OLD MISSION STORIES OF CALIFORNIA
By Charles Franklin Carter
Author of "The Missions of Nueva California" and "Some By-ways of California"
Copyright 1917, by Paul Elder and Company
Foreword The Indian Sibyl's Prophecy The Flight of Padre Peyri Father Zalvidea's Money La Beata Juana Father Uria's Saints Pomponio
Of the last six stories comprising the seven in this little collection of Stories of the Old Missions, all but one have, as a basis, some modicum, larger or smaller, of historical fact, the tale of Juana alone being wholly fanciful, although with an historical background. The first story of the series may be considered as introductory to the mission tales proper.
In these quiet, unpretending stories the writer has attempted to give a faithful picture of life among the Indians and Spaniards in Nueva California during the early days of the past century.
The Indian Sibyl's Prophecy
In the southern part of the Mojave Desert a low hill stands somewhat apart from the foot-hills beyond, and back of it. Although not more than two hundred feet above the surrounding plateau, on account of its peculiar location, a commanding view may be had from its top. In front, toward the south, and extending all the way from east to west, the plain stretches off for many miles, until it approaches the distant horizon, where it is merged into lofty mountains, forming a tumultuous, serrated sky-line. Midway between the hill and the distant mountains, lie the beds, sharply defined, of three dry lakes. In the garish light of day they show for what they are, the light yellow hard-baked soil of the desert, without even the ordinary sage brush; but in early morning and, less frequently, toward evening, these lakes take on a semblance of their former state, sometimes (so strong is the mirage) almost deceiving those best acquainted with the region. Years ago—how many it would be difficult to say—these dry lakes were veritable bodies of water; indeed, at an earlier period than that, they were, without doubt, and including a large extent of the surrounding desert, one vast lake. But that was centuries ago, maybe, and with time the lake dried up, leaving, at last, only these three light spots in the view, which, in their turn, are growing smaller with the passing years, until they, too, will vanish, obliterated by the encroaching vegetation.
Back of the eminence from which this extended view is had, the mountains come close, not as high as those toward the south, but still respectable heights, snow-covered in winter. They array themselves in fantastic shapes, with colors changing from hour to hour. One thinks of the desert as a barren sandy waste, minus water, trees and other vegetation, clouds, and all the color and beauty of nature of more favored districts. Not so. Water is scarce, it is true, and springs few and far between, and the vegetation is in proportion; for what little there is is mostly dependent on the annual rainfall, never excessive, at the best, yet always sufficient for the brush covering the ground, and the yuccas towering up many feet here and there. But color, beautiful, brilliant, magnificent color, is here any and every day of the year, and from earliest dawn until the last traces of the evening sun have faded away, only to give place to moonlight unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Truly, the desert is far from being the dry, desolate, uninteresting region it is commonly pictured.
More than a century and a quarter ago, there stood on the side of this hill, and not far from its top, an Indian hut, or wickiup. It was built after the manner of the Indian tribes of Southern California—a circular space of about fifteen feet in diameter enclosed by brush-work, and roofed by a low dome of the same material. At the side was an opening, too small to permit one to enter without stooping low. This doorway, if it may be so called, being window and chimney as well, fronted toward the south, facing the dry lakes and the mountains beyond. Close by, at the left, was a heap of bones, which, on a nearer view, disclosed themselves to be those of rabbits, coyotes and quail, while three or four larger bones in the pile might inform the zoologist that the fierce mountain-lion was not unknown to this region. To the right of the doorway, some ten feet from it, were two large flat stones, set facing each other, a few inches apart; between them lay a handful of ashes, betokening the kitchen of the family living here. Close by the stones lay a number of smooth, rounded stones of use and value to the people of the hut. Back of the wickiup, a few paces up the hill, a tiny spring issued from the ground, affording a never-failing, though scanty, supply of water.
The location of this solitary hut, remote from all other signs of humanity, so far as the eye could judge, was a singular one; for the Indian loves his kind, and it is rare that one wanders deliberately away to make his home in loneliness, far from the rest of the tribe to which he belongs. In the case of this hut, however, its solitariness was more apparent than real; for although out of sight of any habitation whatever, the tribe to which its inmates belonged was distant not more than two miles, but on the other face of the hill, and hidden far in the recesses of a small canyon. Here, on the site of a beautiful source of precious water, was a cluster of Indian houses of brush, built like the one on the hillside. Each had its fireplace on one side, as well as the accompanying heap of bones of animals killed in the chase. Near the centre of the group of huts stood the temescal—an institution with nearly every Southern California tribe of Indians—where those who were ill subjected themselves to the heroic treatment of parboiling over a fire, until in a profuse perspiration, to be followed, on crawling out, by a plunge into the icy water of the stream. It was truly a case of kill or cure.
Let us return to the hillside hut, and make the acquaintance of its inmates. Passing through the humble opening, the interior is disclosed to the curious eye at one glance. The ground embraced within the circle of the wickiup had been dug away so as to make an even, hard floor two or three feet below the surface of the earth outside. To the right, standing on the floor, were two large, round baskets, each one with a capacity of half a dozen gallons. They were made in conformity to the general type of basket of the Southern California aborigine, but with the distinctive marks peculiar to the tribe to which belonged the dwellers within, and woven so tightly as to hold water without permitting a drop to pass through. In the bottom of one of these baskets was scattered a little ground meal of the acorn, a staple article of food with all the Indians of California. The other basket, similar to the first in shape and size, but of rougher weave, and lined on the inside with bitumen, was nearly full of water; for though the finely woven baskets of the Southern California Indians were really water-tight, they were not generally used for liquids. Any one, acquainted with the customs of these Indians, would understand the meaning of the little heap of stones by the fireside without: they were used in warming the water in the basket, which was done by heating them in the embers of the fire, then, when hot, throwing them into the water, in this way bringing it almost to a boil. Afterward, the stones having been taken out, some meal was thrown in and, in this manner, cooked. Beyond the baskets, and nearly opposite the entrance, against the wall, was a heap of fine brush, covered with the tawny skin of an immense mountain-lion—a giant specimen of his species, and a formidable animal, truly, for an Indian to encounter with only bow and arrow.
On this bed of brush was the gaunt, emaciated form of a woman lying stretched out at full length. At first glance, one might have mistaken her for a mummy, so still and lifeless she lay; her face, too, carried out the resemblance startlingly, for it was furrowed and seamed with countless wrinkles, the skin appearing like parchment in its dry, leathery texture. Only the eyes gave assurance that this was no mummy, but a living, sentient body—eyes large, full-orbed and black as midnight, arched by heavy brows that frowned with great purpose, as if the soul behind and beyond were seeking, powerless, to relieve itself of some weighty message. These were not the eyes of age, yet they belonged to a countenance that gave token of having lived through a great many years; for the woman lying there so deathly still had experienced all the varied joys and sufferings of near four score years, each one leaving its indelible mark on the tell-tale face. She was clothed in a loose dress made from rabbit skins, sewn together coarsely, sleeveless, and so short as to leave her feet and ankles bare.
To the left of the entrance crouched a young Indian woman. She was an unusually good-looking specimen of the desert tribes: a tall well-shaped form; a head and face of much beauty and character, with a pair of eyes that, at first glance, betrayed a close relation to the woman lying on the bed. They were of the same size, color and brilliance; but the tense, powerful expression that was seen in those of the aged woman, here was softened to a mild, yet piercing glance, which had, at the same time, a touch of sadness. She appeared to be not more than twenty-five years old, although her face, in spite of its gentle, youthful expression, showed the traces of more than her full quota of hardships; for the life of the desert Indian is never an easy one at the best, and here had been a greater struggle for existence than is usual among the aborigines. As she crouched by the doorway, she seemed almost as lifeless as the old Indian woman on the bed, her gaze fixed absently on the extended view of plain and mountain stretching out before her, the only sign of life being the slow, even rise and fall of her bosom with each succeeding breath. Her dress was similar to that of the other woman, but was shorter, reaching only to the knees.
This young Indian was the granddaughter of the older woman. On the death of her parents (her father's following that of her mother, the daughter of the aged Indian, after an interval of a few months), when she was little more than an infant, her grandmother had taken sole charge of her, treating her, as she became older, with the closest intimacy, more as a sister than a grandchild; and notwithstanding the diversity in age, this, feeling was reciprocated on the part of the child.
It was after her father's death, but before she herself was old enough to see more than the surface of action, that her grandmother took up her abode in the lone hut on the brow of the hill, apart from the rest of the tribe of which she was a member, with the child her only companion. At first, the little girl noticed not the difference between their mode of living and that of the rest of the tribe, all the other members of which lived together, surrounding the spring of water, their life and mainstay; but very quickly, as the child grew older, she saw, only too plainly, that her grandmother was looked upon as different from the others: and the Indian regards all those of his kin, no matter how near, who display any peculiar form of mentality, either with reverence, as something of the divine, or with cruel hatred, when he believes the unfortunate individual possessed with the evil spirit. She saw, in the brief and infrequent visits the two made to the tribe, that her grandmother was regarded with distrust; that glances of aversion were cast at her from the doorways of the huts as they passed, and, once or twice, a mischievous boy had slyly thrown a stone at the two, wending their way to their lonely home.
