Talbot of Ursula by Gertrude Atherton
(This story first appeared in the Anglo-Saxon Review, and is
republished by kind permission of Mrs. George Cornwallis-West)
he Señora as usual had written a formal little note in the morning
asking John Talbot to eat his birthday dinner at the Rancho de los
Olivos. Although he called on the Señora once a week the year round, she
never offered him more than a glass of angelica or a cup of chocolate on
any other occasion; but for his natal day she had a turkey killed, and
her aged cook prepared so many hot dishes and dulces of the old time
that Talbot was a wretched man for three days. But he would have endured
misery for six rather than forego this feast, and the brief embrace of
home life that accompanied it.
The Señora and the padre of the Mission were Talbot's only companions
in Santa Ursula, although for political reasons he often dropped in at
the saloon of the village and discussed with its polyglot customers such
affairs of the day as penetrated this remote corner of California. And
yet for twenty-three years he had lived in Santa Ursula, year in and
year out, save for brief visits to San Francisco, Sacramento, and the
Why had he stayed on in this God-forsaken hole after he had become a
rich man? He asked himself the question with some humor as he walked up
and down the corridor of the Mission on this his fortieth birthday; and
he had asked it many times.
To some souls the perfect peace, the warm drowsy beauty of the scene
would have been a conclusive answer. Two friars in their brown robes
passed and repassed him, reading their prayers. Beyond the arches of the
corridor, abruptly below the plateau on which stood the long white
Mission, was, so far as the eye was responsible, an illimitable valley,
cutting the horizon on the south and west, cut by the mountains of Santa
Barbara on the east. The sun was brazen in a dark-blue sky, and under
its downpour the vast olive orchard which covered the valley looked like
a silver sea. The glittering ripples met the blue of the horizon
sharply, crinkled against the lower spurs of the mountain. As a bird
that had skimmed its surface, then plunged for a moment, rose again,
Talbot almost expected to see it shake bright drops from its wings. He
sighed involuntarily as he reflected that in the dark caves and arbors
below it was very cool, far cooler than he would be during an eight-mile
ride under the mid-day sun of Southern California. Then he remembered
that the Señora's sala was also dark and cool, and that part of his
way lay through the cotton-woods and willows by the river; and he smiled
whimsically again. He had salted his long sojourn at Santa Ursula with
One mountain-peak, detached from the range and within a mile of the
Mission, was dense and dark with forest, broken only here and there by
the bowlders the earth had flung on high in her restless youth. There
was but a winding trail to the top, and few had made acquaintance with
it. John Talbot knew it well, and that to which it led—a lake in the
very cup of the peak, so clear and bright that it reflected every needle
of the dark pines embracing it.
And to the west of the Mission—past the river with its fringe of
cotton-woods and willows, beyond a long dusty road which led through
fields and cañon and over more than one hill—was the old adobe house of
the Rancho de los Olivos.
Talbot was a practical man of business to-day. The olive orchard was
his, the toy hotel at the end of the plateau, the land upon which had
grown the rough village, with its one store, its prosperous saloon, its
post-office, and several shanties of citizens not altogether estimable.
He was also a man of affairs, for he had represented the district for
two years at the State Legislature, and was spoken of as a future
Senator. It cannot be said that the people among whom he had spent so
many years of his life loved him, for he was reserved and had never been
known to slap a man on the back. Moreover, it was believed that he
subscribed to a San Francisco daily paper, which he did not place on
file in the saloon, and that he had a large library of books in one of
his rooms at the Mission. As far as the neighbors could see, the priest
was the only man in the district in whom he found companionship.
Nevertheless he was respected and trusted as a man must be who has never
broken his word nor taken advantage of another for twenty-three years;
and even those who resented the manifest antagonism of his back to the
national familiarity felt that the dignity and interest of the State
would be safe in his hands. Even those most in favor of rotation had
concluded that it would not be a bad idea to put him in Congress for
life, after the tacit fashion of the New England States. At all events
they would try him in the House of Representatives for two or three
terms, and then, if he satisfied their expectations and demonstrated his
usefulness, they would "work" the State and send him to the United
States Senate. Santa Ursula had but one street, but its saloon was the
heart of a hundred-mile radius. And it was as proud as an old don. When
its leading citizen became known far and wide as "Talbot of Ursula," a
title conferred by the members of his Legislature to distinguish him
from two colleagues of the same name, its pride in him knew no bounds.
The local papers found it an effective head-line, and the title clung to
him for the rest of his life.
It was only when a newspaper interviewed Talbot after his election to
the State Senate that his district learned that he was by birth an
Englishman. He had emigrated with his parents at the age of fourteen,
however, and as the population of his district included Germans, Irish,
Swedes, Mexicans, and Italians, his nationality mattered little.
Moreover, he had made his own fortune, barring the start his uncle had
given him, and he was an American every inch of him. England was but a
peaceful dream, a vale of the hereafter's rest set at the wrong end of
life. He recalled but one incident of that time, but on that incident
his whole life had hinged.
It was some years now since it had grouped itself, a tableau of gray
ghosts, in his memory, but he invoked it to-day, although it seemed to
have no place in the hot languid morning with that Southern sea hiding
its bitter fruit breaking almost at the feet of this long white
red-tiled Mission whose silver bells had once called hundreds of Indians
to prayer. (They rang with vehemence still, but few responded.)
Nevertheless the memory rose and held him.
