Chu Chu by Bret Harte
I do not believe that the most enthusiastic lover of that "useful and
noble animal," the horse, will claim for him the charm of geniality,
humor, or expansive confidence. Any creature who will not look you
squarely in the eye—whose only oblique glances are inspired by fear,
distrust, or a view to attack; who has no way of returning caresses, and
whose favorite expression is one of head-lifting disdain, may be "noble"
or "useful," but can be hardly said to add to the gayety of nations.
Indeed it may be broadly stated that, with the single exception of
gold-fish, of all animals kept for the recreation of mankind the horse is
alone capable of exciting a passion that shall be absolutely hopeless. I
deem these general remarks necessary to prove that my unreciprocated
affection for "Chu Chu" was not purely individual or singular. And I may
add that to these general characteristics she brought the waywardness of
her capricious sex.
She came to me out of the rolling dust of an emigrant wagon, behind whose
tailboard she was gravely trotting. She was a half-broken colt—in
which character she had at different times unseated everybody in the train—and,
although covered with dust, she had a beautiful coat, and the most lambent
gazelle-like eyes I had ever seen. I think she kept these latter organs
purely for ornament—apparently looking at things with her nose, her
sensitive ears, and, sometimes, even a slight lifting of her slim near
fore-leg. On our first interview I thought she favored me with a coy
glance, but as it was accompanied by an irrelevant "Look out!" from her
owner, the teamster, I was not certain. I only know that after some
conversation, a good deal of mental reservation, and the disbursement of
considerable coin, I found myself standing in the dust of the departing
emigrant-wagon with one end of a forty-foot riata in my hand, and Chu Chu
at the other.
I pulled invitingly at my own end, and even advanced a step or two towards
her. She then broke into a long disdainful pace, and began to circle round
me at the extreme limit of her tether. I stood admiring her free action
for some moments—not always turning with her, which was tiring—until
I found that she was gradually winding herself up ON ME! Her frantic
astonishment when she suddenly found herself thus brought up against me
was one of the most remarkable things I ever saw, and nearly took me off
my legs. Then when she had pulled against the riata until her narrow head
and prettily arched neck were on a perfectly straight line with it, she as
suddenly slackened the tension and condescended to follow me, at an angle
of her own choosing. Sometimes it was on one side of me, sometimes on the
other. Even then the sense of my dreadful contiguity apparently would come
upon her like a fresh discovery, and she would become hysterical. But I do
not think that she really SAW me. She looked at the riata and sniffed it
disparagingly, she pawed some pebbles that were near me tentatively with
her small hoof; she started back with a Robinson Crusoe-like horror of my
footprints in the wet gully, but my actual personal presence she ignored.
She would sometimes pause, with her head thoughtfully between her
fore-legs, and apparently say: "There is some extraordinary presence here:
animal, vegetable, or mineral—I can't make out which—but it's
not good to eat, and I loathe and detest it."
When I reached my house in the suburbs, before entering the "fifty vara"
lot inclosure, I deemed it prudent to leave her outside while I informed
the household of my purchase; and with this object I tethered her by the
long riata to a solitary sycamore which stood in the centre of the road,
the crossing of two frequented thoroughfares. It was not long, however,
before I was interrupted by shouts and screams from that vicinity, and on
returning thither I found that Chu Chu, with the assistance of her riata,
had securely wound up two of my neighbors to the tree, where they
presented the appearance of early Christian martyrs. When I released them
it appeared that they had been attracted by Chu Chu's graces, and had
offered her overtures of affection, to which she had characteristically
rotated with this miserable result. I led her, with some difficulty,
warily keeping clear of the riata, to the inclosure, from whose fence I
had previously removed several bars. Although the space was wide enough to
have admitted a troop of cavalry she affected not to notice it, and
managed to kick away part of another section on entering. She resisted the
stable for some time, but after carefully examining it with her hoofs, and
an affectedly meek outstretching of her nose, she consented to recognize
some oats in the feed-box—without looking at them—and was
formally installed. All this while she had resolutely ignored my presence.
As I stood watching her she suddenly stopped eating; the same reflective
look came over her. "Surely I am not mistaken, but that same obnoxious
creature is somewhere about here!" she seemed to say, and shivered at the
It was probably this which made me confide my unreciprocated affection to
one of my neighbors—a man supposed to be an authority on horses, and
particularly of that wild species to which Chu Chu belonged. It was he
who, leaning over the edge of the stall where she was complacently and, as
usual, obliviously munching, absolutely dared to toy with a pet lock of
hair which she wore over the pretty star on her forehead. "Ye see,
captain," he said with jaunty easiness, "hosses is like wimmen; ye don't
want ter use any standoffishness or shyness with THEM; a stiddy but
keerless sort o' familiarity, a kind o' free but firm handlin', jess like
this, to let her see who's master"—
We never clearly knew HOW it happened; but when I picked up my neighbor
from the doorway, amid the broken splinters of the stall rail, and a
quantity of oats that mysteriously filled his hair and pockets, Chu Chu
was found to have faced around the other way, and was contemplating her
forelegs, with her hind ones in the other stall. My neighbor spoke of
damages while he was in the stall, and of physical coercion when he was
out of it again. But here Chu Chu, in some marvelous way, righted herself,
and my neighbor departed hurriedly with a brimless hat and an unfinished
My next intermediary was Enriquez Saltello—a youth of my own age,
and the brother of Consuelo Saltello, whom I adored. As a Spanish
Californian he was presumed, on account of Chu Chu's half-Spanish origin,
to have superior knowledge of her character, and I even vaguely believed
that his language and accent would fall familiarly on her ear. There was
the drawback, however, that he always preferred to talk in a marvelous
English, combining Castilian precision with what he fondly believed to be
"To confer then as to thees horse, which is not—observe me—a
Mexican plug! Ah, no! you can your boots bet on that. She is of Castilian
stock—believe me and strike me dead! I will myself at different
times overlook and affront her in the stable, examine her as to the
assault, and why she should do thees thing. When she is of the exercise I
will also accost and restrain her. Remain tranquil, my friend! When a few
days shall pass much shall be changed, and she will be as another. Trust
your oncle to do thees thing! Comprehend me? Everything shall be lovely,
and the goose hang high!"
