Related collections and offers
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Santa Fe Cameron was named for the town of her birth, because her Scottish father and a distressed little New Mexican priest could agree on no other name.
This was on the twenty-third of January, 1850, while a bitter wind blew snow down from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and darkened by contrast the adobe walls of the New Mexican capital.
In a bare two-room casita on lower San Francisco Street, the Scot, who was doctor as well as husband, stood beside the priest staring down at the woolen pallet where Conchita Valdez Cameron had given birth to the baby three hours ago. Conchita was dying. Her dark eyes were fixed on her husband's face in unquestioning love while her already cold hand clutched the crucifix on her breast. The beautiful ivory pallor, her Spanish inheritance, had dulled to a bluish-gray as the life of her eighteen-year-old body flowed away in hemorrhages that Andrew Cameron for all his skill was powerless to staunch.
The padre had administered the last rites; his concern was now with the feeble infant, prematurely born. It showed every sign of soon following its mother and must be baptized quickly.
"What name shall it be, doctór?" whispered Padre Miguel to the grim man by the bed, "María de la Concepción like her mother? or Juana — Catalina?" He paused seeing the haggard misery in the other man's face tighten to resistance. "Come, my son," he said with gentle urgency, looking at the baby and thinking that the actual name hardly mattered, "this is the feast day of San Ildefonso, shall we give her that name?"
Except for the hissing of the piñon logs in the high Indian fireplace there was silence in the small room, which was whitewashed to the same glistening purity as the snow which sifted into the still calle outside. Then the baby gave a faint whimper and Andrew turned on the priest. "My child shall be named for no whining Spanish saint."
Padre Miguel flushed, his fingers, already wet with the holy water, trembled and an angry rebuke leaped to his tongue. But he checked it. He had encountered the Scottish doctor's stubborn Calvinism before, and he made allowances for the man's anguish. In a nature which showed no softness to the world, it had been astonishing to see the tenderness which this harsh stranger had always given to the girl on the pallet. Nor, to do him justice, had he interfered with Conchita's own faith. During the past months she had been untiring in her prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe; prayers for forgiveness for the wrong she had done her family, prayers for a safe delivery of the baby within her womb.
The priest dimly understood that part of the doctor's violence came from realization that the Compassionate Mother had not seen fit to answer these prayers, and that lacking the consolation of the True Faith the man had no recourse but blind wrath.
So the padre's anger died, but he said inflexibly, "The baby must bear a Catholic name, doctór."
The Scot's jaw squared; he opened his mouth to speak, but the girl on the bed stirred, her straining eyes widened. "Please —" she whispered.
Andrew's face dissolved. He knelt on the hard-packed dirt floor beside the pallet. "Shall we name her Santa Fe, then?" he said softly. "It's papist enough, and —" He stopped, went on with difficulty, "We have been happy here."
The padre saw the girl relax and a wistful smile curve the gray lips, so he dipped his hand again in the holy water. Santa Fe, he thought, "The Holy Faith" — well, why not? He made the sign of the cross on the baby's forehead.
In the corner of the room those two completely disparate human beings looked at each other with the great love which had bridged the gulf between them. The smile on Conchita's mouth lost its sadness. She tried to lift her hand toward the blunt face near her own, to smooth away, as she had often done, the furrows in his forehead. She gave a long gentle sigh and her hand fell to the sheet.
The baby astonished everyone by living. A wet-nurse was found for her, Ramona Torres, wife of a lazy and bad-tempered woodcutter who lived across the Santa Fe River near the Chapel of San Miguel in the poor Analco quarter. La Ramona and her Pedro were dazzled to get three monthly pesos for so easy and insignificant a service. It was the little padre who negotiated this transaction by means of two gold sovereigns flung him by Andrew after Conchita's burial. For six months Andrew would not look at his child, nor hear mention of her. He shut himself into the room where Conchita had died. He went out to the market in the plaza only when hunger drove him to buy a little food, a handful of frijoles, or some hunks of hard, stringy mutton which he cooked himself in a pot over the fire and washed down with goat's milk.
He lived in an isolation which nobody tried to penetrate except Padre Miguel, who came back from his visits to the casita thwarted and rebuffed by Andrew's tight-lipped silences.
In July the padre tried a new plan. He sent Ramona with the baby to Andrew, saying, "If he will not let you in, tell him that the little Conchita is watching from paradise and her mother's heart is very sorrowful."
Ramona nodded, her broad peasant face showing no curiosity. She pulled her dirty pink rebozo over her head, wrapped one end of the scarf around the baby, and padded to the cottonwood footbridge across the river, her brown splayed feet raising little puffs of dust on the path to San Francisco Street.
