At the Mission of San Carmel, by Bret Harte
It was noon of the 10th of August, 1838. The monotonous coast line
between Monterey and San Diego had set its hard outlines against the
steady glare of the Californian sky and the metallic glitter of the
Pacific Ocean. The weary succession of rounded, dome-like hills
obliterated all sense of distance; the rare whaling vessel or still
rarer trader, drifting past, saw no change in these rusty undulations,
barren of distinguishing peak or headland, and bald of wooded crest or
timbered ravine. The withered ranks of wild oats gave a dull procession
of uniform color to the hills, unbroken by any relief of shadow in
their smooth, round curves. As far as the eye could reach, sea and
shore met in one bleak monotony, flecked by no passing cloud, stirred
by no sign of life or motion. Even sound was absent; the Angelus, rung
from the invisible Mission tower far inland, was driven back again by
the steady northwest trades, that for half the year had swept the coast
line and left it abraded of all umbrage and color.
But even this monotony soon gave way to a change and another monotony
as uniform and depressed. The western horizon, slowly contracting
before a wall of vapor, by four o'clock had become a mere cold, steely
strip of sea, into which gradually the northern trend of the coast
faded and was lost. As the fog stole with soft step southward, all
distance, space, character, and locality again vanished; the hills upon
which the sun still shone bore the same monotonous outlines as those
just wiped into space. Last of all, before the red sun sank like the
descending Host, it gleamed upon the sails of a trading vessel close in
shore. It was the last object visible. A damp breath breathed upon it,
a soft hand passed over the slate, the sharp pencilling of the picture
faded and became a confused gray cloud.
The wind and waves, too, went down in the fog; the now invisible and
hushed breakers occasionally sent the surf over the sand in a quick
whisper, with grave intervals of silence, but with no continuous murmur
as before. In a curving bight of the shore the creaking of oars in
their rowlocks began to be distinctly heard, but the boat itself,
although apparently only its length from the sands, was invisible.
"Steady now; way enough!" The voice came from the sea, and was low, as
if unconsciously affected by the fog. "Silence!"
The sound of a keel grating the sand was followed by the order, "Stern
all!" from the invisible speaker.
"Shall we beach her?" asked another vague voice.
"Not yet. Hail again, and all together."
There were four voices, but the hail appeared weak and ineffectual,
like a cry in a dream, and seemed hardly to reach beyond the surf
before it was suffocated in the creeping cloud. A silence followed, but
"It's no use to beach her and go ashore until we find the boat," said
the first voice, gravely; "and we'll do that if the current has brought
her here. Are you sure you've got the right bearings?"
"As near as a man could off a shore with not a blasted pint to take his
There was a long silence again, broken only by the occasional dip of
oars, keeping the invisible boat-head to the sea.
"Take my word for it, lads, it's the last we'll see of that boat again,
or of Jack Cranch, or the captain's baby."
"It does look mighty queer that the painter should slip. Jack Cranch
ain't the man to tie a granny knot."
"Silence!" said the invisible leader. "Listen."
A hail, so faint and uncertain that it might have been the
long-deferred, far-off echo of their own, came from the sea, abreast of
"It's the captain. He hasn't found anything, or he couldn't be so far
The hail was repeated again faintly, dreamily. To the seamen's trained
ears it seemed to have an intelligent significance, for the first voice
gravely responded, "Aye, aye?" and then said softly, "Oars."
The word was followed by a splash. The oars clicked sharply and
simultaneously in the rowlocks, then more faintly, then still fainter,
and then passed out into the darkness.
The silence and shadow both fell together; for hours sea and shore were
impenetrable. Yet at times the air was softly moved and troubled, the
surrounding gloom faintly lightened as with a misty dawn, and then was
dark again; or drowsy, far-off cries and confused noises seemed to grow
out of the silence, and, when they had attracted the weary ear, sank
away as in a mocking dream, and showed themselves unreal. Nebulous
gatherings in the fog seemed to indicate stationary objects that, even
as one gazed, moved away; the recurring lap and ripple on the shingle
sometimes took upon itself the semblance of faint articulate laughter
or spoken words. But towards morning a certain monotonous grating on
the sand, that had for many minutes alternately cheated and piqued the
ear, asserted itself more strongly, and a moving, vacillating shadow in
the gloom became an opaque object on the shore.
With the first rays of the morning light the fog lifted. As the
undraped hills one by one bared their cold bosoms to the sun, the long
line of coast struggled back to life again. Everything was unchanged,
except that a stranded boat lay upon the sands, and in its stern sheets
a sleeping child.
The 10th of August, 1852, brought little change to the dull monotony of
wind, fog, and treeless coast line. Only the sea was occasionally
flecked with racing sails that outstripped the old, slow-creeping
trader, or was at times streaked and blurred with the trailing smoke of
a steamer. There were a few strange footprints on those virgin sands,
and a fresh track, that led from the beach over the rounded hills,
dropped into the bosky recesses of a hidden valley beyond the coast
It was here that the refectory windows of the Mission of San Carmel had
for years looked upon the reverse of that monotonous picture presented
to the sea. It was here that the trade winds, shorn of their fury and
strength in the heated, oven-like air that rose from the valley, lost
their weary way in the tangled recesses of the wooded slopes, and
breathed their last at the foot of the stone cross before the Mission.
It was on the crest of those slopes that the fog halted and walled in
the sun-illumined plain below; it was in this plain that limitless
fields of grain clothed the flat adobe soil; here the Mission garden
smiled over its hedges of fruitful vines, and through the leaves of fig
and gnarled pear trees; and it was here that Father Pedro had lived for
fifty years, found the prospect good, and had smiled also.
Father Pedro's smile was rare. He was not a Las Casas, nor a Junipero
Serra, but he had the deep seriousness of all disciples laden with the
responsible wording of a gospel not their own. And his smile had an
ecclesiastical as well as a human significance, the pleasantest object
in his prospect being the fair and curly head of his boy acolyte and
chorister, Francisco, which appeared among the vines, and his sweetest
pastoral music, the high soprano humming of a chant with which the boy
accompanied his gardening.
Suddenly the acolyte's chant changed to a cry of terror. Running
rapidly to Father Pedro's side, he grasped his sotana, and even tried
to hide his curls among its folds.
"'St! 'st!" said the Padre, disengaging himself with some impatience.
"What new alarm is this? Is it Luzbel hiding among our Catalan vines,
or one of those heathen Americanos from Monterey? Speak!"
"Neither, holy father," said the boy, the color struggling back into
his pale cheeks, and an apologetic, bashful smile lighting his clear
eyes. "Neither; but oh! such a gross, lethargic toad! And it almost
leaped upon me."
"A toad leaped upon thee!" repeated the good father with evident
vexation. "What next? I tell thee, child, those foolish fears are most
unmeet for thee, and must be overcome, if necessary, with prayer and
penance. Frightened by a toad! Blood of the Martyrs! 'T is like any
Father Pedro stopped and coughed.
"I am saying that no Christian child should shrink from any of God's
harmless creatures. And only last week thou wast disdainful of poor
Murieta's pig, forgetting that San Antonio himself did elect one his
faithful companion, even in glory."
"Yes, but it was so fat, and so uncleanly, holy father," replied the
young acolyte, "and it smelt so."
"Smelt so?" echoed the father doubtfully. "Have a care, child, that
this is not luxuriousness of the senses. I have noticed of late you
gather over-much of roses and syringa, excellent in their way and in
moderation, but still not to be compared with the flower of Holy
Church, the lily."
"But lilies don't look well on the refectory table, and against the
adobe wall," returned the acolyte, with a pout of a spoilt child; "and
surely the flowers cannot help being sweet, any more than myrrh or
incense. And I am not frightened of the heathen Americanos either,
now. There was a small one in the garden yesterday, a boy like me,
and he spoke kindly and with a pleasant face."
