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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Story Of A Mine - Part 2. In The Courts - Chapter 6. How A Grant Was Got For It
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The Story Of A Mine - Part 2. In The Courts - Chapter 6. How A Grant Was Got For It Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :Bret Harte Date :May 2012 Read :3423

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The Story Of A Mine - Part 2. In The Courts - Chapter 6. How A Grant Was Got For It


While the Blue Mass Company, with more zeal than discretion, were actively pursuing Pedro and Wiles over the road to Tres Pinos, Senors Miguel and Manuel were comfortably seated in a fonda at Monterey, smoking cigarritos and discussing their late discovery. But they were in no better mood than their late companions, and it appeared from their conversation that in an evil moment they had sold out their interest in the alleged silver mine to Wiles and Pedro for a few hundred dollars,--succumbing to what they were assured would be an active opposition on the part of the Americanos. The astute reader will easily understand that the accomplished Mr. Wiles did not inform them of its value as a quicksilver mine, although he was obliged to impart his secret to Pedro as a necessary accomplice and reckless coadjutor. That Pedro felt no qualms of conscience in thus betraying his two comrades may be inferred from his recent direct and sincere treatment of Concho, and that he would, if occasion offered or policy made it expedient, as calmly obliterate Mr. Wiles, that gentleman himself never for a moment doubted.

"If we had waited but a little he would have given more,--this cock-eye!" regretted Manuel querulously.

"Not a peso," said Miguel, firmly.

"And why, my Miguel? Thou knowest we could have worked the mine ourselves."

"Good, and lost even that labor. Look you, little brother. Show to me now the Mexican that has ever made a real of a mine in California. How many, eh? None! Not a one. Who owns the Mexican's mine, eh? Americanos! Who takes the money from the Mexican's mine? Americanos! Thou rememberest Briones, who spent a gold mine to make a silver one? Who has the lands and house of Briones? Americanos! Who has the cattle of Briones? Americanos! Who has the mine of Briones? Americanos! Who has the silver Briones never found? Americanos! Always the same! Forever! Ah! carramba!"

Then the Evil One evidently took it into his head and horns to worry and toss these men--comparatively innocent as they were--still further, for a purpose. For presently to them appeared one Victor Garcia, whilom a clerk of the Ayuntamiento, who rallied them over aguardiente, and told them the story of the quicksilver discovery, and the two mining claims taken out that night by Concho and Wiles. Whereat Manuel exploded with profanity and burnt blue with sulphurous malediction; but Miguel, the recent ecclesiastic, sat livid and thoughtful.

Finally came a pause in Manuel's bombardment, and something like this conversation took place between the cooler actors:

Miguel (thoughtfully). "When was it thou didst petition for lands in the valley, friend Victor?"

Victor (amazedly). "Never! It is a sterile waste. Am I a fool?"

Miguel (softly). "Thou didst. Of thy Governor, Micheltorena. I have seen the application."

Victor (beginning to appreciate a rodential odor). "Si! I had forgotten. Art thou sure it was in the valley?"

Miguel (persuasively). "In the valley and up the falda."*

* Falda, or valda, i. e., that part of the skirt of a
woman's robe that breaks upon the ground, and is also
applied to the final slope of a hill, from the angle that it
makes upon the level plain.

Victor (with decision). "Certainly. Of a verity,--the falda likewise."

Miguel (eying Victor). "And yet thou hadst not the grant. Painful is it that it should have been burned with the destruction of the other archives, by the Americanos at Monterey."

Victor (cautiously feeling his way). "Possiblemente."

Miguel. "It might be wise to look into it."

Victor (bluntly). "As why?"

Miguel. "For our good and thine, friend Victor. We bring thee a discovery; thou bringest us thy skill, thy experience, thy government knowledge,--thy Custom House paper."*

* Grants, applications, and official notifications, under
the Spanish Government, were drawn on a stamped paper known
as custom House paper.

Manuel (breaking in drunkenly). "But for what? We are Mexicans. Are we not fated? We shall lose. Who shall keep the Americanos off?"

Miguel. "We shall take ONE American in! Ha! seest thou? This American comrade shall bribe his courts, his corregidores. After a little he shall supply the men who invent the machine of steam, the mill, the furnace, eh?"

Victor. "But who is he,--not to steal?"

Miguel. "He is that man of Ireland, a good Catholic, at Tres Pinos."

Victor and Manuel (omnes). "Roscommon?"

Miguel. "Of the same. We shall give him a share for the provisions, for the tools, for the aguardiente. It is of the Irish that the Americanos have great fear. It is of them that the votes are made,--that the President is chosen. It is of him that they make the Alcalde in San Francisco. And we are of the Church like him."

They said "Bueno" altogether, and for the moment appeared to be upheld by a religious enthusiasm,--a joint confession of faith that meant death, destruction, and possibly forgery, as against the men who thought otherwise.