Long the child cogitated over the situation, but, as is the Indian's habit, without a word to her grand parent of what was occupying her mind. The old woman saw she was absorbed in some mental problem, and, with the shrewdness of the aborigine, guessed the subject, and sought to divert her thoughts into other channels. It was in vain, for one evening, after their simple meal of herbs, the girl, gathering courage, in the increasing dusk, asked abruptly, after a long silence:
"Grandmother, why do we live here alone, far from the others in the canyon? Why do we—?" she paused, frightened at her temerity.
The old woman started slightly. She had been sitting with hands folded quietly in her lap, thinking, possibly, of the absent ones of her family, gone to be with Ouiot in the everlasting home. Turning to her granddaughter, she answered, slowly and solemnly:
"My child, I am grieved to have this come upon you now, for I had hoped you would escape it until, after I am gone to the eternal life beyond. Then it would not have been to you a burden, only a sorrow, softened by the thought that I had borne bravely the punishment dealt out to me, without a word of reproach. I have seen that you had something on your mind, and guessed this was it, and now that you have asked me, I think it best to tell you, although you are still but a child. For you would, I know, brood over it in your heart. Listen, then, while I tell you my life story."
"My childhood and youth were passed in a manner no different from that of the other children of our tribe; I worked and played, careless of everything but the present, until I was a big girl. I was happy in my ignorance, for why should I be singled out from all the rest to bear the honor that was to be thrust upon me? I knew not what was in store for me."
"One night, when I was about fifteen years old, I dreamed that the spring, near which our kindred live, dried up, and forced us to move to another spring where we had to stay for two months. When I came to myself (for it was not so much like sleep as a trance), I wondered; but this passed away after a time, and I had almost forgotten the occurrence, when one day, about a month later, we were startled by hearing there was no water in the spring. The winter before had been very dry, with almost no rain, and fears had been expressed that the spring would fail us, a thing which had not occurred for more than three generations. My dream flashed through my mind, only for an instant, but long enough to imprint the coincidence on my memory. I thought no more of it, however, until some six months later, after our return to the spring; for, as I saw it in my dream, we had been forced to depart, and to be absent from our beloved dwelling-place for two months. Again I saw, as in a dream (but this time it was full day, and I knew I was not asleep), our entire tribe in mourning for our chief who was lying dead and surrounded by all the elders. It was like a flash of lightning, leaving me, once more, broad awake, yet I had not been asleep. This time I was frightened, for I knew there had been members of our tribe who could foretell the future. Was I to be one of them? I dared not tell any one of my dream, and waited trembling, from day to day, hoping and praying that it might not come true. But the future had been revealed to me, and a few weeks later our chief fell in a battle with our enemies to the east. When I heard of it I swooned, and my mother found me lying senseless by the fire. After she had revived me, she asked me the cause of my fainting, and, weakened from the shock, I told her all."
"'Daughter,' she said, after a long pause, 'you are destined for a great work, for Ouiot speaks through you.' And, a few days later, after the burial of the dead, she told the chief men of the tribe what I had seen. And then ended my happiness: from that day I lived a life of sorrow, for the burden I had to bear was a heavy one: not only when I foretold disaster and suffering to our people, but when I had joyful news for them, even then the dread of knowing the future was terrible. Sometimes a half-year would pass without communication from above, and I would begin to hope that the awful gift was taken from me; but always it would manifest itself again. My husband (for I had been married not long after my first dream) left me just before your mother was born, but I did not want, for I was provided with everything by the entire tribe. Your mother, also, when she grew to be a woman, left me to be married to your father; but when he died, he asked me to take care of his only child, and that is why you and I have lived together all these years."
The old woman paused, and several minutes passed silently in the gathering dusk, while the little girl waited wonderingly, afraid to speak. Presently the Indian stirred, as if waking from a slumber, and, after a slight shiver, resumed her tale:
"And thus I lived for many years, prophesying as the Great Spirit revealed the future to me, and my prophecies always came true. I foretold poor harvests, and the issues of our wars. Only once before the last prophecy I made was my word doubted, and then unbelief was born in the minds of many of the men. I spoke the words of truth then, but when I said we should, in time, vanish from this country, I was treated with scorn. But I was right. Are we greater in numbers than our traditions tell us were our fathers many generations ago? Is it not more difficult to live now than it was in former days? Where are the quail, the rabbits, that our ancestors used to kill so plentifully? Are not they growing less all the time? And the water! Look—" and the old woman, with arm extended, pointed with her forefinger toward the three dry lakes in the distance, only one of which showed any signs of moisture, a small spot in the centre, covered with, perhaps, a foot of water—"look," she repeated, "what were those lakes years ago? Our fathers tell us that long, long ages past, those three lakes were one large body of water. Where is it now? Have not I seen, in my own lifetime, the last one slowly drying up? Where will our game go when it has quite disappeared? And they laughed at me for telling them. It needs no gift of prophecy to see that. But they heeded me not. What cared they for anything so far in the future as that?
"But," continued the woman, after a pause, dropping her arm in her lap, and speaking in a low, sad voice, "the last time came, and I prophesied, and this time I told wrongly, for Ouiot did not speak through me. We were at war with the southern tribe, and it was revealed to me that our men should conquer. When I told them, a shout went up, and at once they set off for our enemies. It was four days before they came back, but I felt no foreboding, for never before had I been deceived, and why should I be this time? So I waited, confident of the result. Alas! On the fourth day came a messenger with news of the defeat of our army, and the massacre of more than half of the men. For the second time in my life I fainted. When the men returned, they sought me out, and, with cries and curses, drove me from my home, and told me never to come back. But, on account of the position I had held, they gave me this hut by the spring for a dwelling-place, and suffered me to keep you with me. If I had belonged to one of the fierce tribes of Indians to the far east, I think they would have killed me, but we are a milder—people. And here we have lived ever since. After a time I was permitted to visit my kindred, but always I am greeted with looks of hatred."
As she crouched in the doorway of the hut, and gazed absently over the distant view, the young woman was thinking of that day when her grandmother had told her past history. Well she remembered, that night, and the inspired look on her grandmother's face as she spoke of the future of their people. It was the first time she had ever seen her in that psychic condition, and it was almost terrifying. Since that day, although at rare intervals, her grandmother had given proof of her former power, and in instances touching the welfare of the tribe; but no one save the young woman knew of it.
Then she traveled over in thought the following years, until she became a woman, and was wooed by one of the young men of the tribe, a few months before the date of our story. There had been much opposition to this on the part of her grandmother and of the elders of the tribe; but the young people won the day, and her husband had since made his home with her at the hut. But his marriage with her, in a measure, cut him off from the rest of the tribe; and gradually, as time went on, he had found himself refused the company of his former associates in the hunt, and was forced to make his livelihood, and that of the two women, without the aid of numbers. Until his marriage, the two women had been provided with food by the tribe, but one of the conditions of his wedding the young woman was that all assistance in that line should cease. Henceforward they were to live as though utterly alone. This they had done, and a hard struggle it had been at times, when game was scarce and hard to find. But, though suffering hunger and hardship, they had stayed at the spring, dreading to leave their dwelling-place, and seek other and better hunting-grounds, as is the custom of the Indians when sore pressed for food.
At this particular moment, her husband was absent on one of his hunting trips, which generally kept him away for several days. This time, however, he had been from home longer than usual, and the young wife was looking anxiously for his return, for there was nothing to eat save the remnant of meal in the bottom of the basket, and to-day her grandmother appeared to be worse. The old woman was dying slowly of old age, aided by the peculiar hardship of her long life; she had not left her bed for some time, and the young woman could see that her aged grandparent was not long for this world. During her illness (which, however, was more a gradual breaking down and dying of her strength than actual illness; for her mind seemed to be as clear as ever) she had given evidences of having something in her thought, some instruction or advice she desired to impart to her children, but which, so feeble was she, was beyond her strength to utter. Thus she had lain for three days, motionless, but for the restless turning of the head, and the burning, gleaming eyes seeming to take the place of her voice, and cry out the message her lips refused to speak.
Suddenly the young woman gave a start, and a look of joy passed swiftly across her face, for she saw her husband come around the brow of the hill far below. She rose quickly and hastened to meet him. As she neared him, she saw he was bearing on his back the carcass of a young deer, under the weight of which he staggered up the hill toward her. Running to him she cried:
"Itatli! Oh, you are come in time! You have been away so long! But I see you have had good luck this time in your hunting. How tired and thin you look! Have you been far?" and as she spoke, she took the deer from him, and laid it upon her own strong shoulder.
"Mota, it is a long way I have been, and I am sorely tired. Let me rest and have something to eat, and tonight I will tell you where I have been and what I have seen. How is the grandmother?"
"She is dying, Itatli. She has grown worse every day, and now cannot sit up, and she lies all day so still—all but her eyes. She tries to speak, and I am sure she has something on her mind that she wants to tell us. She will not live long."