"What said he to thee, child?" asked Father Pedro, anxiously.
"Nay, the matter of his speech I could not understand," laughed the
boy, "but the manner was as gentle as thine, holy father."
"'St, child," said the Padre, impatiently. "Thy likings are as
unreasonable as thy fears. Besides, have I not told thee it ill becomes
a child of Christ to chatter with those sons of Belial? But canst thou
not repeat the words—the words he said?" he continued suspiciously.
"'T is a harsh tongue the Americanos speak in their throat," replied
the boy. "But he said 'Devilishnisse' and 'pretty-as-a-girl,' and
looked at me."
The good father made the boy repeat the words gravely, and as gravely
repeated them after him with infinite simplicity. "They are but
heretical words," he replied, in answer to the boy's inquiring look;
"it is well you understand not English. Enough. Run away, child, and be
ready for the Angelus. I will commune with myself awhile under the pear
Glad to escape so easily, the young acolyte disappeared down the alley
of fig trees, not without a furtive look at the patches of chickweed
around their roots, the possible ambuscade of creeping or saltant
vermin. The good priest heaved a sigh and glanced round the darkening
prospect. The sun had already disappeared over the mountain wall that
lay between him and the sea, rimmed with a faint white line of outlying
fog. A cool zephyr fanned his cheek; it was the dying breath of the
vientos generales beyond the wall. As Father Pedro's eyes were raised
to this barrier, which seemed to shut out the boisterous world beyond,
he fancied he noticed for the first time a slight breach in the
parapet, over which an advanced banner of the fog was fluttering. Was
it an omen? His speculations were cut short by a voice at his very
He turned quickly and beheld one of those "heathens" against whom he
had just warned his young acolyte; one of that straggling band of
adventurers whom the recent gold discoveries had scattered along the
coast. Luckily the fertile alluvium of these valleys, lying parallel
with the sea, offered no "indications" to attract the gold-seekers.
Nevertheless, to Father Pedro even the infrequent contact with the
Americanos was objectionable: they were at once inquisitive and
careless; they asked questions with the sharp perspicacity of
controversy; they received his grave replies with the frank
indifference of utter worldliness. Powerful enough to have been
tyrannical oppressors, they were singularly tolerant and gentle,
contenting themselves with a playful, good-natured irreverence, which
tormented the good father more than opposition. They were felt to be
dangerous and subversive.
The Americano, however, who stood before him did not offensively
suggest these national qualities. A man of middle height, strongly
built, bronzed and slightly gray from the vicissitudes of years and
exposure, he had an air of practical seriousness that commended itself
to Father Pedro. To his religious mind it suggested self-consciousness;
expressed in the dialect of the stranger, it only meant "business."
"I'm rather glad I found you out here alone," began the latter; "it
saves time. I haven't got to take my turn with the rest, in there,"—he
indicated the church with his thumb,—"and you haven't got to make an
appointment. You have got a clear forty minutes before the Angelus
rings," he added, consulting a large silver chronometer, "and I reckon
I kin git through my part of the job inside of twenty, leaving you ten
minutes for remarks. I want to confess."
Father Pedro drew back with a gesture of dignity. The stranger,
however, laid his hand upon the Padre's sleeve with the air of a man
anticipating objection, but never refusal, and went on.
"Of course, I know. You want me to come at some other time, and in
there. You want it in the reg'lar style. That's your way and your
time. My answer is: it ain't my way and my time. The main idea of
confession, I take it, is gettin' at the facts. I'm ready to give 'em
if you'll take 'em out here, now. If you're willing to drop the Church
and confessional, and all that sort o' thing, I, on my side, am willing
to give up the absolution, and all that sort o' thing. You might," he
added, with an unconscious touch of pathos in the suggestion, "heave in
a word or two of advice after I get through; for instance, what you'd
do in the circumstances, you see! That's all. But that's as you please.
It ain't part of the business."
Irreverent as this speech appeared, there was really no trace of such
intention in his manner, and his evident profound conviction that his
suggestion was practical, and not at all inconsistent with
ecclesiastical dignity, would alone have been enough to touch the
Padre, had not the stranger's dominant personality already overridden
him. He hesitated. The stranger seized the opportunity to take his arm,
and lead him with the half familiarity of powerful protection to a
bench beneath the refectory window. Taking out his watch again, he put
it in the passive hands of the astonished priest, saying, "Time me,"
cleared his throat, and began:—
"Fourteen years ago there was a ship cruisin' in the Pacific, jest off
this range, that was ez nigh on to a Hell afloat as anything rigged kin
be. If a chap managed to dodge the cap'en's belaying-pin for a time he
was bound to be fetched up in the ribs at last by the mate's boots.
There was a chap knocked down the fore hatch with a broken leg in the
Gulf, and another jumped overboard off Cape Corrientes, crazy as a
loon, along a clip of the head from the cap'en's trumpet. Them's facts.
The ship was a brigantine, trading along the Mexican coast. The cap'en
had his wife aboard, a little timid Mexican woman he'd picked up at
Mazatlan. I reckon she didn't get on with him any better than the men,
for she ups and dies one day, leavin' her baby, a year-old gal. One o'
the crew was fond o' that baby. He used to get the black nurse to put
it in the dingy, and he'd tow it astern, rocking it with the painter
like a cradle. He did it—hatin' the cap'en all the same. One day the
black nurse got out of the dingy for a moment, when the baby was
asleep, leavin' him alone with it. An idea took hold on him, jest from
cussedness, you'd say, but it was partly from revenge on the cap'en and
partly to get away from the ship. The ship was well in shore, and the
current settin' towards it. He slipped the painter—that man—and set
himself adrift with the baby. It was a crazy act, you'd reckon, for
there was n't any oars in the boat; but he had a crazy man's luck, and
he contrived, by sculling the boat with one of the seats he tore out,
to keep her out of the breakers, till he could find a bight in the
shore to run her in. The alarm was given from the ship, but the fog
shut down upon him; he could hear the other boats in pursuit. They
seemed to close in on him, and by the sound he judged the cap'en was
just abreast of him in the gig, bearing down upon him in the fog. He
slipped out of the dingy into the water without a splash, and struck
out for the breakers. He got ashore after havin' been knocked down and
dragged in four times by the undertow. He had only one idea then,
thankfulness that he had not taken the baby with him in the surf. You
kin put that down for him; it's a fact. He got off into the hills, and
made his way up to Monterey."
"And the child?" asked the Padre, with a sudden and strange asperity
that boded no good to the penitent; "the child thus ruthlessly
abandoned—what became of it?"
"That's just it, the child," said the stranger, gravely. "Well, if that
man was on his death-bed instead of being here talking to you, he'd
swear that he thought the cap'en was sure to come up to it the next
minit. That's a fact. But it wasn't until one day that he—that's
me—ran across one of that crew in Frisco. 'Hallo, Cranch,' sez he to
me, 'so you got away, didn't you? And how's the cap'en's baby? Grown a
young gal by this time, ain't she?' 'What are you talking about,' sez
I; 'how should I know?' He draws away from me, and sez,'D—it,' sez he,
'you don't mean that you' … I grabs him by the throat and makes him
tell me all. And then it appears that the boat and the baby were never
found again, and every man of that crew, cap'en and all, believed I had
He paused. Father Pedro was staring at the prospect with an
uncompromising rigidity of head and shoulder.
"It's a bad lookout for me, ain't it?" the stranger continued, in
"How do I know," said the priest harshly, without turning his head,
"that you did not make away with this child?"
"That you did not complete your revenge by—by—killing it, as your
comrade suspected you? Ah! Holy Trinity," continued Father Pedro,
throwing out his hands with an impatient gesture, as if to take the
place of unutterable thought.
"How do you know?" echoed the stranger coldly.