Conformably with this he "overlooked" her the next day, with a cigarette
between his yellow-stained finger-tips, which made her sneeze in a silent
pantomimic way, and certain Spanish blandishments of speech which she
received with more complacency. But I don't think she ever even looked at
him. In vain he protested that she was the "dearest" and "littlest" of his
"little loves"—in vain he asserted that she was his patron saint,
and that it was his soul's delight to pray to her; she accepted the
compliment with her eyes fixed upon the manger. When he had exhausted his
whole stock of endearing diminutives, adding a few playful and more
audacious sallies, she remained with her head down, as if inclined to
meditate upon them. This he declared was at least an improvement on her
former performances. It may have been my own jealousy, but I fancied she
was only saying to herself, "Gracious! can there be TWO of them?"
"Courage and patience, my friend," he said, as we were slowly quitting the
stable. "Thees horse is yonge, and has not yet the habitude of the person.
To-morrow, at another season, I shall give to her a foundling"
("fondling," I have reason to believe, was the word intended by Enriquez)—"and
we shall see. It shall be as easy as to fall away from a log. A leetle
more of this chin music which your friend Enriquez possesses, and some
tapping of the head and neck, and you are there. You are ever the right
side up. Houp la! But let us not precipitate this thing. The more haste,
we do not so much accelerate ourselves."
He appeared to be suiting the action to the word as he lingered in the
doorway of the stable. "Come on," I said.
"Pardon," he returned, with a bow that was both elaborate and evasive,
"but you shall yourself precede me—the stable is YOURS."
"Oh, come along!" I continued impatiently. To my surprise he seemed to
dodge back into the stable again. After an instant he reappeared.
"Pardon! but I am re-strain! Of a truth, in this instant I am grasp by the
mouth of thees horse in the coat-tail of my dress! She will that I should
remain. It would seem"—he disappeared again—"that"—he
was out once more—"the experiment is a sooccess! She reciprocate!
She is, of a truth, gone on me. It is lofe!"—a stronger pull from
Chu Chu here sent him in again—"but"—he was out now
triumphantly with half his garment torn away—"I shall coquet."
Nothing daunted, however, the gallant fellow was back next day with a
Mexican saddle, and attired in the complete outfit of a vaquero. Overcome
though HE was by heavy deerskin trousers, open at the side from the knees
down, and fringed with bullion buttons, an enormous flat sombrero, and a
stiff, short embroidered velvet jacket, I was more concerned at the
ponderous saddle and equipments intended for the slim Chu Chu. That these
would hide and conceal her beautiful curves and contour, as well as
overweight her, seemed certain; that she would resist them all to the last
seemed equally clear. Nevertheless, to my surprise, when she was led out,
and the saddle thrown deftly across her back, she was passive. Was it
possible that some drop of her old Spanish blood responded to its clinging
embrace? She did not either look at it nor smell it. But when Enriquez
began to tighten the "cinch" or girth a more singular thing occurred. Chu
Chu visibly distended her slender barrel to twice its dimensions; the more
he pulled the more she swelled, until I was actually ashamed of her. Not
so Enriquez. He smiled at us, and complacently stroked his thin moustache.
"Eet is ever so! She is the child of her grandmother! Even when you shall
make saddle thees old Castilian stock, it will make large—it will
become a balloon! Eet is a trick—eet is a leetle game—believe
me. For why?"
I had not listened, as I was at that moment astonished to see the saddle
slowly slide under Chu Chu's belly, and her figure resume, as if by magic,
its former slim proportions. Enriquez followed my eyes, lifted his
shoulders, shrugged them, and said smilingly, "Ah, you see!"
When the girths were drawn in again with an extra pull or two from the
indefatigable Enriquez, I fancied that Chu Chu nevertheless secretly
enjoyed it, as her sex is said to appreciate tight-lacing. She drew a deep
sigh, possibly of satisfaction, turned her neck, and apparently tried to
glance at her own figure—Enriquez promptly withdrawing to enable her
to do so easily. Then the dread moment arrived. Enriquez, with his hand on
her mane, suddenly paused and, with exaggerated courtesy, lifted his hat
and made an inviting gesture.