This spiritual harmony did away with all practical consideration and doubt. "I have a little niece," said Victor, "whose work with the pen is marvellous. If one says to her, 'Carmen, copy me this, or the other one,'--even if it be copper-plate,--look you it is done, and you cannot know of which is the original. Madre de Dios! the other day she makes me a rubric* of the Governor, Pio Pico, the same, identical. Thou knowest her, Miguel. She asked concerning thee yesterday."

* The Spanish "rubric" is the complicated flourish
attached to a signature, and is as individual and
characteristic as the handwriting.

With the embarrassment of an underbred man, Miguel tried to appear unconcerned, but failed dismally. Indeed, I fear that the black eyes of Carmen had already done their perfect and accepted work, and had partly induced the application for Victor's aid. He, however, dissembled so far as to ask:

"But will she not know?"

"She is a child."

"But will she not talk?"

"Not if I say nay, and if thou--eh, Miguel?"

This bit of flattery (which, by the way, was a lie, for Victor's niece did not incline favorably to Miguel), had its effect. They shook hands over the table. "But," said Miguel, "what is to be done must be done now." "At the moment," said Victor, "and thou shalt see it done. Eh? Does it content thee? then come!"

Miguel nodded to Manuel. "We will return in an hour; wait thou here."

They filed out into the dark, irregular street. Fate led them to pass the office of Dr. Guild at the moment that Concho mounted his horse. The shadows concealed them from their rival, but they overheard the last injunctions of the President to the unlucky Concho.

"Thou hearest?" said Miguel, clutching his companion's arm.

"Yes," said Victor. "But let him ride, my friend; in one hour we shall have that that shall arrive YEARS before him," and with a complacent chuckle they passed unseen and unheard until, abruptly turning a corner, they stopped before a low adobe house.

It had once been a somewhat pretentious dwelling, but had evidently followed the fortunes of its late owner, Don Juan Briones, who had offered it as a last sop to the three-headed Cerberus that guarded the El Refugio Plutonean treasures, and who had swallowed it in a single gulp. It was in very bad case. The furrows of its red-tiled roof looked as if they were the results of age and decrepitude. Its best room had a musty smell; there was the dampness of deliquescence in its slow decay, but the Spanish Californians were sensible architects, and its massive walls and partitions defied the earthquake thrill, and all the year round kept an even temperature within.

Victor led Miguel through a low anteroom into a plainly-furnished chamber, where Carmen sat painting.

Now Mistress Carmen was a bit of a painter, in a pretty little way, with all the vague longings of an artist, but without, I fear, the artist's steadfast soul. She recognized beauty and form as a child might, without understanding their meaning, and somehow failed to make them even interpret her woman's moods, which surely were nature's too. So she painted everything with this innocent lust of the eye,--flowers, birds, insects, landscapes, and figures,--with a joyous fidelity, but no particular poetry. The bird never sang to her but one song, the flowers or trees spake but one language, and her skies never brightened except in color. She came out strong on the Catholic saints, and would toss you up a cleanly-shaven Aloysius, sweetly destitute of expression, or a dropsical, lethargic Madonna that you couldn't have told from an old master, so bad it was. Her faculty of faithful reproduction even showed itself in fanciful lettering,--and latterly in the imitation of fabrics and signatures. Indeed, with her eye for beauty of form, she had always excelled in penmanship at the Convent,--an accomplishment which the good sisters held in great repute.

In person she was petite, with a still unformed girlish figure, perhaps a little too flat across the back, and with possibly a too great tendency to a boyish stride in walking. Her brow, covered by blue-black hair, was low and frank and honest; her eyes, a very dark hazel, were not particularly large, but rather heavily freighted in their melancholy lids with sleeping passion; her nose was of that unimportant character which no man remembers; her mouth was small and straight; her teeth, white and regular. The whole expression of her face was piquancy that might be subdued by tenderness or made malevolent by anger. At present it was a salad in which the oil and vinegar were deftly combined. The astute feminine reader will of course understand that this is the ordinary superficial masculine criticism, and at once make up her mind both as to the character of the young lady and the competency of the critic. I only know that I rather liked her. And her functions are somewhat important in this veracious history.

She looked up, started to her feet, leveled her black brows at the intruder, but, at a sign from her uncle, showed her white teeth and spake.

It was only a sentence, and a rather common-place one at that; but if she could have put her voice upon her canvas, she might have retrieved the Garcia fortunes. For it was so musical, so tender, so sympathizing, so melodious, so replete with the graciousness of womanhood, that she seemed to have invented the language. And yet that sentence was only an exaggerated form of the 'How d'ye do,' whined out, doled out, lisped out, or shot out from the pretty mouths of my fair countrywomen.