His mother, a widow, had kept a little shop in his native village. He
had gone to school since the tender age of five, and had paid more
attention to his books than to the village battle-ground, for he grew
rapidly, and was very delicate until the change to the new world made a
man of him. But he loved his books, the other boys were kind to him, and
altogether he was not ill-pleased with his life when one day his mother
bade him put on his best clothes and come with her to a wedding. He
grumbled disdainfully, for he had an interesting book in his hand; but
he was used to obey his mother; he tumbled into his Sunday clothes and
followed her and other dames to the old stone church at the top of the
village. The daughter of the great family of the neighborhood was to be
married that morning, and all the little girls of John's acquaintance
were dressed in white and had strewn flowers along the main street and
the road beyond as far as the castle gates. He thought it a silly
business and a sinful waste of posies; but in the church-yard he took
his place in the throng with a certain feeling of curiosity.
The bride happened to be one of the beauties of her time; but it was not
so much her beauty that made John stare at her with expanding eyes and
mouth as she drove up in an open carriage, then walked down the long
path from the gate to the church. He had seen beauty before; but never
that look and air of a race far above his own, of light impertinent
pride, never a lissome daintily stepping figure, and a head carried as
if it bore a star rather than a bridal wreath. He had not dreamed of
anything alive resembling this, and he knew she was not an angel. After
she had entered the church he drew a long breath and glanced sharply at
the village beauties. They looked like coarse red apples; and, alas, his
mother was of their world.
When the bride reappeared he stared hard at her again, but this time he
noticed that there were similar delicate beings in her train. She was
not the only one of her kind, then. The discovery filled him with
amazement, which was followed by a curious sensation of hope. He broke
away from his mother and ran after the carriage for nearly a mile,
determined to satisfy his eager eyes as long as might be. The bride
noticed him, and, smiling, tossed him a rose from her bouquet. He had
that flower yet.
It was a week before he confided to his mother that when he grew up he
intended to marry a lady. Mrs. Talbot stared, then laughed. But when he
repeated the statement a few evenings later during their familiar hour,
she told him peremptorily to put such ideas out of his head, that the
likes of him didn't marry ladies. And when she explained why, with the
brutal directness she thought necessary, John was as depressed as a boy
of fourteen can be. It was but a week later, however, that his mother,
upon announcing her determination to emigrate to America, said to him:
"And perhaps you'll get that grand wish of yours. Out there I've heard
say as how one body's as good as another, so if you're a good boy and
make plenty of brass, you can marry a lady as well as not." She forgot
the words immediately, but John never forgot them.
Mrs. Talbot died soon after their arrival in New York, and the brother
who had sent for her put John to school for two years. One day he told
him to pack his trunk and accompany him to California in search of gold.
They bought a comfortable emigrant wagon and joined a large party about
to cross the plains in quest of El Dorado. During that long momentous
journey John felt like a character in a book of adventures, for they had
no less than three encounters with red Indians, and two of his party
were scalped. He always felt young again when he recalled that time. It
was one of those episodes in life when everything was exactly as it
He and his uncle remained in the San Joaquin valley for a year, and
although they were not so fortunate as many others, they finally moved
to San Francisco the richer by a few thousands. Here Mr. Quick opened a
gambling-house and saloon, and made money far more rapidly than he had
done in the northern valley—where, in truth, he had lost much by night
that he had panned out by day. But being a virtuous uncle, if an
imperfect member of society, he soon sent John to the country to look
after a ranch near the Mission of Santa Ursula. The young man never knew
that this fine piece of property had been won over the gambling table
from Don Roberto Ortega, one of the maddest grandees of the Californias.
His grant embraced some fifty thousand acres and was bright in patches
with little olive orchards. John planted with olive-trees, at his own
expense, the twelve thousand acres which had fallen to his uncle's
share; the two men were to be partners, and the younger was to inherit
the elder's share. He inherited nothing else, for his uncle married a
Mexican woman who knifed him and made off with what little money had
been put aside from current extravagances. But John worked hard, bought
varas in San Francisco whenever he had any spare cash, supplied almost
the entire State with olives and olive-oil, and in time became a rich
And his ideal? Only the Indians had driven it temporarily into the
unused chambers of his memory. Not gold-mines, nor his brief taste of
the wild hot life of San Francisco, nor hard work among his olive-trees,
nor increasing wealth and importance, had driven from his mind that
desire born among the tombstones of his native village. It was the woman
herself with a voice as silver as his own olive leaves, who laughed his
dream to death, and left him, still handsome, strong, and lightly
touched by time, a bachelor at forty.
He saw nothing of women for several years after he came to the Mission,
for the one ranch house in the neighborhood was closed, and there was
no village then. He worked among his olive-trees contentedly enough,
spending long profitable evenings with the intellectual priests, who
made him one of their family, and studying law and his favorite science,
political economy. Although the boy was very handsome, with his
sun-burned, well-cut face and fine figure, it never occurred to the
priests that the most romantic of hearts beat beneath that shrewd,
accumulative brain. Of women he had never spoken, except when he had
confided to his friends that he was glad to get away from the very sight
of the terrible creatures of San Francisco; and that he dreamed for
hours among his olive-trees of the thoroughbred creature who was one day
to reward his labors and make him the happiest of mortals never entered
the imagination of the good padres.
He was twenty and the ranch was his when he met Delfina Carillo. Don
Roberto Ortega had opportunely died before gambling away more than half
of his estate, and his widow, who was delicate, left the ranch near
Monterey, where they had lived for many years, and came to bake brown in
the hot suns of the South. Her son, Don Enrique, came with her, and John
saw him night and morning riding about the country at top speed, and
sometimes clattering up to the corridor of the Mission and calling for
a glass of wine. He was a magnificent caballero, slim and dark, with
large melting eyes and long hair on a little head. He wore small-clothes
of gayly colored silk, with much lace on his shirt and silver on his
sombrero. His long yellow botas were laced with silver, and his saddle
was so loaded with the same metal that only a Californian horse could
have carried it. John turned up his nose at this gorgeous apparition,
and likened him to a "play actor" and a circus rider; nevertheless, he
was very curious to see something of the life of the Californian
grandee, of which he had heard much and seen nothing, and when Padre
Ortega, who was a cousin of the widow, told him that a large company was
expected within a fortnight, and that he had asked permission to take
his young friend to the ball with which the festivities would open, John
began to indulge in the pleasurable anticipations of youth.