"You will honor me to precede."
I shook my head laughingly.
"I see," responded Enriquez gravely. "You have to attend the obsequies of
your aunt who is dead, at two of the clock. You have to meet your broker
who has bought you feefty share of the Comstock lode—at thees moment—or
you are loss! You are excuse! Attend! Gentlemen, make your bets! The band
has arrived to play! 'Ere we are!"
With a quick movement the alert young fellow had vaulted into the saddle.
But, to the astonishment of both of us, the mare remained perfectly still.
There was Enriquez bolt upright in the stirrups, completely overshadowing
by his saddle-flaps, leggings, and gigantic spurs the fine proportions of
Chu Chu, until she might have been a placid Rosinante, bestridden by some
youthful Quixote. She closed her eyes, she was going to sleep! We were
dreadfully disappointed. This clearly would not do. Enriquez lifted the
reins cautiously! Chu Chu moved forward slowly—then stopped,
apparently lost in reflection.
"Affront her on thees side."
I approached her gently. She shot suddenly into the air, coming down again
on perfectly stiff legs with a springless jolt. This she instantly
followed by a succession of other rocket-like propulsions, utterly unlike
a leap, all over the inclosure. The movements of the unfortunate Enriquez
were equally unlike any equitation I ever saw. He appeared occasionally
over Chu Chu's head, astride of her neck and tail, or in the free air, but
never IN the saddle. His rigid legs, however, never lost the stirrups, but
came down regularly, accentuating her springless hops. More than that, the
disproportionate excess of rider, saddle, and accoutrements was so great
that he had, at times, the appearance of lifting Chu Chu forcibly from the
ground by superior strength, and of actually contributing to her exercise!
As they came towards me, a wild tossing and flying mass of hoofs and
spurs, it was not only difficult to distinguish them apart, but to
ascertain how much of the jumping was done by Enriquez separately. At last
Chu Chu brought matters to a close by making for the low-stretching
branches of an oak-tree which stood at the corner of the lot. In a few
moments she emerged from it—but without Enriquez.
I found the gallant fellow disengaging himself from the fork of a branch
in which he had been firmly wedged, but still smiling and confident, and
his cigarette between his teeth. Then for the first time he removed it,
and seating himself easily on the branch with his legs dangling down, he
blandly waved aside my anxious queries with a gentle reassuring gesture.
"Remain tranquil, my friend. Thees does not count! I have conquer—you
observe—for why? I have NEVER for once ARRIVE AT THE GROUND!
Consequent she is disappoint! She will ever that I SHOULD! But I have got
her when the hair is not long! Your oncle Henry"—with an angelic
wink—"is fly! He is ever a bully boy, with the eye of glass! Believe
me. Behold! I am here! Big Injin! Whoop!"
He leaped lightly to the ground. Chu Chu, standing watchfully at a little
distance, was evidently astonished at his appearance. She threw out her
hind hoofs violently, shot up into the air until the stirrups crossed each
other high above the saddle, and made for the stable in a succession of
rabbit-like bounds—taking the precaution to remove the saddle, on
entering, by striking it against the lintel of the door. "You observe,"
said Enriquez blandly, "she would make that thing of ME. Not having the
good occasion, she ees dissatisfied. Where are you now?"
Two or three days afterwards he rode her again with the same result—accepted
by him with the same heroic complacency. As we did not, for certain
reasons, care to use the open road for this exercise, and as it was
impossible to remove the tree, we were obliged to submit to the
inevitable. On the following day I mounted her—undergoing the same
experience as Enriquez, with the individual sensation of falling from a
third-story window on top of a counting-house stool, and the variation of
being projected over the fence. When I found that Chu Chu had not
accompanied me, I saw Enriquez at my side. "More than ever is become
necessary that we should do thees things again," he said gravely, as he
assisted me to my feet. "Courage, my noble General! God and Liberty! Once
more on to the breach! Charge, Chestare, charge! Come on, Don Stanley!
'Ere we are!"
He helped me none too quickly to catch my seat again, for it apparently
had the effect of the turned peg on the enchanted horse in the Arabian
Nights, and Chu Chu instantly rose into the air. But she came down this
time before the open window of the kitchen, and I alighted easily on the
dresser. The indefatigable Enriquez followed me.
"Won't this do?" I asked meekly.
"It ees BETTER—for you arrive NOT on the ground," he said
cheerfully; "but you should not once but a thousand times make trial! Ha!
Go and win! Nevare die and say so! 'Eave ahead! 'Eave! There you are!"
Luckily, this time I managed to lock the rowels of my long spurs under her
girth, and she could not unseat me. She seemed to recognize the fact after
one or two plunges, when, to my great surprise, she suddenly sank to the
ground and quietly rolled over me. The action disengaged my spurs, but,
righting herself without getting up, she turned her beautiful head and
absolutely LOOKED at me!—still in the saddle. I felt myself
blushing! But the voice of Enriquez was at my side.