Andrew opened the door at Ramona's timid knock. "Here —" said the woman, frightened by the expression in the bloodshot eyes that glared at her. "Your baby. El padre say Conchita very sad in paradise you no see baby." She sidled past the motionless Andrew to lay the swaddled bundle on the only table. Then she darted out the door, murmuring, "Later I come back." And she hurried away to the delights of the plaza and a gossip with friends in the shade of the portales.
Andrew shut the door and walked slowly to the table. The baby lay perfectly still, staring at him with unwinking gray eyes.
"Gray!" said Andrew aloud, startled from the remote prison of his grief. He leaned closer. Gray as the water of Loch Fyne, he thought. The homesickness which he had denied these two years sent a twinge of new pain into his consciousness. His daughter gazed up at him quietly, and after a while he experienced a feeling of solace. The eyes were like his mother's, the gentle Highland mother who had had the gift of second sight, and wisdom and pity for all things.
"Santa Fe —" said Andrew bitterly, and at the sound of his voice the baby suddenly smiled.
"Aye, 'tis a daft name for ye, small wonder ye smile." He repeated the name, and this time the last syllable echoed in his mind with a peculiar relevance. "'Fey!' There's a true Scottish word will fit you, for ye're fated — doomed to die as we all are, poor bairnie."
The baby gurgled, tried to kick against the tight-wrapped greasy blanket; thwarted, she protested tentatively, then fell asleep. Andrew continued to stare down at her.
When Ramona came back for the baby, she saw that the wild loco light had left the Señor.
"Bring Fey here once a week until she's weaned," he commanded in his halting Spanish. "After that I'll keep her."
"Fé — ?" questioned the woman blankly.
Andrew pointed at the baby.
"Ah —" said Ramona, and shrugged her fat shoulders. She picked up the little bundle, tucked it again into the fold of her rebozo, and pattered off down the street.
Andrew shut the pine door and walked to the back room. He looked at the corner where Conchita had died and at the carved blue-and-gold figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe which stood in a small niche in the wall as Conchita had placed it. From this figure he averted his eyes. They rested on the cowhide trunk which had accompanied him from Scotland. Inside the trunk, long untouched, lay his dirk, sporran, and kilt woven in the rose, blue, and green of the Cameron tartan.
He knelt beside the trunk, opened it with a key from his watch chain, and slowly lifted up the kilt. The soft wool fell to shreds as he touched it. It was riddled with moth holes. He let the trunk lid fall.
He walked into the front room, where he pulled his leather instrument case from the floor of the carved pine cupboard.
The contents of the medicine bottles had evaporated or dissolved into gluey masses, but on the instruments there was little rust; the dry New Mexican air had preserved them. He laid them out on the table — knives, probes, scalpels, and forceps — then picked them up one after the other, balancing each in his fingers which had grown clumsy and unresponsive.
Beneath the flap inside the instrument case there lay a piece of parchment. Andrew pulled it out and stared at the lines of Latin script. The parchment said that Andrew Lochiel Cameron had in 1846 graduated cum laude from Edinburgh's Royal College of Surgeons.
Andrew gathered up the instruments and threw them pell-mell into the case with the parchment. He flung the case back into the cupboard and strode hatless out of the house into the vivid noon sunlight. His jerky steps took him up San Francisco Street, past little adobe houses like his own, past the much larger town houses of the Delgados and the Candelarios whose smooth mud walls gave no hint of the graceful life of the flowering patios inside. He passed through the plaza without seeing any of its color and bustle. Only an hour before, a caravan had rumbled into the plaza at the end of the Santa Fe Trail over eight hundred plodding and dangerous miles from Independence, Missouri, so far back in the States. The bull-whackers and the mule-drivers were celebrating already. The saloons were teeming. A stream of whooping excited men thronged in and out of La Fonda, the hotel on the southeast corner of the plaza, and clinging to most of the brawny, sweating arms were Mexican girls in best chemises and rebozos, their black eyes limpid with excited anticipation. Despite the fresh white picket fence and prim rows of alfalfa newly planted by the Americans in the center of the plaza, the little square had given itself once again to pagan riot. There was a cockfight in front of the military chapel, two games of monte beneath the portale of the Governor's Palace, and the constant explosion of whip- crackers and pistol shots. The latter from three drunken American soldiers who had willingly caught the infection, as did almost all the Americans who wrote sanctimonious letters home about Santa Fe's vicious lack of morals while they drank and lecherized and gambled to an extent never dreamed of by the more temperate Mexicans.
