On her fourteenth birthday they had married her to an old man, and at sixteen she had met and loved a fire-hearted young vaquero. The old husband had twisted his skinny fingers around her arm and dragged her beforethe Alcalde, who had ordered her beautiful black braids cut close to her neck, and sentenced her to sweep thestreets. Carlos, the tempter of that childish unhappy heart, was flung into prison. Such were law and justice inCalifornia before the Americans came.The haughty elegant women of Monterey drew their mantillas more closely about their shocked faces as they passed La Perdida sweeping the dirt into little heaps. The soft-eyed girls, lovely in their white or floweredgowns, peered curiously through the gratings of their homes at the "lost one," whose sin they did notunderstand, but whose sad face and sorry plight appealed to their youthful sympathies. The caballeros, dashingup and down the street, and dazzling in bright silken jackets, gold embroidered, lace-trimmed, the sun reflectedin the silver of their saddles, shot bold admiring glances from beneath their sombreros. No one spoke to her, andshe asked no one for sympathy.She slept alone in a little hut on the outskirts of the town. With the dawn she rose, put on her coarse smock and black skirt, made herself a tortilla, then went forth and swept the streets. The children mocked her sometimes,and she looked at them in wonder. Why should she be mocked or punished? She felt no repentance; neither theAlcalde nor her husband had convinced her of her sin's enormity; she felt only bitter resentment that it shouldhave been so brief. Her husband, a blear-eyed crippled old man, loathsome to all the youth and imagination inher, had beaten her and made her work. A man, young, strong, and good to look upon, had come and kissed her with passionate tenderness. Love had meant to her the glorification of a wretched sordid life; a green spot and a patch of blue sky in the desert. If punishment followed upon such happiness, must not the Catholic religion beall wrong in its teachings? Must not purgatory follow heaven, instead of heaven purgatory?She watched the graceful girls of the wealthy class flit to and fro on the long corridors of the houses, or sweepthe strings of the guitar behind their gratings as the caballeros passed. Watchful old women were always near them, their ears alert for every word. La Perdida thanked God that she had had no duena.One night, on her way home, she passed the long low prison where her lover was confined. The large crystalmoon flooded the red-tiled roof projecting over the deep windows and the shallow cells. The light sweet musicof a guitar floated through iron bars, and a warm voice sang:--
"Adios, adios, de ti al ausentarme,Para ir en poz de mi fatal estrella,Yo llevo grabada tu imagen bella,Aqui en mi palpitante corazon."Pero aunque lejos de tu lado me halleNo olvides, no, que por tu amor deliroEnviame siquiera un suspiro,Que de consuelo, a mi alma en su dolor."Y de tu pecho la emocion sentidaLlegue hasta herir mi lacerado oido,Y arranque de mi pecho doloridoUn eco que repita, adios! adios!"
La Perdida's blood leaped through her body. Her aimless hands struck the spiked surface of a cactus-bush, butshe never knew it. When the song finished, she crept to the grating and looked in."Carlos!" she whispered.