"Errise, my friend; you have conquer! It is SHE who has arrive at the
ground! YOU are all right. It is done; believe me, it is feenish! No more
shall she make thees thing. From thees instant you shall ride her as the
cow—as the rail of thees fence—and remain tranquil. For she is
a-broke! Ta-ta! Regain your hats, gentlemen! Pass in your checks! It is
ovar! How are you now?" He lit a fresh cigarette, put his hands in his
pockets, and smiled at me blandly.
For all that, I ventured to point out that the habit of alighting in the
fork of a tree, or the disengaging of one's self from the saddle on the
ground, was attended with inconvenience, and even ostentatious display.
But Enriquez swept the objections away with a single gesture. "It is the
PREENCIPAL—the bottom fact—at which you arrive. The next come
of himself! Many horse have achieve to mount the rider by the knees, and
relinquish after thees same fashion. My grandfather had a barb of thees
kind—but she has gone dead, and so have my grandfather. Which is sad
and strange! Otherwise I shall make of them both an instant example!"
I ought to have said that although these performances were never actually
witnessed by Enriquez's sister—for reasons which he and I thought
sufficient—the dear girl displayed the greatest interest in them,
and, perhaps aided by our mutually complimentary accounts of each other,
looked upon us both as invincible heroes. It is possible also that she
over-estimated our success, for she suddenly demanded that I should RIDE
Chu Chu to her house, that she might see her. It was not far; by going
through a back lane I could avoid the trees which exercised such a fatal
fascination for Chu Chu. There was a pleading, child-like entreaty in
Consuelo's voice that I could not resist, with a slight flash from her
lustrous dark eyes that I did not care to encourage. So I resolved to try
it at all hazards.
My equipment for the performance was modeled after Enriquez's previous
costume, with the addition of a few fripperies of silver and stamped
leather out of compliment to Consuelo, and even with a faint hope that it
might appease Chu Chu. SHE certainly looked beautiful in her glittering
accoutrements, set off by her jet-black shining coat. With an air of
demure abstraction she permitted me to mount her, and even for a hundred
yards or so indulged in a mincing maidenly amble that was not without a
touch of coquetry. Encouraged by this, I addressed a few terms of
endearment to her, and in the exuberance of my youthful enthusiasm I even
confided to her my love for Consuelo, and begged her to be "good" and not
disgrace herself and me before my Dulcinea. In my foolish trustfulness I
was rash enough to add a caress, and to pat her soft neck. She stopped
instantly with a hysteric shudder. I knew what was passing through her
mind: she had suddenly become aware of my baleful existence.
The saddle and bridle Chu Chu was becoming accustomed to, but who was this
living, breathing object that had actually touched her? Presently her
oblique vision was attracted by the fluttering movement of a fallen
oak-leaf in the road before her. She had probably seen many oak-leaves
many times before; her ancestors had no doubt been familiar with them on
the trackless hills and in field and paddock, but this did not alter her
profound conviction that I and the leaf were identical, that our baleful
touch was something indissolubly connected. She reared before that
innocent leaf, she revolved round it, and then fled from it at the top of
The lane passed before the rear wall of Saltello's garden. Unfortunately,
at the angle of the fence stood a beautiful Madrono-tree, brilliant with
its scarlet berries, and endeared to me as Consuelo's favorite haunt,
under whose protecting shade I had more than once avowed my youthful
passion. By the irony of fate Chu Chu caught sight of it, and with a
succession of spirited bounds instantly made for it. In another moment I
was beneath it, and Chu Chu shot like a rocket into the air. I had barely
time to withdraw my feet from the stirrups, to throw up one arm to protect
my glazed sombrero and grasp an overhanging branch with the other, before
Chu Chu darted off. But to my consternation, as I gained a secure perch on
the tree, and looked about me, I saw her—instead of running away—quietly
trot through the open gate into Saltello's garden.
Need I say that it was to the beneficent Enriquez that I again owed my
salvation? Scarcely a moment elapsed before his bland voice rose in a
concentrated whisper from the corner of the garden below me. He had
divined the dreadful truth!
"For the love of God, collect to yourself many kinds of thees berry! All
you can! Your full arms round! Rest tranquil. Leave to your ole oncle to
make for you a delicate exposure. At the instant!"
He was gone again. I gathered, wonderingly, a few of the larger clusters
of parti-colored fruit and patiently waited. Presently he reappeared, and
with him the lovely Consuelo—her dear eyes filled with an adorable
"Yes," continued Enriquez to his sister, with a confidential lowering of
tone but great distinctness of utterance, "it is ever so with the
American! He will ever make FIRST the salutation of the flower or the
fruit, picked to himself by his own hand, to the lady where he call. It is
the custom of the American hidalgo! My God—what will you? I make it
not—it is so! Without doubt he is in this instant doing thees thing.
That is why he have let go his horse to precede him here; it is always the
etiquette to offer these things on the feet. Ah! Behold! it is he!—Don
Francisco! Even now he will descend from thees tree! Ah! You make the
blush, little sister (archly)! I will retire! I am discreet; two is not
company for the one! I make tracks! I am gone!"
How far Consuelo entirely believed and trusted her ingenious brother I do
not know, nor even then cared to inquire. For there was a pretty mantling
of her olive cheek, as I came forward with my offering, and a certain
significant shyness in her manner that were enough to throw me into a
state of hopeless imbecility. And I was always miserably conscious that
Consuelo possessed an exalted sentimentality, and a predilection for the
highest mediaeval romance, in which I knew I was lamentably deficient.
