Authors: Harry Sinclair Drago
HARRY SINCLAIR DRAGO
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Published by M. Evans
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Copyright Â© 1922 by The Macaulay Company
First M. Evans & Company paperback edition 2014
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2014942914
ISBN: 978-1-59077-412-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-59077-413-7 (electronic)
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Printed in the United States of America
ONOR OF THE
ISTORY OF A
ULE OF A
, I N
A Romance of Early California
was high-noon. Heat waves danced across the floor of the arid, sunburnt valley. The brown California hills, broken, irregular, arose in the distance to bar the way. The year was 1835, and summer so far gone that the young, tufted mountain quail were flying.
Stretching away across the long desert leagues, white with its own dust, wound
El Camino Real
âthe King's highwayâa well-worn trail at best, for all its high-sounding title. And yet, with perseverance, it won through deserts and over mighty ranges, circled mountain torrents or bridged chasms. Weeks and weeks away to the south and east it took you; but eventually one arrived in Mexico City, then the flower of the Americas.
Where the road dipped down into this wide valley was but the starting point of that long trek southward. For, only some ten leagues behind those low hills to the north, lay Monterey.
Wealth untold flowed back and forth over this highway. Doughty men-at-arms, ladies of surpassing beauty, humble friars, coarse ruffians and better mannered banditti suffered each in turn, or prospered, upon its bosom. From governor-general and high dignitaries of church to poorest Indian neophyte, not one but whose eyes turned from time to time to
El Camino Real
. It was much more than an artery of trade. For California, it was the source of news; the producer of revenue; the means by which the children of the
caught the pulse of the land of their fathers: alsoâbecause of the coarse ruffians and their more gently mannered brothers by professionâit became the abiding place of danger.
But on this day, however, neither man nor beast appeared to break the somnolent spell of the torrid noon-time. One gazed in vain across the valley for sight of moving thing. Rabbits and coyotes had long since taken to the hills and the shade of the chamiso and manzanita. Only to the north did the eye catch the stir of living object,âa giant vulture, wheeling lazily in the cloudless sky.
Round and round the grisly thing circled, disdaining to come to earth. Suddenly, then, it straightened its wings and rose in sweeping rushes until it was but a speck in the heavens. Five minutes later a small dust-cloud appeared above the pass where the road cut through the hills. The little cloud grew as it advanced. The cavalcade of mules and horses which caused it quickly came into view.
Outriders rode ahead; armed horsemen brought up the rear. Between these guards rode some four or five men. Immediately behind them thundered an eight-mule-team pulling a heavily wheeled wagon.
Once free of the pass, the little company closed up. Foam dripped from the muzzles of their mounts. The youthful leader held up his hand and the party slackened its pace.
The captain of the cavalcade was hardly more than a boy, for all that he gave his orders with a fine sense of authority. He voiced a warm, carefree laugh as he sheathed his blade and lowered the hammers of his muzzle-loading pistol.
“Safe!” he cried, turning toward the white-faced young man who rode at his side. “Bah, Miguel, you've no heart for danger. You and your books,âlook to yourself, man; you're white of face. Come, let's have a smile.”
The student colored and swallowed heavily under this banter; but he made no attempt to do as he was bidden.
“Do not ask me to smile, Ramon, not after this mad ride,” he muttered. “Time to talk of smiling when we've come safely through yonder pass. PÃ©rez knows that the smuggler is at anchor in the bay, and that there will be wagons coming back to the ranchos with goods. Don't expect him to overlook such an opportunity.”
Ramon's eyes snapped with good-natured merriment. “
” he cried aloud. “Hearâhear! And did you not say the same thing as we approached this pass in back of us? You have seen PÃ©rez under every clump of manzanita since we quitted Monterey. Indeed you are the true son of a lawyer. Gild pity poor PÃ©rez if he is ever brought up before you.”
Miguel threw up his head at this. “Fine talk you make of pity for him.”
“And why not?” the aggravating Ramon demanded. “He is a professional man the same as yourself. You work with the law; he without it. What.'s the difference,âit's only a matter of choice. You will grow rich; poor PÃ©rez will lose his head. The pity all belongs to him.”
“H'm,” the young lawyer snorted. “And you mean itâwell I know you do. I half wish your abused bandit stops us. The man has robbed and murdered his way to Mexico City and back.”
“Of course. The man is a success. But he only robs and kills the rich”âwith a shrug of the shouldersâ“the rich can stand it.”
“You will be fair meat, then,” Miguel retorted hotly.
His words brought a grin to Ramon's face. They understood each other very well, indeed. And, although they were of different castes, and the family of one served the other, the impress of this new country had already set to work a spirit of broadness never known in ancient
“Indeed, what a sweet plum you would be for friend PÃ©rez,” Miguel went on. “The son of the richest, caughtâcapturedâled away into the hills. Why, he would bleed your father's purse until it was as impoverished as my own family's.”
“Captured?” Ramon echoed. “But I hold myself no cowardâand friend PÃ©rezâby all accounts âis no poltroon, either. Why talk of capture? We may meet; hut one will not run the other off.”
“We shall see,” his friend replied glumly. “Things have come to a pretty pass when a man may not set forth without fear of his life. Conditions go from bad to worse. We are a nation of lawbreakers to-day.”
, you moralizingâyou who have this day purchased contraband goodsâclothing, shoes and what notâfrom a smuggler? Unless my eyes have failed me, I saw the advocate-general himself aboard ship haggling over the price of a piece of silk. And our neighbors,âour rich, haughty grandeesâwere they not there, too? And yet, you turn up your nose at poor PÃ©rez. I tell you, it is each man for himself. Why should we pay a hundred per cent tax to Mexico? We are not pawns. PÃ©rez, now, has some claim on us. He, at least, spends his gains in our cities.”
The young lawyer made a wry face as Ramon went on. The boy's talk was heretical, treasonable; but it was only a fair sample of what one heard on every side. The days of peace and plenty were, apparently, over. Mexico had granted California a constitution; with it had come a new order of things. Men of affairs in the colony were wondering already if they had moved in the right direction. Taxes had increased by leaps and bounds; civil law had become a jest; and worst of all, the soldiers, who had been sent in answer to urgent appeals for protection of some sort, were convicts, and often a greater source of evil than the bandits whom they were supposed to suppress.
The state was being torn apart with jealousies of one sort and another. The wealthy families of the south were insisting that the capital be removed from Monterey to Los Angeles. And Mexico, starvation poor from her war with Spain, was unable to pay the officers of her army. Revolts followed; sectional leaders appeared, eager to enhance their own positions in this time of unrest.