is at your disposition. It is even yours, as is the house."
"Well, I'm darned if I know as it is," said the landlord,
recovering himself roughly, "and that's jest what's the matter. Yer's
that man of yours smashing things right and left in the bar- room and
chuckin' my waiters through the window."
"Softly, softly, good Jenkinson," said Don Jose, putting a mark in
the pages of the volume before him. "It is necessary first that I
should correct your speech. He is not my 'MAN,' which I comprehend
to mean a slave, a hireling, a thing obnoxious to the great American
nation which I admire and to which HE belongs. Therefore, good
Jenkinson, say 'friend,' 'companion,' 'guide,' philosopher,' if you
will. As to the rest, it is of no doubt as you relate. I myself have
heard the breakings of glass and small dishes as I sit here; three
times I have seen your waiters projected into the road with much
violence and confusion. To myself I have then said, even as I say to
you, good Jenkinson, 'Patience, patience, the end is not far.' In
four hours," continued Don Jose, holding up four fingers, "he shall
make a finish. Until then, not."
"Well, I'm d—d," ejaculated Jenkinson, gasping for breath in his
"Nay, excellent Jenkinson, not dam-ned but of a possibility dam-
AGED. That I shall repay when he have make a finish."
"But, darn it all," broke in the landlord angrily.
"Ah," said Don Jose gravely, "you would be paid before! Good; for
how much shall you value ALL you have in your bar?"
Don Jose's imperturbability evidently shook the landlord's faith in
the soundness of his own position. He looked at his guest critically
"It cost me two hundred dollars to fit it up," he said curtly.
Don Jose rose, and, taking a buckskin purse from his saddle-bag,
counted out four slugs* and handed them to the stupefied Jenkinson.
The next moment, however, his host recovered himself, and casting the
slugs back on the little table, brought his fist down with an emphasis
that made them dance.
* Hexagonal gold pieces valued at $50 each, issued by a private
firm as coin in the early days.
"But, look yer—suppose I want this thing stopped—you hear me—
"That would be interfering with the liberty of the subject, my good
Jenkinson—which God forbid!" said Don Jose calmly. "Moreover, it is
the custom of the Americanos—a habit of my friend Roberto—a necessity
of his existence—and so recognized of his friends. Patience and
courage, Senor Jenkinson. Stay—ah, I comprehend! you have—of a
"No, I'm a widower," said Jenkinson sharply.
"Then I congratulate you. My friend Roberto would have kissed her.
It is also of his habit. Truly you have escaped much. I embrace
He threw his arms gravely around Jenkinson, in whose astounded face
at last an expression of dry humor faintly dawned. After a moment's
survey of Don Jose's impenetrable gravity, he coolly gathered up the
gold coins, and saying that he would assess the damages and return the
difference, he left the room as abruptly as he had entered it.
But Don Jose was not destined to remain long in peaceful study of
the American Constitution. He had barely taken up the book again and
renewed his serious contemplation of its excellences when there was
another knock at his door. This time, in obedience to his invitation
to enter, the new visitor approached with more deliberation and a
He was a young man of apparently the same age as Don Jose,
handsomely dressed, and of a quiet self-possession and gravity almost
equal to his host's.
"I believe I am addressing Don Jose Sepulvida," he said with a
familiar yet courteous inclination of his handsome head. Don Jose,
who had risen in marked contrast to his reception of his former
"You are truly making to him a great honor."
"Well, you're going it blind as far as I'M concerned certainly,"
said the young man, with a slight smile, "for you don't know ME."
"Pardon, my friend," said Don Jose gently, "in this book, this
great Testament of your glorious nation, I have read that you are all
equal, one not above, one not below the other. I salute in you the
Nation! It is enough!"
"Thank you," returned the stranger, with a face that, saving the
faintest twinkle in the corner of his dark eyes, was as immovable as
his host's, "but for the purposes of my business I had better say I am
Jack Hamlin, a gambler, and am just now dealing faro in the Florida
saloon round the corner."
