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Published by aravindpunna

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Published by: aravindpunna on Apr 27, 2013
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The Conquest of Dona Jacoba
A forest of willows cut by a forking creek, and held apart here and there by fields of yellowmustard blossoms fluttering in their pale green nests, or meadows carpeted with the tiny whiteand yellow flowers of early summer. Wide patches of blue where the willows ended, andimmense banks of daisies bordering fields of golden grain, bending and shimmering in the windwith the deep even sweep of rising tide. Then the lake, long, irregular, half choked with tules,closed by a marsh. The valley framed by mountains of purplish gray, dull brown, with patches of vivid green and yellow; a solitary gray peak, barren and rocky, in sharp contrast to the richCalifornian hills; on one side fawn-coloured slopes, and slopes with groves of crouching oaks intheir hollows; opposite and beyond the cold peak, a golden hill rising to a mount of earthy green;still lower, another peak, red and green, mulberry and mould; between and afar, closing thevalley, a line of pink-brown mountains splashed with blue.Such was a fragment of Don Roberto Duncan's vast rancho, Los Quervos, and on a plateau abovethe willows stood the adobe house, white and red-tiled, shaped like a solid letter H. On the deepveranda, sunken between the short forearms of the H, Dona Jacoba could stand and issuecommands in her harsh imperious voice to the Indians in the rancheria among the willows, whilstthe long sala behind overflowed with the gay company her famous hospitality had summoned,the bare floor and ugly velvet furniture swept out of thought by beautiful faces and floweredsilken gowns.Behind the sala was an open court, the grass growing close to the great stone fountain. On either side was a long line of rooms, and above the sala was a library opening into the sleeping room of Dona Jacoba on one side, and into that of Elena, her youngest and loveliest daughter, on theother. Beyond the house were a dozen or more buildings: the kitchen; a room in which steers and bullocks, sheep and pigs, were hanging; a storehouse containing provisions enough for a hotel;and the manufactories of the Indians. Somewhat apart was a large building with a billiard-roomin its upper story and sleeping rooms below. From her window Elena could look down upon thehigh-walled corral with its prancing horses always in readiness for the pleasure-loving guests,and upon the broad road curving through the willows and down the valley.The great house almost shook with life on this brilliant day of the month of June, 1852. DonRoberto Duncan, into whose shrewd Scotch hands California had poured her wealth for fortyyears, had long ago taken to himself a wife of Castilian blood; to-morrow their eldest remainingdaughter was to be married to a young Englishman, whose father had been a merchant inCalifornia when San Francisco was Yerba Buena. Not a room was vacant in the house. Young people had come from Monterey and San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Beds had been put up in the library and billiard-room, in the store-rooms and attics. The corral was full of strange horses, and the huts in the willows had their humbler guests.Francisca sat in her room surrounded by a dozen chattering girls. The floor beneath the feet othe Californian heiress was bare, and the heavy furniture was of uncarved mahogany. But a satinquilt covered the bed, lavish Spanish needlework draped chest and tables, and through the openwindow came the June sunshine and the sound of the splashing fountain.
Francisca was putting the last stitches in her wedding-gown, and the girls were helping, advising,and commenting."Art thou not frightened, Panchita," demanded one of the girls, "to go away and live with astrange man? Just think, thou hast seen him but ten times.""What of that?" asked Francisca, serenely, holding the rich corded silk at arm's length, and half closing her eyes as she readjusted the deep flounce of Spanish lace. "Remember, we shall rideand dance and play games together for a week with all of you, dear friends, before I go awaywith him. I shall know him quite well by that time. And did not my father know him when hewas a little boy? Surely, he cannot be a cruel man, or my father would not have chosen him for my husband.""I like the Americans and the Germans and the Russians," said the girl who had spoken,"particularly the Americans. But these English are so stern, so harsh sometimes.""What of that?" asked Francisca again. "Am I not used to my father?"She was a singular-looking girl, this compound of Scotch and Spanish. Her face was cast in her father's hard mould, and her frame was large and sturdy, but she had the black luxuriant hair of Spain, and much grace of gesture and expression."I would not marry an Englishman," said a soft voice.Francisca raised her eyebrows and glanced coldly at the speaker, a girl of perfect loveliness, whosat behind a table, her chin resting on her clasped hands."Thou wouldst marry whom our father told thee to marry, Elena," said her sister, severely. "Whathast thou to say about it?""I will marry a Spaniard," said Elena, rebelliously. "A Spaniard, and no other.""Thou wilt do what?" asked a cold voice from the door. The girls gave a little scream. Elenaturned pale, even Francisca's hands twitched.Dona Jacoba was an impressive figure as she stood in the doorway; a tall unbowed woman witha large face and powerful penetrating eyes. A thin mouth covering white teeth separated the prominent nose and square chin. A braid of thick black hair lay over her fine bust, and a black silk handkerchief made a turban for her lofty head. She wore a skirt of heavy black silk and ashawl of Chinese crepe, one end thrown gracefully over her shoulder."What didst thou say?" she demanded again, a sneer on her lips.Elena made no answer. She stared through the window at the servants laying the table in thedining room on the other side of the court, her breath shortening as if the room had beenexhausted of air.
"Let me hear no more of that nonsense," continued her mother. "A strange remark, truly, to comefrom the lips of a Californian! Thy father has said that his daughters shall marry men of his race--men who belong to that island of the North; and I have agreed, and thy sisters are well married. No women are more virtuous, more industrious, more religious, than ours; but our men--our young men--are a set of drinking gambling vagabonds. Go to thy room and pray there untilsupper."Elena ran out of an opposite door, and Dona Jacoba sat down on a high-backed chair and heldout her hand for the wedding-gown. She examined it, then smiled brilliantly."The lace is beautiful," she said. "There is no richer in California, and I have seen Dona TrinidadIturbi y Moncada's and Dona Modeste Castro's. Let me see thy mantilla once more."Francisca opened a chest nearly as large as her bed, and shook out a long square of superbSpanish lace. It had arrived from the city of Mexico but a few days before. The girls clappedtheir admiring hands, as if they had not looked at it twenty times, and Dona Jacoba smoothed ittenderly with her strong hands. Then she went over to the chest and lifted the beautiful silk andcrepe gowns, one by one, her sharp eyes detecting no flaw. She opened another chest andexamined the piles of underclothing and bed linen, all of finest woof, and deeply bordered withthe drawn work of Spain."All is well," she said, returning to her chair. "I see nothing more to be done. Thy brother will bring the emeralds, and the English plate will come before the week is over.""Is it sure that Santiago will come in time for the wedding?" asked a half-English granddaughter,whose voice broke suddenly at her own temerity.But Dona Jacoba was in a gracious mood."Surely. Has not Don Roberto gone to meet him? He will be here at four to-day.""How glad I shall be to see him!" said Francisca. "Just think, my friends, I have not seen him for seven years. Not since he was eleven years old. He has been on that cold dreadful island in the North all this time. I wonder has he changed!""Why should he change?" asked Dona Jacoba. "Is he not a Cortez and a Duncan? Is he not aCalifornian and a Catholic? Can a few years in an English school make him of another race? Heis seven years older, that is all.""True," assented Francisca, threading her needle; "of course he could not change."Dona Jacoba opened a large fan and wielded it with slow curves of her strong wrist. She hadnever been cold in her life, and even a June day oppressed her.

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