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 of the 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.