He paused carelessly, as if to allow Don Jose the protest he did
not make, and then continued,—
"The matter is this. One of your vaqueros, who is, however, an
American, was round there an hour ago bucking against faro, and put
up and LOST, not only the mare he was riding, but a horse which I
have just learned is yours. Now we reckon, over there, that we can
make enough money playing a square game, without being obliged to
take property from a howling drunkard, to say nothing of it not
belonging to him, and I've come here, Don Jose, to say that if you'll
send over and bring away your man and your horse, you can have 'em
"If I have comprehended, honest Hamlin," said Don Jose slowly,
"this Roberto, who was my vaquero and is my brother, has approached
this faro game by himself unsolicited?"
"He certainly didn't seem shy of it," said Mr. Hamlin with equal
gravity. "To the best of my knowledge he looked as if he'd been
"And if he had won, excellent Hamlin, you would have given him the
equal of his mare and horse?"
"A hundred dollars for each, yes, certainly."
"Then I see not why I should send for the property which is truly
no longer mine, nor for my brother who will amuse himself after the
fashion of his country in the company of so honorable a caballero as
yourself? Stay! oh imbecile that I am. I have not remembered. You
would possibly say that he has no longer of horses! Play him; play
him, admirable yet prudent Hamlin. I have two thousand horses! Of a
surety he cannot exhaust them in four hours. Therefore play him, trust
to me for recompensa, and have no fear."
A quick flush covered the stranger's cheek, and his eyebrows
momentarily contracted. He walked carelessly to the window, however,
glanced out, and then turned to Don Jose.
"May I ask, then," he said with almost sepulchral gravity, "is
anybody taking care of you?"
"Truly," returned Don Jose cautiously, "there is my brother and
"Ah! Roberto, certainly," said Mr. Hamlin profoundly.
"Why do you ask, considerate friend?"
"Oh! I only thought, with your kind of opinions, you must often
feel lonely in California. Good-bye." He shook Don Jose's hand
heartily, took up his hat, inclined his head with graceful
seriousness, and passed out of the room. In the hall he met the
"Well," said Jenkinson, with a smile half anxious, half
insinuating, "you saw him? What do you think of him?"
Mr. Hamlin paused and regarded Jenkinson with a calmly
contemplative air, as if he were trying to remember first who he was,
and secondly why he should speak to him at all. "Think of whom?" he
"Why him—you know—Don Jose."
"I did not see anything the matter with him," returned Hamlin with
"What? nothing queer?"
"Well, no—except that he's a guest in YOUR house," said Hamlin
with great cheerfulness. "But then, as you keep a hotel, you can't
help occasionally admitting a—gentleman."
Mr. Jenkinson smiled the uneasy smile of a man who knew that his
interlocutor's playfulness occasionally extended to the use of a
derringer, in which he was singularly prompt and proficient, and Mr.
Hamlin, equally conscious of that knowledge on the part of his
companion, descended the staircase composedly.
But the day had darkened gradually into night, and Don Jose was at
last compelled to put aside his volume. The sound of a large bell
rung violently along the hall and passages admonished him that the
American dinner was ready, and although the viands and the mode of
cooking were not entirely to his fancy, he had, in his grave
enthusiasm for the national habits, attended the table d'hote
regularly with Roberto. On reaching the lower hall he was informed
that his henchman had early succumbed to the potency of his
libations, and had already been carried by two men to bed. Receiving
this information with his usual stoical composure, he entered the
dining-room, but was surprised to find that a separate table had been
prepared for him by the landlord, and that a rude attempt had been
made to serve him with his own native dishes.