Slowly they climbed the hill, with an occasional sentence now and then. Arrived at the hut, the Indian entered, leaned his bow against the wall, near the baskets, and stood regarding the inanimate figure, a sombre expression stealing over his face as he gazed. The woman's eyes were closed, and she seemed to be asleep, nothing but her short, quick breathing showing she was still alive. For some minutes the man stood thus, then turned and strode out of the hut, picking up his bow as he passed it, and carrying it with him. Without a word to his wife, who had begun to cook a piece of the deer meat, and was busily at work over the out-door fire, he occupied himself with his bow and arrows, testing the strength of the cord, made of the intestines of a wild-cat, and examining closely the arrow-heads, tipped with poison, taken from the rattlesnake; but all in an intermittent way, for every few moments he raised his head and gazed long and steadily over the plain to the far distant hills on the southern horizon.
At last his wife called to him that the meal was ready. He went over to the fire and began to eat, while the woman took some of the broth, which she had made out of the meat, put it into a small earthen pot, and carried it to her grandmother, in the hope that she might be able to force a little of it down her throat. It was of no use: the dying woman was insensible to all help from food, and lay as in a stupor, from which it was impossible to rouse her. Mota returned sadly to the fire where her husband was eating as only a hungry man can eat.
They finished their meal in silence, and after the wife had put away the remains of the food, she came over to where her husband was sitting in the opening of the hut, and crouched by his side. There, in the gathering gloom of the night, he told of the experiences of his search for food.
"It was a long, long distance I went, Mota," he began. "I journeyed on and on to the far south, until I reached a river that flows across the plains toward the sea. It was nearing evening of the second day after I came to the river, when suddenly I heard a queer sound as of the steps of a small army of some kind of hard-footed animals. It was far in the distance when first I heard it; for the air was still as though listening to the voice of the Great Spirit, its master; and I listened, rooted to the spot where I stood. What could it be? Never had I heard the tread of so many animals at one time. Nearer they came, and soon I heard the voices of men, speaking to each other, but not in any Indian language I am familiar with, and I know several. But if they were men I must hide, for they would take me prisoner, if they did not kill me, should I be seen. So I ran to the rushes growing on the bank of the river, and sank down among their thickly-growing shoots. The army came nearer steadily, and, in a few moments, I could see them climbing down the steep bank of the river a little way above me. I took one peep, and my breath almost left my body, for what I thought were men before I saw them, now that they came in sight, I knew to be celestial beings."
"But that could not have been, Itatli," exclaimed his wife, "for such a sight would have blinded, if not killed, you."
"I know not about that," answered the man, "but if they were not from above, whence came they? They were like me in shape, stature, and all else but in color and dress. They were white, nearly as white as, the snow on the distant mountains, and their bodies were completely covered with their clothes, excepting only their faces and hands. Their clothes were not made of skins, but were something different from anything I had ever seen; it was more like fine basketwork than anything I know of. They had no bows and arrows, such as ours, but straight, long, bright weapons which glittered in the sun. It may have been a strange kind of bow, but I could see no arrows, and they did not shoot with them while near me. On their heads, they wore a large round covering, which shaded them from the hot sun, and on their feet they had queer clothes, shaped like their feet, and these it was which had made me think the sound I heard was that made by animals. But among them were a few who were like us, and they may have been Indians, although they had on clothes like the others; so, perhaps, after all, the white beings were not gods, for the Indians were in their company and lived."
The man had talked in low, earnest tones; but as he advanced in his tale, his voice, though still low, had taken on a penetrating, vibrating quality that thrilled his wife, and reached the ears of the old woman on the couch, seeming to rouse her from her lethargy like a voice from the grave. She had stirred restlessly two or three times, striving ever harder to break the thrall of her weakness: it would have moved the heart of any one beholding her efforts to make herself heard, but she lay unnoticed, for the man was deep in his wonderful narrative, and his wife listening intently, drinking in every word. At last she attracted the attention of the two, for her strenuous efforts to speak resulted in a hoarse, guttural sound deep in her throat. They sprang to their feet, and stepped quickly to the couch. There they saw a surprising change in the countenance of the old woman: her eyes, bright and unclouded as they had been before, now looked at them recognisingly, although they still bore the weighty, thoughtful expression; her mouth, now partly open, was full of resolve, and the lips were just shaping the words she was about to speak, as the two approached:
"Itatli, I heard the words you have spoken this evening, and I, alone, understand them. You know not what manner of men were those you saw; you know not, indeed, whether they be men or angels. I will tell you. They are men like ourselves, but they come from afar. Listen, my children," she continued, her voice growing in power and volume, "I will disclose to you what I have never revealed to any one of our people. About two seasons of rain after I had foretold the future of our tribe, when the last lake should have become entirely dry, I had a revelation of what was to befall all the Indians of this great land, that far surpassed anything I had ever before prophesied. I saw, as in a vision, the great blue sea sparkling in the sun, the little waves rolling softly to the shore, to break into lines of white foam on the sands of the beach at my feet. I was alone, but was not afraid, although I had never before seen the sea, either in my visions or in real life; yet I knew at once what it was. While I gazed at the water, and watched the waves rushing up to my feet, I felt, all at once, as though an unseen power was impelling me to look up. I raised my head and gazed out over the water, and there I saw, far away, a great white object that looked like an immense bird. I knew, as I know all things that occur in my visions, this was a ship.
"Presently, the unseen power, as though whispering in my ear, revealed to me that the ship was full of men from a far country, coming to settle in our land, and that they would subdue the Indians, killing many, taking others captive, and making them work for their masters; and that, later, after many years, the Indians would vanish from the land which had been theirs since the time when Ouiot was on this earth. Then the vision faded slowly from my sight, and I seemed to enter a luminous mist as I felt myself impelled to walk. After what, in my trance, seemed many hours, I came out of the mist on to a level stretch of land, through which flowed a large river. There were mountains on the north, reaching for many miles, and from the west, which was lowland as far as the eye could see, came the cool afternoon sea wind. In the middle of the plain was a great tall house, white with a red roof, and at one end hung some bells in openings made for them in the wall. All around were a great many houses of brush, much like this we are in, and outside and in were crowds of Indians working like bees, at all kinds of toil, doing many things, too, that we never do, such as planting fields with seeds, and gathering the harvest when it was ripe; making cloth for clothes, such as you, my son, saw those strange men wearing. Then they were making jars and dishes of clay, and weaving baskets, such as we use."
"Suddenly, a little time before sunset, while they were at their busiest, the bells in the big white house began to ring. Every one stopped working and stood facing the building. Then, as the bells were ringing, they bowed their heads. At this moment, I heard, again, the voice which yet was not a voice, revealing to me the meaning of the scene before my eyes. 'Behold,' I seemed to hear, 'the final end of the Indians of this, land! See the fate which is awaiting them! All these peoples and tribes, and others far to the north and south of here, will be brought together into places like unto this. They will be made to work at these white men's tasks; give up their own wild, free life in the open country; give up their old customs; give up their own god, even, to pray to the God of their masters. And thus will it be for many years, until the Indians disappear forever; for, after a time, they will grow fewer and fewer until not one shall be left in the whole land which once they owned.' Then what seemed a deep sleep fell upon me, and when I awoke, I was in my own home. I was greatly frightened, but dared not tell any one of my visions; for I knew they would laugh me to scorn, perhaps drive me away, as they did at the last."
As the old woman described this picture of the future revealed to her, her agitation increased. She raised herself on an arm, and with the other stretched out, she swept her hand along the horizon, from the south to the north, saying, as she did so:
"This is the land of the Indians; this Ouiot gave to our fathers, and they gave it to us. While the sun has been traveling over his path in the sky for many hundred years, we, and our fathers before us, for generations, have lived in this land. But now the end is come. We must give way before a people stronger than we; give up our land to them and vanish."
Her voice increased in volume as she spoke, until, at the close, it was as powerful as in former days. When she had ceased speaking, she paused, with arm still outstretched, as though transfixed. She gazed steadily across the level plain to the distant mountains, motionless and rigid, while the two young Indians waited, awed and afraid, minute after minute, for they knew not what.
After a long silence, the aged sibyl let fall her arm, and dropped back suddenly on to the couch. The fire of prophecy in her eyes was still undimmed; but turning toward the two waiting ones, she spoke again, yet as if coming back to the present:
"Mota, Itatli, I am going to the distant home of our people, where all are happy. It will be but a few hours before I shall leave you. Do you, my son, after I am dead, go to the village, and tell the chief men all that I have revealed to you to-night. Tell them that, with my last breath, I spoke the truth revealed to me by the gods above. Tell them that the only safety for them, and their children after them, is to live with the strange white men who are come to our land; that they must be at peace with the strangers, live with them, and do all that is commanded them; that this is the only way they can put off the evil day when they shall disappear forever. And it is for a time only at best; but it is better to do that than to resist them, for they are too strong to be driven back. But I fear they will not listen to my words which you shall speak. And if so, you, my children, must leave here and go to the south, through the pass in the mountains, then toward the setting sun until you come to the river; and there you will find the strange men, as in my vision. Put yourselves under their care, and perhaps Ouiot will spare you, and the others there before you, from the fate of the rest of the tribes in this land."
Her voice sank to a whisper, so that it was with difficulty they made out her last words. Closing her eyes, she lay gasping for some minutes; after this, she fell into a comatose state, from which she did not revive again. Hour after hour passed, the two watchers crouching motionless, without a word, regarding the fleeting breath of the dying woman. Shortly before the dawn began to lighten the horizon, a tremor passed through the body of the sufferer; a long, feeble sigh issued from her lips, and the aged, distrusted seer was no more.