But he did not occupy the interval with dreams alone. He went to San
Francisco and bought himself a wardrobe suitable for polite society. It
was an American outfit, not Californian, but had John possessed the
wealth of the northern valleys he could not have been induced to put
himself into silk and lace.
The stage did not go to Santa Ursula, but a servant met him at a
station twenty miles from home with a horse, and a cart for his trunk.
He washed off the dust of three days' travel in a neighboring creek,
then jumped on his big gray mare, and started at a mild gallop for his
ranch. He felt like singing his contentment with the world, for the
morning was radiant, he was on one of the finest horses of the country,
and he was as light of heart as a boy should be who has received a hint
from fortune that he is one of the favorites. He looked forward to the
social ordeal without apprehension, for by this time he had all the
native American's sense of independence, he had barely heard the word
"gentleman" since his arrival in the new country, his education was all
that could be desired, he was a landed proprietor, and intended to be a
rich and successful man. No wonder he wanted to sing.
He had ridden some eight or ten miles, meeting no one in that great
wilderness of early California, when he suddenly drew rein and listened.
He was descending into a narrow cañon on whose opposite slope the road
continued to the interior; his way lay sharply to the south when he
reached the narrow stream between the walls of the cañon. The sound of
many voices came over the hills opposite, and the voices were light, and
young, and gay. John remembered that it was time for Doña Martina's
visitors to arrive, and guessed at once that he was about to fall in
with one of the parties. The young Californians travelled on horseback
in those days, thinking nothing of forty miles under a midsummer sun.
John, who was the least self-conscious of mortals, was moved to
gratitude that he wore a new suit of gray serge and had left the dust of
stage travel in the creek.
The party appeared on the crest of the hill, and began the descent into
the cañon. John raised his cap, and the caballeros responded with a
flourish of sombreros. It would be some moments before they could meet,
and John was glad to stare at the brilliant picture they made. Life
suddenly seemed unreal, unmodern to him. He forgot his olive-trees, and
recalled the tales the priests had told him of the pleasures and
magnificence of the Californian dons before the American occupation.
The caballeros were in silk, every one of them, and for variety of hue
they would have put a June garden to the blush. Their linen and silver
were dazzling, and the gold-colored coats of their horses seemed a
reflection of the sun. These horses had silver tails and manes, and
seemed invented for the brilliant creatures who rode them. The girls
were less gorgeous than the caballeros, for they wore delicate flowered
gowns, and a strip of silk about their heads instead of sombreros
trimmed with silver eagles. But they filled John's eye, and he forgot
the caballeros. They had long black braids of hair and large dark eyes
and white skins, and at that distance they all looked beautiful; but
although John worshipped beauty, even in the form of olive-trees and
purple mists, it was not the loveliness of these Spanish girls that set
his pulses beating and sent the blood to his head. This was almost his
first sight of gentlewomen since the memorable day in his native
village, and the certainty that his opportunity had come at last filled
him with both triumph and terror as he spurred down the slope, then
paused and watched the cavalcade pick their way down through the golden
grass and the thick green bush of the cañon. In a moment he recognized
Don Enrique Ortega, who spoke to him pleasantly enough as he rode into
the creek and dropped his bridle that his horse might drink. The two
young men had met at the Mission, and although Enrique regarded the
conquerors of his country as an inferior race, John was as good as any
of them, and doubtless it was best to make no enemies. Moreover, his
manners were very good.
"Ah, Don Juan," he exclaimed, "you have make the visit to Yerba
Buena—San Francisco you call him now, no? I go this morning to meet my
friends who make for the Rancho de los Olivos so great an honor. Si you
permit me I introduce you, for you are the friend de my cousin, Padre
The company had scattered down the stream to refresh their horses,
making a long banner of color in the dark cañon. Don Enrique led John
along the line, and presented him solemnly to each in turn. The
caballeros protested eternal friendship with vehement insincerity, and
the girls flashed their eyes and teeth at the blue-eyed young American
without descending from their unconscious pride of sex and race. They
had the best blood of Spain in them, and an American was an American, be
he never so agreeable to contemplate.
The girls looked much alike in the rebosos which framed their faces so
closely, and John promptly fell in love with all of them at once.
Selection could take place later; he was too happy to think of anything
so serious as immediate marriage. But one of them he determined to have.
He rode out of the cañon with them, and they were gracious, and
chattered of the pleasures to come at the Rancho de los Olivos.
John noticed that Enrique kept persistently at the side of one maiden,
and rode a little ahead with her. She was very tall and slim, and so
graceful that she swayed almost to her horse's neck when branches
drooped too low. John began to wish for a glimpse of her face.
"That is Delfina Carillo," said the girl beside him, following his gaze.
"She go to marry with Enrique, I theenk. He is very devot, and I think
she like him, but no will say."
Perhaps it was merely the fact that this dainty flower hung a little
higher than the others that caused John's thoughts to concentrate upon
her, and roused his curiosity to such an extent that he drew his
companion on to talk of the girl who was favored by Enrique Ortega. He
learned that she was the daughter of a great rancher near Santa Barbara,
and was La Favorita of all the country round.