The stranger linked his fingers together and threw them over his knee,
drew it up to his chest caressingly, and said quietly, "Because you
The Padre rose to his feet.
"What mean you?" he said, sternly fixing his eyes upon the speaker.
Their eyes met. The stranger's were gray and persistent, with hanging
corner lids that might have concealed even more purpose than they
showed. The Padre's were hollow, open, and the whites slightly brown,
as if with tobacco stains. Yet they were the first to turn away.
"I mean," returned the stranger, with the same practical gravity, "that
you know it wouldn't pay me to come here, if I'd killed the baby,
unless I wanted you to fix things right with me up there," pointing
skyward, "and get absolution; and I've told you that wasn't in my
"Why do you seek me, then?" demanded the Padre, suspiciously.
"Because I reckon I thought a man might be allowed to confess something
short of a murder. If you're going to draw the line below that"—
"This is but sacrilegious levity," interrupted Father Pedro, turning as
if to go. But the stranger did not make any movement to detain him.
"Have you implored forgiveness of the father—the man you
wronged—before you came here?" asked the priest, lingering.
"Not much. It wouldn't pay if he was living, and he died four years
"You are sure of that?"
"There are other relations, perhaps?"
Father Pedro was silent. When he spoke again, it was with a changed
voice. "What is your purpose, then?" he asked, with the first
indication of priestly sympathy in his manner. "You cannot ask
forgiveness of the earthly father you have injured, you refuse the
intercession of Holy Church with the Heavenly Father you have
disobeyed. Speak, wretched man! What is it you want?"
"I want to find the child."
"But if it were possible, if she were still living, are you fit to seek
her, to even make yourself known to her, to appear before her?"
"Well, if I made it profitable to her, perhaps."
"Perhaps," echoed the priest, scornfully. "So be it. But why come
"To ask your advice. To know how to begin my search. You know this
country. You were here when that boat drifted ashore beyond that
"Ah, indeed. I have much to do with it. It is an affair of the
alcalde—the authorities—of your—your police."
The Padre again met the stranger's eyes. He stopped, with the snuffbox
he had somewhat ostentatiously drawn from his pocket still open in his
"Why is it not, Señor?" he demanded.
"If she lives, she is a young lady by this time, and might not want the
details of her life known to any one."
"And how will you recognize your baby in this young lady?" asked Father
Pedro, with a rapid gesture, indicating the comparative heights of a
baby and an adult.
"I reckon I'll know her, and her clothes too; and whoever found her
wouldn't be fool enough to destroy them."
"After fourteen years! Good! You have faith, Señor"—
"Cranch," supplied the stranger, consulting his watch. "But time's up.
Business is business. Good-by; don't let me keep you."
He extended his hand.
The Padre met it with a dry, unsympathetic palm, as sere and yellow as
the hills. When their hands separated, the father still hesitated,
looking at Cranch. If he expected further speech or entreaty from him
he was mistaken, for the American, without turning his head, walked in
the same serious, practical fashion down the avenue of fig trees, and
disappeared beyond the hedge of vines. The outlines of the mountain
beyond were already lost in the fog. Father Pedro turned into the
A strong flavor of leather, onions, and stable preceded the entrance of
a short, stout vaquero from the little patio.
"Saddle Pinto and thine own mule to accompany Francisco, who will take
letters from me to the Father Superior at San José to-morrow at
"At daybreak, reverend father?"
"At daybreak. Hark ye, go by the mountain trails and avoid the highway.
Stop at no posada nor fonda, but if the child is weary, rest then
awhile at Don Juan Briones' or at the rancho of the Blessed Fisherman.
Have no converse with stragglers, least of all those gentile
Americanos. So" …
The first strokes of the Angelus came from the nearer tower. With a
gesture Father Pedro waved Antonio aside, and opened the door of the
"Ad Majorem Dei Gloria."
The hacienda of Don Juan Briones, nestling in a wooded cleft of the
foot-hills, was hidden, as Father Pedro had wisely reflected, from the
straying feet of travelers along the dusty highway to San José. As
Francisco, emerging from the cañada, put spurs to his mule at the
sight of the whitewashed walls, Antonio grunted:
"Oh aye, little priest! thou wast tired enough a moment ago, and though
we are not three leagues from the Blessed Fisherman, thou couldst
scarce sit thy saddle longer. Mother of God! and all to see that little
"But, good Antonio, Juanita was my playfellow, and I may not soon again
chance this way. And Juanita is not a mongrel, no more than I am."
"She is a mestiza, and thou art a child of the Church, though this
following of gypsy wenches does not show it."
"But Father Pedro does not object," urged the boy.
"The reverend father has forgotten he was ever young," replied Antonio,
sententiously, "or he wouldn't set fire and tow together."
"What sayest thou, good Antonio?" asked Francisco quickly, opening his
blue eyes in frank curiosity; "who is fire, and who is tow?"
The worthy muleteer, utterly abashed and confounded by this display of
the acolyte's direct simplicity, contented himself by shrugging his
shoulders, and a vague "Quien sabe?"
"Come," said the boy, gayly, "confess it is only the aguardiente of
the Blessed Fisherman thou missest. Never fear, Juanita will find thee
some. And see! here she comes."
There was a flash of white flounces along the dark brown corridor, the
twinkle of satin slippers, the flying out of long black braids, and
with a cry of joy a young girl threw herself upon Francisco as he
entered the patio, and nearly dragged him from his mule.
"Have a care, little sister," laughed the acolyte, looking at Antonio,
"or there will be a conflagration. Am I the fire?" he continued,
submitting to the two sounding kisses the young girl placed upon either
cheek, but still keeping his mischievous glance upon the muleteer.
"Quien sabe?" repeated Antonio, gruffly, as the young girl blushed
under his significant eyes. "It is no affair of mine," he added to
himself, as he led Pinto away. "Perhaps Father Pedro is right, and this
young twig of the Church is as dry and sapless as himself. Let the
mestiza burn if she likes."
"Quick, Pancho," said the young girl, eagerly leading him along the
corridor. "This way. I must talk with thee before thou seest Don Juan;
that is why I ran to intercept thee, and not as that fool Antonio would
signify, to shame thee. Wast thou ashamed, my Pancho?"
The boy threw his arm familiarly round the supple, stayless little
waist, accented only by the belt of the light flounced saya, and
said, "But why this haste and feverishness, 'Nita? And now I look at
thee, thou hast been crying."
They had emerged from a door in the corridor into the bright sunlight
of a walled garden. The girl dropped her eyes, cast a quick glance
around her, and said:
"Not here; to the arroyo;" and half leading, half dragging him, made
her way through a copse of manzanita and alder until they heard the
faint tinkling of water. "Dost thou remember," said the girl, "it was
here," pointing to an embayed pool in the dark current, "that I
baptized thee, when Father Pedro first brought thee here, when we both
played at being monks? They were dear old days, for Father Pedro would
trust no one with thee but me, and always kept us near him."
"Aye, and he said I would be profaned by the touch of any other, and so
himself always washed and dressed me, and made my bed near his."
"And took thee away again, and I saw thee not till thou camest with
Antonio, over a year ago, to the cattle branding. And now, my Pancho, I
may never see thee again." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed
The little acolyte tried to comfort her, but with such abstraction of
manner and inadequacy of warmth that she hastily removed his caressing
"But why? What has happened?" he asked eagerly.
The girl's manner had changed. Her eyes flashed, and she put her brown
fist on her waist and began to rock from side to side.
"But I'll not go," she said, viciously.
"Go where?" asked the boy.
"Oh, where?" she echoed, impatiently. "Hear me, Francisco. Thou knowest
I am, like thee, an orphan; but I have not, like thee, a parent in the
Holy Church. For, alas," she added, bitterly, "I am not a boy, and have
not a lovely voice borrowed from the angels. I was, like thee, a
foundling, kept, by the charity of the reverend fathers, until Don
Juan, a childless widower, adopted me. I was happy, not knowing and
caring who were the parents who had abandoned me, happy only in the
love of him who became my adopted father. And now"—She paused.