Miguel admired the paintings. He was struck particularly with a crayon drawing of a mule. "Mother of God, it is the mule itself! observe how it will not go." Then the crafty Victor broke in with, "But it is nothing to her writing; look, you shall tell to me which is the handwriting of Pio Pico;" and, from a drawer in the secretary, he drew forth two signatures. One was affixed to a yellowish paper, the other drawn on plain white foolscap. Of course Miguel took the more modern one with lover-like gallantry. "It is this is genuine!" Victor laughed triumphantly; Carmen echoed the laugh melodiously in child-like glee, and added, with a slight toss of her piquant head, "It is mine!" The best of the sex will not refuse a just and overdue compliment from even the man they dislike. It's the principle they're after, not the sentiment.

But Victor was not satisfied with this proof of his niece's skill. "Say to her," he demanded of Miguel, "what name thou likest, and it shall be done before thee here." Miguel was not so much in love but he perceived the drift of Victor's suggestion, and remarked that the rubric of Governor Micheltorena was exceedingly complicated and difficult. "She shall do it!" responded Victor, with decision.

From a file of old departmental papers the Governor's signature and that involved rubric, which must have cost his late Excellency many youthful days of anxiety, was produced and laid before Carmen.

Carmen took her pen in her hand, looked at the brownish-looking document, and then at the virgin whiteness of the foolscap before her. "But," she said, pouting prettily, "I should have to first paint this white paper brown. And it will absorb the ink more quickly than that. When I painted the San Antonio of the Mission San Gabriel for Father Acolti, I had to put the decay in with my oils and brushes before the good Padre would accept it."

The two scamps looked at each other. It was their supreme moment. "I think I have," said Victor, with assumed carelessness, "I think I have some of the old Custom-House paper." He produced from the secretary a sheet of brown paper with a stamp. "Try it on that."

Carmen smiled with childish delight, tried it, and produced a marvel! "It is as magic," said Miguel, feigning to cross himself.

Victor's role was more serious. He affected to be deeply touched, took the paper, folded it, and placed it in his breast. "I shall make a good fool of Don Jose Castro," he said; "he will declare it is the Governor's own signature, for he was his friend; but have a care, Carmen! that you spoil it not by the opening of your red lips. When he is fooled, I will tell him of this marvel,--this niece of mine, and he shall buy her pictures. Eh, little one?" and he gave her the avuncular caress, i. e., a pat of the hand on either cheek, and a kiss. Miguel envied him, but cupidity outgeneraled Cupid, and presently the conversation flagged, until a convenient recollection of Victor's--that himself and comrade were due at the Posada del Toros at 10 o'clock--gave them the opportunity to retire. But not without a chance shot from Carmen. "Tell to me," she said, half to Victor and half to Miguel, "what has chanced with Concho? He was ever ready to bring to me flowers from the mountain, and insects and birds. Thou knowest how he would sit, oh, my uncle, and talk to me of the rare rocks he had seen, and the bears and the evil spirits, and now he comes no longer, my Concho! How is this? Nothing evil has befallen him, surely?" and her drooping lids closed half-pathetically.

Miguel's jealousy took fire. "He is drunk, Senorita, doubtless, and has forgotten not only thee but, mayhap, his mule and pack! It is his custom, ha! ha!"

The red died out of Carmen's ripe lips, and she shut them together with a snap like a steel purse. The dove had suddenly changed to a hawk; the child-girl into an antique virago; the spirit hitherto dimly outlined in her face, of some shrewish Garcia ancestress, came to the fore. She darted a quick look at her uncle, and then, with her little hands on her rigid lips, strode with two steps up to Miguel.

"Possibly, O Senor Miguel Dominguez Perez (a profound courtesy here), it is as thou sayest. Drunkard Concho may be; but, drunk or sober, he never turned his back on his friend--or--(the words grated a little here)--his enemy."

Miguel would have replied, but Victor was ready. "Fool," he said, pinching his arm, "'tis an old friend. And--and--the application is still to be filled up. Are you crazy?"

But on this point Miguel was not, and with the revenge of a rival added to his other instincts, he permitted Victor to lead him away.

On their return to the fonda, they found Master Manuel too far gone with aguardiente, and a general animosity to the average Americano, to be of any service. So they worked alone, with pen, ink, and paper, in the stuffy, cigarrito-clouded back room of the fonda. It was midnight, two hours after Concho had started, that Miguel clapped spurs to his horse for the village of Tres Pinos, with an application to Governor Micheltorena for a grant to the "Rancho of the Red Rocks" comfortably bestowed in his pocket.

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PART ICHAPTER V. WHO HAD A LIEN ON ITIt was high noon at Tres Pinos. The three pines from which it gained its name, in the dusty road and hot air, seemed to smoke from their balsamic spires. There was a glare from the road, a glare from the sky, a glare from the rocks, a glare from the white canvas roofs of the few shanties and cabins which made up the village. There was even a glare from the unpainted red-wood boards of Roscommon's grocery and tavern, and a tendency of the warping floor of the veranda to curl up