"She have the place that Chonita Iturbi y Moncada have before, and many
caballeros want to marry with her, but she no pay much attention; only
now I think like Enrique. Ay, he sing so beautiful, Señor, no wonder si
she loving him. Serenade her every night, and she love the musica."
"It certainly must be that," thought John, "for he hasn't an idea in his
He did not see her until that night. The priest wore the brown robe of
his order to the ball, and John his claw-hammer. They both looked out of
place among those birds of brilliant plumage.
Doña Martina, large and coffee-colored, with a mustache and many jewels,
sat against the wall with other señoras of her kind. They wore heavy red
and yellow satins, but the girls wore light silks that fluttered as they
Doña Martina gave him a sleepy welcome, and he turned his attention to
the dancing, in which he could take no part. He knew that his manners
were good and his carriage easy, but the lighter graces had not come his
At the moment a girl was dancing alone in the middle of the sala, and
John knew instinctively that she was Delfina Carillo. Like the other
girls, she wore her hair high under a tall comb, but her gown was white
and trimmed with the lace of Spain. Her feet, of course, were tiny, and
showed plainly beneath her slightly lifted skirts; and she danced with
no perceptible effort, rather as if swayed by a light wind, like the
pendent moss in the woods. She had just begun to dance when John
entered, and the company was standing against the wall in silence; but
in a few moments the young men began to mutter, then to clap and stamp,
then to shout, and finally they plunged their hands wildly into their
pockets and flung gold and silver at her feet. But she took no notice
beyond a flutter of nostril, and continued to dance like a thing of
light and air.
Her beauty was very great. John, young as he was, knew that it was
hardly likely he should ever see beauty in such perfection again. It was
not an intellectual face, but it was faultless of line and delicate of
coloring. The eyes were not only very large and black, but the lashes
were so long and soft the wonder was they did not tangle. Her skin was
white, her cheeks and lips were pink, her mouth was curved and flexible;
and her figure, her arms and hands and feet had the expression in their
perfect lines that her face lacked. John noticed that she had a short
upper lip, a haughty nostril, and a carriage that expressed pride both
latent and active. It was with an effort that she bent her head
graciously as she glided from the floor, taking no notice of the
offerings that had been flung at her feet.
And John loved her once and for all. She was the sublimation of every
dream that his romantic heart had conceived. He felt faint for a moment
at the difficulties which bristled between himself and this superlative
being, but he was a youthful conqueror, and life had been very amiable
to him. He shook courage into his spirit and asked to be presented to
her at once.
Her eyes swept his face indifferently, but something in his intense
regard compelled her attention, and although she appeared to scorn
conversation, she smiled once or twice; and when she smiled her face was
"That was very wonderful, that dance, señorita; but does it not tire
"You are glad to give such great pleasure, I suppose?"
"You are so used to compliments—I know how the caballeros go on—you
won't mind my saying it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw—and I
have been about the world a bit."
"I wish I could dance, if only to dance with you."
"You no dance?" Her tone expressed polite scorn, although her voice was
"Would—would—you talk out a dance with me?"
"Oh no." She looked as astonished as if John had asked her to shut
herself up alone in her room for the rest of the evening, and she swayed
her back slowly upon him and lifted her hand to the shoulder of Enrique.
In another moment she was gliding down the room in his arm, and John
noted that the color in her cheek was deeper.
"It is impossible that she can care for that doll," he thought;
But in the days that followed he realized that the race was to be a hot
one. He was included in all the festivities, and they went to
meriendas among the cotton-woods by the river and in the hills, danced
every night, were entertained by the priests at the Mission, and had
bull-fights, horse-races, and many games of skill. Upon one occasion
John was the happy host of a moonlight dance among his olive-trees.
Enrique's attentions to his beautiful guest were persistent and
unmistakable, and, moreover, he serenaded her nightly. John, riding
about the ranch late, too restless to sleep, heard those dulcet tones
raining compliments and vows upon Delfina's casement, and swore so
furiously that he terrified the night birds.
But he, too, managed to keep close to Delfina, in spite of an occasional
scowl from Enrique, who, however, held all Americans in too lofty a
contempt to fear one. John had several little talks apart with her, and
it was not long before he discovered that nature had done little for the
interior of that beautiful shell. She had read nothing, and thought
almost as little. What intelligence she had was occupied with her
regalities, and although sweet in spite of her hauteur, and unselfish
notwithstanding her good-fortune, as a companion she would mean little
to any man. John, however, was in the throes of his first passion, and
his nature was ardent and thorough. Had she been a fool, simpering
instead of dignified, he would not have cared. She was beautiful and
magnetic, and she embodied an ideal. The ideal, however, or rather the
ambition that was its other half, played no part in his mind as his love
deepened. He wanted the woman, and had he suddenly discovered that she
was a changeling born among the people, his love and his determination
to marry her would have abated not a tittle.
His olive-trees were neglected, and he spent the hours of their
separations riding about the country with as little mercy on his horses
as had he been a Californian born. Sometimes, touched by the youthful
fervor in his eyes, Delfina would melt perceptibly and ask him a
question or two about himself, a dazzling favor in one who held that
words were made to rust. And once, when he lifted her off her horse
under the heavy shadow of the trees, she gave him a glance which sent
John far from her side, lest he make a fool of himself before the entire
company. Meanwhile he was not unhappy, in spite of the wildness in his
blood, for he found the tremors of love and hope and fear as sweet as
they were extraordinary.
One evening the climax came.
Delfina expressed a wish to see the lake on the summit of the solitary
peak. It had been discovered by the Indians, but was unknown to the
luxurious Californians. The company was assembled on the long corridor
traversing the front of the Casa Ortega when Delfina startled Enrique by
a command to take them all to the summit that night.