Even in our most confidential moments I was always aware that I weakly
lagged behind this daughter of a gloomily distinguished ancestry, in her
frequent incursions into a vague but poetic past. There was something of
the dignity of the Spanish chatelaine in the sweetly grave little figure
that advanced to accept my specious offering. I think I should have fallen
on my knees to present it, but for the presence of the all seeing
Enriquez. But why did I even at that moment remember that he had early
bestowed upon her the nickname of "Pomposa"? This, as Enriquez himself
might have observed, was "sad and strange."
I managed to stammer out something about the Madrono berries being at her
"disposicion" (the tree was in her own garden!), and she took the branches
in her little brown hand with a soft response to my unutterable glances.
But here Chu Chu, momentarily forgotten, executed a happy diversion. To
our astonishment she gravely walked up to Consuelo and, stretching out her
long slim neck, not only sniffed curiously at the berries, but even
protruded a black underlip towards the young girl herself. In another
instant Consuelo's dignity melted. Throwing her arms around Chu Chu's neck
she embraced and kissed her. Young as I was, I understood the divine
significance of a girl's vicarious effusiveness at such a moment, and felt
delighted. But I was the more astonished that the usually sensitive horse
not only submitted to these caresses, but actually responded to the extent
of affecting to nip my mistress's little right ear.
This was enough for the impulsive Consuelo. She ran hastily into the
house, and in a few moments reappeared in a bewitching riding-skirt
gathered round her jimp waist. In vain Enriquez and myself joined in
earnest entreaty: the horse was hardly broken for even a man's riding yet;
the saints alone could tell what the nervous creature might do with a
woman's skirt flapping at her side! We begged for delay, for reflection,
for at least time to change the saddle—but with no avail! Consuelo
was determined, indignant, distressingly reproachful! Ah, well! if Don
Pancho (an ingenious diminutive of my Christian name) valued his horse so
highly—if he were jealous of the evident devotion of the animal to
herself, he would—but here I succumbed! And then I had the felicity
of holding that little foot for one brief moment in the hollow of my hand,
of readjusting the skirt as she threw her knee over the saddle-horn, of
clasping her tightly—only half in fear—as I surrendered the
reins to her grasp. And to tell the truth, as Enriquez and I fell back,
although I had insisted upon still keeping hold of the end of the riata,
it was a picture to admire. The petite figure of the young girl, and the
graceful folds of her skirt, admirably harmonized with Chu Chu's lithe
contour, and as the mare arched her slim neck and raised her slender head
under the pressure of the reins, it was so like the lifted velvet-capped
toreador crest of Consuelo herself, that they seemed of one race.
"I would not that you should hold the riata," said Consuelo petulantly.
I hesitated—Chu Chu looked certainly very amiable—I let go.
She began to amble towards the gate, not mincingly as before, but with a
freer and fuller stride. In spite of the incongruous saddle the young
girl's seat was admirable. As they neared the gate she cast a single
mischievous glance at me, jerked at the rein, and Chu Chu sprang into the
road at a rapid canter. I watched them fearfully and breathlessly, until
at the end of the lane I saw Consuelo rein in slightly, wheel easily, and
come flying back. There was no doubt about it; the horse was under perfect
control. Her second subjugation was complete and final!
Overjoyed and bewildered, I overwhelmed them with congratulations;
Enriquez alone retaining the usual brotherly attitude of criticism, and a
superior toleration of a lover's enthusiasm. I ventured to hint to
Consuelo (in what I believed was a safe whisper) that Chu Chu only showed
my own feelings towards her. "Without doubt," responded Enriquez gravely.
"She have of herself assist you to climb to the tree to pull to yourself
the berry for my sister." But I felt Consuelo's little hand return my
pressure, and I forgave and even pitied him.
From that day forward, Chu Chu and Consuelo were not only firm friends but
daily companions. In my devotion I would have presented the horse to the
young girl, but with flattering delicacy she preferred to call it mine. "I
shall erride it for you, Pancho," she said; "I shall feel," she continued
with exalted although somewhat vague poetry, "that it is of YOU! You lofe
the beast—it is therefore of a necessity YOU, my Pancho! It is YOUR
soul I shall erride like the wings of the wind—your lofe in this
beast shall be my only cavalier for ever." I would have preferred
something whose vicarious qualities were less uncertain than I still felt
Chu Chu's to be, but I kissed the girl's hand submissively. It was only
when I attempted to accompany her in the flesh, on another horse, that I
felt the full truth of my instinctive fears. Chu Chu would not permit any
one to approach her mistress's side. My mounted presence revived in her
all her old blind astonishment and disbelief in my existence; she would
start suddenly, face about, and back away from me in utter amazement as if
I had been only recently created, or with an affected modesty as if I had
been just guilty of some grave indecorum towards her sex which she really
could not stand. The frequency of these exhibitions in the public highway
were not only distressing to me as a simple escort, but as it had the
effect on the casual spectators of making Consuelo seem to participate in
Chu Chu's objections, I felt that, as a lover, it could not be borne. Any
attempt to coerce Chu Chu ended in her running away. And my frantic
pursuit of her was open to equal misconstruction. "Go it, Miss, the little
dude is gainin' on you!" shouted by a drunken teamster to the frightened
Consuelo, once checked me in mid career. Even the dear girl herself saw
the uselessness of my real presence, and after a while was content to ride
with "my soul."