"And now?" echoed Francisco, eagerly.
"And now they say it is discovered who are my parents."
"And they live?"
"Mother of God! no," said the girl, with scarcely filial piety. "There
is some one, a thing, a mere Don Fulano, who knows it all, it seems,
who is to be my guardian."
"But how? Tell me all, dear Juanita," said the boy with a feverish
interest, that contrasted so strongly with his previous abstraction
that Juanita bit her lips with vexation.
"Ah! How? Santa Barbara! An extravaganza for children. A necklace of
lies. I am lost from a ship of which my father—Heaven rest him!—is
General, and I am picked up among the weeds on the sea-shore, like
Moses in the bulrushes. A pretty story, indeed."
"O how beautiful!" exclaimed Francisco enthusiastically. "Ah, Juanita,
would it had been me!"
"Thee!" said the girl bitterly,—"thee! No!—it was a girl wanted.
Enough, it was me."
"And when does the guardian come?" persisted the boy, with sparkling
"He is here even now, with that pompous fool the American alcalde from
Monterey, a wretch who knows nothing of the country or the people, but
who helped the other American to claim me. I tell thee, Francisco, like
as not it is all a folly, some senseless blunder of those Americanos
that imposes upon Don Juan's simplicity and love for them."
"How looks he, this Americano who seeks thee?" asked Francisco.
"What care I how he looks," said Juanita, "or what he is? He may have
the four S's, for all I care. Yet," she added with a slight touch of
coquetry, "he is not bad to look upon, now I recall him."
"Had he a long mustache and a sad, sweet smile, and a voice so gentle
and yet so strong that you felt he ordered you to do things without
saying it? And did his eye read your thoughts?—that very thought that
you must obey him?"
"Saints preserve thee, Pancho! Of whom dost thou speak?"
"Listen, Juanita. It was a year ago, the eve of Natividad; he was in
the church when I sang. Look where I would, I always met his eye. When
the canticle was sung and I was slipping into the sacristy, he was
beside me. He spoke kindly, but I understood him not. He put into my
hand gold for an aguinaldo. I pretended I understood not that also,
and put it into the box for the poor. He smiled and went away. Often
have I seen him since; and last night, when I left the Mission, he was
there again with Father Pedro."
"And Father Pedro, what said he of him?" asked Juanita.
"Nothing." The boy hesitated. "Perhaps—because I said nothing of the
Juanita laughed. "So thou canst keep a secret from the good father when
thou carest. But why dost thou think this stranger is my new guardian?"
"Dost thou not see, little sister? He was even then seeking thee," said
the boy with joyous excitement. "Doubtless he knew we were friends and
playmates—maybe the good father has told him thy secret. For it is no
idle tale of the alcalde, believe me. I see it all! It is true!"
"Then thou wilt let him take me away," exclaimed the girl bitterly,
withdrawing the little hand he had clasped in his excitement.
"Alas, Juanita, what avails it now? I am sent to San José, charged with
a letter to the Father Superior, who will give me further orders. What
they are, or how long I must stay, I know not. But I know this: the
good Father Pedro's eyes were troubled when he gave me his blessing,
and he held me long in his embrace. Pray Heaven I have committed no
fault. Still it may be that the reputation of my gift hath reached the
Father Superior, and he would advance me;" and Francisco's eyes lit up
with youthful pride at the thought.
Not so Juanita. Her black eyes snapped suddenly with suspicion, she
drew in her breath, and closed her little mouth firmly. Then she began
Mother of God! was that all? Was he a child, to be sent away for such
time or for such purpose as best pleased the fathers? Was he to know no
more than that? With such gifts as God had given him, was he not at
least to have some word in disposing of them? Ah! she would not stand
The boy gazed admiringly at the piquant energy of the little figure
before him, and envied her courage. "It is the mestizo blood," he
murmured to himself. Then aloud, "Thou shouldst have been a man,
"And thou a woman."
"Or a priest. Eh, what is that?"
They had both risen, Juanita defiantly, her black braids flying as she
wheeled and suddenly faced the thicket, Francisco clinging to her with
trembling hands and whitened lips. A stone, loosened from the hillside,
had rolled to their feet; there was a crackling in the alders on the
slope above them.
"Is it a bear, or a brigand?" whispered Francisco, hurriedly, sounding
the uttermost depths of his terror in the two words.
"It is an eavesdropper," said Juanita, impetuously; "and who and why, I
intend to know," and she started towards the thicket.
"Do not leave me, good Juanita;" said the young acolyte, grasping the
"Nay; run to the hacienda quickly, and leave me to search the thicket.
The boy did not wait for a second injunction, but scuttled away, his
long coat catching in the brambles, while Juanita darted like a kitten
into the bushes. Her search was fruitless, however, and she was
returning impatiently, when her quick eye fell upon a letter lying amid
the dried grass where she and Francisco had been seated the moment
before. It had evidently fallen from his breast when he had risen
suddenly, and been overlooked in his alarm. It was Father Pedro's
letter to the Father Superior of San José.
In an instant she had pounced upon it as viciously as if it had been
the interloper she was seeking. She knew that she held in her fingers
the secret of Francisco's sudden banishment. She felt instinctively
that this yellowish envelope, with its red string and its blotch of red
seal, was his sentence and her own. The little mestizo, had not been
brought up to respect the integrity of either locks or seals, both
being unknown in the patriarchal life of the hacienda. Yet with a
certain feminine instinct she looked furtively around her, and even
managed to dislodge the clumsy wax without marring the pretty effigy of
the crossed keys impressed upon it. Then she opened the letter and
Suddenly she stopped and put back her hair from her brown temples. Then
a succession of burning blushes followed each other in waves from her
neck up, and died in drops of moisture in her eyes. This continued
until she was fairly crying, dropping the letter from her hands and
rocking to and fro. In the midst of this she quickly stopped again; the
clouds broke, a sunshine of laughter started from her eyes, she laughed
shyly, she laughed loudly, she laughed hysterically. Then she stopped
again as suddenly, knitted her brows, swooped down once more upon the
letter, and turned to fly. But at the same moment the letter was
quietly but firmly taken from her hand, and Mr. Jack Cranch stood
Juanita was crimson, but unconquered. She mechanically held out her
hand for the letter; the American took her little fingers, kissed them,
"How are you again?"
"The letter," replied Juanita, with a strong disposition to stamp her
"But," said Cranch, with business directness, "you've read enough to
know it isn't for you."
"Nor for you either," responded Juanita.
"True. It is for the Reverend Father Superior of San José Mission. I'll
give it to him."
Juanita was becoming alarmed, first at this prospect, second at the
power the stranger seemed to be gaining over her. She recalled
Francisco's description of him with something like superstitious awe.
"But it concerns Francisco. It contains a secret he should know."
"Then you can tell him it. Perhaps it would come easier from you."
Juanita blushed again. "Why?" she asked, half dreading his reply.
"Because," said the American, quietly, "you are old playmates; you are
attached to each other."
Juanita bit her lips. "Why don't you read it yourself?" she asked
"Because I don't read other people's letters, and if it concerns me
you'll tell me."
"What if I don't?"
"Then the Father Superior will."
"I believe you know Francisco's secret already," said the girl, boldly.
"Then, Mother of God! Señor Crancho, what do you want?"
"I do not want to separate two such good friends as you and Francisco."
"Perhaps you'd like to claim us both," said the girl, with a sneer that
was not devoid of coquetry.
"I should be delighted."
"Then here is your occasion, Senor, for here comes my adopted father,
Don Juan, and your friend, Senor Br—r—own, the American alcalde."
