THE LITTLE LADY OF LAGUNITAS
A FRANCO-CALIFORNIAN ROMANCE
BY Richard Henry Savage
Forty-two years have passed since California's golden star first glittered in the flag of the United States of America.
Its chequered history virtually begins with the rush for gold in '48-'49.
Acquired for the evident purpose of extending slave-holding territory, it was occupied for years by a multitude of cosmopolitan "free lances," who swept away the defenceless Indians, and brutally robbed the great native families, the old "Dons."
Society slowly made headway against these motley adventurers. Mad riot, wildest excess, marked these earlier days.
High above the meaner knights of the "revolver and bowie knife," greater than card sharper, fugitive bravo, or sly wanton, giant schemers appeared, who throw, yet, dark shadows over the records of this State.
These daring conspirators dominated legislature and forum, public office and society.
They spoiled the Mexican, robbed the Indian, and paved the way for a "Lone Star Republic," or the delivering of the great treasure fields of the West to the leaders of Secession.
How their designs on this grand domain failed; what might have been, had the South been more active in its hour of primary victory and seized the Golden West, these pages may show.
The golden days of the "stars and bars" were lost by the activity of the Unionists and the mistaken policy at Richmond.
The utter demoralization of California by the "bonanza era" of silver discovery, the rise of an invincible plutocracy, and the second reign of loose luxury are herein set forth.
Scenes never equalled in shamelessness have disgraced the Halls of State, the Courts, and the mansions of the suddenly enriched.
The poor have been trampled by these tyrants for twenty years.
Characters unknown in the social history of any other land, have been evolved from this golden eddy of crime and adventure.
Not till all these men and women of incredibly romantic fortunes have passed away, will a firm social structure rise over their graves.
Throttled by usurers, torn by gigantic bank wars, its resources drained by colossal swindles, crouching yet under the iron rule of upstart land-barons, "dashing journalism," and stern railroad autocrats, the Californian community has gloomily struggled along.
Newer States have made a relative progress which shames California. Its future is yet uncertain.
The native sons and daughters of the golden West are the hope of the Pacific.
The homemakers may yet win the victory.
Some of the remarkable scenes of the past are herein portrayed by one who has seen this game of life played in earnest, the shadowed drama of California.
There is no attempt to refer to individuals, save as members of well-defined classes, in these pages. This book has absolutely no political bias.
NEW YORK CITY, May 15, 1892.
THE LAST OF THE DONS BY THE BLUE PACIFIC.
CHAPTER I.—Under the Mexican Eagle.—Exit the Foreigner.—Monterey, 1840
CHAPTER II.—At the Presidio of San Francisco. Wedding Chimes from the Mission Dolores.—Lagunitas Rancho
CHAPTER III.—A Missing Sentinel.—Fremont's Camp
CHAPTER IV.—Held by the Enemy.—The Bear Flag
GOLD FOR ALL.—A NEW STAR IN THE FLAG.
CHAPTER V.—The Golden Magnet.—Free or Slave?
CHAPTER VI.—Lighting Freedom's Western Lamp
CHAPTER VII.—The Queen of the El Dorado.—Guilty Bonds
CHAPTER VIII.—Joaquin the Mountain Robber.—The Don's Peril
CHAPTER IX.—The Stranger's Foot at Lagunitas. Valois' Spanish Bride
GOING HOME TO DIXIE.—STARS AND STRIPES, OR STARS AND BARS?
CHAPTER X.—A Little Dinner at Judge Hardin's. The Knights of the Golden Circle
CHAPTER XI.—"I'se gwine back to Dixie."—The Fortunes of War.—Val Verde
CHAPTER XII.—Hood's Day.—Peachtree Creek. Valois' Last Trust.—De Gress' Battery.—Dead on the Field of Honor
A LOST HEIRESS.—MILLIONS AT STAKE.
CHAPTER XIII.—Mount Davidson's Magic Millions. A California Plutocracy.—The Price of a Crime
CHAPTER XIV.—A Mariposa Bonanza.—Natalie de Santos born in Paris.—The Queen of the El Dorado joins the Gallic "Four Hundred"
CHAPTER XV.—An Old Priest and a Young Artist. The Changelings
CHAPTER XVI.-Hearing Each Other.—The Valois Heirs
CHAPTER XVII.—Weaving Spiders.—A Coward Blow.—Marie Berard's Doom
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND.
CHAPTER XVIII.—Joe Woods Surprises a Lady. Love's Golden Nets
CHAPTER XIX.—Lovers Once, Strangers Now. Face to Face
CHAPTER XX.—Judge Hardin Meets his Match. A Senatorial Election.—In a Mariposa Court Room.—The Trust fulfilled at Lagunitas
THE LAST OF THE DONS BY THE BLUE PACIFIC.
UNDER THE MEXICAN EAGLE.—EXIT THE FOREIGNER.—MONTEREY, 1840.
"Caramba! Adios, Seflores!" cried Captain Miguel Peralta, sitting on his roan charger on the Monterey bluffs. A white-sailed bark is heading southward for Acapulco. His vaqueros tossed up their sombreros, shouting, "Vive Alvarado! Muerte los estrangeros!"
The Pacific binds the hills of California in a sapphire zone, unflecked by a single sail in sight, save the retreating trader, which is flitting around "Punta de los Pinos."
It is July, 1840. The Mexican ensign flutters in the plaza of Monterey, the capital of Alta California.
Miguel Peralta dismounts and crosses himself, murmuring, "Sea por Dios y la Santissima Virgen."
His duty is done. He has verified the departure of the Yankee ship. It is crowded with a hundred aliens. They are now exiles.
Gathered in by General Vallejo, the "pernicious foreigners" have been held at Monterey, until a "hide drogher" comes into the port. Alvarado permits her to anchor under the guns of the hill battery. He then seizes the ship for his use.
Captain Peralta is given the honor of casting out these Ishmaels of fortune. He views calmly their exit. It is a land which welcomes not the "Gringo." The ship-master receives a draft on Acapulco for his impressed service. These pioneer argonauts are warned (on pain of death) not to return. It is a day of "fiesta" in Monterey. "Vive Alvarado!" is the toast.
So, when Captain Miguel dashes into the Plaza, surrounded with his dare-devil retainers, reporting that the vessel is off shore, the rejoicing is unbounded.
Cannons roar: the yells of the green jacket and yellow scrape brigade rise on the silent reaches of the Punta de los Pinos. A procession winds up to the Carmel Mission. Governor Alvarado, his staff, the leading citizens, the highest families, and the sefioritas attend a mass of thanksgiving. Attired in light muslins, with here and there a bright-colored shawl giving a fleck of color, and silk kerchiefs —fleecy—the ladies' only other ornaments are the native flowers which glitter on the slopes of Monterey Bay. Bevies of dark-eyed girls steal glances at Andres, Ramon, or Jose, while music lends a hallowing charm to the holy father's voice as he bends before the decorated altar. Crowds of mission Indians fill the picturesque church. Every heart is proud. Below their feet sleeps serenely good Fray "Junipero Serra." He blessed this spot in 1770;—a man of peace, he hung the bells on the green oaks in a peaceful wilderness. High in air, to-day they joyously peal out a "Laus Deo." When the mystery of the mass rehearses the awful sacrifice of Him who died for us all, a silence broods over the worshippers. The notes of the choristers' voices slowly die away. The population leaves the church in gay disorder.
The Bells of the Past throw their spells over the mossy church—at once triumph, tomb, and monument of Padre Junipero. Scattered over the coast of California, the padres now sleep in the Lethe of death. Fathers Kino, Salvatierra, Ugarte, and sainted Serra left their beautiful works of mercy from San Diego to Sonoma. With their companions, neither unknown tribes, lonely coasts, dangers by land and sea, the burning deserts of the Colorado, nor Indian menaces, prevented the linking together of these outposts of peaceful Christianity. The chain of missions across New Mexico and Texas and the Mexican religious houses stretches through bloody Arizona. A golden circlet!
Happy California! The cross here preceded the sword. No blood stains the Easter lilies of the sacrifice. The Dons and Donnas greet each other in stately fashion, as the gathering disperses. Governor Alvarado gives a feast to the notables. The old families are all represented at the board. Picos, Peraltas, Sanchez, Pachecos, Guerreros, Estudillos, Vallejos, Alvarados, De la Guerras, Castros, Micheltorrenas, the descendants of "Conquistadores," drink to Mexico. High rises the jovial chatter. Good aguadiente and mission wine warm the hearts of the fiery Californian orators. A proud day for Monterey, the capital of a future Empire of Gold. The stranger is cast out. Gay caballeros are wending to the bear-baiting, the bull-fights, the "baile," and the rural feasts. Splendid riders prance along, artfully forcing their wild steeds into bounds and curvets with the rowels of their huge silver-mounted spurs.
Dark lissome girls raise their velvety eyes and applaud this daring horsemanship. Senioritas Luisa, Isabel, and Panchita lose no point of the display. In a land without carriages or roads, the appearance of the cavalier, his mount, his trappings, most do make the man shine before these fair slips of Mexican blue blood.
Down on the beach, the boys race their half-broken broncos. These lads are as lithe and lean as the ponies they bestride. Across the bay, the Sierras of Santa Cruz lift their virgin crests (plumed with giant redwoods) to the brightest skies on earth. Flashing brooks wander to the sea unvexed by mill, unbridged in Nature's unviolated freedom. Far to north and south the foot-hills stand shining with their golden coats of wild oats, a memorial of the seeds cast over these fruitful mesas by Governor Caspar de Portala. He left San Diego Mission in July, 1769, with sixty-five retainers, and first reached the Golden Gate.
Beyond the Coast Range lies a "terra incognita." A few soldiers only have traversed the Sacramento and San Joaquin. They wandered into the vales of Napa and Sonoma, fancying them a fairyland.
The sparkling waters of the American, the Sacramento, the Yuba, Feather, and Bear rivers are dancing silently over rift and ripple. There precious nuggets await the frenzied seekers for wealth. There are no gold-hunters yet in the gorges of these crystal streams. Down in Nature's laboratory, radiated golden veins creep along between feathery rifts of virgin quartz. They are the treasures of the careless gnomes.