Notwithstanding this, I am not ashamed to say that it was my custom,
whenever she rode out, to keep a slinking and distant surveillance of Chu
Chu on another horse, until she had fairly settled down to her pace. A
little nod of Consuelo's round black-and-red toreador hat or a kiss tossed
from her riding-whip was reward enough!
I remember a pleasant afternoon when I was thus awaiting her in the
outskirts of the village. The eternal smile of the Californian summer had
begun to waver and grow less fixed; dust lay thick on leaf and blade; the
dry hills were clothed in russet leather; the trade winds were shifting to
the south with an ominous warm humidity; a few days longer and the rains
would be here. It so chanced that this afternoon my seclusion on the
roadside was accidentally invaded by a village belle—a Western young
lady somewhat older than myself, and of flirtatious reputation. As she
persistently and—as I now have reason to believe—mischievously
lingered, I had only a passing glimpse of Consuelo riding past at an
unaccustomed speed which surprised me at the moment. But as I reasoned
later that she was only trying to avoid a merely formal meeting, I thought
no more about it. It was not until I called at the house to fetch Chu Chu
at the usual hour, and found that Consuelo had not yet returned, that a
recollection of Chu Chu's furious pace again troubled me. An hour passed—it
was getting towards sunset, but there were no signs of Chu Chu nor her
mistress. I became seriously alarmed. I did not care to reveal my fears to
the family, for I felt myself responsible for Chu Chu. At last I
desperately saddled my horse, and galloped off in the direction she had
taken. It was the road to Rosario and the hacienda of one of her
relations, where she sometimes halted.
The road was a very unfrequented one, twisting like a mountain river;
indeed, it was the bed of an old watercourse, between brown hills of wild
oats, and debouching at last into a broad blue lake-like expanse of
alfalfa meadows. In vain I strained my eyes over the monotonous level;
nothing appeared to rise above or move across it. In the faint hope that
she might have lingered at the hacienda, I was spurring on again when I
heard a slight splashing on my left. I looked around. A broad patch of
fresher-colored herbage and a cluster of dwarfed alders indicated a hidden
spring. I cautiously approached its quaggy edges, when I was shocked by
what appeared to be a sudden vision! Mid-leg deep in the centre of a
greenish pool stood Chu Chu! But without a strap or buckle of harness upon
her—as naked as when she was foaled!
For a moment I could only stare at her in bewildered terror. Far from
recognizing me, she seemed to be absorbed in a nymph-like contemplation of
her own graces in the pool. Then I called "Consuelo!" and galloped
frantically around the spring. But there was no response, nor was there
anything to be seen but the all-unconscious Chu Chu. The pool, thank
Heaven! was not deep enough to have drowned any one; there were no signs
of a struggle on its quaggy edges. The horse might have come from a
distance! I galloped on, still calling. A few hundred yards further I
detected the vivid glow of Chu Chu's scarlet saddle-blanket, in the brush
near the trail. My heart leaped—I was on the track. I called again;
this time a faint reply, in accents I knew too well, came from the field
Consuelo was there! reclining beside a manzanita bush which screened her
from the road, in what struck me, even at that supreme moment, as a
judicious and picturesquely selected couch of scented Indian grass and dry
tussocks. The velvet hat with its balls of scarlet plush was laid
carefully aside; her lovely blue-black hair retained its tight coils
undisheveled, her eyes were luminous and tender. Shocked as I was at her
apparent helplessness, I remember being impressed with the fact that it
gave so little indication of violent usage or disaster.
I threw myself frantically on the ground beside her.
"You are hurt, Consita! For Heaven's sake, what has happened?"
She pushed my hat back with her little hand, and tumbled my hair gently.
"Nothing. YOU are here, Pancho—eet is enofe! What shall come after
thees—when I am perhaps gone among the grave—make nothing! YOU
are here—I am happy. For a little, perhaps—not mooch."
"But," I went on desperately, "was it an accident? Were you thrown? Was it
Chu Chu?"—for somehow, in spite of her languid posture and voice, I
could not, even in my fears, believe her seriously hurt.
"Beat not the poor beast, Pancho. It is not from HER comes thees thing.
She have make nothing—believe me! I have come upon your assignation
with Miss Essmith! I make but to pass you—to fly—to never come
back! I have say to Chu Chu, 'Fly!' We fly many miles. Sometimes together,
sometimes not so mooch! Sometimes in the saddle, sometimes on the neck!
Many things remain in the road; at the end, I myself remain! I have say,
'Courage, Pancho will come!' Then I say, 'No, he is talk with Miss
Essmith!' I remember not more. I have creep here on the hands. Eet is
I looked at her distractedly. She smiled tenderly, and slightly smoothed
down and rearranged a fold of her dress to cover her delicate little boot.