Two men appeared in the garden path below them. The stiff, glazed,
broad-brimmed black hat, surmounting a dark face of Quixotic gravity
and romantic rectitude, indicated Don Juan Briones. His companion,
lazy, specious, and red-faced, was Señor Brown, the American alcalde.
"Well, I reckon we kin about call the thing fixed," said Señor Brown,
with a large wave of the hand, suggesting a sweeping away of all
trivial details. "Ez I was saying to the Don yer, when two high-toned
gents like you and him come together in a delicate matter of this kind,
it ain't no hoss trade nor sharp practice. The Don is that lofty in
principle that he's willin' to sacrifice his affections for the good of
the gal; and you, on your hand, kalkilate to see all he's done for her,
and go your whole pile better. You'll make the legal formalities good.
I reckon that old Injin woman who can swear to the finding of the baby
on the shore will set things all right yet. For the matter o' that, if
you want anything in the way of a certificate, I'm on hand always."
"Juanita and myself are at your disposition, caballeros," said Don
Juan, with a grave exaltation. "Never let it be said that the Mexican
nation was outdone by the great Americanos in deeds of courtesy and
affection. Let it rather stand that Juanita was a sacred trust put into
my hands years ago by the goddess of American liberty, and nurtured in
the Mexican eagle's nest. Is it not so, my soul?" he added, more
humanly, to the girl, when he had quite recovered from the intoxication
of his own speech. "We love thee, little one, but we keep our honor."
"There's nothing mean about the old man," said Brown, admiringly, with
a slight dropping of his left eyelid; "his head is level, and he goes
with his party."
"Thou takest my daughter, Señor Cranch," continued the old man, carried
away by his emotion; "but the American nation gives me a son."
"You know not what you say, father," said the young girl, angrily,
exasperated by a slight twinkle in the American's eye.
"Not so," said Cranch. "Perhaps one of the American nation may take him
at his word."
"Then, caballeros, you will, for the moment at least, possess
yourselves of the house and its poor hospitality," said Don Juan, with
time-honored courtesy, producing the rustic key of the gate of the
patio. "It is at your disposition, caballeros," he repeated,
leading the way as his guests passed into the corridor.
Two hours passed. The hills were darkening on their eastern slopes; the
shadows of the few poplars that sparsedly dotted the dusty highway were
falling in long black lines that looked like ditches on the dead level
of the tawny fields; the shadows of slowly moving cattle were mingling
with their own silhouettes, and becoming more and more grotesque. A
keen wind rising in the hills was already creeping from the cañada as
from the mouth of a funnel, and sweeping the plains. Antonio had
forgathered with the servants, had pinched the ears of the maids, had
partaken of aguardiente, had saddled the mules,—Antonio was becoming
And then a singular commotion disturbed the peaceful monotony of the
patriarchal household of Don Juan Briones. The stagnant courtyard was
suddenly alive with peons and servants, running hither and thither.
The alleys and gardens were filled with retainers. A confusion of
questions, orders, and outcrys rent the air, the plains shook with the
galloping of a dozen horsemen. For the acolyte Francisco, of the
Mission San Carmel, had disappeared and vanished, and from that day the
hacienda of Don Juan Briones knew him no more.
When Father Pedro saw the yellow mules vanish under the low branches of
the oaks beside the little graveyard, caught the last glitter of the
morning sun on Pinto's shining headstall, and heard the last tinkle of
Antonio's spurs, something very like a mundane sigh escaped him. To the
simple wonder of the majority of early worshipers—the half-breed
converts who rigorously attended the spiritual ministrations of the
Mission, and ate the temporal provisions of the reverend fathers—he
deputed the functions of the first mass to a coadjutor, and, breviary
in hand, sought the orchard of venerable pear trees. Whether there was
any occult sympathy in his reflections with the contemplation of their
gnarled, twisted, gouty, and knotty limbs, still bearing gracious and
goodly fruit, I know not, but it was his private retreat, and under one
of the most rheumatic and misshapen trunks there was a rude seat. Here
Father Pedro sank, his face toward the mountain wall between him and
the invisible sea. The relentless, dry, practical Californian sunlight
falling on his face grimly pointed out a night of vigil and suffering.
The snuffy yellow of his eyes was injected yet burning, his temples
were ridged and veined like a tobacco leaf; the odor of desiccation
which his garments always exhaled was hot and feverish, as if the fire
had suddenly awakened among the ashes.
Of what was Father Pedro thinking?
He was thinking of his youth, a youth spent under the shade of those
pear trees, even then venerable as now. He was thinking of his youthful
dreams of heathen conquest, emulating the sacrifices and labors of
Junipero Serra; a dream cut short by the orders of the archbishop, that
sent his companion, Brother Diego, north on a mission to strange lands,
and condemned him to the isolation of San Carmel. He was thinking of
that fierce struggle with envy of a fellow-creature's better fortune,
that, conquered by prayer and penance, left him patient, submissive,
and devoted to his humble work; how he raised up converts to the faith,
even taking them from the breast of heretic mothers.
He recalled how once, with the zeal of propagandism quickening in the
instincts of a childless man, he had dreamed of perpetuating his work
through some sinless creation of his own; of dedicating some virgin
soul, one over whom he could have complete control, restricted by no
human paternal weakness, to the task he had begun. But how? Of all the
boys eagerly offered to the Church by their parents there seemed none
sufficiently pure and free from parental taint. He remembered how one
night, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin herself, as he
firmly then believed, this dream was fulfilled. An Indian woman brought
him a Waugee child—a baby-girl that she had picked up on the
sea-shore. There were no parents to divide the responsibility, the
child had no past to confront, except the memory of the ignorant Indian
woman, who deemed her duty done, and whose interest ceased in giving it
to the Padre. The austere conditions of his monkish life compelled him
to the first step in his adoption of it—the concealment of its sex.
This was easy enough, as he constituted himself from that moment its
sole nurse and attendant, and boldly baptized it among the other
children by the name of Francisco. No others knew its origin, nor cared
to know. Father Pedro had taken a muchacho foundling for adoption;
his jealous seclusion of it and his personal care was doubtless some
sacerdotal formula at once high and necessary.
He remembered with darkening eyes and impeded breath how his close
companionship and daily care of this helpless child had revealed to him
the fascinations of that paternity denied to him; how he had deemed it
his duty to struggle against the thrill of baby fingers laid upon his
yellow cheeks, the pleading of inarticulate words, the eloquence of
wonder-seeing and mutely questioning eyes; how he had succumbed again
and again, and then struggled no more, seeing only in them the
suggestion of childhood made incarnate in the Holy Babe. And yet, even
as he thought, he drew from his gown a little shoe, and laid it beside
his breviary. It was Francisco's baby slipper, a duplicate to those
worn by the miniature waxen figure of the Holy Virgin herself in her
niche in the transept.
Had he felt during these years any qualms of conscience at this
concealment of the child's sex? None. For to him the babe was sexless,
as most befitted one who was to live and die at the foot of the altar.
There was no attempt to deceive God; what mattered else? Nor was he
withholding the child from the ministrations of the sacred sisters.
There was no convent near the Mission, and as each year passed, the
difficulty of restoring her to the position and duties of her sex
became greater and more dangerous. And then the acolyte's destiny was
sealed by what again appeared to Father Pedro as a direct interposition
of Providence. The child developed a voice of such exquisite sweetness
and purity that an angel seemed to have strayed into the little choir,
and kneeling worshipers below, transported, gazed upwards, half
expectant of a heavenly light breaking through the gloom of the
raftered ceiling. The fame of the little singer filled the valley of
San Carmel; it was a miracle vouchsafed the Mission; Don José Peralta
remembered, ah yes, to have heard in old Spain of boy choristers with
And was this sacred trust to be withdrawn from him? Was this life,
which he had brought out of an unknown world of sin, unstained and
pure, consecrated and dedicated to God, just in the dawn of power and
promise for the glory of the Mother Church, to be taken from his side?