The young woman, on seeing this, broke out into bitter wailing, swaying slowly forward and backward, while her husband sat with his head bowed on his knees. Their first thought was of utter bereavement, for to these two lonely ones, and especially to the woman, the grandparent had been not only the sole member of their tribe they had known for years, but she had proved to them a help, at times through her singular gift. On several occasions, in seasons of little game, had she told the man in which direction, to go for the best results. Once, at her instance, they had migrated to a distant spring she had known in her youth, where the three were safe from the murderous designs of the warlike tribe coming to their country from the north.
Finally the man bethought himself of the last behest of the dead woman. "I go to the village, Mota," he said hoarsely, and without another word left the hut and set off down the hill.
The woman moved not, but remained as before, near the bed of her grandmother. There she sat, on the earthen floor, without taking her eyes from the face of the dead, until her husband returned, nearly three hours later.
"It was no use," he exclaimed sadly, "they would not listen, but told me to go back and bury the grandmother; they would not come with me."
Mota replied not.
That night, as the sun was setting, the two lone creatures made a grave on the hill a few feet from the hut, and there they buried the mortal remains of the old Indian woman. It was a sad, silent rite; both felt deeply the absence of all their friends and kindred; the lack of all the customary wailing proper to the solemn service of burial; but, above all, the want of belief in the dead woman's prophecy. That gave the poignant touch to their sorrow. Sadly and silently, as they had buried the dead, they returned to their hut in the gathering shades of night.
The next morning, these two bereaved ones, packing up their few simple belongings, stole sorrowfully away from their home. They knew not what was before them, scarcely anything of the country whither they were bound; but such was their faith in the dead woman's word, that they did not falter in their resolution to fulfill her admonition.
The hut, and all belonging to it, is long passed away; and the spring, also, has disappeared, drying up till merely a stony furrow in the ground shows where it once had its course. Only the lonely grave on the hillside remains to mark the ancient Indian habitation here, and that, today, is almost obliterated. As for the village beyond in the canyon, that, too, is no more; hardly a vestige can now be found to tell us that here, long ago, was a thriving Indian settlement. All is silent and deserted. Truly, as the aged Indian prophetess foretold, has the aborigine vanished from the land.
The Flight of Padre Peyri
One of the few settlements of the old mission Indians remaining in California is Pala, a little village tucked away amidst some of the most charming scenery to be found in the southern part of the state. It is twenty miles east from Mission San Luis Rey, of which mission it was an asistencia, or branch, and twenty-four miles from Oceanside, the nearest point on the coast. The village stands in a valley which is completely surrounded by mountains, high and low, far and near, uniting with it in a succession of beautiful pictures around the entire horizon. To the east, the mountains pile themselves up into huge masses, their tips hidden frequently by clouds, and by the fogs of early morning; toward the west, they fall away into low-lying hills, allowing the sea-breeze of every warm afternoon to sweep the village over them, and through the gap of the San Luis Rey River and Valley. At all times of the year the color and light and shade in every part of the valley are most lovely, delighting the artist's eye with a whole gamut of aerial perspective; but it is in the spring that the hillsides and valley put on their most gorgeous robes, from the lightest tints of yellow and green, down through every hue and tone of red, blue and purple, soft and brilliant, pricked out here and there with spots of intense, flaming yellow and orange, or deepest crimson. Such color scenes are not common even in California; but on account of its comparative inaccessibility, few people visit Pala, and the village has been left much to itself in these latter days of American life in the state. The Indians live the life of the poorest class of Mexicans, dwell in adobe huts, and pursue an agricultural occupation.
During the last week of May, 1895, I passed two days in this interesting place, exploring the remains of the asistencia, and sketching the unique bell-tower and near-by mission houses. I was an object of interest to all who saw me, but was not favored with much company until the second afternoon, when, after I had passed an hour or so in the campo santo, an old Indian slowly appeared and greeted me. He must have been nearly eighty years old, and he was obliged to use a cane to assist his slow and faltering steps. Several times during the two days I had seen him, sitting in the sun on the rough porch of a house close by, or ambling slowly about, and had been struck with his appearance. Although bent with his years, he was tall, and, in his younger days, must have had a graceful, as well as powerful, figure, traces of it remaining still, in spite of his decrepitude. But his face was the most noticeable thing about him. Notwithstanding the dimness of age, there was a wonderful amount of intelligence and animation in his expression, and the deep, black eyes could hardly have been brighter and more piercing at the age of forty than they now appeared. His long straight hair was still thick, but very grey. He wore the ordinary dress of the poor man. He was, in fine, a specimen of what the missions could do with the Indians when working on the best material to be found among them.
"Buenos dias, Senor," he said gravely, as he came near.
"Will the Senor be disturbed if I stay here awhile and watch him work?" he continued in Spanish, which he spoke rather slowly, but with as much ease and correctness as a Mexican.
I answered I should be glad to have him remain so long as he pleased, and, in return, after he had seated himself beside me on an old ruined adobe wall, asked if he had lived long here.
"For over sixty years, Senor."
"And where did you spend your early years, for I think you have seen many more than sixty?" I asked.
"Si, Senor, I am eighty-one now. Until I was about twenty, I lived at Mission San Luis Rey, twenty miles from here. Has the Senor ever seen San Luis Rey?"
I nodded, continuing with my sketch.
"Ah! that was a beautiful mission sixty years ago," the old man said, in a tone of sad retrospect.
"Tell me about it," I said. "In those days, sixty years ago, the mission must have been perfect, with no ruins to mar its beauty. And were there not many neophytes at that time?" I added.
"Senor, San Luis Rey was the largest mission in California. So much larger than this place, although Pala had many more Indians in those days, before the padres were driven away, that it seemed to me like a city. There were more than two thousand Indians, and all worked busily from morning until night, the men plowing and planting in the fields, or making adobes for building houses, and the women weaving and sewing and cooking. Every one had something to do, and knew it must be done, and all were willing and glad to do it; for we all dearly loved the padre, he was so good, and it was a happiness to do what he demanded of us."
"You speak of Padre Peyri, do you not?" I asked.
"Si, Senor. Padre Peyri was the head of the mission, and no one could do anything unless he had the padre's consent. There was almost always a second padre there, but this second padre never stayed long, and when one went away, another would come in his place; but Padre Peyri was there all the time, and never left the mission until he went back to Mexico."
"And what," I asked, "did you do in those days, before you were large enough for a man's work?"
"I worked with the children, for the children had their own work to do just the same as the grown people. We had to go to school at the mission every day, to learn to speak Spanish, and to say the doctrina cristiana, to read and write; but not all the children could get so far as to write, for it was hard for them to learn, and only the brightest ones were ever able to write more than their names. But it was not so hard for me, for I wished to learn, and the padres liked to teach me. Then, after school, we had other work—to fetch wood for the fires; to drive the cows to the fields; to feed and water the horses at the mission, and all such things that boys can do. There were a hundred boys or more in the country around, and many of them seldom came to the mission except for school and Sunday mass; but there were always enough, and more than enough, to do all the work, and they had plenty of time for play. But my work was different from that of the other boys. I was one of the two boys who waited on the padres at meal times, swept the mission rooms and walks, and were ready to do any errands the padres wished. Then, for three years, I was one of the altar boys, until I could play well enough to go into the choir. And that is what I liked better than anything else—to play on my violin. I began to learn when I was twelve years old. I used to listen to the boys of the choir, when they were practicing their mass music, and again on Sundays in the church, and wish I, too, could learn to make that beautiful music. Many times I implored the padre to let me learn, and he would say: 'After a little, my son, when you are old enough; it is a difficult instrument to learn.' I knew he was right, but did not like to wait. At last, however, he told me I was to begin, and the very next day gave me a violin, and sent me to the choir teacher. It was a happy day for me."
"Tell me something about Padre Peyri," I asked.
"Senor, I could talk all day long about that good man. He was so kind and gentle to all, that no one but would have been willing to die for him, if he had asked such a thing. He was not a large man, but was as strong as many of the Indians, and he worked as hard as any one of us. I have heard my mother tell how he helped with his own hands to build the church and the other houses of the mission, and worked all day, so long as it was light, hardly stopping to take time to eat. She said he seemed to think of nothing but to get all the buildings finished, and was unhappy until that was done. She saw him on the day he first came from Mission San Diego with a few workmen and soldiers to start the mission. It was in the afternoon, and the padre and his men passed the time till nightfall in making a few huts for themselves like those of the Indians. The next morning, before he would permit anything else to be done, he made an altar of earth, which he covered all over with the green growing grass, and there offered up a sacrifice to his God. He had with him some children he had brought from San Diego, and after the mass he baptized them. My mother and some of the Indians had been to San Diego, to the mission there, and were not afraid, but nearly all the Indians did not dare come near.