Andrew had neither eyes nor ears for this scene, which was repeated at the arrival of each caravan, and of which he had himself been a part two years ago. He picked his way around a dying ox which had collapsed in the middle of the street, avoided two braying burros loaded with vegetables, and a Tesuque Pueblo Indian who stood motionless on the corner of Palace Avenue surveying the bedlam with calm contempt. He skirted the east side of the Governor's so-called "Palace," a long one- story mud building behind a colonnade, and continued his way north near Fort Marcy Hill until he reached the beginning of the road which led to Taos — and beyond — to Arroyo Hondo in the high mountains — the road he had traveled in April a year ago and which had taken him to the Valdez hacienda and Conchita. This road, too, had finally ended in bitterness, as had every other road down which he had briefly glimpsed happiness during his twenty-six years of living.
Andrew's pace slowed. He climbed the first juniper-covered hill and sat down on a piñon stump near the dusty trail. The summer sun poured warmly stimulating from a turquoise sky, a peon trotted by on his burro, his serape a vivid patch of orange against the distant Jemez Mountains. The peon hailed Andrew, "Holá! Buenos dias, amigo!" But Andrew was not warmed by the sun, nor did he hear the friendly greeting. He stared down at the dry sagebrush near his foot and saw it dissolve into the purple heather of the moors at home. He smelled the salt tang of the mist swirling in from Loch Fyne and the fragrance of peat smoke. He saw once more the piled gray stone of the house where he had been born and the face of his father, twisted with anger, etched clear against the great doorway. He could no longer remember the words his father had hurled at him because of a sharper memory — the stepmother's triumphant face peering over Sir James's shoulder, her thin lips curled, her eyes like a gloating ferret's.
There had been another witness to that scene on the steps of Cameron Hall. The Duke of Argyll, his father's powerful friend, as the Argylls since the days of Lochiel and Culloden had been staunch patrons to all the Camerons. The Duke had stood to one side, his grizzled head held stiffly turned from Andrew in whom he had hitherto taken so much interest.
The Glasgow stepmother had done her work well. She had contrived through guile and clever lies not only to expel Andrew from his home, but to banish him from Scotland. Andrew had hated her from the moment old Sir James had brought her to the Hall scarcely a year after his wife's death. The sly, sneck-drawing face of the quean! thought Andrew, clenching his hands, the rawness of the hurt she had dealt him as fresh as it had been that day in Scotland. The lustful little eyes of her! She had cocked those eyes at Andrew himself until he made plain his disgust. And then one night he had caught her naked behind a haycock with the stable boy, and she had acted after that with incredible speed.
Andrew, fresh from medical college, had been called to the Castle to attend the Duke's own cousin. The Lady Margaret had a cancer and she died, but no sooner was she laid in the ducal vault than the stepmother raised somehow a miasma of suspicion. How queer that the Lady Margaret had seemed perfectly well the week before; how strange that as soon as Andrew appeared, she grew worse and that she should die so quickly. How queer — how strange — until the whole of Inveraray, the whole of Argyllshire, had heard and inflated the whispers to a roar. There must have been, they said, a dreadful mistake made in the medicines — there had been malpractice — it was as good as murder. The Duke was frantic, they said, only his long friendship for poor disgraced Sir James kept him from clapping the wicked young doctor into jail.
It was then that Andrew tried to tell his father some of the reason for the stepmother's persecution. And Sir James had disowned him, shouting and stamping, "Get ye out o' my sight for aye! I dinna care gin ye go straight to the de'il that must'a' spawned ye!" So Andrew had left Cameron Hall, his instrument case in his hand, his cowhide trunk under his arm. He was the younger son, and Sir James had had no troublesome matter of inheritance to worry him. The stepmother was left alone in triumph at the Hall with her infatuated old husband.
Andrew went to Glasgow and there he bought passage to the States with three of the hundred gold sovereigns left him by his mother. He had tried to settle in New York, but not two months after he had hung out his shingle, the Bonnie Clyde put in from Glasgow. Andrew was down at the pier. He despised himself for it, but whenever a ship from home docked, he found himself on the wharf, his nostrils sniffing for a breath of heather and smoky kipper, his ears straining for the cadenced burr of the Highlands.
An Inveraray man, Jem MacGregor, had come down the gangplank that day and Andrew, recognizing him with a great leap in his heart, had rushed forward, unthinking, his hands outstretched. But Jem, whose own child Andrew had doctored through pneumonia, turned as purple as the tartan muffler around his neck. 'So, young Cameron,' sneered Jem, putting his hands in his pockets, "'tis the puir bodies o' New York ye're murr-r-dering the noo?" And, turning his back, he had shuffled rapidly down the pier.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Turquoise"
Copyright © 1973 Anya Seton Chase.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.