Not till years later will Marshall pick up the first nugget of gleaming gold in Sutter's mill-race at Coloma. The "auri sacra fames" will bring thousands from the four quarters of the earth to sweep away "the last of the Dons."
A lovely land to-day. No axe rings in its forests. No steamboat threads the rivers. Not an engine is harnessed to man's use in this silent, lazy realm. The heart of the Sierras is inviolate. The word "Gold" must be whispered to break the charm.
The sun climbs to noon, then slowly sinks to the west. It dips into the silent sea, mirroring sparkling evening stars.
Stretching to Japan, the Pacific is the mysterious World's End.
Along the brown coast, the sea otter, clad in kingly robes, sports shyly in the kelp fields. The fur seals stream by unchased to their misty home in the Pribyloffs. Barking sea-lions clamber around the jutting rocks. Lazy whales roll on the quiet waters of the bay, their track an oily wake.
It is the land of siesta, of undreamed dreams, of brooding slumber.
The barbaric diversions of the day are done. The firing squad leave the guns. The twang of guitar and screech of violin open the fandango.
The young cavaliers desert the streets. Bibulous dignitaries sit in council around Governor Alvarado's table. Mexican cigars, wine in old silver flagons (fashioned by the deft workers of Chihuahua and Durango), and carafes of aguadiente, garnish the board.
The mahogany table (a mark of official grandeur), transported from Acapulco, is occupied (below the salt) by the young officers. Horse-racing, cock-fighting, and gambling on the combat of bear and bull, have not exhausted their passions. Public monte and faro leave them a few "doubloons" yet. Seated with piles of Mexican dollars before them, the young heroes enjoy a "lay-out." All their coin comes from Mexico. Hundreds of millions, in unminted gold and silver, lie under their careless feet, yet their "pieces of eight" date back to Robinson Crusoe! This is the land of "manana!" Had Hernando Cortez not found the treasures of Mexico, he might have fought his way north, over the Gila Desert, to the golden hoards of the sprites of the Sierras.
At the banquet fiery Alvarado counselled with General Vallejo. Flushed with victory, Captain Miguel was the lion of this feast. He chatted with his compadres.
The seniors talked over the expulsion of the strangers.
Cool advisers feared trouble from France, England, or the United States. Alvarado's instinct told him that foreigners would gain a mastery over the Dons, if permitted to enter in numbers. Texas was an irresistible warning. "Senores," said Alvarado, "the Russians came in 1812. Only a few, with their Kodiak Indians, settled at Bodega. Look at them now! They control beautiful Bodega! They are 800 souls! True, they say they are going, but only our posts at San Rafael and Sonoma checked them. A fear of your sword, General!" Alvarado drank to Vallejo.
Vallejo bowed to his Governor. "Senor," said he, "you are right. I have seen Mexico. I have been a scholar, as well as a soldier. I knew Von Resanoff's Russian slyness. My father was at the Presidio in 1807, when he obtained rights for a few fur hunters. Poor fellow! he never lived to claim his bride, but he was a diplomat."
"Foreigners will finally outroot us. Here is Sutter, building his fort on the Sacramento! He's a good fellow, yet I'll have to burn New Helvetia about his ears some day. Russian or Swiss, French or Yankee, it's all the same. The 'Gringo' is the worst of all. Poor Conception de Arguello. She waited long for her dead Russian lover."
"General, do you think the Yankees can ever attack us by land?" said Alvarado.
"Madre de Dios! No!" cried Vallejo, "we will drag them at our horses' tails!"
"Then, I have no fear of them," said Alvarado. "We occupy San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco, the missions of San Juan Capistrano, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara, and help to control the Indians, but these home troubles have stopped their useful growth."
Governor Alvarado sighed. Governor Hijar in 1834 had desecularized the Catholic missions. Their cattle were stolen, their harvests and vineyards destroyed. The converts were driven off to seek new homes among the Utes, Yubas, Feather River, Napa, and Mohave tribes.
Pious Alvarado crossed himself. He glanced uneasily at Padre Castillo,—at the board. Only one or two priests were left at the beautiful settlements clustering around the old mission churches. To-day these are the only architectural ornaments of Alta California.
"I doubt the wisdom of breaking up the missions," said Alvarado, with gloomy brow. A skeleton was at this feast. The troubled Governor could not see the handwriting on the wall. He felt California was a priceless jewel to Mexico. He feared imprudent measures. Lying dormant, California slept since Cabrillo saw Cape Mendocino in 1542. After he turned his shattered prows back to Acapulco on June 27, 1543, it was only on November 10, 1602, that ambitious Viscaino raised the Spanish ensign at San Diego. He boldly claimed this golden land for Spain. Since that furtive visit, the lonely coast lay unsettled. It was only used as a haunt by wild pirates, lurking to attack the precious Philippine galleons sailing to Acapulco. For one hundred and sixty-eight years the land was unvisited. Spanish greed and iron rule satisfied itself with grinding the Mexicans and turning southward in the steps of Balboa and Pizarro.
Viscaino's neglected maps rotted in Madrid for two centuries. Fifty-five years of Spanish rule left California undeveloped, save by the gentle padres who, aided by their escort, brought in the domestic animals. They planted fruit-trees, grains, and the grape. They taught the peaceful Indians agriculture. Flax, hemp, and cotton supplanted the skins of animals.
Alvarado and Vallejo remembered the Spanish war in 1822. At this banquet of victory, neither thought that, a few years later, the rule of the Dons would be over; that their familiar places would know them no more. Just retribution of fate! The Dons drove out the friars, and recked not their own day was close at hand.
As the exultant victors stood drinking the toast of the day, "Muerte los estrangeros," neither crafty statesman, sly priest, fiery general, wise old Don, nor reckless caballero, could predict that the foreigners would return in two years. That they would come under protection of the conquering British flag.
Alvarado was excited by his feuds with Micheltorrena. The people were divided into clericals and anti-clericals. A time of "storm and stress" hung over all.
Wise in victory was Captain Miguel Peralta. His campaign against the foreigners marked the close of his service. Born in 1798, his family were lords of broad lands on the Alamedas of San Francisco Bay. He was sent to the city of Mexico and educated, serving in the army of the young republic. Returning to Alta California, he became a soldier.
Often had he sallied out to drive the warlike Indian toward the Sacramento. In watching his mustangs and cattle, he rode far to the slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. Their summits glittered under the blue skies, crowned with silvery snows, unprofaned by the foot of man.
A sturdy caballero, courtly and sagacious. His forty-two years admonished him now to settle in life. When Alvarado was in cheeriest mood, at the feast, the Captain reminded him of his promise to release him. This would allow Peralta to locate a new ten-league-square grant of lands, given him for past services to the State.
Graciously the Governor accorded the request. Noblesse oblige! "Don Miguel, is there any reason for leaving us besides your new rancho?" said Alvarado. The Captain's cheek reddened a little. "Senor Gobernador, I have served the State long," said he. "Juanita Castro waits for me at San Francisco. I will lay off my rancho on the San Joaquin. I move there in the spring."
Alvarado was delighted. The health of Senorita Juanita Castro was honored by the whole table. They drank an extra bumper for gallant Don Miguel, the bridegroom.
The Governor was pleased. Powerful Castros and Peraltas stretched from the Salinas, by San Jose and Santa Clara, to Martinez; and San Rafael as well as Sonoma. By this clan, both Sutter's Fort and the Russians could be watched.
This suitable marriage would bring a thousand daring horsemen to serve under the cool leadership of Don Miguel in case of war.
Peralta told the Governor he would explore the San Joaquin. He wished to locate his ranch where he could have timber, wood, water, game, and mountain air.
Don Miguel did not inform the chief of the state that in riding from San Diego to Cape Mendocino he had found one particular garden of Paradise. He had marked this for his home when his sword would be sheathed in honor.
"I will say, your Excellency," said the Captain, "I fear for the future. The Yankees are growing in power and are grasping. They have robbed us of lovely Texas. Now, it is still a long way for their ships to come around dreary Cape Horn. We had till late years only two vessels from Boston; I saw their sails shining in the bay of San Francisco when I was five years old. I have looked in the Presidio records for the names. The Alexander and the Aser, August 1st, 1803. Then, they begged only for wood and water and a little provision. Now, their hide-traders swarm along our coast. They will by and by come with their huge war-ships. These trading-boats have no cannon, but they are full of bad rum. Our coast people will be cleared out. Why, Catalina Islands," continued the Captain, "were peopled once densely. There are yet old native temples there. All these coast tribes have perished. It is even worse since the holy fathers were robbed of their possessions."
The good soldier crossed himself in memory of the wise padres. They owned the thousands of cattle, sheep, and horses once thronging the oat-covered hills. Theirs were the fruits, grains, and comforts of these smiling valleys, untrodden yet by a foreign foe.
"Your Excellency, when the Yankee war-ships have come, we cannot resist them. Our batteries are old and poor, we have little ammunition. Our arms are out of repair. The machete and lasso are no match for their well-supplied men-of-war. I shall locate myself so far in the interior that the accursed Gringos cannot reach me with their ships or their boats. The trappers who straggle over the deserts from Texas our horsemen will lasso. They will bring them in bound as prisoners."
"Miguel, mi compadre," said the Governor, "do you think they can cross the deserts?" He was startled by Peralta's views of the future.
"Senor," said the Captain, "I saw the first American who came overland. The wanderer appeared in 1826. It was the 20th of December. He was found half starved by our vaqueros. I have his name here on a piece of paper. I have long carried it, for I was a guard over him."
Miguel slowly spelled off the detested Yankee name, Jedediah S. Smith, from a slip of cartridge paper in his bolsa. Glory be to the name of Smith!