"As soon as the mass was ended, the padre marked out on the ground the lines for the mission buildings, and the men went to work making adobes. After a few days, the Indians began to lose their fear of the cristianos, and it was not long before they were helping in all the work to be done. The padre paid them every day for what they did; he would give them clothes or something to eat, and they were very glad to work for him; and it was only a short time when a great crowd was busy on the buildings. My mother told me all this, Senor, for that was long before I was born,—more than fifteen years. She was a young girl then. My mother told the Indians how good the padres were to them at San Diego, and did all she could to bring them to work for the mission. I was her first child, and, at her wish, the padre named me after himself—Antonio. But all the mission buildings were finished in a few years, and they, have never been changed except by falling into ruins. I have not been to San Luis Rey for a long, long time, for I cannot bear to go there and see the poor old buildings tumbling to the ground—at least that is what they were doing until Padre O'Keefe came from Santa Barbara to live there and take charge of the mission. I am glad it is in his care; but he cannot bring back the old days, for the Indians are nearly all gone now.
"But the Senor wishes to hear about the padre. I think Padre Peyri was nearly fifty years old when I was born, and he had been at the mission all the time since he started it, about fifteen years before. How he did love his mission, and how proud he was of it! And he was right to be proud, for it was the finest mission in the country, and the largest also. Every one who came there praised the padre for the wonders he had done; and that made him very happy. After his day's work was over, he liked to walk about in the neighborhood, looking at, and seeing, everything—the ground, the trees and the sky, listening to the singing of the birds, and watching the sun sink out of sight in the west; but above all else, gazing at the mission, at the beautiful big church, and the building and arches around the patio. Sometimes when I came to him at his bidding, I would see him smiling to himself, as though he was happy to have been able to raise up such a good work to his Lord.
"But alas! Senor, those happy times could not last always. I do not understand very well the trouble that was between the missions and the Governor—it has always been too much for my poor head—but I suppose the Senor knows all about it. The Governor wished the Indians to be taken away from the missions, and live in pueblos of their own; but the Indians did not like it, nor the padres either; and it made trouble for many years. I was too young to think much about it, but I used to hear the Indians talking among themselves of what they heard from time to time. I asked my father why the Governor could take the Indians away from the missions. He told me it was the wish of Mexico that we should not live in the missions any longer, but have our own land, and work for money. 'But must we leave our padre here, and not see him any more?' I asked my father.
"'We may have to go away from here,' he answered, 'but the padre would be our padre still, and we should see him at mass and at other times; but it would not be as it is now.'"
"'I will never leave here,' I said to him, 'as long as the padre stays; I do not want to go off to work for myself.'"
"But the change, Senor, was long in coming, and before it did come, there was another and a greater change at the mission. Well do I remember the day when first I knew, without a doubt, that our old life was at an end. It was a dark and stormy Saturday in early winter. Just before nightfall, a traveler arrived at the mission from the north. Alone and riding slowly a tired horse, which looked as if it had been driven long and hard, he approached, gazing around at the church and all the buildings within sight. I was driving one of the cows home from the pasture to provide milk for the padre's supper, and saw him as he reached the mission. As soon as I came up to him, he asked me:"
"'Is the padre here?'"
"'Tell him Don Manuel wishes to see him at once,' he said, in a commanding tone."
"Calling one of the boys not far away to look after the cow, and to take care of the stranger's horse, I went to the padre's room and knocked. After waiting a moment, and getting no reply, I knocked again. Hearing no sound, I opened the door and went in. The room was empty, but the door leading into a small side room, from which was an entrance into the church for the padre's use, stood open, and I knew he was in the church. At any other time I would have hesitated, but the traveler had spoken so sternly that I dared not delay, so went on into the church. There was the padre kneeling before the altar of our patron saint, San Luis Rey, his rosary of beautiful gold beads and ivory cross in his hands; but so still one would have said he himself was a statue. I waited again, in hopes he would finish his prayer and come away; but the minutes went by and still he did not move. At last I stepped toward him, stumbling a little against one of the seats that he might know some one was there. He heard the sound and, rising slowly, turned and came toward the door near which I stood. When he saw me he asked what was wanted. I told him."
"Is it come at last?' he said, more to himself than to me, and walked slowly, with bowed head, out of the church. I followed, closing the door of the church and of the little side room, and saw once more the traveler, as he rose from his knees, after receiving the padre's blessing. A moment later he followed the padre into his room."
"I did not see them again until supper time, when I had to wait at table. They had been some minutes at supper, but were so occupied with their talk that they had eaten scarcely anything. The stranger was speaking when I went in."
"'But, padre,' he said, 'what will become of your charge here, if you carry out your intention? You know they look up to you as the head and soul of this great mission, and would be, indeed, as sheep without their shepherd, if you—'"
"'My son,' interrupted the padre, with a look toward me, 'we will speak of that another time.'"
"Nothing more was said until after I had left them. I had seen the look the padre sent in my direction. Had not it been at a time when every one was fearing a change of some kind at the mission, I should have thought nothing of it; but at the time, I knew we might expect something to occur almost any day; so that when he interrupted the stranger, it was only after enough had been said to fill me with fear. I knew, from what he said about the sheep being without a shepherd, that we might, in some way, lose our padre. As soon as I was free I hastened out to find Miguel, the boy who had taken the stranger's horse. He had gone to his house, a little way from the church."
"'Miguel,' I asked, 'do you know who is this visitor, Don Manuel, and why he is come?'"
"'He came from Los Angeles, on important business with the padre,' Miguel replied."
"'How do you know he is from Los Angeles, and that his business is important?'"
"'Because, while you were seeking the padre, Don Manuel was so impatient at your delay that he could not stand still, and kept striding up and down the length of the arcade, muttering to himself. Once I caught the words that if the padre but knew the importance of his business, he would make great haste. When I led away his horse, he told me to take good care of it, for it must carry him as far on his way tomorrow as it had to-day from Los Angeles.'"
"'And what is this important business?'"
"'Quien sabe!' answered Miguel, with a shrug of his shoulders."
"This was very little to be sure, and it served only to increase my fear that all was not right."
"But I heard nothing further that night."
"The next day was the Sabbath. Nothing occurred before mass; breakfast was eaten by the stranger, alone in the padres' dining-room, and the padre was not seen by any one until the hour for mass. The other padre was here at Pala to take the place of the fraile who was sick. The beautiful church was crowded, every neophyte casting a glance now and then at Don Manuel, who was seated in front, watching the door by which the padre was to enter. But it was not until all had begun to wonder what was the reason for his delay, and to grow uneasy and whisper softly to each other, looking at the stranger as though they connected him with some trouble about to befall the mission and their padre. For in those days very little was necessary to stir up fears of a change all knew might come suddenly at any time. At last the door opened, and the padre came slowly into the church. He was pale, and looked sad and troubled, but went through the service in his usual manner. But when he came to the sermon, it seemed as if he could not go on. He did not take a text from which to preach, but began at once to talk to us in his earnest, gentle voice, saying we must look to God as our father, as one who loved us and would guide us in all this life. Padre Peyri did not preach to us like the fathers at other missions: he seldom said anything about hell and the punishments waiting for us if we were wicked, but talked to us and preached about the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ, and our duty to them, not from fear of future punishment, but because we owed it to them, as we owed our earthly parents love and respect. This morning he was more than ever solemn, and before the close of his short talk, many of his listeners had tears in their eyes. More than once he had to stop for a moment, to regain control of his voice which, all through his talk, trembled and sometimes was hardly above a whisper. As soon as the service was ended, he left the church, followed quickly by the stranger."
"I hastened from the choir and church to the padre's room to be ready at hand in case he should want anything. He was not there, but I found him in the patio, talking earnestly with Don Manuel, as they walked up and down the cloister. As soon as he saw me, he told me to give orders to have the visitor's horse ready for him immediately after dinner. I did so, and on coming back from the large dining-room, where I told my errand to one of the mozos, found the padre and Don Manuel just sitting down to their own dinner. The padre ate little; but there was nothing else to make me think that anything was wrong, and had not it been for the night before, and the morning's mass, I should have thought nothing of it. But now every little thing was large and important in my eyes; and although nothing was said but what might have been said by any visitor at any time, I grew more and more heavy-hearted. After they had finished eating, which they did very quickly, the stranger prepared to leave. Gathering up his sombrero and zarape, and receiving a small package, which looked like a bundle of letters, from the padre, he strode out to his horse, already waiting for him in front of the building, the padre close behind him."
"I took my place by the horse, and pretended to be looking at the saddle, to see that everything was right, while I tried to hear what the padre and Don Manuel were saying; but they spoke too low for me to make out more than a word now and then. I heard Don Manuel say 'San Diego;' 'the Pocahontas, a small ship but;' 'Spain,' and a few other words of no significance. Padre Peyri said hardly a word, but stood with bowed head, and eyes cast on the ground. At last Don Manuel knelt to receive the padre's blessing, and with a last low sentence, and an 'adios,' spoken aloud, as he sprang to his horse, he dashed off down the hill until he came to the mission road which runs from San Diego into the far north. The padre watched him turn his horse's head toward the south, and disappear behind a hill; a few minutes later he came into sight again as he ascended another hill until at last he stood on the top. With a long look at the rider hurrying away in the distance, the padre turned and, without a word to me, went into the house and shut himself in his room."
"Senor, that was the last time I saw him at the mission. Padre Asnzar, who had been at Pala that day, returned to the mission in the afternoon, and I saw him at supper, but Padre Peyri did not come out of his room the rest of the day. Late that night I wandered around the church, so sad and full of fear of what I knew was coming, that I could not sleep. There was a light in the church, and I was sure the padre was in there, but, of course, I could not go in to see, and speak to him. After a little while the light disappeared, and I went back to my bed."