And at the word of a self-convicted man of sin—a man whose tardy
repentance was not yet absolved by the Holy Church? Never! never!
Father Pedro dwelt upon the stranger's rejections of the ministrations
of the Church with a pitiable satisfaction; had he accepted it, he
would have had a sacred claim upon Father Pedro's sympathy and
confidence. Yet he rose again, uneasily and with irregular steps
returned to the corridor, passing the door of the familiar little cell
beside his own. The window, the table, and even the scant toilette
utensils were filled with the flowers of yesterday, some of them
withered and dry; the white gown of the little chorister was hanging
emptily against the wall. Father Pedro started and trembled; it seemed
as if the spiritual life of the child had slipped away with its
In that slight chill, which even in the hottest days in California
always invests any shadow cast in that white sunlight, Father Pedro
shivered in the corridor. Passing again into the garden, he followed in
fancy the wayfaring figure of Francisco, saw the child arrive at the
rancho of Don Juan, and with the fateful blindness of all dreamers
projected a picture most unlike the reality. He followed the pilgrims
even to San José, and saw the child deliver the missive which gave the
secret of her sex and condition to the Father Superior. That the
authority at San José might dissent with the Padre of San Carmel, or
decline to carry out his designs, did not occur to the one-idea'd
priest. Like all solitary people, isolated from passing events, he made
no allowance for occurrences outside of his routine. Yet at this moment
a sudden thought whitened his yellow cheek. What if the Father Superior
deemed it necessary to impart the secret to Francisco? Would the child
recoil at the deception, and, perhaps, cease to love him? It was the
first time, in his supreme selfishness, he had taken the acolyte's
feelings into account. He had thought of him only as one owing implicit
obedience to him as a temporal and spiritual guide.
He turned impatiently. It was his muleteer, José. Father Pedro's sunken
"Ah, José! Quickly, then; hast thou found Sanchicha?"
"Truly, your reverence! And I have brought her with me, just as she is;
though if your reverence make more of her than to fill the six-foot
hole and say a prayer over her, I'll give the mule that brought her
here for food for the bull's horns. She neither hears nor speaks, but
whether from weakness or sheer wantonness, I know not."
"Peace, then! and let thy tongue take example from hers. Bring her with
thee into the sacristy and attend without. Go!"
Father Pedro watched the disappearing figure of the muleteer and
hurriedly swept his thin, dry hand, veined and ribbed like a brown
November leaf, over his stony forehead, with a sound that seemed almost
a rustle. Then he suddenly stiffened his fingers over his breviary,
dropped his arms perpendicularly before him, and with a rigid step
returned to the corridor and passed into the sacristy.
For a moment in the half-darkness the room seemed to be empty. Tossed
carelessly in the corner appeared some blankets topped by a few
straggling black horsetails, like an unstranded riata. A trembling
agitated the mass as Father Pedro approached. He bent over the heap and
distinguished in its midst the glowing black eyes of Sanchicha, the
Indian centenarian of the Mission San Carmel. Only her eyes lived.
Helpless, boneless, and jelly-like, old age had overtaken her with a
mild form of deliquescence.
"Listen, Sanchicha," said the father, gravely. "It is important that
thou shouldst refresh thy memory for a moment. Look back fourteen
years, mother; it is but yesterday to thee. Thou dost remember the
baby—a little muchacha thou broughtest me then—fourteen years ago?"
The old woman's eyes became intelligent, and turned with a quick look
towards the open door of the church, and thence towards the choir.
The Padre made a motion of irritation. "No, no! Thou dost not
understand; thou dost not attend me. Knowest thou of any mark of
clothing, trinket, or amulet found upon the babe?"
The light of the old woman's eyes went out. She might have been dead.
Father Pedro waited a moment, and then laid his hand impatiently on her
"Dost thou mean there are none?"
A ray of light struggled back into her eyes.
"And thou hast kept back or put away no sign nor mark of her parentage?
Tell me, on this crucifix."
The eyes caught the crucifix, and became as empty as the orbits of the
carven Christ upon it.
Father Pedro waited patiently. A moment passed; only the sound of the
muleteer's spurs was heard in the courtyard.
"It is well," he said at last, with a sigh of relief. "Pepita shall
give thee some refreshment, and José will bring thee back again. I will
He passed out of the sacristy door, leaving it open. A ray of sunlight
darted eagerly in, and fell upon the grotesque heap in the corner.
Sanchicha's eyes lived again; more than that, a singular movement came
over her face. The hideous caverns of her toothless mouth opened—she
laughed. The step of José was heard in the corridor, and she became
The third day, which should have brought the return of Antonio, was
nearly spent. Father Pedro was impatient but not alarmed. The good
fathers at San José might naturally detain Antonio for the answer,
which might require deliberation. If any mischance had occurred to
Francisco, Antonio would have returned or sent a special messenger. At
sunset he was in his accustomed seat in the orchard, his hands clasped
over the breviary in his listless lap, his eyes fixed upon the mountain
between him and that mysterious sea that had brought so much into his
life. He was filled with a strange desire to see it, a vague curiosity
hitherto unknown to his preoccupied life; he wished to gaze upon that
strand, perhaps the very spot where she had been found; he doubted not
his questioning eyes would discover some forgotten trace of her; under
his persistent will and aided by the Holy Virgin, the sea would give up
its secret. He looked at the fog creeping along the summit, and
recalled the latest gossip of San Carmel; how that since the advent of
the Americanos it was gradually encroaching on the Mission. The hated
name vividly recalled to him the features of the stranger as he had
stood before him three nights ago, in this very garden; so vividly that
he sprang to his feet with an exclamation. It was no fancy, but Señor
Cranch himself advancing from under the shadow of a pear tree.
"I reckoned I'd catch you here," said Mr. Cranch, with the same dry,
practical business fashion, as if he were only resuming an interrupted
conversation, "and I reckon I ain't going to keep you a minit longer
than I did t'other day." He mutely referred to his watch, which he
already held in his hand, and then put it back in his pocket. "Well! we
"Francisco," interrupted the priest with a single stride, laying his
hand upon Cranch's arm, and staring into his eyes.
Mr. Cranch quietly removed Father Pedro's hand. "I reckon that wasn't
the name as I caught it," he returned dryly. "Hadn't you better sit
"Pardon me—pardon me, Señor," said the priest, hastily sinking back
upon his bench, "I was thinking of other things. You—you—came upon me
suddenly. I thought it was the acolyte. Go on, Señor! I am interested."
"I thought you'd be," said Cranch, quietly. "That's why I came. And
then you might be of service too."
"True, true," said the priest, with rapid accents; "and this girl,
Señor, this girl is"—
"Juanita, the mestiza, adopted daughter of Don Juan Briones, over on
the Santa Clare Valley," replied Cranch, jerking his thumb over his
shoulder, and then sitting down upon the bench beside Father Pedro.
The priest turned his feverish eyes piercingly upon his companion for a
few seconds, and then doggedly fixed them upon the ground. Cranch drew
a plug of tobacco from his pocket, cut off a portion, placed it in his
cheek, and then quietly began to strap the blade of his jack-knife upon
his boot. Father Pedro saw it from under his eyelids, and even in his
preoccupation despised him.
"Then you are certain she is the babe you seek?" said the father,
without looking up.
"I reckon as near as you can be certain of anything. Her age tallies;
she was the only foundling girl baby baptized by you, you know,"—he
partly turned round appealingly to the Padre,—"that year. Injin woman
says she picked up a baby. Looks like a pretty clear case, don't it?"
"And the clothes, friend Cranch?" said the priest, with his eyes still
on the ground, and a slight assumption of easy indifference.