"Where THAT one Yankee found a way, more will come, but we will meet and fight them. This is our OWN land by the right of discovery. The good King Philip II. of Spain rightfully claimed this (from his orders to Viceroy Monterey in 1596). We get our town name here in his honor. We will fight the English, and these accursed Yankees. They have no right to be here. This is our home," cried fiery Miguel, as he pledged the hospitable Governor. He passed out into the dreaming, starry night. As he listened to the waves softly breaking on the sandy beach, he thought fondly of Juanita Castro. He fumbled over the countersign as the sentinel presented his old flint-lock musket.
Both Governor and Captain sought the repose of their Spartan pillows. The Captain forgot, in his zeal for Spanish dominion, that daring Sir Francis Drake, in days even then out of the memory of man, piloted the "Golden Hind" into Drake's Bay. He landed near San Francisco in 1578, and remained till the early months of 1579. Under the warrant of "good Queen Bess" he landed, and set up a pillar bearing a "fair metal plate" with a picture of that antiquated but regal coquette. He nailed on the pillar a "fair struck silver five-pence," saluting the same with discharge of culverins, much hearty English cheer and nautical jollity. The land was English—by proscription.
Sir Francis, gallant and courtly, was, like many travellers, as skilful at drawing the long bow as in wielding the rapier. He was not believed at home.
Notwithstanding, he tarried months and visited the inland Indians, bringing home many objects of interest, announcing "much gold and silver," his voyage was vain. His real discovery was deemed of no practical value. The robust Indians swarmed in thousands, living by the watersides in huts, wearing deerskin cloaks and garments of rushes. Hunters and fishers were they. They entertained the freebooter, and like him have long since mouldered to ashes. Along the Pacific Coast great mounds of shells, marking their tribal seaside feasts, are now frequently unearthed. Their humble history is shadowed by the passing centuries. They are only a memory, a shadow on Time's stream. Good Queen Bess sleeps in the stately fane of Westminster. Sir Francis's sword is rusted. The "brazen plate" recording that date and year is of a legendary existence only. "Drake's Bay" alone keeps green the memory of the daring cruiser. Even in one century the Spanish, Russian, Mexican, and American flags successively floated over the unfrequented cliffs of California. Two hundred years before, the English ensign kissed the air in pride, unchallenged by the haughty Spaniard.
Miguel Peralta was happy. He had invited all the officials to attend the nuptials by the Golden Gate. Venus was in the ascendant. The red planet of Mars had set, he hoped, forever. The officers and gentry contemplated a frolicsome ride around the Salinas bend, over the beautiful passes to Santa Clara valley and the town of Yerba Buena.
Peralta's marriage was an excuse for general love making. A display of all the bravery of attire and personal graces of man and maid was in order.
The soldier drifted into the land of dreams haunted by Juanita Castro's love-lit eyes and rare, shy smile. No vision disturbed him of the foothold gained in Oregon by the Yankees. They sailed past the entrance of San Francisco Bay, on the Columbia, in 1797, but they found the great river of the northwest. They named it after their gallant bark, said to be the legal property of one General Washington of America.
The echoes of Revolutionary cannon hardly died away before the eagle-guided Republic began to follow the star of empire to the Occident.
Had the listless mariners seen that obscured inlet of the Golden Gate, they had never braved the icy gales of the Oregon coast. Miguel Peralta's broad acres might have had another lord. Bishop Berkeley's prophecy was infallible. A fatal remissness seemed to characterize all early foreign adventure on Californian coasts.
Admiral Vancouver in 1793 visited Monterey harbor, and failed to raise the Union Jack, as supinely as the later British commanders in 1846. French commanders, technically skilful and energetic, also ignored the value of the western coast. As a result of occasional maritime visits, the slender knowledge gained by these great navigators appears a remarkable omission.
The night passed on. Breezes sweeping through the pines of Monterey brought no murmur from the south and east of the thunder crash of cannon on the unfought fields of Mexico.
No drowsy vaquero sentinel, watching the outposts of Monterey, could catch a sound of the rumbling wheels and tramping feet of that vast western immigration soon to tread wearily the old overland and the great southern route.
The soldier, nodding over his flint-lock as the white stars dropped into the western blue, saw no glitter of the sails of hostile Yankee frigates. Soon they would toss in pride at anchor here, and salute the starry flag of a new sovereignty. The little twinkling star to be added for California was yet veiled behind the blue field of our country's banner.
Bright sun flashes dancing over the hills awoke the drowsy sacristan. The hallowed "Bells of Carmel" called the faithful to mass.
Monterey, in reverse order of its social grades, rose yawning from the feast. Fandangos and bailes of the day of victory tired all. Lazy "mozos" lolled about the streets. A few revellers idly compared notes of the day's doings.
In front of the government offices, squads of agile horses awaited haughty riders. A merry cavalcade watched for Captain Miguel Peralta. He was to be escorted out of the Pueblo by the "jeunesse doree" of Alta California.
Clad in green jackets buttoned with Mexican dollars, riding leggings of tiger-cat skin seamed with bullion and fringed with dollars, their brown faces were surmounted by rich sombreros, huge of rim. They were decorated in knightly fashion with silver lace. The young caballeros awaited their preux chevalier. Saddle and bridle shone with heavy silver mountings. Embossed housings and "tapadero," hid the symmetry of their deer-like coursers.
Pliant rawhide lassos coiled on saddle horns, gay serapes tied behind each rider, and vicious machetes girded on thigh, these sons of the West were the pride of the Pacific.
Not one of them would be dismayed at a seven days' ride to Los Angeles. A day's jaunt to a fandango, a night spent in dancing, a gallop home on the morrow, was child's play to these young Scythians.
Pleasure-loving, brave, and courteous; hospitable, and fond of their lovely land—they bore all fatigue in the saddle, yet despised any manual exertion; patricians all, in blood.
So it has been since man conquered the noblest inferior animal. The man on the horse always rides down and tramples his brother on foot. Life is simply a struggle for the saddle, and a choice of the rarest mount in the race. To-day these gay riders are shadows of a forgotten past.
Before noon Captain Peralta receives the order of the Governor. It authorizes him to locate his military grant. General Vallejo, with regret, hands Miguel an order relieving him from duty. He is named Commandante of the San Joaquin valley, under the slopes of the undefiled Sierras.
Laden with messages, despatches, and precious letters for the ranches on the road to the Golden Gate, he departs. These are entrusted to the veteran sergeant, major-domo and shadow of his beloved master. Miguel bounds into the saddle. He gayly salutes the Governor and General with a graceful sweep of his sombrero. He threads the crowded plaza with adroitness, swaying easily from side to side as he greets sober friend or demure Donna. He smiles kindly on all the tender-eyed senoritas who admire the brave soldier, and in their heart of hearts envy Juanita Castro, the Rose of Alameda.
Alert and courteous, the future bright before him, Peralta gazes on the Mexican flag fluttering in the breeze. A lump rises in his throat. His long service is over at last. He doffs his sombrero when the guard "turns out" for him. It is the last honor.
He cannot foresee that a French frigate will soon lie in the very bay smiling at his feet, and cover the returning foreigner with her batteries.
In two short years, sturdy old Commodore Jones will blunder along with the American liners, CYANE and UNITED STATES, and haul down that proud Mexican ensign. He will hoist for the first time, on October, 19, 1842, the stars and stripes over the town. Even though he apologizes, the foreigners will troop back there like wolves around the dying bison of the west. The pines on Santa Cruz whisper of a coming day of change. The daybreak of the age of gold draws near.
Steadily through the live-oaks and fragrant cypress the bridegroom rides to the wedding. A few days' social rejoicings, then away to the beautiful forests of his new ranch. It lies far in the hills of Mariposa. There, fair as a garden of the Lord, the grassy knolls of the foothills melt into the golden wild-oat fields of the San Joaquin.
Behind him, to the east, the virgin forest rises to the serrated peaks of the Nevada. He drops his bridle on his horse's neck. He dreams of a day when he can visit the unknown canons beyond his new home.
Several Ute chiefs have described giant forests of big trees. They tell of a great gorge of awful majesty; that far toward the headwaters of the American are sparkling lakes fed by winter snows.
His escort of young bloods rides behind him. They have had their morning gymnastics, "a cheval," to edify the laughing beauties of the baile of last night. The imprisoned rooster, buried to the neck in soft earth, has been charged on and captured gaily. Races whiled away their waiting moments.
Then, "adios, senoritas," with heart-pangs in chorus. After a toss of aguardiente, the cigarito is lit. The beaux ride out for a glimpse of the white cliffs of the Golden Gate. The sleeping Monterey belles dream yet of yester-even. Nature smiles, a fearless virgin, with open arms. Each rancho offers hospitality. Money payments are unknown here yet, in such matters.
Down the Santa Clara avenue of great willows these friends ride in the hush of a starry evening. As the mission shows its lights, musical bells proclaim the vesper service. Their soft echoes are wafted to the ears of these devotees.
Devoutly the caballeros dismount. They kneel on the tiled floor till the evening service ends.
Miguel's heart sinks while he thinks of the missions. He bows in prayer. Neglected vineyards and general decay reign over the deserted mission lands.
It is years since Hijar scattered the missions, He paralyzed the work of the Padres. Already Santa Clara's gardens are wasted. Snarling coyotes prowl to the very walls of the enclosures left to the Padres.
Priest and acolytes quit the altar. Miguel sadly leaves the church. Over a white stone on the sward his foot pauses. There rests one of his best friends—Padre Pacheco—passed beyond these earthly troubles to eternal rest and peace. The mandate of persecution can never drive away that dead shepherd. He rests with his flock around him.
Hijar seized upon the acres of the Church. He came down like the feudal barons in England. Ghostly memories cling yet around these old missions.
"When the lord of the hill, Amundeville, Made Norman church his prey, And expelled the friars, one friar still Would not be driven away."
So here the sacred glebe was held by a faithful sentinel. His gravestone flashed a white protest against violence. In the struggle between sword and cowl, the first victory is with the sword; not always the last. Time has its revenges.
Padre Hinojosa, the incumbent, welcomes the Captain. There is cheer for the travellers. Well-crusted bottles of mission claret await them. The tired riders seek the early repose of primitive communities.