"Although I now felt certain I knew what the padre was going to do, from what I had heard and seen, yet I knew nothing of the time, and did not dream it was so near. But early the next morning I knew all. I was on my way to the padre's house, when I met Miguel coming toward me on the run. As soon as he came near he cried to me:"
"'Antonio, el padre se ha ido (the padre is gone)! His horse is not here, nor his saddle.'"
"My heart stood still. So all that I had feared the day before was come true, and our beloved padre had left us. But how suddenly it had taken place! I thought of 'San Diego' and 'the small ship Pocahontas,' and knew all. I had not seen Miguel since my talk with him two nights before, and he knew nothing of what had occurred. I now told him everything."
"'Dios mio! Our padre gone away, not to come back? Oh, why did he go? Why did not he stay with us? What shall we do without him?' he exclaimed."
"While Miguel was crying in this manner, I was like one stunned, and knew not what to do. Suddenly a thought came to me."
"Miguel, let us follow him, and, if we can, persuade him to come back. I know he did not go willingly, but was driven to it by the Governor and his people; for you know he has often said that here was his home, and here he intended to stay, until his death.'"
"'But, Antonio, what can we two do? He would not listen to us, and, besides, he must be too far ahead now to be overtaken. And the ship may have left before we get to San Diego. You did not hear when it was to sail?'"
"'No, but we can come up with him, I am sure, before he reaches San Diego, if we waste no time. Come, I am going to tell my father, and get my horse, and be off.' And I started on the run for my father's house, which was not far from the church. I found him just leaving for his work, and told him, in a few words, what had happened. He was not so surprised as I thought he would be, for he was an old man, and knew more of all that was taking place in the country, than was possible for me, a mere boy."
"'Go, Antonio,' he said. 'I shall follow you;' and he turned away into the house."
"I waited not to see what he would do, but darted away, and, catching my horse, was off as hard as I could ride. Before I had gone many rods, I heard a horse's gallop behind me, and, looking back, saw Miguel at full speed. I stopped to permit him to come up with me, and then, without a word, we went on together."
"There are nearly ten leagues between San Luis Rey and San Diego, Senor; and as we were determined to reach there by noon, we said very little during the whole ride, but urged our horses to their utmost. After going a few miles, we came to the shore, and went along by the ocean, sometimes on the beach itself, sometimes on the mesa above. But swiftly as we went, the sun was still quicker, and it was nearly noon when we came in sight of San Diego. We hastened on, past houses, the presidio, and down to the edge of the water, taking no notice of the men, women and children, who gazed wonderingly after us. Out in the bay, not far from the shore, lay a ship with sails spread, ready to start with the first puff of wind, which began faintly to blow as we reached the water. On the deck there were many people, passengers and sailors, and among them we saw our padre, a little apart from the others, and gazing toward the land he was leaving. By his side stood Don Manuel, who had been at the mission the day before, and with them were two of the mission Indians. I envied them, Senor, and wished I could have been there also, for my heart was breaking at the thought of losing my beloved padre. At first he did not notice us, but when, with a cry, we called to him, he started as he saw us standing on the beach, with our arms held out to him. Just at that instant, we heard a distant sound of horses coming hard and fast over the ground toward us. Looking around, we saw a sight that made us thrill: a great throng of men, each one urging on with whip and spur the horse he was riding. We did not at once know what it meant, but, in a second or two, understood. It was a band of Indians from our mission. Madly they dashed down to the shore, sprang from their horses, and fell on their knees—some on the beach, some half in the water, so great was the crowd—imploring, with heartbreaking cries, our padre to have pity on them and not leave them. There were nearly five hundred men, and their lamentations were terrible to hear."
"But the sails had filled with the freshening breeze, and the ship was fast getting under way. The padre gazed at us all, long and sorrowfully, and, with arms raised up to Heaven, in a faltering voice, which we could scarcely hear from the increasing distance, called down the blessing of God on us. With groans and cries we watched the ship sail away, and as it faded into the distance, we saw our beloved padre kneeling on the deck in prayer."
"Senor, there is no more to tell. We waited there on the beach until the ship had disappeared; then slowly, one by one, found each our horse, and set out for the mission. All night we rode, not caring how or when we should get there. When we reached the mission, we found the women and children gathered together, waiting for us. As soon as they saw us they burst out weeping and lamenting, for, by our manner, they knew our padre was gone. Silently we turned loose our horses, and went back to our old life and work, but with sorrow in our hearts. That is all, Senor."
I had listened to the old man with great and constantly increasing interest, and long before he had finished, found myself with brush held idly in my hand. He had told his story with simple earnestness, crossed, now and then, with deep emotion, as his love for the Franciscan father, and sorrow at his loss, came to the surface. After an interval of silence, I asked him if he had ever heard of the padre since that day.
"Only two or three times," he answered. "A few months afterward we had news of him from Mexico; he was then about to return to Spain. Two years after we heard he was at his old home and, a little later, that he was gone to Rome. Some one told us he lived there till his death, but we never knew positively."
Padre Peyri is one of the most picturesque figures in California's mission history: the zeal he showed in calling his mission into existence; the intensity of enthusiasm with which he labored for it; his long career of usefulness; the love the neophytes had for him; his agony at the ruthless destruction of the missions—too great for him to endure, old and feeble as he then was growing; and his dramatic departure, hastening away under cover of the night, to escape the importunities of his devoted flock: all this had been pictured with keen clearness in the old Indian's simple tale.
I thanked him for his story as he rose to go. Wishing me "adios" with grave politeness, he walked slowly away, and left me to dream of the old mission times, full of color and romance, which have given so much to the present day, until the sun sinking behind the hills in the west recalled me to myself and my surroundings.
I fear I shall never again see Pala; but I shall not forget its charm and beauty, the quaint old campanario and near-by buildings, and, above all, Antonio, the Indian, and his tale of mission life in the old days.
Father Zalvidea's Money
Father Zalvidea was in despair! After having lived for twenty years at Mission San Gabriel, devoting himself all that time to bringing the mission to a condition of so great size and wealth that it took its place at the head of nearly all of the missions of Nueva California, toiling from morning until night with untutored neophytes and striving to hammer something of civilization into their heads—now he was to be removed. He had seen this very thing threatening for many days, but had hoped and prayed that it might not be; he had mustered up boldness enough to address President Tapis at Monterey, beseeching that he might be continued at San Gabriel, bringing to bear the weight of all he had done, and the flourishing condition the mission was in under his charge. It was of no avail. The night before, he had received a letter by the post messenger on his way to San Diego, charging the Father to prepare for removal to Mission San Juan Capistrano, his future field of work. After a sleepless night of vain repining, he had risen early and wandered out into his garden, back of the church, his favorite resort when in a meditative mood, or when he wished to escape intrusion of whatever sort.
Father Zalvidea's garden was a warm, sunny place, filled to overflowing with flowers and plants and trees. It covered nearly an acre of ground, bounded on one side by the church, on part of the adjoining side by the Father's house, close by the church; from here the ground sloped gradually to the west, leaving open to view the San Gabriel Mountains, towering high above the plain. The Father had planned this garden soon after coming to the mission, and had laid it out with all the talent of a landscape artist. In the corner bounded by the church and his house, he had planted most of the trees—olive, lemon and peach, and a few palms—disposing them skillfully for shade, while at the same time leaving vistas of the adobe church, golden yellow in the sunlight; beyond were placed the flowering plants—roses in immense numbers, a great variety of lilies of different tints, a few century plants, one of them with its huge flower stalk high in air, and a large passion vine, trained along the adobe wall enclosing the garden on the west. These were the most prominent of the plants, brought from Mexico and Spain, reminding him of his old home; and interspersed with these were a goodly number of vegetables, for this garden was not wholly for pleasure, but served as a source of supply for the Father's, table. Paths there were none. Every spot of ground, where there was nothing growing, was hard and smooth like a path, baked as it was by the sun after every rain. At first the Father had tried to grow grass in some parts of his garden, but soon gave it up on account of the constant attention it needed, and disliking the tough wiry grass, native to the region, he trained his plants to cover the ground, letting them spread and wander much at their will. Here was his rest from the many and varied labors in a Nueva California mission; and here he was to be found when at leisure, seeing if his plants were given the proper attention by his gardener, studying changes from time to time in their arrangement, or wandering about, now here, now there, with eyes bent on the ground, meditating on his duties, or gazing off to the distant horizon, and dreaming of his early life in his boyhood home.