"But, señorita mia," exclaimed Enrique, turning pale at the thought of
offending his goddess, "there is no path. I do not know the way. And it
is as steep as the tower of the Mission—"
John came forward. "There is an Indian trail," he said, "and I have
climbed it more than once. But it is very narrow—and steep, certainly."
Delfina's eyes, which had flashed disdain upon Enrique, smiled upon
John. "We go with you," she announced; "to-night, for is moon. And I
ride in front with you."
On the whole, thought Talbot, glancing towards the great peak whose
wilderness was still unrifled, that was the happiest night of his life.
They outdistanced the others by a few yards, and they were obliged to
ride so close that their shoulders touched. It was the full of the moon,
but in the forest there was only an occasional splash of silver. They
might have fancied themselves alone in primeval solitude had it not been
for the gay voices behind them. And never had Delfina been so
enchanting. She even talked a little, but her accomplished coquetry
needed few words. She could express more by a bend of the head or an
inflection of the voice than other women could accomplish with
vocabularies and brains. John felt his head turning, but retained wisdom
enough to wait for a moment when they should be quite alone.
The lake looked like a large reflection of the moon itself, for the
black trees shadowed but the edge of the waters. So great was the beauty
of the scene that for a few moments the company gazed at it silently,
and the mountain-top remained as still as during its centuries of
loneliness. But, finally, some one exclaimed, "Ay, yi!" and then rose
a chorus, "Dios de mi alma!" "Dios de mi vida!" "Ay, California!
California!" "Ay, de mi, de mi, de mi!"
Everybody, even Enrique, was occupied. John caught the bridle of
Delfina's horse, and forced it back into the forest. And then his words
tumbled one over the other.
"I must, I must!" he said wildly, keeping down his voice with
difficulty. "I've scarcely had a chance to make you love me, but I
can't wait to tell you—I love you. I love you! I want to marry you!
Oh—I am choking!" He wrenched at his collar, and in truth he felt as if
the very mountain were trembling.
Delfina had thrown back her head. "Ay!" she remarked. Then she laughed.
She had no desire to be cruel, but her manifest amusement brought the
blood down from John's head, and he shook from head to foot. His white
face showed plainly in this fringe of the forest, and she ceased
laughing and spoke kindly.
"Poor boy, I am sorry si I hurt you, but I no can marry you. Never I can
love the Americano; no is like our men, so handsome, so graceful, so
splendid. I like you, for are very nice boy, but I go to marry with
Enrique. So no theenk more about it." Then as he continued to stare, the
youthful agony in his face touched her, and she leaned forward and said
softly, "Can kiss me once si you like. You are boy to me, no more, so I
no mind." And he kissed her with a violence of despair and passion which
caused her maiden mind to wonder, and which she never experienced again.
He went no more to the Casa Ortega, and hid among his olive-trees when
the company clattered by the Mission. At the end of another week she
returned to her home, and three months later she returned as the bride
of Enrique Ortega.
Talbot smiled slightly as he recalled the sufferings of the boy long
dead. There had been months when he had felt half mad; then had
succeeded several years of melancholy and a distaste for everything in
life but work. He could not bring himself to sell the ranch and flee
from the scene of his disappointment, for he was young enough to take a
morbid pleasure in the very theatre of his failure.
He did not see Delfina again for three years. By that time she had three
children and had begun to grow stout. But she was still very beautiful,
and John kept out of her way for several years more.
But the years rolled round very swiftly. Doña Martina died. So did six
of the ten children Delfina bore. Then Enrique died, leaving his
diminished estates, his wife, and his four little girls to the care of
This was after fourteen years of matrimony and six years of intimacy
between Talbot and the family of Los Olivos. One day Enrique, in
desperation at the encroachments of certain squatters, had bethought
himself of the American, now the most influential man in the county, and
gone to him for advice. Talbot had found him a good lawyer, lent him
the necessary money, and the squatters were dispossessed. Enrique's
gratitude for Talbot knew no bounds; he pressed the hospitality of Los
Olivos upon him, and in time the two became fast friends.
Ortega and Delfina had jogged along very comfortably. She was an
exemplary wife, a devoted mother, and as excellent a housekeeper as
became her traditions. He made a kind and indulgent husband, and if
neither found much to say to the other, their brief conversations were
amiable. Enrique developed no wit with the years, but he was always a
courteous host and played a good game of billiards, besides taking a
mild interest in the affairs of the nation. John soon fell into the
habit of spending two nights a week at the Rancho de los Olivos, and
never failed to fill his pockets with sweets for the little girls, who
preferred him to their father.
And his love! He used to fancy it was buried somewhere in the mausoleum
of flesh which had built itself about Delfina Carillo. She weighed two
hundred pounds, and her black hair and fine teeth were the only remnants
of her splendid beauty. Her face was large and brown, and although she
retained her dignity of carriage and moved with the old slow grace, she
looked what she was, the Spanish mother of many children.
