previous next

Chapter 4: a lost Capital.

Lapping round Pinos Point, nine or ten miles from the Old Quarries, the water races on a pale and sandy beach, of bow-like form, ending in two green and picturesque bluffs. One bluff is Santa Cruz, the other Monterey. The arc is twenty miles across; a sweep of sunny water, over which flocks of gulls and pelicans dart and flash. A slip of sand, dotted along the line with ribs and tusks of whales, so many that they look like drifts of snow, divides the dark blue sea from amber dunes and light green woods. A plain rolls inward into mounds and ridges, covered to the top by oak and pine; beyond which forests rise the peaks and shoulders of the Galivano range.

Not thirty minutes since, the sun laughed out in front of us, peeping over Monte Toro with a face of burning gold; yet early in the day as it may seem, [29] we are already bathed in summer heat. Our craft heaves idly on the waters, waiting for a sign to land. Some boats, with men asleep, are swaying to and fro, stirred only by the long and lazy swell of a Pacific tide. Who cares to hoist a flag? Who cares to move? Senoras twist their cigarettes; tall, thin, serpentine brunettes, with eyes as dark as night, and cheeks as brown as walnut juice, their rich red colour blushing through the skin. Lolling on deck, these giddy and coquettish damsels fan their cheeks, and puff their curls of smoke, and let their eyelids droop in languor.

Ah di me Alhama!

Light of heart and glib of tongue, the dons and caballeros match their female folk.

“ Let me propose to you a task,” lisps Juan, addressing two picturesque coquettes: “Pepita, you shall twist me a cigarette, and you, Josepha, smoke it for me!”

Leaning on the vessel's side, we watch a shoal of smelts at play. A pelican settles on our mast. The air is still; the silence broken only by the snapping of an unseen dog. A line of surf breaks white and [30] fresh along the rocks of Santa Cruz, but on this stretch of amber sands the waters lap and lie, gently as the fancies float about the eyelids of a sleeping child. Like waiting in a Syrian road, is waiting at a Mexican port. Who cares for time? Beyond the rickety old Mexican pier, a tiny creek winds in between two grassy banks, with uplands clothed in oak and cypress. In the hollow you can see a wooden cross:

June 3, 1770.

That cross is Fray Junipero's cross; that ancient oak beside it, is the tree under which Don Jose Rivera massed his troops. Right of the gully, on a bare hill-top, stand the ruins of Rivera's castle; left of it, under a fringe of pines, and in the midst of fig-trees and peach gardens, rise the sheds and water-wheels of Monterey. [31]

We land — the town is won. Received by Don Mariano de Vallejo, one of the great men in the Lost Capital, we are guests in every house. Priests salute us in their walks; barbers and bakers doff their caps; and billiard-players offer us their cues. Seioras beg for visiting cards. The dogs which doze in every gutter seem to know that we are persons not to be annoyed by snap and snarl.

Monterey, a town all gables, walls, and balustrades — in which everyone owns a corner lotis peopled by folk as quaint and singular as the streets and sheds. A native builds his house to please himself. Why not? Is he not don and caballero? Who shall thwart his whim? No mayor insults a Mlontereyano with rules and plans. No level lines of road offend your eyes. Main street, if such a passage can be called a street, winds in and out among a group of villas, dancing-booths, barbers' shops and billiard rooms. No side walk interferes with man and horse. An open sewer runs through the town, a cesspool poisons every yard. Two nieces of Don Mariano live in a villa with an open drain in front. Nobody dreams of covering up that drain. The plaza is as shapeless as the street; [32] a scatter of white houses, built of earth and plank, mostly one story high; these people living in a constant fear of earthquakes happening in the night. Here juts a gable-end, there turns a water-fan. Beyond them runs a length of front, all wash and paint, the residence of a don; then come a forge, a whisky shop, a Chinese laundry, and an open pit.

A pretty house stands here and there among the cypresses and limes, with balconies, giving on an inner court, and jalousies from which a dame, herself unseen, may note who passes in the street below. This lady's game of hide and peep, which in Monterey takes the place of work and thought, is highly popular. One public pile adorns the plaza; that Calaboose (prison, court, and whipping post) in which the caide used to sit, and sentence mixed blood rascals to a tale of stripes. New times bring in new men. M. Simoneau, a merry French cook, now keeps his chickens in the prisoners' yard, and serves up soup and fish in the justice-room. A group of bearded fellows smoke within the shadow of a wall. A priest creeps timidly across the square. Girls in black veils and scarlet skirts are hurrying home from noontide mass. A child is playing with [33] a goat. Some geese are wabbling in the drain, some curs sleeping in the sun. Are we not idling through an unknown city in the south of Spain?