But this morning Father Zalvidea was thinking of anything but. Spain, or even of his garden, as he passed slowly back and forth among the plants. His thoughts were occupied with the instructions he had received the night before. One must put one's self in the Father's place, and know something of his life and surroundings, to appreciate the reason for his dislike to the proposed change. The missions in Nueva California were lonely, isolated spots of civilization in the midst of many Indian tribes. Each one, twenty to fifty miles distant from the neighboring mission on either side, lived, in a great measure, solely for itself, as it was dependent, in most things, on itself alone. There was communication, of course, between the different missions, with the president at Monterey, and with Mexico; but, occasionally, weeks would go by without a single messenger from the outside world, during which time each mission was a little world by itself. This tended to strengthen the love for locality, which was still farther increased from the fathers' having no family ties, leading them, each one, in his celibate state, to become more deeply attached to his own particular field of labor, with an intensity not often seen in other classes of men. Thus our Father Zalvidea had been so long at Mission San Gabriel, that he had come to look on it almost as his own, in more senses than the one strictly of being its religious and temporal head. He had carried on the good work, begun by his predecessor, Father Sanchez, and had brought the mission to such a state of prosperity, that it was second to none in wealth, and to but few in number of Indian neophytes. Now, as he wandered around in his garden, he gazed at the buildings of his establishment scattered, near and far, in every direction; at the church, close by, which, although not as fine as those at some of the missions—San Luis Rey and Santa Barbara, for instance—was a good solid structure, imposing in its appearance of strength; his own abode adjoining; the low adobe houses of the Indians everywhere; the corrals of livestock on the foothills in the distance. Finally his eye rested on the vineyards stretching away toward the north and west, so far that they seemed without end. These vineyards were the pride of the Father's heart, for the culture of the grape was one of his hobbies, and here at San Gabriel he had carried out his theories in viticulture so successfully that his vineyards, and the wine and brandy made from them, were famous throughout the length of the land, and much sought after by the other missions, as well as by Mexico. No wonder the Father was proud of his success, for this product was a mine of wealth to the mission. Now, however, there was no pride in his glance, as he looked long and sorrowfully at his vineyards; he was thinking gloomily that they were no longer his, and that he must leave this place, which he was come to love with all the repressed passion of his heart. It was not as though he were going to a poor and mean mission, as were some of those in Nueva California. Father Zalvidea had been more than once to San Juan Capistrano, fifty miles south of San Gabriel, and knew well that it was large, although not as rich as it had been at one time; but his was the nature of the cat, which always returns to its old home. Father Zalvidea knew a priest was needed at San Juan Capistrano, and none was as available as himself; but he was human, and this last sacrifice of self was more than he could make without a murmur.
At last he returned to his house, and, after breakfast, began to make his preparations. A week later saw him leaving the mission with his personal belongings, the most valuable of which appeared to be a heavy wooden box, about the size and shape of a brick, and which he would not allow out of his own hands, but carried with him, fastened to the pommel of his saddle. What was in this box no one knew but the Father himself.
Behold Father Zalvidea at Mission San Juan Capistrano! Although at first murmuring at the change of his scene of labor, yet, after finding it inevitable, he had submitted to it with all due humility, and with energy and even enthusiasm had thrown himself into the work at hand. Mission San Juan Capistrano was fallen away sadly from the high position it had held ten years before: neophytes were still many, but they had been allowed to follow their own devices; the religious life, consequently, was neglected, as well as the cultivation of the mission lands. It was a sad prospect that met the Father's eyes, the first time he took a survey of the fields and corrals and vineyards of the mission. On every side his well-trained eye saw the marks of lack of care in husbandry—the fields of wheat and corn were only half cultivated; the livestock in the corrals looked poor and thin; while as for the vineyards—! Father Zalvidea sighed deeply as he gazed at what were the merest apology for vineyards, judging from his high standard, and compared them mentally with those cared for so lovingly at Mission San Gabriel. He saw, at a glance, just what was needed, and set about bringing them up to a point somewhat approaching his ideal.
But before giving his attention to these mundane things, Father Zalvidea had to do much for the spiritual side of the mission and its people; for it was in a more deplorable state in this respect than in that of material welfare. Fourteen years before, Mission San Juan Capistrano had had the finest church in Nueva California, the pride of the whole country. Father Zalvidea had been present at its dedication, the occasion of great ceremony amidst a vast throng of neophytes, and all the Spanish dignitaries that could be gathered together. But the mission had enjoyed its beautiful church only a few years when it suffered a most awful calamity. One Sunday morning, when the church was crowded with Indians at mass, there was heard in the hush of prayer, a distant noise, like the sound of a great rush of stormwind, which, a moment later, reached the mission, and with the rocking of the earth and the rending of walls, the tower of the new church fell on the people below, shrieking as they fled. Forty were killed on the spot, as well as many wounded. This catastrophe was by far the worst ever visited on the missions, and it was long before San Juan Capistrano recovered from the blow—never, in fact, so far as the church was concerned, for it was too badly injured to be repaired, and the fathers could not summon up energy enough to build another. Since that dire Sabbath, a room in the adjoining building had been used as a church. Father Zalvidea's greatest desire, next to seeing the vineyards brought up to their proper condition, was to build a new church, and these were the only mitigating circumstances in his regretted change of residence; but he had been only a few days at his new home, when he gave up his purpose with regard to the church; it was beyond his power, as he saw. San Juan Capistrano had been too long on the decline, and the neophytes were too indifferent, to undertake this work.
So our Father Zalvidea confined himself to the simple religious duties of his position, and left such grand projects as building a new church to the future. He had enough, and more than enough, to occupy all his time, and he soon ceased to sigh for his old home at San Gabriel, indeed, almost to think of it. It was only at rare intervals that he found time, after the day's work was done, to take a little pasear in the mission garden in front of the monastery. But this garden was a poor makeshift; the plants were of the commonest kinds, and were choked with weeds. Still, the Father found comfort in it, and with his oversight it was soon a fairly respectable garden. So the months flew by.
It was more than a year after Father Zalvidea's advent at Mission San Juan Capistrano, when he bethought himself one day of the little wooden box he had brought with him. On arriving, he had deposited it temporarily at the bottom of a large chest which stood in his room, and which was used for storing away papers and records of the mission. Hidden as the box was, under piles of papers, the Father felt tolerably safe regarding his treasure, and immured as he had been ever since, in the busy affairs needing his whole time and attention, he had almost forgotten it. But on this day he had made up his mind to hide it more effectually. Late that night, after the entire mission was still in sleep, he took out the box, placed it on the table, and by the light of a candle, opened it with a small key which he wore, hung by a slender black silk cord, round his neck underneath his Franciscan robe. Inside were five gleaming rows of gold coins-bright new Spanish onzas, every one looking as if just fresh from the mint. There were one hundred and twenty-five coins, each worth about sixteen dollars of American money, making the contents of the box amount to two thousand dollars—a goodly sum, indeed, for a poor Spanish priest in Nueva California to possess. Lying on top of the rows of coins was a slip of paper, on which was written in Spanish:
"My dearest one, pray to God and Our Lady to bless your poor Dolores."
Father Zalvidea read the paper, then kissing it passionately, fell on his knees, and, with trembling voice, offered up his petitions to Christ for a blessing on the loved one in the far away land.
This box contained the romance of Father Zalvidea's life. Years before, when a young man, and ere he had had any thought of becoming a priest, he had been enamored of a beautiful Andalusian maiden, who returned his love. But Dolores's father was rich, and looked with disfavor upon poor Jose Zalvidea, and at length forced his daughter to marry a suitor he had chosen for her—a man three times her age, but with a fortune equal to that which was to be hers at her father's death; for she was his only child. Jose, heart-broken, entered a seminary to study for the priesthood, and gave himself up to his new work, striving to drown his sorrow. A few years later, he was selected to make one of a number of young priests to go to Mexico. The last time he had heard confessions in the parish church, a woman, heavily veiled, entered the confessional, and, in a whisper, interrupted by sobs, asked for his blessing. At her first word he recognized Dolores's voice, and with a smothered cry, fell back, almost unconscious, in his seat. This was the first time he had seen her since her unhappy marriage, five years before. Recovering himself, he asked her, coldly, why she was there. With sobs she told him she had a small box which she would leave in the confessional for him. On his asking what was in it, and what she wished him to do with it, she said it was a small sum of money which he must take with him on his journey, and always keep by him, and if, at any time, or when old age overtook him, he were in want, to use it. "You are going far away," she said. "I shall never see you, may never hear of you, again. I know a priest's life is one of toil and hardship, especially in the new land, and his salary very small. It is my own, Jose," she implored, "do not refuse me. Take it, and think kindly of me, if you can." Touched by her thought, he promised, and should he never need to use it, he would leave it to the Church. Then, as she bowed her head, in broken accents, he called down Heaven's richest blessing on his loved one. Weeping bitterly, Dolores arose and left the confessional. As soon as he had recovered from his agitation, Jose left his seat, and entering the side of the confessional where Dolores had knelt, he saw an oblong parcel, wrapped in dark paper, lying on the floor far back in the corner. He took it up and carried it away with him. Not for many days after did he have the calmness to open it. Inside the wrapper was the wooden box we have already seen, on top of which lay a small, flat key. He unlocked the box, and with eyes full of tears, saw the glittering rows of gold coins, and the words traced by Dolores's pen.
But to-night Father Zalvidea decided to put the box in a safer place. Going to the window, and drawing aside the curtain, he opened it. Listening intently for a moment, and hearing nothing, he returned to the table, lighted a small dark lantern, extinguished the candle, and taking up the box after closing and locking it, he left the room, and walked softly through the passage out into the patio.