"Senores y Senoritas," said Don Jose, turning from it and with
grave politeness addressing the assembled company, "if I seem to- day
to partake alone and in a reserved fashion of certain viands that have
been prepared for me, it is truly from no lack of courtesy to your
distinguished company, but rather, I protest, to avoid the appearance
of greater discourtesy to our excellent Jenkinson, who has taken some
pains and trouble to comport his establishment to what he conceives to
be my desires. Wherefore, my friends, in God's name fall to, the same
as if I were not present, and grace be with you."
A few stared at the tall, gentle, melancholy figure with some
astonishment; a few whispered to their neighbors; but when, at the
conclusion of his repast, Don Jose arose and again saluted the
company, one or two stood up and smilingly returned the courtesy, and
Polly Jenkinson, the landlord's youngest daughter, to the great
delight of her companions, blew him a kiss.
After visiting the vaquero in his room, and with his own hand
applying some native ointment to the various contusions and scratches
which recorded the late engagements of the unconscious Roberto, Don
Jose placed a gold coin in the hands of the Irish chamber-maid, and
bidding her look after the sleeper, he threw his serape over his
shoulders and passed into the road. The loungers on the veranda gazed
at him curiously, yet half acknowledged his usual serious salutation,
and made way for him with a certain respect. Avoiding the few narrow
streets of the little town, he pursued his way meditatively along the
highroad, returning to the hotel after an hour's ramble, as the
evening stage-coach had deposited its passengers and departed.
"There's a lady waiting to see you upstairs," said the landlord
with a peculiar smile. "She rather allowed it wasn't the proper
thing to see you alone, or she wasn't quite ekal to it, I reckon, for
she got my Polly to stand by her."
"Your Polly, good Jenkinson?" said Don Jose interrogatively.
"My darter, Don Jose."
"Ah, truly! I am twice blessed," said Don Jose, gravely ascending
On entering the room he perceived a tall, large-featured woman with
an extraordinary quantity of blond hair parted on one side of her
broad forehead, sitting upon the sofa. Beside her sat Polly
Jenkinson, her fresh, honest, and rather pretty face beaming with
delighted expectation and mischief. Don Jose saluted them with a
formal courtesy, which, however, had no trace of the fact that he
really did not remember anything of them.
"I called," said the large-featured woman with a voice equally
pronounced, "in reference to a request from you, which, though
perhaps unconventional in the extreme, I have been able to meet by
the intervention of this young lady's company. My name on this card
may not be familiar to you—but I am 'Dorothy Dewdrop.'"
A slight movement of abstraction and surprise passed over Don
Jose's face, but as quickly vanished as he advanced towards her and
gracefully raised the tips of her fingers to his lips. "Have I then,
at last, the privilege of beholding that most distressed and deeply
injured of women! Or is it but a dream!"
It certainly was not, as far as concerned the substantial person of
the woman before him, who, however, seemed somewhat uneasy under his
words as well as the demure scrutiny of Miss Jenkinson. "I thought
you might have forgotten," she said with slight acerbity, "that you
desired an interview with the authoress of"—
"Pardon," interrupted Don Jose, standing before her in an attitude
of the deepest sympathizing dejection, "I had not forgotten. It is
now three weeks since I have read in the journal 'Golden Gate' the
eloquent and touching poem of your sufferings, and your aspirations,
and your miscomprehensions by those you love. I remember as yesterday
that you have said, that cruel fate have linked you to a soulless
state—that—but I speak not well your own beautiful language—you are in
tears at evenfall 'because that you are not understood of others, and
that your soul recoiled from iron bonds, until, as in a dream, you
sought succor and release in some true Knight of equal plight.'"
"I am told," said the large-featured woman with some satisfaction,
"that the poem to which you allude has been generally admired."
"Admired! Senora," said Don Jose, with still darker sympathy, "it
is not the word; it is FELT. I have felt it. When I read those
words of distress, I am touched of compassion! I have said, This
woman, so disconsolate, so oppressed, must be relieved, protected! I
have wrote to you, at the 'Golden Gate,' to see me here."