Beside the fire (for the fog sweeps coldly over the Coast Range) the priest and his guest exchange confidences. Captain Peralta is an official bulletin. The other priest is summoned away to a dying penitent. The halls of the once crowded residence of the clergy re-echo strangely the footsteps of the few servants.
By the embers the man of the sword and he of the gown lament these days. They are pregnant with trouble. The directing influence of the Padres is now absent. Peralta confides to Hinojosa that jealousy and intrigue will soon breed civil warfare. Micheltorrena is now conspiring against Alvarado. Peralta seeks a secluded home in the forests of Mariposa. He desires to gain a stronghold where he can elude both domestic and foreign foes.
"Don Miguel," the padre begins, "in our records we have notes of a Philippine galleon, the SAN AUGUSTIN, laden with the spoils of the East. She was washed ashore in 1579, tempest tossed at the Golden Gate. Viscaino found this wreck in 1602. Now I have studied much. I feel that the Americans will gradually work west, overland, and will rule us. Our brothers destroyed the missions. They would have Christianized the patient Indians, teaching them industries. Books tell me even the Apaches were peaceful till the Spanish soldiers attacked them. Now from their hills they defy the whole Mexican army." The good priest sighed. "Our work is ruined. I shall lay my bones here, but I see the trade of the East following that lonely wrecked galleon, and a young people growing up. The Dons will go." Bestowing a blessing on his guest, the padre sought his breviary. Priest and soldier slept in quiet. To-day the old padre's vision is realized. The treasures of the East pour into the Golden Gate. His simple heart would have been happy to know that thousands of Catholics pause reverently at his tomb covered with the roses of Santa Clara.
AT THE PRESIDIO OF SAN FRANCISCO.—-WEDDING CHIMES FROM THE MISSION DOLORES.—-LAGUNITAS RANCHO.
Golden lances pierced the haze over the hills, waking the padre betimes next morning. Already the sacristan was ringing his call.
The caballeros were kneeling when the Indian choir raised the chants. When mass ended, the "mozos" scoured the potrero, driving in the chargers. Commandante Peralta lingered a half hour at the priest's house. There, the flowers bloom in a natural tangle.
The quadrangle is deserted; while the soldier lingers, the priest runs over the broken chain of missions. He recounts the losses of Mother Church—-seventeen missions in Lower California, twenty-one all told in Alta California, with all their riches confiscated. The "pious fund"—monument of the faithful dead—swept into the Mexican coffers. The struggle of intellect against political greed looks hopeless.
The friends sadly exchange fears. The bridegroom reminds the priest that shelter will be always his at the new rancho.
Peralta's plunging roan frets now in the "paseo." After a blessing, the Commandante briskly pushes over the oak openings, toward the marshes of the bay. His shadow, the old sergeant, ambles alongside. Pearly mists rise from the bay. Far to the northeast Mount Diablo uplifts its peaked summit. From the western ridges balsamic odors of redwoods float lightly.
Down by the marshes countless snipe, duck, geese, and curlew tempt the absent sportsman.
The traveller easily overtakes his escort. They have been trying all the arts of the vaquero. Past hills where startled buck and doe gaze until they gracefully bound into the covert, the riders pursue the lonely trail. Devoid of talk, they follow the shore, sweeping for six hours over the hills, toward the Mission Dolores. Another hour brings them to the Presidio.
This fort is the only safeguard of the State; a battery of ship guns is a mere symbol of power.
In the quadrangle two companies of native soldiers and a detachment of artillery constitute the feeble garrison. Don Miguel Peralta canters up to the Commandante's residence.
Evening parade is over. Listless sentinels drag over their posts with the true military laziness.
Peralta is intent upon affairs both of head and heart. His comrade, the Commandante, sits late with him in sage counsel. A train follows from Monterey, with stores for the settlement. Sundry cargoes of gifts for the fair Juanita, which the one Pacific emporium of Monterey alone could furnish, are moving. Miguel bears an order for a detail of a sergeant and ten men, a nucleus of a force in the San Joaquin. Barges and a shallop are needed to transport supplies up the river. By couriers, invitations are to be sent to all the clans not represented at the Monterey gathering.
The priests of the mission must also be visited and prepared for the wedding. Miguel's heart softens. He thinks of his bright-eyed Californian bride waiting in her home, soon to be Seftora Peralta.
In twenty days Don Miguel arranges his inland voyage. While his assistants speed abroad, he pays visits of ceremony to the clergy and his lovely bride.
The great day of his life arrives. Clad in rich uniform, he crosses to the eastern shore. A breeze of morning moves. The planet of love is on high. It is only the sun tinting the bay with golden gleams. Never a, steamer yet has ploughed these silent waters.
Morning's purple folds Tamalpais in a magic mantle. Rolling surges break on the bar outside the Golden Gate. Don Miguel, attended by friends, receives his bride, the Rose of Alameda. Shallops wait. The merry party sails for the western shore. Fluttering flags decorate this little navy of San Francisco.
Merry laughter floats from boat to boat. The tinkle of the guitar sounds gaily. Two hours end this first voyage of a new life.
At the embarcadero of Yerba Buena the party descends. They are met by a procession of all the notables of the mission and Presidio. Hardy riders and ladies, staid matrons and blooming senoritas, have gathered also from Santa Clara, Napa, and Sonoma. The one government brig is crowded with a merry party from Monterey.
The broad "camino real" sweeps three miles over sand dunes to the mission. Past willow-shaded lakes, through stunted live-oak groves, the wedding cavalcade advances. The poverty of the "mozo" admits of a horse. Even the humblest admirer of Don Miguel to-day is in the saddle. No one in California walks.
With courtly grace the warrior rides by his bride. Juanita Castro is a true Spanish senorita. Blest with the beauty of youth and the modesty of the Castilian, the Rose of Alameda has the blush of her garden blossoms on her virgin cheek. She walks a queen. She rides as only the maids of Alta California can.
The shining white walls of the mission are near. Eager eyes watch in the belfry whence the chimes proclaim the great event. To the west the Coast Range hides the blue Pacific. Rolling sand hills mask the Presidio. East and south the panorama of shore and mountain frames the jewel of the West, fair San Francisco bay.
Soldiers, traders, dull-eyed Indians, and joyous retainers crowd the approaches.
The cortege halts at the official residence. Soon the dark-eyed bride is arrayed in her simple white robes. Attended by her friends, Juanita enters the house of the Lord. Don Luis Castro supports the bride, who meets at the altar her spouse. Priests and their trains file in. The fateful words are said.
Then the girl-wife on her liege lord's arm enters the residence of the Padres; a sumptuous California breakfast awaits the "gente de razon."
Clangor of bells, firing of guns, vivas and popular clamor follow the party.
The humbler people are all regaled at neighboring "casas."
In the home of the Padres, the nuptial feast makes glad the gathered notables. The clergy are the life of this occasion. They know when to lay by the austerity of official robes. From old to young, all hearts are merry.
Alcaldes, officials, and baronial rancheros—all have gathered for this popular wedding.
Carrillos, Del Valles, Sepulvedas, Arguellos, Avilas, Ortegas, Estradas, Martinez, Aguirres and Dominguez are represented by chiefs and ladies.
Beakers of mission vintages are drained in honor of the brave and fair. When the sun slopes toward the hills, the leaders escort the happy couple to the Presidio. The Commandante and his bride begin their path in life. It leads toward that yet unbuilt home in the wild hills of Mariposa. With quaint garb, rich trappings, and its bright color, the train lends an air of middle-age romance to the landscape.
Knightly blood, customs, and manners linger yet in the "dolce far niente" of this unwaked paradise of the Occident. Sweetly sound the notes of the famous sacred mission bell. It was cast and blessed at far Mendoza in Spain, in 1192. Generations and tens of generations have faded into shadowy myths of the past since it waked first the Spanish echoes. Kings and crowns, even countries, have passed into history's shadowy night since it first rang out. The cunning artificer, D. Monterei, piously inscribed it with the name of "San Franisco." Mingled gold and silver alone were melted for its making. Its sacred use saved the precious treasure many times from robbers. Six hundred and fifty years that mellow voice has warned the faithful to prayer. Pride and treasure of the Franciscans, it followed the "conquistadores" to Mexico. It rang its peal solemnly at San Diego, when, on July 1, 1769, the cross of the blessed Redeemer was raised. The shores of California were claimed for God by the apostolic representative, sainted Friar Junipero Serra. In that year two babes were born far over the wild Atlantic, one destined to wrap the world in flame, and the other to break down the mightiest modern empire of the sword. It was the natal year of Napoleon Bonaparte, the child imperially crowned by nature, and that iron chief, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.
The old bell sounded its first call to the faithful on San Francisco Bay, in 1776. It was but a few months after the American colonists gave to wondering humanity their impassioned plea for a world's liberty—the immortal Declaration of the Fourth of July.
No merrier peal ever sounded from its vibrant throat than the rich notes following Miguel Peralta and his lovely Rose of Alameda.
Revelry reigns at the Presidio; Commandante Peralta's quarters are open. Music and brightest eyes mark the closing of this day. In late watches the sentinels remember the feast as they pace their rounds, for none are forgotten in largesse.
Fair Juanita learns to love the dainty title of Senora. Light is her heart as she leaves for the Hills.
Don Miguel's barges already are on the San Joaquin. The cattle have reached their potreros on the Mariposa. Artificer and "peon" are preparing a shelter for the lord of the grant.
Donna Juanita waves her hand in fond adieu as the schooner glides across to Alameda. Here Commandante Miguel has a report of the arrival of his trains.
From the Castros' home, Juanita rides out toward the San Joaquin. Great commotion enlivens the hacienda. Pack-trains are laden with every requisite—tents, hammocks, attendants, waiting-women and retainers are provided.
Winding out of the meadows of the Alameda, eastwardly over the Coast Range defiles, the train advances. Even here "los ladrones" (thieves of animals) are the forerunners of foreign robbers. Guards watch the bride's slumbers.
Star-lit nights make the journey easy. It is the rainless summer time; no sound save the congress of the coyotes, or the notes of the mountain owl, disturbs the dreams of the campers.
