This is Part III of Elenore Meherin’s Sausalito News account of the world of William Richardson’s daughter Mariana in the mid-nineteenth century. Previously Mariana had witnessed the capture of spirited wild horses by her intended, Ramon de Haro and his cohorts. Ms. Meherin takes up the story from there:
The hacienda was now a marching pageant of color. Young Indian boys bearing pails of golden fruit sauntered from the orchard; slim brown maids in bright yellow blouses and gaudy pink skirts skipped across the patio, carrying baskets of neatly folded laundry; old women, their heads tied up in crimson scarfs, knelt in the courtyard rolling out endless tortillas.
Mariana jumped from her saddle, leaving her companions to get the wild horses into the corrals. Here, with others not yet tamed, they would be kept at night and herded by day until they were subdued enough to pasture freely with other animals of the rancho. In early California the horses were never stabled.
She ran through the kitchens eager to sniff the tempting viands now being prepared for the week-end fiesta. Enormous cuts of beef were roasting on the spits, dozens of wild geese and wild duck were plucked and ready for the ovens. Trays of freshly-baked delicate pastry, richly iced—called by the natives dulces—were covered and set away to cool. Frijoles and chiles filled bowls to brimming abundance.
Captain William Antonio Richardson might nonchalantly invite all the elite of Yerba Buena and bring them ashore in his schooner. It often happened that he did. No need to worry lest his wife, Dona Maria Martinez, complain. She’d be standing in the long narrow sala, eager and smiling. Hospitality, in that happy uncommercial heyday, was the first law of California life.
As the adored young princess of the household came stepping through the kitchen, Victoria, the fat brown superlative Indian cook, heaped a plate with piping hot tamales, beamed at the girl and, pouring out a stream of gossip, ordered her to eat. The Indian women were the radio broadcasters and newspapers of the epoch. They got the news first; they got it right or wrong but they duly and faithfully passed it on.
Yes, there are horse thieves about. That villain Fremont is stirring up the countryside. Down at Alisal near Monterey he took the best of Don Sebastian Peralta’s horses. When the Don requested their return, the Gringo captain ordered him thrown from his camp, threatened to flog him and called him foul names. The Gringo wrote the names on paper and sent it to the alcalde!
But everyone knows Don Sebastian is a caballero muy ilustre. Down at Alisal, too, the Gringo’s drunken followers burst into the home of Don Angel Castro and seized his youngest daughter. Yes, it is all true, said Victoria, her eyes flashing. The Gringos had guns. They shoved the guns in the venerable old Don’s face. But the Holy Virgin looked down from heaven; she gave strength to Don Angel. He rolled the drunkards on the floor and turned them from his home.
Now el Diablo Fremont is here, Senorita! At our doorstep.
Mariana, vigorously filling her mouth with the highly seasoned corn and chicken, grinned.
“Santa Maria, but you’re a wonderful cook, Victoria. I am more frightened of my mother just now than of Don Juan Fremont, diablo though he be!”
“You may well be frightened,” Victoria scolded. “La Señora was very disturbed you went without permission.” Mariana, half listening, recalled Ramon’s proud flashing look as the white stallion surrendered, recalled the sweetness in his eyes when he said the steed was for her.
“’Tis worth while,” she said softly, “no matter what my mother says. Though she should cut my hair . . .” The stout Indian woman mistook her excitement. “Do not be alarmed, Ninita [little girl]. La Señora has gone to the glen where Francita’s baby is sick. She will cure the little one and by then, the captain, your father, will be here. Dona Maria Martinez will forget to scold.”
Mariana finished the tamale, chuckling for Victoria’s shrewd insight. Will I ever love as my mother loves, she mused dreamily. Though the earth were folding up, when he arrives, she is always glad. No—that will not happen to me. But she ran through the corridor and she sang as she ran.
(Next week will conclude Elenore Meherin’s four-part series about Mariana and Rancho Saucelito.)