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I was born in Louisiana, and have been told that I am half-Spanish and half-French. My mother was fifteen when my natural father, only twenty himself, was killed in a duel, leaving her both widowed and pregnant. All this is only what I have been told But the man I always knew and thought of as Papa was my real father, and the first and only time he betrayed and hurt me was by dying.
We must have arrived in California when I was about three or four years old; and in less than a year I felt as if I had always been there had always known the sprawling Old house, and the valley of the seven streams, and the rounded hills that rose in tiers around it in every direction I had two older brothers, Fernando and Miguel; and there were servants everywhere to spoil me and wait on my every whim. It was easy, then, to push everything I didn't want to think about out of my mind; and to concentrate only upon the present.
In the beginning . . . I never needed to ask myself searching questions, as I do now! Why should I? I accepted things as they were on the surface and thought only of myself and my wants and well-being. I was taught to ride almost before I could walk; and I could use (and respect) a gun or a knife with equal ease by the time I was ten. I learned (as I now learn) everything quickly; numbers and letters as well as swimming and how to snare and hold atbay even the fiercest bull. I used to wish, in those days, that I had been born a boy. That I did not have to go away to school-especially not a convent school! Those were the days when I used to follow Fernando about doing every stupid, daring thing I did in the hope that he would noticeme, and perhaps give me even a grudging word of approval. How childish, how silly! Now, I despise myself for what I was; and for not wanting to see what was before my eyes all the time.
Papa's marriage to my mother (if they ever were married) was his second. His first wife, the mother of Fernando and Miguel, had been the spoiled only daughter of a prominent Spanish-Californian family--closely related to General Vallejo. He had been a ship's captain in those days, sailing from Boston to put in at Monterey to trade for hides. And then the beautiful Josefa had seen him and whispered to her best friend: "That is the man I am going to marry!" It's a romantic story, I suppose! Like another one I was told once, when I was still in the convent school in Benicia.
Love ... romance. . hate ... jealousy... are all these emotions really tied together? I have been called a witch, a bruja; and sometimes without the nervous, deprecating laugh that usually follows such a statement. And so? At least they do not burn witches any longer. Perhaps it is because witches tend to burn themselves up-usually by flying too close to the twin flames of danger and challenge.
Challenge I have always been exhilarated by any kind of challenge, or wager. And purposely blind, perhaps, to those things I do not wish to see. Why didn't I see, for instance, that Fernando used to trail behind my mother in much the same fashion that I trailed behind him? He called her names after she ran away from us with a redheaded Irishman who had his own gold mine and several millions of dollars to throw away on whatever he chose. "Putal Whore!" Sometimes it seemed as if he was saying those words at me, and that they were meant for me and were not about my mother at all. So, frightened without quite knowing why, I started to stay away from Fernando and to avoid him as much as I could. I even agreed, willingly, to a convent school; and when, eighteen months later, I sailed for Boston and yet another school, I was almost relieved. I needed discipline, and a disciplined way of life-I can see that now. There was so much I had to learn!
Marie-Claire taught me a great deal during those years we were at school together. We had a great deal in common, too. Her father was French; her mother American. And her mother too had gone away with another man.... There had been the unpleasantness of a divorce, and then her father had remarried and they didn't want her around, in the way. So-here she was!
"And I am bored, bored, boredf Why did my papa put me in such a prison? Oh yes. It's because of his new wife, who is jealous of me. But I'll teach her-and him too! I'll marry the first man I encounter next -- I swear it! Anything to get out of this ugly place, this prison!"
Papa brought Fernando with him to Boston the year I turned sixteen. And within the week they were engaged to be married-he and Marie-Claire. She was desperate to be free, and he and I had been brought up as brother and sister. In any case, and in all honesty, Marie-Claire is pretty, and I am not. She has hair the color of freshly minted gold, wide blue eyes, and breasts. My hair is night-black and my eyes silver-gray. I am too tall for a woman, and I do not have large breasts. All the same, I have been called "striking" -- whatever that means. I know only that it does not mean beautiful, or even pretty. My face is more triangular shaped than oval ... my cheekbones too high and too wide ... my eyebrows too upward slanting. But what is the point of all this dwelling on detail? I am what I am inside myself, and I can be anything I choose to be. Witch!"You are very much like your mother. . . " I have been told. Leaving me...