Don Miguel, in happiest mood, canters beside his wife. The party has its scouts far in advance. Resting places in fragrant woods, with pure brooks and tender grass, mark the care of the outriders.
Over the Coast Range Juanita finds a land of delightful promise. Far away the rich valley of the San Joaquin sweeps. Rolling hills lie on either side, golden tinted with the ripening wild oats. Messengers join the party with auspicious reports.
Down the San Joaquin plains the train winds. Here Senora Peralta is in merry mood; hundreds of stately elk swing tossing antlers, dashing away to the willows. Gray deer spring over brook and fallen tree, led by some giant leader. Pigeons, grouse, doves, and quail cleave the air with sudden alarm. Gorgeous in his painted plumage, the wood duck whirrs away over the slow gliding San Joaquin. Swan and wild geese cover the little islands.
There are morning vocal concerts of a feathered orchestra. They wake the slumbering bride long before Don Miguel calls his swarthy retainers to the day's march.
By night, in the valley, the sentinels watch for the yellow California lions, who delight to prey on the animals of the train. Wild-cats, lynx, the beaver and raccoon scuttle away surprised by this invasion of Nature's own game preserves.
It is with some terror that the young wife sees a display of native horsemanship. Lumbering across the pathway of the train a huge grizzly bear attracts the dare-devils. Bruin rises on his haunches; he snorts in disdain. A quickly cast lariat encircles one paw. He throws himself down. Another lasso catches his leg. As he rolls and tugs, other fatal loops drop, as skilfully aimed as if he were only a helpless bullock. Growling, rolling, biting, and tearing, he cannot break or loosen the rawhide ropes. When he madly tries to pull in one, the agile horses strain upon the others. He is firmly entangled. The giant bear is tightly bound.
Donna Juanita, her lord by her side, laughs at the dreaded "oso." She enjoys the antics of the horsemen. They sport with their enemy. After the fun ends, Bruin receives a gunshot. Choice cuts are added to the camp menu.
The bear, panther, and rattlesnake are the only dangers of the Californian woods.
Days of travel bring the hills of Mariposa into view. Here the monarchs of the forest rise in air; their wild harps are swept by the cool breezes of the Sierras. Tall, stately redwoods, swathed in rich, soft, fibrous bark, tower to the skies. Brave oaks spread their arms to shelter the doe and her fawns. The madrona, with greenest leaf and pungent berry, stands here. Hazels, willows, and cottonwoods follow the water. Bald knolls are studded with manzanita, its red berry in harvest now. Sturdy groves of wild plum adorn the hillsides. Grouse and squirrel enjoy their annual feast.
The journey is over. When the train winds around a sweeping range, Don Miguel nears his wife. The San Joaquin is studded with graceful clumps of evergreen. In its bosom a lake shines like a diamond. The Don uncovers smilingly. "Mi querida, there lies your home, Lagunitas," he murmurs.
Sweet Juanita's eyes beam on her husband. She says softly, "How beautiful!"
It is truly a royal domain. From the lake the ten leagues square of the Commandante's land are a panorama of varying beauties. Stretching back into the pathless forests, game, timber, wood, and building stones are at hand; a never-failing water supply for thousands of cattle is here. To the front, right, and left, hill pastures and broad fields give every variety of acreage.
Blithely the young wife spurs her favorite steed over the turf. She nears the quarters. The old sergeant is the seneschal of this domain. He greets the new arrivals.
With stately courtesy the Commandante lifts his bride from her charger. The hegira is over. The occupation of arranging abodes for all is the first task. Already the cattle, sheep, and horses are fattening on the prairie grasses. Peons are sawing lumber. A detachment is making bricks for the houses. These are one-storied mansions with wide porches, beloved by the Californians; to-day the most comfortable homes in the West. Quaintly superstitious, the natives build so for fear of earthquakes. Corrals, pens, and sheds have been first labors of the advance guard. The stores and supplies are all housed.
Don Miguel left the choice of the mansion site to his Juanita. Together they visit the different points of vantage. Soon the hacienda rises in solid, fort-like simplicity.
The bride at Lagunitas strives to aid her companion. She shyly expresses her preferences. All is at her bidding.
Don Miguel erects his ranch establishment in a military style. It is at once a square stronghold and mansion shaded with ample porches. Corrals for horses, pens for sheep, make up his constructions for the first year. Already the herds are increasing under the eyes of his retainers.
The Commandante has learned that no manual work can be expected of his Californian followers, except equestrian duties of guarding and riding.
A flash of mother-wit leads him to bring a hundred mission Indians from the bay. They bear the brunt of mechanical toil.
Autumn finds Lagunitas Rancho in bloom. Mild weather favors all. Stores and supplies are brought from San Francisco Bay.
Don Miguel establishes picket stations reaching to the Castro Rancho.
Save that Juanita Peralta sees no more the glories of the Golden Gate, her life is changed only by her new, married relation. A few treasures of her girlhood are the sole reminders of her uneventful springtime.
Rides through the forests, and canters over the grassy meadows with her beloved Miguel, are her chiefest pleasures. Some little trading brings in the Indians of the Sierras. It amuses the young Donna to see the bartering of game, furs, forest nuts, wild fruits and fish for the simple stores of the rancho. No warlike cavaliers of the plains are these, with Tartar blood in their veins, from Alaskan migration or old colonization. They have not the skill and mysterious arts of the Aztecs.
These Piute Indians are the lowest order of indigenous tree dwellers. They live by the chase. Without manufactures, with no language, no arts, no agriculture, no flocks or herds, these wretches, clad in the skins of the minor animals, are God's meanest creatures. They live on manzanita berry meal, pine-nuts, and grasshoppers. Bows and flint-headed arrows are their only weapons. They snare the smaller animals. The defenceless deer yield to their stealthy tracking. The giant grizzly and panther affright them. They cannot battle with "Ursus ferox."
Unable to cope with the Mexican intruders, these degraded tribes are also an easy prey to disease. They live without general intercourse, and lurk in the foothills, or hide in the canons.
Juanita finds the Indian women peaceable, absolutely ignorant, and yet tender to their offspring. The babes are carried in wicker baskets on their backs. A little weaving and basket-making comprise all their feminine arts. Rudest skin clothing covers their stunted forms.
Don Miguel encourages the visits of these wild tribes. He intends to use them as a fringe of faithful retainers between him and the Americans. They will warn him of any approach through the Sierras of the accursed Yankee.
The Commandante, reared in a land without manufactures or artisans, regarding only his flocks and herds, cherishes his military pride in firmly holding the San Joaquin for the authorities. He never turns aside to examine the resources of his domain. The degraded character of the Indians near him prevents any knowledge of the great interior. They do not speak the language of his semi-civilized mission laborers from the Coast Range. They cannot communicate with the superior tribes of the North and East. All their dialects are different.
Vaguely float in his memory old stories of the giant trees and the great gorge of the Yosemite. He will visit yet the glistening and secret summits of the Sierras.
Weeks run into months. Comfort and plenty reign at Lagunitas. With his wife by his side, Miguel cons his occasional despatches. He promises the Seflora that the spring shall see a chapel erected. When he makes the official visit to the Annual Council, he will bring a padre, at once friend, spiritual father, and physician. It is the first sign of a higher life—the little chapel of Mariposa.
Winter winds sway the giant pines of the forests. Rains of heaven swell the San Joaquin. The summer golden brown gives way to the velvety green of early spring.
Juanita meekly tells her beads. With her women she waits the day when the bell shall call to prayer in Mariposa.
Wandering by Lagunitas, the wife strays in fancy to far lands beyond the ocean. The books of her girlhood have given her only a misty idea of Europe. The awe with which she has listened to the Padres throws a glamour of magic around these recitals of that fairy world beyond the seas.
Her life is bounded by the social horizon of her family circle; she is only the chatelaine. Her domain is princely, but no hope clings in her breast of aught beside a faded middle age. Her beauty hides itself under the simple robe of the Californian matron. Visitors are rare in this lovely wilderness. The annual rodeo will bring the vaqueros together. Some travelling officials may reach the San Joaquin. The one bright possibility of her life is a future visit to the seashore.
Spring casts its mantle of wild flowers again over the hillocks. The rich grass waves high in the potreros; the linnets sing blithely in the rose-bushes. Loyal Don Miguel, who always keeps his word, girds himself for a journey to the distant Presidio. The chapel is finished. He will return with the looked-for padre.
Leaving the sergeant in command, Don Miguel, with a few followers, speeds to the seashore. Five days' swinging ride suffices the soldier to reach tide-water. He is overjoyed to find that his relatives have determined to plant a family stronghold on the San Joaquin. This will give society to the dark-eyed beauty by the Lagunitas who waits eagerly for her Miguel's return.
At the Presidio the Commandante is feasted. In a few days his business is over. Riding over to the Mission Dolores, he finds a missionary priest from Acapulco. He is self-devoted to labor. Father Francisco Ribaut is only twenty-five years of age. Born in New Orleans, he has taken holy orders. After a stay in Mexico, the young enthusiast reaches the shores of the distant Pacific.
Commandante Miguel is delighted. Francisco Ribaut is of French blood, graceful and kindly. The Fathers of the mission hasten to provide the needs of Lagunitas chapel.
The barges are loaded with supplies, councils and business despatched. Padre Francisco and Don Miguel reach the glens of Mariposa in the lovely days when bird, bud, and blossom make Lagunitas a fairyland. In the mind of the veteran but one care lingers—future war. Already the feuds of Alvarado and Micheltorrena presage a series of domestic broils. Don Miguel hears that foreigners are plotting to return to the coast; they will come back under the protection of foreign war-ships. As his horse bounds over the turf, the soldier resolves to keep out of this coming conflict; he will guard his hard-won heritage. By their camp fire, Padre Francisco has told him of the Americans wrenching Texas away from Mexico. The news of the world is imparted to him. He asks the padre if the Gringos can ever reach the Pacific.
"As sure as those stars slope to the west," says the priest, pointing to Orion, gleaming jewel-like in the clear skies of the Californian evening.