"And I have come, as you perceive," said the poetess, rising with a
slight smile of constraint; "and emboldened by your appreciation, I
have brought a few trifles thrown off"—
"Pardon, unhappy Senora," interrupted Don Jose, lifting his hand
deprecatingly without relaxing his melancholy precision, "but to a
cavalier further evidence is not required—and I have not yet make
finish. I have not content myself to WRITE to you. I have sent my
trusty friend Roberto to inquire at the 'Golden Gate' of your
condition. I have found there, most unhappy and persecuted friend—
that with truly angelic forbearance you have not told ALL—that you
are MARRIED, and that of a necessity it is your husband that is cold
and soulless and unsympathizing—and all that you describe."
"Sir!" said the poetess, rising in angry consternation.
"I have written to him," continued Don Jose, with unheeding
gravity; "have appealed to him as a friend, I have conjured him as a
caballero, I have threatened him even as a champion of the Right, I
have said to him, in effect—that this must not be as it is. I have
informed him that I have made an appointment with you even at this
house, and I challenged him to meet you here—in this room— even at
this instant, and, with God's help, we should make good our charges
against him. It is yet early; I have allowed time for the lateness of
the stage and the fact that he will come by another conveyance.
Therefore, O Dona Dewdrop, tremble not like thy namesake as it were
on the leaf of apprehension and expectancy. I, Don Jose, am here to
protect thee. I will take these charges"— gently withdrawing the
manuscripts from her astonished grasp— "though even, as I related to
thee before, I want them not, yet we will together confront him with
them and make them good against him."
"Are you mad?" demanded the lady in almost stentorious accents, "or
is this an unmanly hoax?" Suddenly she stopped in undeniable
consternation. "Good heavens," she muttered, "if Abner should
believe this. He is SUCH a fool! He has lately been queer and
jealous. Oh dear!" she said, turning to Polly Jenkinson with the
first indication of feminine weakness, "Is he telling the truth? is
he crazy? what shall I do?"
Polly Jenkinson, who had witnessed the interview with the intensest
enjoyment, now rose equal to the occasion.
"You have made a mistake," she said, uplifting her demure blue eyes
to Don Jose's dark and melancholy gaze. "This lady is a POETESS! The
sufferings she depicts, the sorrows she feels, are in the IMAGINATION,
in her fancy only."
"Ah!" said Don Jose gloomily; "then it is all false."
"No," said Polly quickly, "only they are not her OWN, you know.
They are somebody elses. She only describes them for another, don't
"And who, then, is this unhappy one?" asked the Don quickly.
"Well—a—friend," stammered Polly, hesitatingly.
"A friend!" repeated Don Jose. "Ah, I see, of possibility a dear
one, even," he continued, gazing with tender melancholy into the
untroubled cerulean depths of Polly's eyes, "even, but no, child, it
could not be! THOU art too young."
"Ah," said Polly, with an extraordinary gulp and a fierce nudge of
the poetess, "but it WAS me."
"You, Senorita," repeated Don Jose, falling back in an attitude of
mingled admiration and pity. "You, the child of Jenkinson!"
"Yes, yes," joined in the poetess hurriedly; "but that isn't going
to stop the consequences of your wretched blunder. My husband will
be furious, and will be here at any moment. Good gracious! what is
The violent slamming of a distant door at that instant, the sounds
of quick scuffling on the staircase, and the uplifting of an irate
voice had reached her ears and thrown her back in the arms of Polly
Jenkinson. Even the young girl herself turned an anxious gaze
towards the door. Don Jose alone was unmoved.
"Possess yourselves in peace, Senoritas," he said calmly. "We have
here only the characteristic convalescence of my friend and brother,
the excellent Roberto. He will ever recover himself from drink with
violence, even as he precipitates himself into it with fury. He has
been prematurely awakened. I will discover the cause."
With an elaborate bow to the frightened women, he left the room.