The change was gradual, and brought no pang with it. John's memory was
a good one, and sometimes when it turned to his youth and the one
passion of his life, he felt something like a sob in his soul, a
momentary echo of the old agony. But it was only an echo; he had
outgrown it all long since. He sometimes wondered that he loved no other
woman, why his ambition to have an aristocratic wife had died with his
first passion; and concluded that the intensity of his nature had worn
itself out in that period of prolonged suffering, and that he was
incapable of loving again. And the experience had satisfied him that
marriage without love would be a poor affair. Once in a while, after
leaving the plain coffee-colored dame who filled the doorway as she
waved him good-bye, he sighed as he recalled the exquisite creature of
his youth. But these sighs grew less and less frequent, for not only was
the grass high above that old grave in his heart and he a busy and
practical man, but the Señora Ortega had become the most necessary of
his friends. What she lacked in brain she made up in sympathy, and she
had developed a certain amount of intelligence with the years. It became
his habit to talk to her of all his ambitions and plans, particularly
after the death of Enrique, when they had many uninterrupted hours
Upon Ortega's death Talbot took charge of the estate at once, and into
the particulars of her handsome income it never occurred to the widow to
inquire. One by one the girls married, and Talbot dowered them all. They
were pretty creatures, and John loved them, for each had in her face a
morsel of Delfina Carillo's lost beauty; and if they recalled the pain
of his youth they recalled its sweetness too. The Señora recalled
For the last year she had been quite alone. Two of her daughters lived
in the city of Mexico. One had married a Spanish Consul and returned
with him to Spain. The other lived in San Francisco, and as soon as
domestic affairs would permit intended to visit her sisters. Talbot,
when at home, called on the Señora once a week and always carried a
novel or an illustrated paper in his saddle-bag.
"Is the tragedy at this end or the other?" thought Talbot, as he walked
up and down the Mission corridor on his fortieth birthday—"that I could
not have her when I was mad about her, or that I can have her now and
don't want her?"
He knew that the Señora was lonesome in her big house and would have
welcomed a companion, but he knew also that the desire moved sluggishly
in the depths of her lazy mind. If he were willing, well and good. If
otherwise, it mattered not much.
His Indian servant cantered up with his horse, he gave a last regretful
glance at the cool corridor of the Mission, and then went out into the
He was only a stone heavier than in the old days, but he rode more
slowly, for this his favorite mare was no longer young. His day for
breaking in bucking mustangs was over, and he liked an animal that would
behave itself as became the four-footed companion of his years.
The road through the pale green cotton-woods and willows that wooded the
banks of the river—as dry as the heavens—was almost cold, and
refreshingly dim; but when the bed and its fringe turned abruptly to the
south his way led for five sweltering miles through sun-burned fields
and over hills as yellow as polished gold. The sky looked like dark-blue
metal in which a hole had been cut for a lake of fire. The heat it
emptied quivered visibly in the parched fields, and the mountains swam
in a purple haze. Talbot had a grape-leaf in his hat, and the suns of
California had baked his complexion long since, but he wished that his
birthday occurred in winter, as he had wished many a time before.
It was an hour and a half before he rode into the grounds surrounding
Casa Ortega. Then he spurred his horse, for here were many old oak-trees
and the atmosphere was twenty degrees cooler. A Mexican servant met him,
and he dismounted and walked the few remaining yards to the house. He
sighed as he remembered that Herminia, the last of the girls to marry,
had been there to kiss him on his last birthday. He would gladly have
had all four back again, and now they had passed out of his life
The Casa Ortega was a very long adobe house one story in height and one
room deep, except in an ell where a number of rooms were bunched
together. The Señora had it whitewashed every year, and the red tiles on
the roof renewed when necessary; therefore it had none of the pathetic
look of old age peculiar to the adobe mansions of the dead grandees.
A long veranda traversed the front, supported by pillars and furnished
with gayly painted chairs; but it was empty, and Talbot entered the
sala at once. It was a long room, severely furnished in the old style,
and facing the door was a painting of Delfina Carillo. Talbot rarely
allowed his eyes to wander to this portrait. Had he dared he would have
asked for its removal. The grass was long above the grave, but there
were such things as ghosts.
The Señora was sitting in a corner of the dim cool room, and rose at
once to greet him. She came forward with a grace and dignity of carriage
that still had the power to prick his admiration. But she was very dark,
and the old enchanting smile had lost its way long since in the large
cheeks and heavy chin. Even her eyes no longer looked big, and the
famous lashes had been worn down by many tears; for there were six
little graves in the Ortega corner of the Mission church-yard, and she
had loved her children devotedly. She carried her two hundred pounds as
unconsciously as she had once carried her willowy inches, and she wore
soft black cashmere in winter and lawn in summer, fastened at the throat
with a miniature of the husband of her youth. She was only thirty-nine,
but there was not a vestige of youth about her anywhere, and her whole
being expressed a life lived, and a sleepy contentment with the fact.
Talbot often wondered if she had no hours of insupportable loneliness;
but she gave no sign, and he concluded that novels and religion
"So hot it is, no?" she said in her soft hardly audible tones, that,
like her carriage and manner, were unchanged. "You have the face very
red, but feel better in a little while. Very cool here, no?"
"I feel ten years younger than I did a quarter of an hour ago. There was
a time—alas!—when I could stand the suns of California for six hours
at a stretch, but—"
"Ay, yes, we grow more old every year. Is twenty now since we merienda
all day and dance all night—when I am a visitor here, no more; and you
are the thin boy with the long arms, and legs, and try to grow the
It was the first time she had ever referred to their youth, and he
stared at her. But her face was as placid as if she had been helping him
to chicken with Chile-sauce, and he wondered if it could change.
Involuntarily he glanced at the portrait. It seemed alive with
expression, and—the room was almost dark—he fancied the eyes were
"How can she stand it?" he thought. "How can she?"
"You are improve," she continued politely. "The American mens no grow
old like the Spanish—or like the women that have ten children and get
so stout and have the troubles—"
"You have retained much, Señora," exclaimed Talbot, blundering over the
first compliment he he had paid her in twenty years.
She smiled placidly and moved her head gently; the word "shake" could
never apply to any of her movements. "I have the mirror—and the
picture. And I no mind, Don Juan. When the woman bury the six children,
no care si she grow old. The more soon grow old the more soon die and
see the little ones—am always very fond of Enrique also," she added,
"but when am young love more. He is very good man always, but he grow
old like myself and very fat. Only you are improve, my friend. That one
reason why always I am so glad to see you. Remind me of that time when
all are young and happy."