Aided by the feeble light from the moon, low down on the horizon, he hurried along the cloister to a room back of the church, which had been deserted and left to itself for many years, and was now almost in ruins. Going into one corner, Father Zalvidea, by the light of his lantern, found a small pick and shovel which, that afternoon, he had left there for this very purpose, and set to work to dig a hole in which to bury his treasure. Although the ground was hard, it required only a few minutes, after the cement floor was broken through, to accomplish this, for the box was small, and to bury it deep down was quite unnecessary. Father Zalvidea placed the box in the hole, covered it with the earth he had thrown to one side on a large sheet of paper he had brought with him, and then, carefully fitting together the pieces of cement he had broken, he sprinkled over it some of the remaining earth, to hide all traces of the disturbance—a thing very easy to do, as the cement was so nearly the color of the clay soil. Leaving the shovel and pick, he wrapped what earth was left in the paper, put it under his arm, took up the lantern, and wended his way back to his room, congratulating himself on having hidden the money safely.
Well would it have been for the Father, had he put his box of gold coins into the great, strong, securely padlocked chest standing in the vestry of the church, in which were kept the money and all the valuable articles—the gold embroidered vestments and the sacred vessels of silver belonging to the mission. Father Zalvidea had, indeed, thought of it, but he had felt a strong repugnance to placing his own private property among that of the church; so, although much the better way, he had chosen the other. And how could he know there had been a pair of eyes watching him all the time he was busy in the deserted room? Such was the case, however, for a young mestizo had been witness of the whole proceeding. Juan, the seventeen year old son of a Mexican laborer, who had married one of the mission Indian women, united in himself the bad qualities of both races, as has so often been the result of such crosses. He had grown up idle, indifferent to his parents, vicious and cruel, leading astray the other youths of the mission, among whom he was easily the master, and causing his parents and Father Zalvidea no end of anxiety. The Father, in fact, had about made up his mind that Juan must be sent away to San Diego, and put under military discipline. To have him longer at liberty was not to be considered. This night Juan had been at the home of one of his boon companions, talking over the plans for a fandango to be given within a few days. Coming along leisurely by the wall of the building forming the east side of the patio, he saw the faintest glimmer of light shining through the opening of a ruined window. Standing on a stone, which he placed beneath the window, he looked in and saw the Father busily at work in the far corner of the room. Curiosity took possession of him, and he watched every movement of the worker until he had completed his task, taken up the lantern, and left the room. After waiting a few moments, to make sure he was not coming back, Juan sprang lightly through the window, and went to the corner where the Father had been occupied. First looking out into the patio to see that no one was there, he seized the shovel, and digging energetically a minute or two, struck the hard top of the box. Lifting it out he examined it by the moonlight coming in by the door, which he had left open. The box was heavy, but there was nothing else to indicate what were its contents. Juan knew the Father valued it, from the care with which he had secreted it, and surmised, from its weight, it might contain gold. Hastily filling the hole, and making the surface smooth as possible, in the dim light, he climbed out of the window, taking the box with him. Walking swiftly on the road for a half-mile farther, he came to a little adobe house where he and his parents lived. Passing the house, he hurried on to the garden and wheat-field belonging to his father, and, reaching the far end, he sat down on the ground and took the box in his lap to examine it at his ease. For a moment he hesitated, realizing the magnitude of his crime, but only for a moment. He could not resist his curiosity to see the contents of the box; and, too, if it were gold, as he felt sure it must be, he intended to take it, for Juan had long had a great desire to run away to Mexico or Hawaii; but venturesome as he was, he could not quite bring himself to the point of carrying it out, for his indolence drew him back at the prospect of being obliged to work his way.
His hesitation quickly came to an end, and placing the box on the ground, he found a sharp stone, and began pounding it with quick, hard blows. Strong as the box was, it could not long withstand such treatment, and soon it fell apart, broken at the hinges. With a low cry of surprise, Juan gazed at the glittering coins; then, with feverish fingers, he took up a handful and examined them carefully, for he had never seen the Spanish onza, and did not know its value. That it was gold, however, satisfied him; he would find out its value later, for at the first sight of it, Juan had jumped at the fact that now he was a thief, and could not remain at the mission. With lightning speed he made up his mind to run away, and that very night. Two thousand dollars in gold is a heavy load for one's pocket, but that was the only way Juan could carry it, and he quickly transferred it to his two pockets. Not daring to go into the house, from fear of waking his parents, he set off, just as he was, for San Pedro, the nearest seaport, a walk of nearly fifty miles. But the box—he must not leave that lying on the ground in plain sight! He must take it with him until he could find some place to hide it, or throw it into the sea. He picked it up, and hurried off, not noticing the slip of paper, which had fallen out of the box when it was broken open. Walking all night, Juan found himself, at daybreak, still far from San Pedro, tired out and hungry. But he knew he must keep on, if he did not want to be overtaken and captured. We shall not follow him farther; it is more than certain he will be relieved of his gold, when he reaches San Pedro, by some friendly sailor or bad character of the settlement; and he will, after all, have to work his way to Mexico, for it would be out of the question to return to San Juan Capistrano.
Juan was frequently away for two or three days at a time, and his non-appearance the next morning caused no particular remark from his parents; and not until late in the afternoon of the second day of his absence did anything occur to lead them to think he was gone. His father had begun to cut his wheat the day before. This afternoon he was just finishing the last piece of the field, when he spied something white on the ground, almost hidden by the tall grain. Stopping his horse, he picked it up, wondering, and with some difficulty made out the writing on it. Where had it come from; to whom did it belong; who was Dolores—it was too much for his slow mind to fathom. But of one thing he was certain—it must be taken to the Father; he would know if it was of moment. And then it was he thought of his son and his absence. Hardly in his own mind did he connect it with the bit of paper; and yet the suspicion, once aroused, would not be dispelled. Finishing his work as quickly as possible, he returned to his house and told his wife what he had found, and then spoke of the absence of their son as, possibly, having some connection with it.
"I will take it to the Father to-morrow," said his wife, calmly, as became her race, but with an undertone of anxiety and sadness.
Early the next morning Juan's mother wended her way to the mission, and asking to see the Father, was led to his reception-room. He was sitting at a table covered with books and papers, reading from a large folio filled with the early statistics of the mission, the first few pages of which were written by the sainted Serra's hand. Father Zalvidea looked up as the Indian woman entered.
"Good morning, my daughter," he said. "What do you wish with me?"
The woman responded with a trembling voice, "Father, my husband found this in his wheatfield."
The Father took the paper with negligent curiosity. It was rumpled and dirty, far different from its appearance when in the box, and he did not recognize it. But as soon as he had smoothed it, and saw the handwriting, he sprang to his feet, crying:
"Woman, how came you by this? Tell me. Why did you bring it to me? Where is the box?"
Terrified at the outbreak she had evoked, the Indian fell on her knees before the priest, and exclaimed:
"Father, I know nothing more about it than what I have told you. My husband found it yesterday in his field, and gave it to me to bring to you. That is all, Father."
The Father composed himself with difficulty, and, after a moment, spoke with his accustomed calmness:
"My daughter, forgive me for speaking so harshly, and doubting your word, for I know you would not have brought me the paper if you had not come honestly by it. But I must see your husband at once."
The priest got his hat, and, accompanied by the woman, started quickly for her home.
Now the woman had said nothing about the suspicions her husband had had, and which he had imparted to her. However unworthy of her love, she was Juan's mother, and, Indian though she was, and with the inherited instincts of the savage, hers was the natural love found in civilized and savage alike, and she could not bring herself to tell the Father what she felt must be true. So, silently, the two hastened to her home. Juan's father was in the garden back of the house, weeding his vegetable patch, As soon as he saw his wife and the priest he came toward them.
"Pablo, tell me all you know about this paper?" said the Father abruptly, without preamble of any kind.
The man related the fact of his finding it, which was, indeed, all there was to tell. And then, with hesitation, spoke of Juan's absence.
The Father started.
"When did you see him last?" he asked.
"The day before yesterday, in the afternoon," replied the man. "He said he was going to see Fernando Diaz, who lives on the mission road, two miles north from here."
"Did you see him when he came back?" inquired the priest.
"No, Father," the man answered. "That is the last time we have seen him."
Father Zalvidea asked the man to show him the place where he had found the paper, and the two walked to the wheat-field. When they came to the spot, the Father looked carefully around on the ground, hoping to discover some trace of the box and its contents. Searching in the stubble, he did actually find one of the gold coins, but that was all. The box was too large to remain hidden in the field, and the Father knew it must have been carried away. He showed Pablo, who had been assisting in the search, the coin he had found, and then, as there was no object in concealment, told him of his loss.
The man's astonishment at the enormity of his son's offense was profound. He was struck dumb for some moments, but realizing, at last, that his son was, in all likelihood, involved, he besought the Father to have pity on him.
"Pablo," said the priest, "have you no idea whither Juan is gone? Have you ever heard him say anything to lead you to think he wanted to leave the mission?"
"No, Father," he replied; for Juan always had been careful to say nothing of his longing to go to Mexico, as he knew he might be watched should he ever carry it out.
"I know not what to do," said the priest, "but I shall, at any rate, send messengers to San Diego and San Pedro. He might leave either place in some ship for Mexico or Central America, for he would not dare to go to San Luis Rey or San Gabriel, as he would be discovered and sent back. But I fear it will do no good."