Scarcely had the door closed when the poetess turned quickly to
Polly. "The man's a stark staring lunatic, but, thank Heaven, Abner
will see it at once. And now let's get away while we can. To think,"
she said, snatching up her scattered manuscripts, "that THAT was all
the beast wanted."
"I'm sure he's very gentle and kind," said Polly, recovering her
dimples with a demure pout; "but stop, he's coming back."
It was indeed Don Jose re-entering the room with the composure of a
relieved and self-satisfied mind. "It is even as I said, Senora," he
began, taking the poetess's hand,—"and MORE. You are SAVED!"
As the women only stared at each other, he gravely folded his arms
and continued: "I will explain. For the instant I have not remember
that, in imitation of your own delicacy, I have given to your husband
in my letter, not the name of myself, but, as a mere Don Fulano, the
name of my brother Roberto—'Bucking Bob.' Your husband have this
moment arrive! Penetrating the bedroom of the excellent Roberto, he
has indiscreetly seize him in his bed, without explanation, without
introduction, without fear! The excellent Roberto, ever ready for
such distractions, have respond! In a word, to use the language of the
good Jenkinson—our host, our father—who was present, he have 'wiped
the floor with your husband,' and have even carried him down the
staircase to the street. Believe me, he will not return. You are
"Fool! Idiot! Crazy beast!" said the poetess, dashing past him
and out of the door. "You shall pay for this!"
Don Jose did not change his imperturbable and melancholy calm.
"And now, little one," he said, dropping on one knee before the
half-frightened Polly, "child of Jenkinson, now that thy perhaps too
excitable sponsor has, in a poet's caprice, abandoned thee for some
newer fantasy, confide in me thy distress, to me, thy Knight, and tell
the story of thy sorrows."
"But," said Polly, rising to her feet and struggling between a
laugh and a cry. "I haven't any sorrows. Oh dear! don't you see,
it's only her FANCY to make me seem so. There's nothing the matter
"Nothing the matter," repeated Don Jose slowly. "You have no
distress? You want no succor, no relief, no protector? This, then,
is but another delusion!" he said, rising sadly.
"Yes, no—that is—oh, my gracious goodness!" said Polly, hopelessly
divided between a sense of the ridiculous and some strange attraction
in the dark, gentle eyes that were fixed upon her half reproachfully.
"You don't understand."
Don Jose replied only with a melancholy smile, and then going to
the door, opened it with a bowed head and respectful courtesy. At
the act, Polly plucked up courage again, and with it a slight dash of
her old audacity.
"I'm sure I'm very sorry that I ain't got any love sorrows," she
said demurely. "And I suppose it's very dreadful in me not to have
been raving and broken-hearted over somebody or other as that woman
has said. Only," she waited till she had gained the secure vantage
of the threshold, "I never knew a gentleman to OBJECT to it before!"
With this Parthian arrow from her blue eyes she slipped into the
passage and vanished through the door of the opposite parlor. For an
instant Don Jose remained motionless and reflecting. Then, recovering
himself with grave precision, he deliberately picked up his narrow
black gloves from the table, drew them on, took his hat in his hand,
and solemnly striding across the passage, entered the door that had
just closed behind her.