The don muses. This prophecy rankles in his heart. He fears to ask further. He fears these Yankees.
Joy reigns at Lagunitas! A heartfelt welcome awaits the priest, a rapturous greeting for Don Miguel. The grassy Alamedas are starred with golden poppies. Roses adorn the garden walks of the young wife. Her pensive eyes have watched the valley anxiously for her lord.
Padre Francisco hastens to consecrate the chapel. The Virgin Mother spreads her sainted arms on high. A school for the Indians soon occupies the priest.
Months roll around. The peace and prosperity of the rancho are emulated by the new station in the valley.
Don Miguel rides over the mountains often in the duties of his position. Up and down the inland basin bronzed horsemen sweep over the untenanted regions, locating new settlements. San Joaquin valley slowly comes under man's dominion.
Patriot, pioneer, and leader, the Commandante travels from Sutter's Fort to Los Angeles. He goes away light-hearted. The young wife has a bright-eyed girl to fondle when the chief is in the saddle.
Happiness fills the parents' hearts. The baptism occasions the greatest feast of Lagunitas. But, from the coast, as fall draws near, rumors of trouble disturb the San Joaquin.
Though the Russians are about to leave the seacoast, still Swiss Sutter has taken foothold on the Sacramento. The adherents of Micheltorrena and Alvarado arc preparing for war in the early spring. To leave Lagunitas is impossible. The Indian tribes are untrustworthy. They show signs of aggressiveness. Father Ribaut finds the Indians of the Sierras a century behind those of the coast. They are devoid of spiritual ideas. Contact with traders, and association with wild sea rovers, have given the Indians of the shore much of the groundwork of practical civilization.
To his alarm, Don Miguel sees the Indians becoming treacherous. He discovers they make voyages to the distant posts, where they obtain guns and ammunition.
In view of danger, the Commandante trains his men. The old soldier sighs to think that the struggle may break out between divided factions of native Californians. The foreigners may gain foothold in California while its real owners quarrel.
The second winter at Lagunitas gives way to spring. Rapidly increasing herds need for their care all the force of the ranch.
From the coast plentiful supplies provided by the Commandante arrive. With them comes the news of the return of the foreigners. They are convoyed by a French frigate, and on the demand of the British consul at Acapulco they are admitted. This is grave news.
Donna Juanita and the padre try to smooth the gloomy brow of Don Miguel. All in vain. The "pernicious foreigner" is once more on the shores of Alta California. The Mexican eagle flutters listlessly over the sea gates of the great West. The serpent coils of foreign conspiracy are twining around it.
A MISSING SENTINEL.—-FREMONT'S CAMP.
"Quien Vive!" A sentinel's challenge rings out. The sounds are borne away on the night wind sweeping Gavilan Peak. No response. March breezes drive the salty fog from Monterey Bay into the eyes of the soldier shivering in the silent hours before dawn.
"Only a coyote or a mountain wolf," mutters Maxime Valois. He resumes his tramp along the rocky ramparts of the Californian Coast Range. His eyes are strained to pierce the night. He waits, his finger on the trigger of his Kentucky rifle.
Surely something was creeping toward him from the chaparral. No: another illusion. Pride keeps him from calling for help. Three-score dauntless "pathfinders" are sleeping here around intrepid Fremont.
It is early March in 1846. Over in the valley the herd-guard watch the animals. "No, not an Indian," mutters the sentinel. "They would stampede the horses at once. No Mexican would brave death here," muses Valois.
Only a boy of twenty, he is a veteran already. He feels for his revolver and knife. He knows he can defy any sneaking Californian.
"It must be some beast," he concludes, as he stumbles along the wind-swept path. Maxime Valois dreams of his far-away home on the "Lower Coast," near New Orleans. He wanders along, half asleep. This hillside is no magnolia grove.
It is but a year since he joined the great "Pathfinder's" third voyage over the lonely American Desert. He has toiled across to the Great Salt Lake, down the dreary Humboldt, and over the snowy Sierras.
Down by Walker's Lake the "pathfinders" have crept into the valley of California. As he shields his face from biting winds, he can see again the panorama of the great plains, billowy hills, and broad vistas, tantalizing in their deceptive nearness. Thundering herds of buffalo and all the wild chivalry of the Sioux and Cheyennes sweep before him. The majestic forests of the West have darkened his way. The Great Salt Lake, a lonely inland sea; Lake Tahoe, a beautiful jewel set in snowy mountains; and its fairy sisters near Truckee—all these pass before his mental vision.
But the youth is tired. Onward ever, like the "Wandering Jew," still to the West with Fremont.
Pride and hot southern blood nerve him in conflicts with the fierce savages. Dashing among the buffalo, he has ridden in many a wild chase where a single stumble meant death. His rifle has rung the knell of elk and bear, of wolf and panther.
These varied excitements repaid the long days of march, but the Louisianian is mercurial. Homeward wander his thoughts.
Hemmed in, with starvation near, in the Sierras, he welcomes this forlorn-hope march to the sea. Fremont with a picked squad has swept down to Sutter's Fort to send succor to the remaining "voyageurs."
But the exploring march to Oregon, and back East by the southern road, appalls him. He is tired now. He would be free. As a mere volunteer, he can depart as soon as the frigate PORTSMOUTH arrives at Monterey. He is tired of Western adventures. Kit Carson, Aleck Godey, and Dick Owens have taught him their border lore. They all love the young Southerner.
The party are now on the defensive. Maxime Valois knows that General Jose Castro has forbidden them to march toward Los Angeles. Governor Pio Pico is gathering his army to overawe "los Americanos."
Little does Valois think that the guns of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma will soon usher in the Mexican war. The "pathfinders" are cut off from home news. He will join the American fleet, soon expected.
He will land at Acapulco, and ride over to the city of Mexico. From Vera Cruz he can reach New Orleans and the old Valois plantation, "Belle Etoile." The magnolias' fragrance call him back to-night.
Another rustle of the bushes. Clinging to his rifle, he peers into the gloom. How long these waiting hours! The gleaming stars have dipped into the far Pacific. The weird hours of the night watch are ending. Ha! Surely that was a crouching form in the arroyo. Shall he fire? No. Another deception of night. How often the trees have seemed to move toward him! Dark beings fancifully seemed to creep upon him. Nameless terrors always haunt these night hours.
To be laughed at on rousing the camp? Never! But his inner nature tingles now with the mysterious thrill of danger. Eagerly he scans his post. The bleak blasts have benumbed his senses.
Far away to the graceful groves and Gallic beauties of Belle Etoile his truant thoughts will fly once more. He wonders why he threw up his law studies under his uncle, Judge Valois, to rove in this wilderness.
Reading the exploits of Fremont fascinated the gallant lad.
As his foot falls wearily, the flame of his enthusiasm flickers very low.
Turning at the end of his post he starts in alarm. Whizz! around his neck settles a pliant coil, cast twenty yards, like lightning. His cry for help is only a gurgle. The lasso draws tight. Dark forms dart from the chaparral. A rough hand stifles him. His arms are bound. A gag is forced in his mouth. Dragged into the bushes, his unknown captors have him under cover.
The boy feels with rage and shame his arms taken from his belt. His rifle is gone. A knife presses his throat. He understands the savage hiss, "Vamos adelante, Gringo!" The party dash through the chaparral.
Valois, bruised and helpless, reflects that his immediate death seems not to be his captors' will. Will the camp be attacked? Who are these? The bitter words show them to be Jose Castro's scouts. Is there a force near? Will they attack? All is silent.
In a few minutes an opening is reached. Horses are there. Forced to mount, Maxime Valois rides away, a dozen guards around him. Grim riders in scrapes and broad sombreros are his escort. The guns on their shoulders and their jingling machetes prove them native cavalry.
For half an hour Valois is busy keeping his seat in the saddle. These are no amiable captors. The lad's heart is sad. He speaks Spanish as fluently as his native French. Every word is familiar.
A camp-fire flickers in the live-oaks. He is bidden to dismount. The lair of the guerillas is safe from view of the "pathfinders."
The east shows glimmers of dawn. The prisoner warms his chilled bones at the fire. He sees a score of bronzed faces scowling at him. Preparations for a meal are hastened. A swarthy soldier, half-bandit, half-Cossack in bearing, tells him roughly to eat. They must be off.
Maxime already realizes he has been designedly kidnapped. His capture may provide information for Castro's flying columns. These have paralleled their movements, from a distance, for several weeks. Aware of the ferocity of these rancheros, he obeys instantly each order. He feigns ignorance of the language. Tortillas, beans, some venison, with water, make up the meal. It is now day. Valois eats. He knows his ordeal. He throws himself down for a rest. He divines the journey will be hurried. A score of horses are here tied to the trees. In a half hour half of these are lazily saddled. Squatted around, the soldiers keep a morose silence, puffing the corn-husk cigarette. The leader gives rapid directions. Valois now recalls his locality as best he can. Fremont's camp on Gavilan Peak commands the Pajaro, Salinas, and Santa Clara. A bright sun peeps over the hills. If taken west, his destination must be Monterey; if south, probably Los Angeles; and if north, either San Francisco Bay or the Sacramento, the headquarters of the forces of Alta California.
Dragged like a beast from his post, leaving the lines unguarded! What a disgrace! Bitterly does he remember his reveries of the home he may never again see.
The party mounts. Two men lead up a tame horse without bridle. The leader approaches and searches him. All his belongings fill the saddle-pouches of the chief. A rough gesture bids him mount the horse, whose lariat is tied to a guard's saddle. Valois rages in despair as the guard taps his own revolver. Death on the slightest suspicious movement, is the meaning of that sign.
With rough adieus the party strike out eastwardly toward the San Joaquin. Steadily following the lope of the taciturn leader, they wind down Pacheco Pass. Valois' eyes rove over the beautiful hills of the Californian coast. Squirrels chatter on the live-oak branches, and the drumming grouse noisily burst out of their manzanita feeding bushes.
Onward, guided by distant peak and pass, they thread the trail. No word is spoken save some gruff order. Maxime's captors have the hang-dog manner of the Californian. They loll on their mustangs, lazily worrying out the long hours. A rest is taken for food at noon. The horses are herded an hour or so and the advance resumed.