"They will be forthcoming, like enough, when the time comes," said
Cranch. "The main thing at first was to find the girl; that was my
job; the lawyers, I reckon, can fit the proofs and say what's wanted,
"But why lawyers," continued Padre Pedro, with a slight sneer he could
not repress, "if the child is found and Señor Cranch is satisfied?"
"On account of the property. Business is business!"
Mr. Cranch pressed the back of his knife-blade on his boot, shut it up
with a click, and putting it in his pocket said calmly:
"Well, I reckon the million of dollars that her father left when he
died, which naturally belongs to her, will require some proof that she
is his daughter."
He had placed both his hands in his pockets, and turned his eyes full
upon Father Pedro. The priest arose hurriedly.
"But you said nothing of this before, Señor Cranch," said he, with a
gesture of indignation, turning his back quite upon Cranch, and taking
a step towards the refectory.
"Why should I? I was looking after the girl, not the property,"
returned Cranch, following the Padre with watchful eyes, but still
keeping his careless, easy attitude.
"Ah, well! Will it be said so, think you? Eh! Bueno. What will the
world think of your sacred quest, eh?" continued the Padre Pedro,
forgetting himself in his excitement, but still averting his face from
"The world will look after the proofs, and I reckon not bother if the
proofs are all right," replied Cranch, carelessly; "and the girl won't
think the worse for me for helping her to a fortune. Hallo! you've
dropped something." He leaped to his feet, picked up the breviary which
had fallen from the Padre's fingers, and returned it to him with a
slight touch of gentleness that was unsuspected in the man.
The priest's dry, tremulous hand grasped the volume without
"But these proofs?" he said hastily; "these proofs, Señor?"
"Oh, well, you'll testify to the baptism, you know."
"But if I refuse; if I will have nothing to do with this thing! If I
will not give my word that there is not some mistake," said the priest,
working himself into a feverish indignation. "That there are not slips
of memory, eh? Of so many children baptized, is it possible for me to
know which, eh? And if this Juanita is not your girl, eh?"
"Then you'll help me to find who is," said Cranch, coolly.
Father Pedro turned furiously on his tormentor. Overcome by his vigil
and anxiety, he was oblivious of everything but the presence of the man
who seemed to usurp the functions of his own conscience. "Who are you,
who speak thus?" he said hoarsely, advancing upon Cranch with
outstretched and anathematizing fingers. "Who are you, Señor Heathen,
who dare to dictate to me, a Father of Holy Church? I tell you, I will
have none of this. Never! I will not! From this moment, you
understand—nothing. I will never" …
He stopped. The first stroke of the Angelus rang from the little tower.
The first stroke of that bell before whose magic exorcism all human
passions fled, the peaceful bell that had for fifty years lulled the
little fold of San Carmel to prayer and rest, came to his throbbing
ear. His trembling hands groped for the crucifix, carried it to his
left breast; his lips moved in prayer. His eyes were turned to the
cold, passionless sky, where a few faint, far-spaced stars had silently
stolen to their places. The Angelus still rang, his trembling ceased,
he remained motionless and rigid.
The American, who had uncovered in deference to the worshiper rather
than the rite, waited patiently. The eyes of Father Pedro returned to
the earth, moist as if with dew caught from above. He looked half
absently at Cranch.
"Forgive me, my son," he said, in a changed voice. "I am only a worn
old man. I must talk with thee more of this—but not to-night—not
He turned slowly and appeared to glide rather than move under the
trees, until the dark shadow of the Mission tower met and encompassed
him. Cranch followed him with anxious eyes. Then he removed the quid of
tobacco from his cheek.
"Just as I reckoned," remarked he, quite audibly. "He's clean gold on
the bed rock after all!"
That night Father Pedro dreamed a strange dream. How much of it was
reality, how long it lasted, or when he awoke from it, he could not
tell. The morbid excitement of the previous day culminated in a febrile
exaltation in which he lived and moved as in a separate existence.
This is what he remembered. He thought he had risen at night in a
sudden horror of remorse, and making his way to the darkened church had
fallen upon his knees before the high altar, when all at once the
acolyte's voice broke from the choir, but in accents so dissonant and
unnatural that it seemed a sacrilege, and he trembled. He thought he
had confessed the secret of the child's sex to Cranch, but whether the
next morning or a week later he did not know. He fancied, too, that
Cranch had also confessed some trifling deception to him, but what, or
why, he could not remember; so much greater seemed the enormity of his
own transgression. He thought Cranch had put in his hands the letter he
had written to the Father Superior, saying that his secret was still
safe, and that he had been spared the avowal and the scandal that might
have ensued. But through all, and above all, he was conscious of one
fixed idea: to seek the sea-shore with Sanchicha, and upon the spot
where she had found Francisco, meet the young girl who had taken his
place, and so part from her forever. He had a dim recollection that
this was necessary to some legal identification of her, as arranged by
Cranch, but how or why he did not understand; enough that it was a part
of his penance.
It was early morning when the faithful Antonio, accompanied by
Sanchicha and José, rode forth with him from the Mission of San Carmel.
Except on the expressionless features of the old woman, there was
anxiety and gloom upon the faces of the little cavalcade. He did not
know how heavily his strange abstraction and hallucinations weighed
upon their honest hearts. As they wound up the ascent of the mountain
he noticed that Antonio and José conversed with bated breath and many
pious crossings of themselves, but with eyes always wistfully fixed
upon him. He wondered if, as part of his penance, he ought not to
proclaim his sin and abase himself before them; but he knew that his
devoted followers would insist upon sharing his punishment; and he
remembered his promise to Cranch, that for her sake he would say
nothing. Before they reached the summit he turned once or twice to look
back upon the Mission. How small it looked, lying there in the peaceful
valley, contrasted with the broad sweep of the landscape beyond,
stopped at the farther east only by the dim, ghost-like outlines of the
Sierras. But the strong breath of the sea was beginning to be felt; in
a few moments more they were facing it with lowered sombreros and
flying serapes, and the vast, glittering, illimitable Pacific opened
out beneath them.
Dazed and blinded, as it seemed to him, by the shining, restless
expanse, Father Pedro rode forward as if still in a dream. Suddenly he
halted, and called Antonio to his side.
"Tell me, child, didst thou say that this coast was wild and desolate
of man, beast, and habitation?"
"Truly I did, reverend father."
"Then what is that?" pointing to the shore.
Almost at their feet nestled a cluster of houses, at the head of an
arroyo reaching up from the beach. They looked down upon the smoke of
a manufactory chimney, upon strange heaps of material and curious
engines scattered along the sands, with here and there moving specks of
human figures. In a little bay a schooner swung at her cables.
The vaquero crossed himself in stupefied alarm. "I know not, your
reverence; it is only two years ago, before the rodeo, that I was
here for strayed colts, and I swear by the blessed bones of San Antonio
that it was as I said."
"Ah! it is like these Americanos," responded the muleteer. "I have it
from my brother Diego that he went from San José to Pescadero two
months ago across the plains, with never a hut nor fonda to halt at
all the way. He returned in seven days, and in the midst of the plain
there were three houses and a mill and many people. And why was it? Ah!
Mother of God! one had picked up in the creek where he drank that much
of gold;" and the muleteer tapped one of the silver coins that fringed
his jacket sleeves in place of buttons.
"And they are washing the sands for gold there now," said Antonio,
eagerly pointing to some men gathered round a machine like an enormous
cradle. "Let us hasten on."
Father Pedro's momentary interest had passed. The words of his
companions fell dull and meaningless upon his dreaming ears. He was
conscious only that the child was more a stranger to him as an outcome
of this hard, bustling life, than when he believed her borne to him
over the mysterious sea. It perplexed his dazed, disturbed mind to
think that if such an antagonistic element could exist within a dozen
miles of the Mission, and he not know it, could not such an atmosphere
have been around him, even in his monastic isolation, and he remain
blind to it? Had he really lived in the world without knowing it? Had
it been in his blood? Had it impelled him to—He shuddered and rode on.
