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At sunrise he was awakened by the booming of cannon and the ringing of bells. He sprang out of bed, thinking that the United States was firing on the Mexican flag, then remembered that it was the birthday of the young heir, and turned in again.
Two hours later, he was shaken out of his morning nap by Estenega.
“How would you like a dip before breakfast? They are all up at mass, and Brotherton and I are going down to a very good cove I know of.”
“Get out, and I’ll be with you in ten minutes.”
Santa Barbara looked like a necropolis when he emerged. Every soul in the town, with the exception of himself, Estenega, Brotherton, and the servants preparing the birthday breakfast, was on his knees in the Mission mumbling aves for young Reinaldo. The three men walked down to the bright-blue channel motionless under a bright-blue sky. The air was warm; the waves were warm; the fruit was ripening on the walls. The poppies were opening their deep yellow lips, breathing forth the languor of the land. The palms were tall and green. The spiked cactus had burst into blood-red flower.
“This is not America,” said Thorpe. “It is Italy or Spain or Greece. It is another atmosphere, physical as well as mental. One could lie on the sands all day and think of nothing.”
“California has a physical quality which the Americans and all the other races that will eventually pour into her can never change,” said Estenega. “She will never cease to protest that she was made for love and wine and to enfold with content in the mere fact of existence, to delight the eye, the soul, and the body, to inspire poetry and romance, and that the introduction of the commercial element is an indignity. I used to think differently when California and my own ambitions seemed identical; but San Francisco gave me a nightmare.”
“On the ranches it is much the same as ever,” said Captain Brotherton, “and will remain so long beyond our time. You will return with us, Mr. Thorpe? Estenega and Chonita go too.”
And Thorpe gratefully accepted.
As they returned, they saw the great company streaming down from the Mission, a mass of colour. Few were on foot. No Californian walked a mile, if he had a horse to ride.
Thorpe hastened to his room to make his morning toilet. When he left it, the court and corridors were crowded with the brilliantly plumaged men and women. Reinaldo, in blue silk, was strutting about among the girls, as proud and happy as a girl dressed for her first party. There was no question in his mind who was the most important young man in California that morning. He was the head and front of California’s wealthiest and haughtiest family, the scion of the only aristocracy that great territory would ever know. The Americans he regarded as a mere incident,—a brusque unpolished breed whose existence he rarely recalled. The Jews, up in the town, he considered with more favour; his fond mamma was inclined to be close-fisted with growing sons.
The tables had been set about the three corridors, as not only the neighbours were bidden to the breakfast, but many from distant ranchos. The poor were fed in the open beyond, on pigs roasted whole, and many dulces. The Presidio band played the patriotic and sentimental airs of Mexico.
Thorpe sat between Prudencia (who appeared to have marked him for her own) and Doña Eustaquia. Chonita was opposite, between two of her old admirers.
“It is the same, yet not the same—like the old time,” said Doña Eustaquia, with a sigh.
“It is not the same at all,” said Chonita. “It is a theatre, and we are performing—for Mr. Thorpe’s benefit.”
“No is theatre at all,” said Prudencia, disapprovingly. “All is exactamente the same. Few years older, no more; but no one detail differente. And next year the same, and every year,—one, two, three hundred years what coming.”
Chonita shrugged her shoulders, and did not condescend to answer, although every Californian within earshot, except Doña Eustaquia, assured her that Prudencia was right.
To Thorpe, who had no fond reminiscences, it all seemed natural and surpassingly picturesque. The highly seasoned dishes held hot controversy with his English stomach; and he found it hard to catch the meaning of the pretty broken-English wafted to him from prettier lips; but he was deeply thankful that for the moment his personal life could have no voice in so incongruous a setting.
After breakfast, the party went at once to a large arena near the pleasure-grounds of Casa Grande, and sat upon the raised seats about the ring, while Reinaldo and other young caballeros exhibited their skill and prowess against the pugnacious bull.
After siesta the people danced their national jigs in the court of Casa Grande, while the men and women of the aristocracy lounged over the railing of the corridors and encouraged them with handfuls of silver coins.
Thorpe, Estenega, and Captain Brotherton, in the ugly garb of a wider civilisation, stood apart.
“They are an anachronism,” said the Englishman, “and will never be able to hold their own, namely, their vast possessions, against the sharp-witted American.”
“Not ten years,” said Estenega. “The sharpers are crouching like buzzards on the edge of every town. Up there in the village they have wares to tempt the Californians,—fashions and ornaments that cannot be bought otherwise without a trip to San Francisco. As there is little ready money, the Californians—who make their purchases by the wholesale, and would disdain to buy less than a ‘piece’ of silk or satin—mortgage small ranchos at an incredible rate of interest, against the next hide yield. Then the squatters have come, imperturbable and patient, knowing that when their case is tried, it will be before an American judge. When my father-in-law asked me whether I would prefer at his death his Mexican investments or half of his Californian leagues, I chose the former unhesitatingly: although he reckoned his landed estates at twice the value of the other. But I had no wish to come back here to live, and could trust no one else to look after my interests. Eustaquia is all right, for she has Brotherton. I notice the Californian women are marrying Americans wherever they can.”
“And the matches are rather successful,” said Brotherton, laughing. “Unfortunately, the American girls won’t marry Californians, or the problem would be easily solved.”
The day finished with a dance in the sala; and later, in Reinaldo’s room, Thorpe lost the last of his host’s gold and a roll of his own. The game was monté, and the young Californians grew so excited that Thorpe momentarily expected to see the flash of knives. They shouted and swore; and Reinaldo even wept with rage, and vowed that Thorpe was his only friend on earth. However, the night ended peacefully. When the young men had become so laden with mescal that they could no longer see their cards, they embraced affectionately and went to bed.
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