Old Marcia announced dinner, and Talbot sprang to his feet with a
sensation of relief and offered the Señora his arm. She made no further
references to their youth during the excellent and highly seasoned
repast, but discussed the possibilities of the crops and listened with
deep attention to the political forecast. She knew that politics were
becoming the absorbing interest in the life of her friend, and although
she also knew that they would one day put a continent between herself
and him, she had long since ceased to live for self, and never failed to
When the last dulce had been eaten they went out upon the veranda and
talked drowsily of minor matters until both nodded in their comfortable
chairs, and finally fell asleep.
For a time the heavy dinner locked Talbot's brain, but finally he began
to dream of his youth, and the scenes of which Delfina Carillo had been
the heroine were flung from their rusty frames into the hot light of his
memory, until he lived again the ecstasy and the anguish of that time.
The morning's reminiscences had moved coldly in his mind, but so intense
was his vision of the woman he had worshipped that she seemed bathed in
He awoke suddenly. The Señora still slept, and her face was as placid as
in consciousness. It was slightly relaxed, but the time had not yet come
for the pathetic loss of muscular control. Still, she looked so large
and brown and stout that Talbot rose abruptly with an echo of the agony
that had returned in sleep, and entered the sala and stood
deliberately before the portrait. It had been painted by an artist of
much ability. There was atmosphere behind it, which in the dim room
detached it from the canvas; and the curved red mouth smiled, the eyes
flashed with the triumph of youth and much conquest, the skin was as
white as the moon-flowers in the fields at night.
Talbot recalled the night he had taken this woman in his arms—not the
woman on the veranda—and involuntarily he raised them to the picture.
"And I thought it was over," he muttered, with a terrified gasp. "But I
believe I would give my immortal soul and everything I've accomplished
in life if she would come out of the frame and the past for an hour and
"Whatte you say?" drawled a gentle voice. "I fall asleep, no? Si you
ring that little bell Marcia bring the chocolate. You find it too hot
"Oh, no; I prefer it out-of-doors. It is cooler now, and I like all the
air I can get."
He longed to get away, but he sipped his chocolate and listened to the
domestic details of his four vicarious daughters. The Señora was
immensely proud of her five grandchildren. Their photographs were all
over the house.
At six o'clock he shook hands with her and sprang on his horse. Half-way
down the avenue he turned his head, as usual. She stood on the veranda
still, and smiled pleasantly to him, moving one of her large brown hands
a little. He never saw the Señora again.
Talbot was obliged to go to San Francisco a day or two later, and when
he returned the Señora was in bed with a severe cold. He sent her a box
of books and papers, and another of chocolates, and then forgot her in
the excitement of the elections. It was the autumn of the year 1868, and
he was an enthusiastic admirer of Grant. He stumped the State for that
admirable warrior and indifferent statesman, with the result that his
own following increased; and his interest in politics waxed with each of
several notable successes in behalf of the candidate. He finally
announced decisively that he should run for Congress at the next
elections, and a member of the House of Representatives from his
district dying two days later, he was appointed at once to fill the
The Señora was still in bed with a persistent cold and cough when he
left for Washington late in November, but he rode over to leave a
good-bye with old Marcia, and ordered a bookseller in San Francisco to
send her all the illustrated papers and magazines.
She entered his mind but seldom during those interesting months in
Washington. Talbot became sure of his particular talent at last, and
determined to remain in politics for the rest of his life. Moreover, the
excitement until the 4th of March was intense, for Southern blood was
still hot and bitter, and there were rumors in the air that Grant would
be assassinated on the day of his inauguration. He was not, however, and
Talbot was glad to be in Washington on that memorable day. He wrote the
Señora an account both of the military appearance of the city and of the
brilliant scene in the Senate Chamber, but she had ceased, for the time,
to be a weekly necessity in his life.
And being a bachelor, wealthy, handsome, and properly launched, he was
soon skimming that social sea of many crafts. For the first time since
his abrupt severance from the Los Olivos festivities he enjoyed society.
San Francisco's had seemed a poor imitation of what novels described,
but Washington was full of brilliant interest. And he met more than one
woman who recalled his boyish ideals, women who were far more like the
vision in the English church-yard than Delfina Carillo; who, indeed, had
not resembled the English girl in anything but manifest of race, and had
been an ideal apart, never to be encountered again in this world.
It was a long and exciting session, and he gave all the energies of his
mind to the great question of reconstruction, but more than once he
asked himself if the time had not come to marry, if it were not a duty
to his old self to gratify the ambition to which he owed the
foundations of his success with life. A beautiful and high-bred wife
would still afford him profound satisfaction, no doubt of that. He could
in the last ten or twelve years have married more than one charming San
Francisco girl, but that interval of passionate love between his
youthful ambition and his many opportunities had given him a distaste
for a lukewarm marriage. Here in Washington, however, California seemed
a long way off, and he was only forty, in the very perfection of mental
and physical vigor. Could he not love again? Surely a man in the long
allotted span must begin life more than once. He found himself, after an
hour, in some beautiful woman's boudoir, or with a charming girl in the
pale illumination of a conservatory, longing for the old tremors of hope
and despair, and he determined to let himself go at the first symptom.
But he continued to be merely charmed and interested. If the turbulent
waters were in him still, they had fallen far below their banks and
would not rise at his bidding.