"But," I protested, "you are not much hurt, dearest. You have broken no
bones. Perhaps," I added, looking at the boot, "only a slight sprain. Let
me carry you to my horse; I will walk beside you, home. Do, dearest
She turned her lovely eyes towards me sadly. "You comprehend not, my poor
Pancho! It is not of the foot, the ankle, the arm, or the head that I can
say, 'She is broke!' I would it were even so. But"—she lifted her
sweet lashes slowly—"I have derrange my inside. It is an affair of
my family. My grandfather have once toomble over the bull at a rodeo. He
speak no more; he is dead. For why? He has derrange his inside. Believe
me, it is of the family. You comprehend? The Saltellos are not as the
other peoples for this. When I am gone, you will bring to me the berry to
grow upon my tomb, Pancho; the berry you have picked for me. The little
flower will come too, the little star will arrive, but Consuelo, who lofe
you, she will come not more! When you are happy and talk in the road to
the Essmith, you will not think of me. You will not see my eyes, Pancho;
thees little grass"—she ran her plump little fingers through a
tussock—"will hide them; and the small animals in the black coats
that lif here will have much sorrow—but you will not. It ees better
so! My father will not that I, a Catholique, should marry into a
camp-meeting, and lif in a tent, and make howl like the coyote." (It was
one of Consuelo's bewildering beliefs that there was only one form of
dissent—Methodism!) "He will not that I should marry a man who
possess not the many horses, ox, and cow, like him. But I care not. YOU
are my only religion, Pancho! I have enofe of the horse, and ox, and cow
when YOU are with me! Kiss me, Pancho. Perhaps it is for the last time—the
feenish! Who knows?"
There were tears in her lovely eyes; I felt that my own were growing dim;
the sun was sinking over the dreary plain to the slow rising of the wind;
an infinite loneliness had fallen upon us, and yet I was miserably
conscious of some dreadful unreality in it all. A desire to laugh, which I
felt must be hysterical, was creeping over me; I dared not speak. But her
dear head was on my shoulder, and the situation was not unpleasant.
Nevertheless, something must be done! This was the more difficult as it
was by no means clear what had already been done. Even while I supported
her drooping figure I was straining my eyes across her shoulder for succor
of some kind. Suddenly the figure of a rapid rider appeared upon the road.
It seemed familiar. I looked again—it was the blessed Enriquez! A
sense of deep relief came over me. I loved Consuelo; but never before had
lover ever hailed the irruption of one of his beloved's family with such
"You are safe, dearest; it is Enriquez!"
I thought she received the information coldly. Suddenly she turned upon me
her eyes, now bright and glittering. "Swear to me at the instant, Pancho,
that you will not again look upon Miss Essmith, even for once."
I was simple and literal. Miss Smith was my nearest neighbor, and, unless
I was stricken with blindness, compliance was impossible. I hesitated—but
"Enofe—you have hesitate—I will no more."
She rose to her feet with grave deliberation. For an instant, with the
recollection of the delicate internal organization of the Saltellos on my
mind, I was in agony lest she should totter and fall, even then, yielding
up her gentle spirit on the spot. But when I looked again she had a
hairpin between her white teeth, and was carefully adjusting her toreador
hat. And beside us was Enriquez—cheerful, alert, voluble, and
"Eureka! I have found! We are all here! Eet is a leetle public—eh! a
leetle too much of a front seat for a tete-a-tete, my yonge friends," he
said, glancing at the remains of Consuelo's bower, "but for the accounting
of taste there is none. What will you? The meat of the one man shall
envenom the meat of the other. But" (in a whisper to me) "as to thees
horse—thees Chu Chu, which I have just pass—why is she
undress? Surely you would not make an exposition of her to the traveler to
suspect! And if not, why so?"
I tried to explain, looking at Consuelo, that Chu Chu had run away, that
Consuelo had met with a terrible accident, had been thrown, and I feared
had suffered serious internal injury. But to my embarrassment Consuelo
maintained a half scornful silence, and an inconsistent freshness of
healthful indifference, as Enriquez approached her with an engaging smile.
"Ah, yes, she have the headache, and the molligrubs. She will sit on the
damp stone when the gentle dew is falling. I comprehend. Meet me in the
lane when the clock strike nine! But," in a lower voice, "of thees undress
horse I comprehend nothing! Look you—it is sad and strange."
He went off to fetch Chu Chu, leaving me and Consuelo alone. I do not
think I ever felt so utterly abject and bewildered before in my life.
Without knowing why, I was miserably conscious of having in some way
offended the girl for whom I believed I would have given my life, and I
had made her and myself ridiculous in the eyes of her brother. I had again
failed in my slower Western nature to understand her high romantic Spanish
soul! Meantime she was smoothing out her riding-habit, and looking as
fresh and pretty as when she first left her house.
"Consita," I said hesitatingly, "you are not angry with me?"
"Angry?" she repeated haughtily, without looking at me. "Oh, no! Of a
possibility eet is Mees Essmith who is angry that I have interroopt her
tete-a-tete with you, and have send here my brother to make the same with
"But," I said eagerly, "Miss Smith does not even know Enriquez!"