In Monterey, folks affect high pedigrees, and give themselves Castilian airs. Here birth and blood are choicer things than house and land. Is not the country overrun by Hybrids, sons of savages, daughters of nobody, yet holding up their heads and putting in their claims?

The lower ranks of people admit some taint of blood; but in the church, the plaza, and the barber's shop, no man is less than don and caballero, with a pedigree long enough to amaze a Gael and satisfy a Basque.

No house in Monterey is fifty years old. Fiftysix years ago, the city built by Don Jose tivera and the Spanish friars, was levelled to the earth. Captain Buchard, a French pirate or privateer, ran into the port with two small frigates, flying the flag of Spain. Governor Sola, acting for his royal master, masked a battery near the water's edge, and having placed this battery in charge of Don Jesus de Vallejo, waited the piratical attack. Next day, on Buchard laying one of his ships athwart the [34] castle, Don Jesus opened fire and forced him to withdraw. Enraged by this repulse, Buchard lowered his boats, and sent his men ashore. Don Jesus left his guns, and bolted for the woods, firing a powder train, which blew the castle into dust. Buchard gave the town to pillage, and his crews, a riff-raff of all nations, Spanish, French, and Algerine, spared neither age nor sex. Fire swept the lanes and alleys, so that nothing but the church, an edifice of stone, remained to mark the site of royal Monterey.

Five years elapsed before a soul returned. A Scot, named David Spence, a man dealing in skins and hides, came first. Then don and caballero ventured back, and raised their shanties from the dust. Poorer than ever, they built of sand and logs, but gave their sheds poetic names. A hut was called a house, a shed a hall. No house in Monterey is bigger than an English cottage, and the public rooms are often low and mean. Entering one of the pretentious villas, you find the gate unhinged, the balcony rotten, the garden heaped and messed. Nature does something to redeem the waste. What laurels glitter in the sun! This [35] cypress sets you thinking of Seraglio Point, this cactus of the upper Nile, this prickly pear of Ramleh in the Sands. What artist would not like to sketch this mouldering wall and overhanging fruit? But while you make your sketch, the owner smokes and smirks, convinced that you admire his wall and fruit trees, not because they make a picture, but because they are his wall and fruit trees.

“A saintly and a regal city,” says Don Mariano with a flush of pride; “ San Carlos is our patron saint, Don Carlos is our founder king. A regal name is Monterey; rey de los montes-king of the mountains.”

Dons and caballeros sneer at San Francisco as an upstart city, built by nobody, not even by a viceroy, and peopled by the scum of New York, Sydney, and Hong-Kong. At Monterey they have a line of governors, and a second line of bishops, with the ruins of a castle and a gaudy Mexican church, as visible evidence of their temporal and spiritual sway. At Monterey, too, a gentleman has rights; not only those of a Spanish knight, but those of an Indian chief. He may be sharp of tongue and light of love. Nobody thinks of counting the number of his [36] squaws, or asking him whether those dames are red or white. Living near savages, he has caught, as stronger men might catch, no little of their savage morals.

Yet the Mexican don is no longer safe in his retreat at Monterey. Strangers poke their noses through his gates, enquire about his harem, and insist on showing him how to develop his estate. How he dislikes their chatter about making roads and opening schools! His fathers neither paved a road, nor built a school. They kept a priest, who ruled their squaws and took their girls to mass. That good old system suits him. What has he to do with roads and schools? A rider, he prefers a grassy trail; a gentleman, what need has he for the accomplishments of a clerk? Will science help him to throw sixes, and will letters kindle fire for him in female eyes?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Buchard (4)
Don Jose Rivera (2)
Don Mariano (2)
Don Jesus (2)
Mariano Vallejo (1)
Jesus Vallejo (1)
David Spence (1)
Sola (1)
M. Simoneau (1)
Junipero (1)
Don Jose (1)
French (1)
Don Carlos (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
June 3rd, 1770 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: