ON A MEXICAN RANCHE
nothing could induce me to marry him. I would rather a thousand times enter a convent, though I have always thought that anything would be better than a life between four walls, brought up as I have been, to mount my horse and gallop across the country as I choose; but even that would be preferable to a life with Don Pedro. He is handsome and can be agreeable, but he is a tyrant among his own people, and I should be most wretched; and I am convinced that the idea had better be altogether abandoned."
Isabella was now between fourteen and fifteen, an age at which girls are not unfrequently married in Mexico, where they reach maturity some years younger than among Northern people. She was strikingly pretty, even for one of her race and age, and bade fair to be a beautiful woman in another year or two. She had lost her mother when she was but a year old, and had been the constant companion of her father from the time when she had learnt to sit on a quiet pony. By the time she was ten she could ride any broken horse on the estate, and was absolutely fearless in the saddle. Thus, while her figure retained the grace so general among the women of her race, her life in the open air had given it a firmness and vigour rare among them. She was a good shot with the rifle, and was often away on horseback with her dogs from early morning until dusk, when she would return with her game slung from the saddle behind her.Her position as the young mistress of the hacienda, within whose wide limits she reigned as a little queen, and her close intercourse with her father, had given her a certain decision and firmness in strong contrast to the languor and love of careless ease of Mexican girls. She was acquainted with every man on the estate, and was so thoroughly acquainted with its working, that her father frequently consulted her as to any changes he proposed making in the arrangements; and when she affirmed, with