Consuelo turned on me a glance of unutterable significance. "Ah!" she said
darkly, "you TINK!"
Indeed I KNEW. But here I believed I understood Consuelo, and was
relieved. I even ventured to say gently, "And you are better?"
She drew herself up to her full height, which was not much. "Of my health,
what is it? A nothing. Yes! Of my soul let us not speak."
Nevertheless, when Enriquez appeared with Chu Chu she ran towards her with
outstretched arms. Chu Chu protruded about six inches of upper lip in
response—apparently under the impression, which I could quite
understand, that her mistress was edible. And, I may have been mistaken,
but their beautiful eyes met in an absolute and distinct glance of
During the home journey Consuelo recovered her spirits, and parted from me
with a magnanimous and forgiving pressure of the hand. I do not know what
explanation of Chu Chu's original escapade was given to Enriquez and the
rest of the family; the inscrutable forgiveness extended to me by Consuelo
precluded any further inquiry on my part. I was willing to leave it a
secret between her and Chu Chu. But, strange to say, it seemed to complete
our own understanding, and precipitated, not only our lovemaking, but the
final catastrophe which culminated that romance. For we had resolved to
elope. I do not know that this heroic remedy was absolutely necessary from
the attitude of either Consuelo's family or my own; I am inclined to think
we preferred it, because it involved no previous explanation or advice.
Need I say that our confidant and firm ally was Consuelo's brother—the
alert, the linguistic, the ever-happy, ever-ready Enriquez! It was
understood that his presence would not only give a certain mature
respectability to our performance—but I do not think we would have
contemplated this step without it. During one of our riding excursions we
were to secure the services of a Methodist minister in the adjoining
county, and, later, that of the Mission padre—when the secret was
out. "I will gif her away," said Enriquez confidently, "it will on the
instant propitiate the old shadbelly who shall perform the affair, and
withhold his jaw. A little chin-music from your oncle 'Arry shall finish
it! Remain tranquil and forgot not a ring! One does not always, in the
agony and dissatisfaction of the moment, a ring remember. I shall bring
two in the pocket of my dress."
If I did not entirely participate in this roseate view it may have been
because Enriquez, although a few years my senior, was much
younger-looking, and with his demure deviltry of eye, and his upper lip
close shaven for this occasion, he suggested a depraved acolyte rather
than a responsible member of a family. Consuelo had also confided to me
that her father—possibly owing to some rumors of our previous
escapade—had forbidden any further excursions with me alone. The
innocent man did not know that Chu Chu had forbidden it also, and that
even on this momentous occasion both Enriquez and myself were obliged to
ride in opposite fields like out flankers. But we nevertheless felt the
full guilt of disobedience added to our desperate enterprise. Meanwhile,
although pressed for time, and subject to discovery at any moment, I
managed at certain points of the road to dismount and walk beside Chu Chu
(who did not seem to recognize me on foot), holding Consuelo's hand in my
own, with the discreet Enriquez leading my horse in the distant field. I
retain a very vivid picture of that walk—the ascent of a gentle
slope towards a prospect as yet unknown, but full of glorious
possibilities; the tender dropping light of an autumn sky, slightly filmed
with the promise of the future rains, like foreshadowed tears, and the
half frightened, half serious talk into which Consuelo and I had
insensibly fallen. And then, I don't know how it happened, but as we
reached the summit Chu Chu suddenly reared, wheeled, and the next moment
was flying back along the road we had just traveled, at the top of her
speed! It might have been that, after her abstracted fashion, she only at
that moment detected my presence; but so sudden and complete was her
evolution that before I could regain my horse from the astonished Enriquez
she was already a quarter of a mile on the homeward stretch, with the
frantic Consuelo pulling hopelessly at the bridle. We started in pursuit.
But a horrible despair seized us. To attempt to overtake her, to even
follow at the same rate of speed would only excite Chu Chu and endanger
Consuelo's life. There was absolutely no help for it, nothing could be
done; the mare had taken her determined long, continuous stride, the road
was a straight, steady descent all the way back to the village, Chu Chu
had the bit between her teeth, and there was no prospect of swerving her.
We could only follow hopelessly, idiotically, furiously, until Chu Chu
dashed triumphantly into the Saltellos' courtyard, carrying the
half-fainting Consuelo back to the arms of her assembled and astonished
It was our last ride together. It was the last I ever saw of Consuelo
before her transfer to the safe seclusion of a convent in Southern
California. It was the last I ever saw of Chu Chu, who in the confusion of
that rencontre was overlooked in her half-loosed harness, and allowed to
escape though the back gate to the fields. Months afterwards it was said
that she had been identified among a band of wild horses in the Coast
Range, as a strange and beautiful creature who had escaped the brand of
the rodeo and had become a myth. There was another legend that she had
been seen, sleek, fat, and gorgeously caparisoned, issuing from the
gateway of the Rosario patio, before a lumbering Spanish cabriole in which
a short, stout matron was seated—but I will have none of it. For
there are days when she still lives, and I can see her plainly still
climbing the gentle slope towards the summit, with Consuelo on her back,
and myself at her side, pressing eagerly forward towards the illimitable
prospect that opens in the distance.