Nightfall finds Valois in a squalid adobe house, thirty miles from Gavilan Peak. An old scrape is thrown him. His couch is the mud floor.
The youth sleeps heavily. His last remembrance is the surly wish of a guard that Commandante Miguel Peralta will hang the accursed Gringo.
At daybreak he is roused by a carelessly applied foot. The dejected "pathfinder" begins his second day of captivity. He fears to converse. He is warned with curses to keep silent. In the long day Maxime concludes that the Mexicans suspect treachery by Captain Fremont's "armed exploration in the name of science."
These officials hate new-comers. Valois had been, like other gilded youth of New Orleans, sent to Paris by his opulent family. He knows the absorbing interest of the South in Western matters. Stern old Tom Benton indicated truly the onward march of the resistless American. In his famous speech, while the senatorial finger pointed toward California, he said with true inspiration: "There is the East; there is the road to India."
All the adventurers of the South are ready to stream to the West. Maxime knows the jealous Californian officials. The particulars of Fremont's voyage of 1842 to the Rockies, and his crossing to California in 1843, are now history. His return on the quest, each time with stronger parties and a more formidable armament, is ominous. It warns the local hidalgos that the closed doors of the West must yield to the daring touch of the American—-manifest destiny.
The enemy are hovering around the "pathfinders" entrenched on the hills; they will try to frighten them into return, and drive them out of the regions of Alta California. Some sly Californian may even contrive an Indian attack to obliterate them.
Valois fears not the ultimate fate of the friends he has been torn away from. The adventurous boy knows he will be missed at daybreak. The camp will be on the alert to meet the enemy. Their keen-eyed scouts can read the story of his being lassoed and carried away from the traces of the deed.
The young rover concludes he is to be taken before some superior officer, some soldier charged with defending Upper California. This view is confirmed. Down into the valley of the San Joaquin the feet of the agile mustangs bear the jaded travellers.
They cross the San Joaquin on a raft, swimming their horses. Valois sees nothing yet to hint his impending fate. Far away the rich green billows of spring grass wave in the warm sun. Thousands of elk wander in antlered armies over the meadows. Gay dancing yellow antelope bound over the elastic turf. Clouds of wild fowl, from the stately swan to the little flighty snipe, crowd the tule marshes of this silent river. It is the hunter's paradise. Wild cattle, in sleek condition, toss their heads and point their long, polished horns. Mustangs, fleet as the winds, bound along, disdaining their meaner brethren, bowing under man's yoke. At the occasional mud-walled ranches, vast flocks of fat sheep whiten the hills.
Maxime mentally maps the route he travels. Alas! no chance of escape exists. At the first open attempt a rifle-ball, or a blow from a razor-edged machete, would end his earthly wanderings. Despised, shunned by even the wretched women at the squalid ranchos, he feels utterly alone. The half-naked children timidly flee from him. The wicked eyes of his guards never leave him. He knows a feeling animates the squad, that he would be well off their hands by a use of the first handy limb and a knotted lariat. The taciturn chief watches over him. He guards an ominous silence.
The cavalcade, after seven days, are in sight of the purpled outlines of the sculptured Sierras. They rise heavenward to the sparkling crested pinnacles where Bret Harte's poet fancy sees in long years after the "minarets of snow." Valley oaks give way to the stately pines. Olive masses of enormous redwoods wrap the rising foot-hills. Groves of laurel, acorn oak, and madrona shelter the clinging panther and the grim warden of the Sierras, the ferocious grizzly bear.
Over flashing, bounding mountain brooks, cut up with great ledges of blue bed rock, they splash. Here the silvery salmon and patrician trout leap out from the ripples to glide into the great hollowed pools, yet the weary cavalcade presses on. Will they never stop?
Maxime Valois' haggard face looks back at him from the mirrored waters of the Cottonwood, the Merced, and the Mariposa. The prisoner sees there only the worn features of his strangely altered self. He catches no gleam of the unreaped golden harvest lying under the feet of the wild mustangs. These are the treasure channels of the golden West.
The mountain gnomes of this mystic wilderness are already in terror lest some fortunate fool may utter the one magic word, "Gold." It will call greedy thousands from the uttermost parts of the earth to break the seals of ages, and burrow far below these mountain bases. Through stubborn granite wall, tough porphyry, ringing quartz, and bedded gnarled gneiss, men will grope for the feathery, fairy veins of the yellow metal.
A feverish quest for gold alone can wake the dreamy "dolce far niente" of the Pacific. God's fairest realm invites the foot of man in vain. Here the yellow grains will be harvested, which buy the smiles of beauty, blunt the sword of justice, and tempt the wavering conscience of young and old. It will bring the human herd to one grovelling level—human swine rooting after the concrete token of power. Here, in later years, the wicked arm of power will be given golden hammers to beat down all before it. Here will that generation arise wherein the golden helmet can dignify the idle and empty pate.
Maxime, now desperate, is ready for any fate. Only let this long ride cease. Sweeping around the hills, for the first time he sees the square courtyard, the walled casas of the rancho of Lagunitas.
By the shores of the flashing mountain lake, with the rich valley sweeping out before it, it lies in peace. The fragrant forest throws out gallant flanking wings of embattled trees. It is the residence of the lord of ten leagues square. This is the great Peralta Rancho.
In wintering in the San Joaquin, Maxime has often heard of the fabulous wealth and power of this inland chieftain. Don Miguel Peralta is Commandante of the San Joaquin. By a fortunate marriage he is related to Jose Castro, the warlike Commandante general of Pio Pico—a man of mark now. Thousands of cattle and horses, with great armies of sheep, are herded by his semi-military vaqueros. The young explorer easily divines now the reason of his abduction.
The party dismounts. While the sergeant seeks the major-domo, Valois' wondering eye gazes on the beauties of lake and forest. Field and garden, bower and rose-laden trellises lie before him. The rich autumn sun will ripen here deep-dyed clusters of the sweet mission grapes. It is a lordly heritage, and yet his prison. Broad porches surround the plaza. There swinging hammocks, saddled steeds, and waiting retainers indicate the headquarters of the Californian Don.
Maxime looks with ill-restrained hatred at his fierce guards. They squat on the steps and eye him viciously. He is under the muzzle of his own pistol. It is their day of triumph.
Dragging across the plaza, with jingling spur, trailing leggings, and sombrero pushed back on his head, the sergeant comes. He points out Maxime to a companion. The new-comer conducts the American prisoner to a roughly furnished room. A rawhide bed and a few benches constitute its equipment. A heavy door is locked on him. The prisoner throws himself on the hard couch and sleeps. He is wakened by an Indian girl bringing food and water. Some blankets are carelessly tossed in by a "mozo." The wanderer sleeps till the birds are carolling loudly in the trees.
Hark! a bell! He springs to the window. Valois sees a little chapel, with its wooden cross planted in front. Is there a priest here? The boy is of the old faith. He looks for a possible friend in the padre. Blessed bell of peace and hope!
Sturdy and serious is the major-domo who briskly enters Valois' room.
"Do you speak Spanish?" he flatly demands in that musical tongue.
"Yes," says Maxime, without hesitation. He knows no subterfuge will avail. His wits must guard his head.
"Give me your name, rank, and story," demands the steward.
Valois briefs his life history.
"You will be taken to the Commandante. I advise you not to forget yourself; you may find a lariat around your neck." With which admonition the major-domo leaves. He tosses Maxime a bunch of cigaritos, and offers him a light ere going, with some show of courtesy.
Valois builds no fallacious hopes on this slender concession. He knows the strange Mexicans. They would postpone a military execution if the condemned asked for a smoke.
Facing his fate, Maxime decides, while crossing the plaza, to conceal nothing. He can honorably tell his story. Foreigners have been gathering in California for years. The Commandante can easily test his disclosures, so lying would be useless. He believes either a British or American fleet will soon occupy California. The signs of the times have been unmistakable since the last return of the foreigners. Will he live to see the day? "Quien sabe?"
Maxime sees a stern man of fifty seated in his official presence room. Commandante Miguel Peralta is clad in his undress cavalry uniform. The sergeant captor is in attendance, while at the door an armed sentinel hovers. This is the wolf's den. Maxime is wary and serious.
"You are a Yankee, young man," begins the soldier. Maxime Valois' Creole blood stirs in his veins.
"I am an American, Senor Commandante, "from New Orleans. No Yankee!" he hotly answers, forgetting prudence. Peralta opens his eyes in vague wonder. No Yankee? He questions the rash prisoner. Valois tells the facts of Fremont's situation, but he firmly says he knows nothing of his future plans.
"Why so?" demands Peralta. "Are you a common soldier?" Maxime explains his position as a volunteer.
A pressing inquest follows. Maxime's frankness touches the Commandante favorably. "I will see you in a day or so. I shall hold you as a prisoner till I know if your chief means war. I may want you as an interpreter if I take the field."
"Sergeant," he commands.
The captor salutes his chief.
"Has this young man told me the truth?"
"As far as I know, Senior Don Miguel," is the reply.
"See that he has all he wants. Keep him watched. If he behaves himself, let him move around. He is not to talk to any one. If he tries to escape, shoot him. If he wants to see me, let me know."
The Commandante lights a Mexican cigar, and signs to the sergeant to remove his prisoner. Maxime sees a score of soldiers wandering around the sunny plaza, where a dozen fleet horses stand saddled. He feels escape is hopeless. As he moves to the door, the chapel bell rings out again, and with a sudden inspiration he halts.
"Senior Commandante, can I see the priest?" he asks.
"What for?" sharply demands the officer.
"I am a Catholic, and would like to talk to him."
Don Miguel Peralta gazes in wonder. "A Gringo and a Catholic! I will tell him to see you."
Valois is reconducted to his abode. He leaves a puzzled Commandante, who cannot believe that any despised "Gringo" can be of the true faith. He has only seen the down-east hide traders, who are regarded as heathen by the orthodox Dons of the Pacific.