It must not be supposed that in the meantime the flight of Don Jose
and his follower was unattended by any commotion at the rancho of the
Blessed Innocents. At the end of three hours' deliberation, in which
the retainers were severally examined, the corral searched, and the
well in the courtyard sounded, scouts were dispatched in different
directions, who returned with the surprising information that the
fugitives were not in the vicinity. A trustworthy messenger was sent
to Monterey for "custom-house paper," on which to draw up a formal
declaration of the affair. The archbishop was summoned from San Luis,
and Don Victor and Don Vincente Sepulvida, with the Donas Carmen and
Inez Alvarado, and a former alcalde, gathered at a family council the
next day. In this serious conclave the good Father Felipe once more
expounded the alienated condition and the dangerous reading of the
absent man. In the midst of which the ordinary post brought a letter
from Don Jose, calmly inviting the family to dine with him and Roberto
at San Mateo on the following Wednesday. The document was passed
gravely from hand to hand. Was it a fresh evidence of mental
aberration— an audacity of frenzy—or a trick of the vaquero? The
archbishop and alcalde shook their heads—it was without doubt a
lawless, even a sacrilegious and blasphemous fete. But a certain
curiosity of the ladies and of Father Felipe carried the day. Without
formally accepting the invitation it was decided that the family
should examine the afflicted man, with a view of taking active
measures hereafter. On the day appointed, the traveling carriage of
the Sepulvidas, an equipage coeval with the beginning of the century,
drawn by two white mules gaudily caparisoned, halted before the hotel
at San Mateo and disgorged Father Felipe, the Donas Carmen and Inez
Alvarado and Maria Sepulvida, while Don Victor and Don Vincente
Sepulvida, their attendant cavaliers on fiery mustangs, like
outriders, drew rein at the same time. A slight thrill of excitement,
as of the advent of a possible circus, had preceded them through the
little town; a faint blending of cigarette smoke and garlic announced
their presence on the veranda.
Ushered into the parlor of the hotel, apparently set apart for
their reception, they were embarrassed at not finding their host
present. But they were still more disconcerted when a tall full-
bearded stranger, with a shrewd amused-looking face, rose from a
chair by the window, and stepping forward, saluted them in fluent
Spanish with a slight American accent.
"I have to ask you, gentlemen and ladies," he began, with a certain
insinuating ease and frankness that alternately aroused and lulled
their suspicions, "to pardon the absence of our friend Don Jose
Sepulvida at this preliminary greeting. For to be perfectly frank
with you, although the ultimate aim and object of our gathering is a
social one, you are doubtless aware that certain infelicities and
misunderstandings—common to most families—have occurred, and a free,
dispassionate, unprejudiced discussion and disposal of them at the
beginning will only tend to augment the goodwill of our gathering."
"The Senor without doubt is"—suggested the padre, with a polite
"Pardon me! I forgot to introduce myself. Colonel Parker—
entirely at your service and that of these charming ladies."
The ladies referred to allowed their eyes to rest with evident
prepossession on the insinuating stranger. "Ah, a soldier," said Don
"Formerly," said the American lightly; "at present a lawyer, the
counsel of Don Jose."
A sudden rigor of suspicion stiffened the company; the ladies
withdrew their eyes; the priest and the Sepulvidas exchanged glances.
"Come," said Colonel Parker, with apparent unconsciousness of the
effect of his disclosure, "let us begin frankly. You have, I
believe, some anxiety in regard to the mental condition of Don Jose."
"We believe him to be mad," said Padre Felipe promptly,
"That is your opinion; good," said the lawyer quietly.
"And ours too," clamored the party, "without doubt."
"Good," returned the lawyer with perfect cheerfulness. "As his
relations, you have no doubt had superior opportunities for observing
his condition. I understand also that you may think it necessary to
have him legally declared non compos, a proceeding which, you are
aware, might result in the incarceration of our distinguished friend
in a mad-house."
"Pardon, Senor," interrupted Dona Maria proudly, "you do not
comprehend the family. When a Sepulvida is visited of God we do not
ask the Government to confine him like a criminal. We protect him in
his own house from the consequences of his frenzy."
"From the machinations of the worldly and heretical," broke in the
priest, "and from the waste and dispersion of inherited possessions."
"Very true," continued Colonel Parker, with unalterable good-humor;
"but I was only about to say that there might be conflicting evidence
of his condition. For instance, our friend has been here three days.
In that time he has had three interviews with three individuals under
singular circumstances." Colonel Parker then briefly recounted the
episodes of the landlord, the gambler, Miss Jenkinson and the poetess,
as they had been related to him. "Yet," he continued, "all but one of
these individuals are willing to swear that they not only believe Don
Jose perfectly sane, but endowed with a singularly sound judgment. In
fact, the testimony of Mr. Hamlin and Miss Jenkinson is remarkably
clear on that subject."