It was not to be expected that the Señora would write; she hated the
sight of a pen, and only wrote once a month—with sighs of protest that
were almost energetic—to her daughters. Padre Ortega was too old for
correspondence; consequently Talbot heard no news of Santa Ursula
except from his major-domo, who wrote a monthly report of the progress
of the olive-trees and the hotel. This person was not given to gossip,
and Talbot was in ignorance of the health of his old friend, in spite of
one or two letters of inquiry, until almost the end of the session. Then
the major-domo was moved to write the following postscript to one of his
The Señora is dying, I guess—consumption, the galloping kind.
You may see her again, and you main't. We're all sorry here,
for she's always bin square and kind.
There still remained three weeks of the session, but Talbot's committee
had finished its work, and he was practically free. He paired with a
friendly Democrat, and started for California the day he received the
letter. The impulse to go to the bedside of his old friend had been
immediate and peremptory. He forgot the pleasant women in Washington,
his new-formed plans. The train seemed to walk.
They were not sentimental memories that moved so persistently in his
mind during that long hot journey overland. Had they risen they would
have been rebuked, as having no place in the sad reality of to-day. An
old friend was dying, the most necessary and sympathetic he had known.
He realized that she had become a habit, and that when she left the
world he would be very much alone. His mind dwelt constantly on that
large brown kindly presence, and he winked away more than one tear as he
reflected that he should go to her no more for sympathy, do nothing
further to alleviate the loneliness of her life. In consequence he was
in no way prepared for what awaited him at Los Olivos.
He arrived at night. Padre Ortega was away, so he could get no news of
the Señora except that she was still alive. He sent her a note at once,
telling her to expect him at eleven the next morning.
Again he took a long hot ride over sun-burned hills and fields, for it
wanted but a few weeks of his birthday. As he cantered through the oaks
near the house he saw that a hammock was swung across the veranda, and
that some one lay in it—a woman, for a heavy braid of black hair hung
over the side and trailed on the floor.
"Surely," he thought, "surely—it cannot be the Señora—in a hammock!"
And then he suddenly realized that the disease must have taken her
His hands trembled as he dismounted and tied his horse to a tree, and he
lingered as long as he could, for he felt that his face was white. But
he was a man long used to self-control, and in a moment he walked
steadily forward and ascended the steps to the veranda. And then as he
stood looking down upon the hammock he needed all the control he
For the Señora had gone and Delfina Carillo lay there. Not the
magnificent pulsing creature of old, for her face was pinched and little
blue veins showed everywhere; but the ugly browns had gone with her
flesh, her skin was white, and her cheeks flamed with color. Her eyes
looked enormous, and her mouth had regained its curves and mobility,
although it drooped. She wore a soft white wrapper with much lace about
the throat; and she looked twenty-six, and beautiful, wreck as she was.
"Delfina!" he articulated. "Delfina!" And then he sat down, for his
knees were shaking. The blood seemed rushing through his brain, and
after that first terrible but ecstatic moment of recognition, he was
conscious of a poignant regret for the loss of his brown old friend. He
glanced about, involuntarily. Where had she gone—that other
personality? For even the first soul of the woman looked from the great
eyes in the hammock.
Delfina stared at him for some moments, without speaking. Then she said,
with a sigh, "Ay—it is Juan."
She sat up abruptly. "Listen," she said, speaking rapidly. "At first I
no know you, for the mind wander much; and then Marcia tell me I think
always I am the girl again. Sometimes, even when I have the sense, I
theenk so too, for am alone, have nothing to remind, and I like theenk
that way. When I am seeck first Herminia coming to see me, but I write
her, after, am well again, for I know she and the husband want to go to
Mexico. Then, after I get worse, I am very glad she going, that all my
girls are away; for the dreams I have when the mind is no right give me
pleasure and bring back the days when am young and so happy. I feel glad
I go to die that way and not like the old peoples. So happy I am
sometimes, Juan, you cannot theenk! Was here, you remember, for two
months before I marry, and often I see you and Enrique and all my
friends, and myself so gay and beautiful, and all the caballeros so
crazy for me, and all the splendid costumes and horses. Ay California!
Her youth, too, is gone, Juan! Never she is Arcadia again." She paused,
but did not lie down, and in a few moments went on: "And often I theenk
of you—often. So strange, for love Enrique then; but—I no
know—missing you terreeblay when you go to Washington, and read all
they say about you in the papers. So long now since Enrique going, and
the love go long before—the love that make me marry him, I mean, for
always love the husband; that was my duty. So, when my youth come back,
though I think some by Enrique, suppose you are more in the mind, which,
after all, is old, though much fall away. And I want, want to see you,
but no like to ask you to come, for you are so busy and so ambeetious,
and I know I live till you come again si is a year, and that make me
feel happy. No cry, my friend. I no cry, for is sweet to be young again.
Often I no can understand why not loving you then; you are so fine man
now—but was boy then, and I admeer so much the caballeros, so splendid,
and talk so graceful; no was use then to the other kind. But, although I
no theenk much before—have so many babies and so much trouble, and,
after, nothing no matter—always I feel deep down I have miss something
in life; often I sigh, but no know why. But theenk much when go to die,
and now I know that si I am really young again, and well, I marry you
and am happy in so many ways with you, and have the intelligence. Never
I really have been alive. I know that now."
She fell back, panting a little, and her voice, always very low, had
become almost inaudible. She motioned to a bottle of angelica on the
table beside her, and John took her in his arms and put the glass to her
lips. It brought the color back to her face, and she lifted her arms and
crossed them behind his neck.
"Juan," she whispered coaxingly, "you have love me once—I know, and
sometimes have cried, because theenk how I have made you suffer. Make
the believe I am really the young girl again, and love me like then.
Going very soon now—and will make me very happy."
"It is easy enough to imagine," he said; "easy enough! It will be a
ghastly travesty, God knows, but could I have foreseen to-day during
that terrible time, I would have welcomed it as better than nothing."