Don Miguel knows not that the mariners from Salem and the whalers of New England hold different religious views from the impassioned Creoles of the Crescent City.
The prisoner's eye catches the black robe of the priest fluttering among the rose walks of the garden. Walking with him is a lady, while a pretty girl of seven or eight years plays in the shady bowers.
The sergeant gruffly fulfils the orders of his chief. Maxime is given the articles needed for his immediate use. He fears now, at least, a long captivity, but a war may bring his doom suddenly on him.
There is an air of authority in Miguel Peralta's eye, which is a guarantee of honor, as well as a personal menace. His detention will depend on the actions of the besieged Fremont.
Valois prays that bloodshed may not occur. His slender chances hang now on a peaceable solution of the question of this Yankee visit.
There have been days in the dreary winter, when Maxime Valois has tried to divine the future of the magnificent realm he traverses. His education and birth gave him the companionship of the scientific subordinates of the party. His services claimed friendly treatment of the three engineer officers in command. That the American flag will finally reach the western ocean he doubts not. Born in the South, waited upon by patrimonial slaves, he is attached to the "peculiar institution" which throws its dark shadow on the flag of this country. Already statesmen of the party have discussed the question of the extension of slavery. Maxime Valois knows that the line of the Missouri Compromise will here give a splendid new southern star to the flag south of 36 deg 30 min. In the long, idle hours of camp chat, he has laughingly pledged he would bring a band of sable retainers to this western terra incognita. He dreamed of establishing a great plantation, but the prison cell shatters these foolish notions.
He marvels at his romantic year's experience. Was it to languish in a lonely prison life on the far Pacific, that he left the gay circle at far-off Belle Etoile? Worn with fatigue, harassed with loneliness, a prisoner among strangers, Maxime Valois' heart fails him. Sinking on the couch, he buries his head in his hands.
No present ray of hope cheers the solitary American. He raises his eyes to see the thoughtful face of a young priest at the door of his prison room.
HELD BY THE ENEMY.—"THE BEAR FLAG."
The padre bends searching eyes on the youth as the door opens. The priest's serious face heightens his thirty-five years. He is worn by toil as a missionary among the tribes of the Gila—the Apaches and the wild and brutal Mojaves. Here, among the Piute hill dwellers, his task is hopeless. This spiritual soil is indeed stony. Called from the society of Donna Juanita and his laughing pupil, merry Dolores, he comes to test the religious faith of the young freebooter—Yankee and Catholic at once.
Maxime's downcast appearance disarms the padre. Not such a terrible fire-eater! He savors not of infidel Cape Cod.
"My son, you are in trouble," softly says the padre. It is the first kind word Maxime has heard. The boy's heart is full, so he speaks freely to the mild-mannered visitor. Padre Francisco listens to the recital. His eyes sparkle strangely when Valois speaks of New Orleans.
"Then you understand French?" cries the padre joyously.
"It is my native tongue," rejoins Valois proudly.
"My name before I took orders was Francois Ribaut," says the overjoyed father. "Hold! I must see Don Miguel. I am a Frenchman myself." He flies over the plaza, his long robe fluttering behind him. His quickened steps prove a friendly interest. Maxima's heart swells within him. The beloved language has unlocked the priestly heart.
In five minutes the curate is back. "Come with me, 'mon fils,'" he says. Guided by the priest, Maxime leaves his prison, its unlocked door swinging open. They reach the head of the square.
By the chapel is Padre Francisco's house, school-room, and office. A sacristy chamber connects chapel and dwelling.
The missionary leads the way to the chancel, and points to the altar rails.
"I will leave you," he whispers.
There, on his knees, where the wondering Indians gaze in awe of the face on the Most Blessed Virgin, Maxime thanks God for this friend raised up to him in adversity.
He rejoins the missionary on the rose-shaded porch. In friendly commune he answers every eager query of the padre. The priest finds Maxime familiar with Paris. It is manna in the wilderness to this lonely man of God to speak of the beloved scenes of his youth.
After the Angelus, Maxime rests in the swinging hammock. The priest confers with the Commandante. His face is hopeful on returning. "My poor boy," he says, "I gained one favor. Don Miguel allows me to keep you here. He loves not the American. Promise me, my son, on the blessed crucifix, that you will not escape. You must not aid the American troops in any way; on this hangs your life."
These words show that under the priest's frock beats yet the gallant heart of the French gentleman. Maxima solemnly promises. The good father sits under the vines, a happy man.
Day by day the new friends stroll by the lake. Seated where below them the valley shines in all its bravery of spring, surrounded with the sighing pines, Padre Francisco tells of the resentment of the Californians toward all Americans. They are all "Gringos," "thieving Yankees."
"Be careful, my son, even here. Our wild vaqueros have waylaid and tortured to death some foreigners. The Diggers, Utes, and Hill Indians butcher any wanderer. Keep closely under my protection. Don Miguel adores Donna Juanita, sweet Christian lady! She will lend me aid; you are thus safe. If your people leave the Hawk's Peak without a battle, our cavalry will not take the field; we expect couriers momentarily. Should fighting begin, Don Miguel will lead his troops. He will then take you as guide or interpreter; God alone must guard you." The man of peace crosses himself in sadness. "Meanwhile, I will soften the heart of Don Miguel."
Maxime learns of the padre's youth. Educated for the Church after a boyhood spent in Paris, he sailed for Vera Cruz. He has been for years among the Pacific Indians. He familiarized himself with the Spanish language and this western life in Mexico. Stout-hearted Padre Francisco worked from mission to mission till he found his self-chosen field in California.
The "pathfinder" sees the decadence of priestly influence. Twenty-one flourishing missions have been secularized by Governor Hijar since 1834. Now the superior coast tribes are scattered, and the civilizing work since 1769 is all lost to human progress. In glowing words Padre Francisco tells of idle farms, confiscated flocks, and ruined works of utility. Beautiful San Luis Rey is crumbling to decay. Its bells hang silent. The olive and vine scatter their neglected fruits. The Padres are driven off to Mexico. The pious fund is in profane coffers. San Juan Capistrano shines out a lonely ruin in the southern moonlight. The oranges of San Gabriel now feed only the fox and coyote. Civil dissension and wars of ambitious leaders follow the seizure of the missions. Strangers have pillaged the religious settlements. All is relapsing into savagery. In a few stations, like Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Barbara, and Yerba Buena, a lonely shepherd watches a diminished flock; but the grand mission system is ruined.
"Does not the Government need the missions?" queries Maxime.
"Ah! my son, Sonoma and San Rafael are kept up to watch the Russians at Fort Ross. Sutter menaces us at New Helvetia. I can see the little cloud of the future, which will break one day in storm."
"Whence comes it, father?" queries the prisoner.
"From the United States," replies the padre. "Our whole political system is paralyzed. The Americans have supported the Texans in battle. That splendid land is dropping away from Mexico. We will lose this glorious land, and our beloved flag will go down forever. The Government sleeps, and the people will be ruined. There are two thousand scattered foreigners here to-day. They gain daily: we weaken hourly. When your people in numbers follow such leaders as your gallant captain over the plains, we will lose this land also."
The padre sighed. His years of hard endeavor are wasted, the fruits are wanting, his labor is vain.
"Why is not your Government more vigorous?" says the stranger.
"My son, our pastoral life builds up no resources of this great land. The young men will not work; they only ride around. Flocks and herds alone will not develop this paradise. The distance from Mexico has broken the force of the laws. In fifty-five years of Spanish rule and twenty-three more of Mexican, we have had twenty-two different rulers. The old families have lost their loyalty, and they now fight each other for supremacy. All is discord and confusion in Alta California."
"And the result?" questions Maxime.
"Either England or the United States will sweep us off forever," mourns the padre. He addresses himself to his beads. Bright sunlight wakes Maxime with the birds. The matin bell rings out. He rises refreshed by the father's hospitality.
During the day Valois measures the generosity of Padre Francisco. A few treasured books enable Maxime to amuse himself. As yet he dares not venture out of the garden.
The sound of clattering hoofs causes the prisoner to drop his volume. He sits enjoying a flask of ripe claret, for he is broken down and needs recruiting.
A courier spurs his foam-covered horse up to the Commandante's porch. Panting and staggering, the poor beast shows the abuse of a merciless rider. The messenger's heels are adorned with two inch spiked wheels, bloody with spurring the jaded beast.
Peace or war? Maxime's heart beats violently. He prudently withdraws. The wild soldiery gather on the plaza. His guards are there with his own weapons, proudly displayed.
The Southerner chafes in helplessness. Could he but have his own horse and those weapons, he would meet any two of them in the open. They are now clamoring against the Gringos. Soon the courier reappears. All is bustle and shouting. Far away, on the rich knolls, Maxime sees fleet riders gathering up the horses nearest the ranch. When Padre Francisco arrives from his morning lessons, a troop of vaqueros are arrayed on the plaza.
"The news?" eagerly queries Maxime.
"Thanks be to God!" says the padre, "Fremont has broken camp after five days' stay at the Hawk's Peak. He is moving north. There has been skirmishing, but no battle. Don Miguel is sending a company to watch their march, and will attack if they menace any of our sentinels. The Americans may, however, go into Oregon, or back over the mountains. The Commandante will keep his main force in the valley. If they turn back, he will dispute their passage. You will be kept here."
Valois gazes on the departure. He takes an informal adieu of those trusty weapons which have been with him in so many scenes of danger.
The last files sweep down the trail. Lagunitas Lake smiles peacefully from its bowers. The war clouds have rolled north.
As days glide by, the priest and his youthful charge grow into each other's hearts. Padre Francisco is young enough still to have some flowers of memory blossoming over the stone walls of his indomitable heart. Maxime learns the story of his early life. He listens to the padre's romantic recitals of the different lands he has strayed over. Couriers arrive daily with news of Fremont's whirling march northward. The explorer travels like a Cossack in simplicity. He rides with the sweep of the old Tartars. Cool, wary and resolute, the "Pathfinder" manoeuvres to baffle clumsy Castro. He may yet elude his pursuers, or cut his way out.