The company exchanged a supercilious smile. "Do you not see, O
Senor Advocate," said Don Vincente compassionately, "that this is but
a conspiracy to avail themselves of our relative's weakness. Of a
necessity they find him sane who benefits them."
"I have thought of that, and am glad to hear you say so," returned
the lawyer still more cheerfully, "for your prompt opinion emboldens
me to be at once perfectly frank with you. Briefly then, Don Jose has
summoned me here to make a final disposition of his property. In the
carrying out of certain theories of his, which it is not my province
to question, he has resolved upon comparative poverty for himself as
best fitted for his purpose, and to employ his wealth solely for
others. In fact, of all his vast possessions he retains for himself
only an income sufficient for the bare necessaries of life."
"And you have done this?" they asked in one voice.
"Not yet," said the lawyer.
"Blessed San Antonio, we have come in time!" ejaculated Dona
Carmen. "Another day and it would have been too late; it was an
inspiration of the Blessed Innocents themselves," said Dona Maria,
crossing herself. "Can you longer doubt that this is the wildest
madness?" said Father Felipe with flashing eyes.
"Yet," returned the lawyer, caressing his heavy beard with a
meditative smile, "the ingenious fellow actually instanced the vows
of YOUR OWN ORDER, reverend sir, as an example in support of his
theory. But to be brief. Conceiving, then, that his holding of
property was a mere accident of heritage, not admitted by him,
unworthy his acceptance, and a relic of superstitious ignorance"—
"This is the very sacrilege of Satanic prepossession," broke in the
"He therefore," continued the lawyer composedly, "makes over and
reverts the whole of his possessions, with the exceptions I have
stated, to his family and the Church."
A breathless and stupefying silence fell upon the company. In the
dead hush the sound of Polly Jenkinson's piano, played in a distant
room, could be distinctly heard. With their vacant eyes staring at
him the speaker continued:
"That deed of gift I have drawn up as he dictated it. I don't mind
saying that in the opinion of some he might be declared non compos
upon the evidence of that alone. I need not say how relieved I am to
find that your opinion coincides with my own."
"But," gasped Father Felipe hurriedly, with a quick glance at the
others, "it does not follow that it will be necessary to resort to
these legal measures. Care, counsel, persuasion—"
"The general ministering of kinship—nursing, a woman's care—the
instincts of affection," piped Dona Maria in breathless eagerness.
"Any light social distraction—a harmless flirtation—a possible
attachment," suggested Dona Carmen shyly.
"Change of scene—active exercise—experiences—even as those you
have related," broke in Don Vincente.
"I for one have ever been opposed to LEGAL measures," said Don
Victor. "A mere consultation of friends—in fact, a fete like this is
"Good friends," said Father Felipe, who had by this time recovered
himself, taking out his snuff-box portentously, "it would seem truly,
from the document which this discreet caballero has spoken of, that
the errors of our dear Don Jose are rather of method than intent, and
that while we may freely accept the one"—
"Pardon," interrupted Colonel Parker with bland persistence, "but I
must point out to you that what we call in law 'a consideration' is
necessary to the legality of a conveyance, even though that
consideration be frivolous and calculated to impair the validity of
"Truly," returned the good padre insinuatingly; "but if a discreet
advocate were to suggest the substitution of some more pious and
"But that would be making it a perfectly sane and gratuitous
document, not only glaringly inconsistent with your charges, my good
friends, with Don Jose's attitude towards you and his flight from
home, but open to the gravest suspicion in law. In fact, its apparent
propriety in the face of these facts would imply improper influence."
The countenances of the company fell. The lawyer's face, however,
became still more good-humored and sympathizing. "The case is simply
this. If in the opinion of judge and jury Don Jose is declared
insane, the document is worthless except as a proof of that fact or a
possible indication of the undue influence of his relations, which
might compel the court to select his guardians and trustees elsewhere
than among them."
"Friend Abogado," said Father Felipe with extraordinary
deliberation, "the document thou hast just described so eloquently
convinces me beyond all doubt that Don Jose is not only perfectly
sane but endowed with a singular discretion. I consider it as a
delicate and high-spirited intimation to us, his friends and kinsmen,
of his unalterable and logically just devotion to his family and
religion, whatever may seem to be his poetical and imaginative manner
of declaring it. I think there is not one here," continued the padre,
looking around him impressively, "who is not entirely satisfied of Don
Jose's reason and competency to arrange his own affairs."
"Entirely," "truly," "perfectly," eagerly responded the others with
"Nay, more. To prevent any misconception, we shall deem it our
duty to take every opportunity of making our belief publicly known,"
added Father Felipe.
The padre and Colonel Parker gazed long and gravely into each
other's eyes. It may have been an innocent touch of the sunlight
through the window, but a faint gleam seemed to steal into the pupil
of the affable lawyer at the same moment that, probably from the like
cause, there was a slight nervous contraction of the left eyelid of
the pious father. But it passed, and the next instant the door opened
to admit Don Jose Sepulvida.
He was at once seized and effusively embraced by the entire company
with every protest of affection and respect. not only Mr. Hamlin and
Mr. Jenkinson, who accompanied him as invited guests, but Roberto, in
a new suit of clothes and guiltless of stain or trace of dissipation,
shared in the pronounced friendliness of the kinsmen. Padre Felipe
took snuff, Colonel Parker blew his nose gently.
Nor were they less demonstrative of their new convictions later at
the banquet. Don Jose, with Jenkinson and the padre on his right and
left, preserved his gentle and half-melancholy dignity in the midst of
the noisy fraternization. Even Padre Felipe, in a brief speech or
exhortation proposing the health of their host, lent himself in his
own tongue to this polite congeniality. "We have had also, my friends
and brothers," he said in peroration, "a pleasing example of the
compliment of imitation shown by our beloved Don Jose. No one who has
known him during his friendly sojourn in this community but will be
struck with the conviction that he has acquired that most marvelous
faculty of your great American nation, the exhibition of humor and of
the practical joke."
Every eye was turned upon the imperturbable face of Don Jose as he
slowly rose to reply. "In bidding you to this fete, my friends and
kinsmen," he began calmly, "it was with the intention of formally
embracing the habits, customs, and spirit of American institutions by
certain methods of renunciation of the past, as became a caballero of
honor and resolution. Those methods may possibly be known to some of
you." He paused for a moment as if to allow the members of his family
to look unconscious. "Since then, in the wisdom of God, it has
occurred to me that my purpose may be as honorably effected by a
discreet blending of the past and the present—in a word, by the
judicious combination of the interests of my native people and the
American nation. In consideration of that purpose, friends and
kinsmen, I ask you to join me in drinking the good health of my host
Senor Jenkinson, my future father-in- law, from whom I have to-day had
the honor to demand the hand of the peerless Polly, his daughter, as
the future mistress of the Rancho of the Blessed Innocents."
The marriage took place shortly after. Nor was the free will and
independence of Don Jose Sepulvida in the least opposed by his
relations. Whether they felt they had already committed themselves,
or had hopes in the future, did not transpire. Enough that the
escapade of a week was tacitly forgotten. The only allusion ever made
to the bridegroom's peculiarities was drawn from the demure lips of
the bride herself on her installation at the "Blessed Innocents."
"And what, little one, didst thou find in me to admire?" Don Jose
had asked tenderly.
"Oh, you seemed to be so much like that dear old Don Quixote, you
know," she answered demurely.
"Don Quixote," repeated Don Jose with gentle gravity. "But, my
child, that was only a mere fiction—a romance, of one Cervantes.
Believe me, of a truth there never was any such person!"