They were at the last slope of the zigzag descent to the shore, when he
saw the figures of a man and woman moving slowly through a field of
wild oats, not far from the trail. It seemed to his distorted fancy
that the man was Cranch. The woman! His heart stopped beating. Ah!
could it be? He had never seen her in her proper garb: would she look
like that? Would she be as tall? He thought he bade José and Antonio go
on slowly before with Sanchicha, and dismounted, walking slowly between
the high stalks of grain lest he should disturb them. They evidently
did not hear his approach, but were talking earnestly. It seemed to
Father Pedro that they had taken each other's hands, and as he looked
Cranch slipped his arm round her waist. With only a blind instinct of
some dreadful sacrilege in this act, Father Pedro would have rushed
forward, when the girl's voice struck his ear. He stopped, breathless.
It was not Francisco, but Juanita, the little mestiza.
"But are you sure you are not pretending to love me now, as you
pretended to think I was the muchacha you had run away with and lost?
Are you sure it is not pity for the deceit you practiced upon me—upon
Don Juan—upon poor Father Pedro?"
It seemed as if Cranch had tried to answer with a kiss, for the girl
drew suddenly away from him with a coquettish fling of the black
braids, and whipped her little brown hands behind her.
"Well, look here," said Cranch, with the same easy, good-natured,
practical directness which the priest remembered, and which would have
passed for philosophy in a more thoughtful man, "put it squarely, then.
In the first place, it was Don Juan and the alcalde who first suggested
you might be the child."
"But you have said you knew it was Francisco all the time," interrupted
"I did; but when I found the priest would not assist me at first, and
admit that the acolyte was a girl, I preferred to let him think I was
deceived in giving a fortune to another, and leave it to his own
conscience to permit it or frustrate it. I was right. I reckon it was
pretty hard on the old man, at his time of life, and wrapped up as he
was in the girl; but at the moment he came up to the scratch like a
"And to save him you have deceived me? Thank you, Señor," said the girl
with a mock curtsey.
"I reckon I preferred to have you for a wife than a daughter," said
Cranch, "if that's what you mean. When you know me better, Juanita," he
continued, gravely, "you'll know that I would never have let you
believe I sought in you the one if I had not hoped to find in you the
"Bueno! And when did you have that pretty hope?"
"When I first saw you."
"And that was—two weeks ago."
"A year ago, Juanita. When Francisco visited you at the rancho. I
followed and saw you."
Juanita looked at him a moment, and then suddenly darted at him, caught
him by the lapels of his coat and shook him like a terrier.
"Are you sure that you did not love that Francisco? Speak!" (She shook
him again.) "Swear that you did not follow her!"
"But—I did," said Cranch, laughing and shaking between the clenching
of the little hands.
"Judas Iscariot! Swear you do not love her all this while."
Cranch swore. Then to Father Pedro's intense astonishment she drew the
American's face towards her own by the ears and kissed him.
"But you might have loved her, and married a fortune," said Juanita,
after a pause.
"Where would have been my reparation—my duty?" returned Cranch, with a
"Reparation enough for her to have had you," said Juanita, with that
rapid disloyalty of one loving woman to another in an emergency. This
provoked another kiss from Cranch, and then Juanita said demurely:
"But we are far from the trail. Let us return, or we shall miss Father
Pedro. Are you sure he will come?"
"A week ago he promised to be here to see the proofs to-day."
The voices were growing fainter and fainter; they were returning to the
Father Pedro remained motionless. A week ago! Was it a week ago
since—since what? And what had he been doing here? Listening! He!
Father Pedro, listening like an idle peon to the confidences of two
lovers. But they had talked of him, of his crime, and the man had
pitied him. Why did he not speak? Why did he not call after them? He
tried to raise his voice. It sank in his throat with a horrible choking
sensation. The nearest heads of oats began to nod to him, he felt
himself swaying backward and forward. He fell—heavily, down, down,
down, from the summit of the mountain to the floor of the Mission
chapel, and there he lay in the dark.
* * * * *
"Blessed Saint Anthony preserve him!"
It was Antonio's voice, it was José's arm, it was the field of wild
oats, the sky above his head,—all unchanged.
"What has happened?" said the priest feebly.
"A giddiness seized your reverence just now, as we were coming to seek
"And you met no one?"
"No one, your reverence."
Father Pedro passed his hand across his forehead.
"But who are these?" he said, pointing to two figures who now appeared
upon the trail.
"It is the Americano, Señor Cranch, and his adopted daughter, the
mestiza Juanita, seeking your reverence, methinks."
"Ah!" said Father Pedro.
Cranch came forward and greeted the priest cordially.
"It was kind of you, Father Pedro," he said, meaningly, with a
significant glance at José and Antonio, "to come so far to bid me and
my adopted daughter farewell. We depart when the tide serves, but not
before you partake of our hospitality in yonder cottage."
Father Pedro gazed at Cranch and then at Juanita.
"I see," he stammered. "But she goes not alone.
She will be strange at first. She takes some friend, perhaps—some
companion?" he continued, tremulously.
"A very old and dear one, Father Pedro, who is waiting for us now."
He led the way to a little white cottage, so little and white and
recent, that it seemed a mere fleck of sea-foam cast on the sands.
Disposing of José and Antonio in the neighboring workshop and
outbuildings, he assisted the venerable Sanchicha to dismount, and,
together with Father Pedro and Juanita, entered a white palisaded
enclosure beside the cottage, and halted before what appeared to be a
large folding trap-door, covering a slight sandy mound. It was locked
with a padlock; beside it stood the American alcalde and Don Juan
Briones. Father Pedro looked hastily around for another figure, but it
was not there.
"Gentlemen," began Cranch, in his practical business way, "I reckon you
all know we've come here to identify a young lady, who"—he
hesitated—"was lately under the care of Father Pedro, with a foundling
picked up on this shore fifteen years ago by an Indian woman. How this
foundling came here, and how I was concerned in it, you all know. I've
told everybody here how I scrambled ashore, leaving the baby in the
dingy, supposing it would be picked up by the boat pursuing me. I've
told some of you," he looked at Father Pedro, "how I first discovered,
from one of the men, three years ago, that the child was not found by
its father. But I have never told any one, before now, I knew it was
picked up here.
"I never could tell the exact locality where I came ashore, for the fog
was coming on as it is now. But two years ago I came up with a party of
gold hunters to work these sands. One day, digging near this creek, I
struck something embedded deep below the surface. Well, gentlemen, it
wasn't gold, but something worth more to me than gold or silver. Here
At a sign the alcalde unlocked the doors and threw them open. They
disclosed an irregular trench, in which, filled with sand, lay the
half-excavated stern of a boat.
"It was the dingy of the Trinidad, gentlemen; you can still read her
name. I found hidden away, tucked under the stern sheets, moldy and
water-worn, some clothes that I recognized to be the baby's. I knew
then that the child had been taken away alive for some purpose, and the
clothes were left so that she should carry no trace with her. I
recognized the hand of an Indian. I set to work quietly. I found
Sanchicha here, she confessed to finding a baby, but what she had done
with it she would not at first say. But since then she has declared
before the alcalde that she gave it to Father Pedro of San Carmel, and
that here it stands—Francisco that was! Francisca that it is!"
He stepped aside to make way for a tall girl, who had approached from
Father Pedro had neither noticed the concluding words nor the movement
of Cranch. His eyes were fixed upon the imbecile Sanchicha,—Sanchicha,
of whom, to render his rebuke more complete, the Deity seemed to have
worked a miracle, and restored intelligence to eye and lip. He passed
his hand tremblingly across his forehead, and turned away, when his eye
fell upon the last comer.
It was she. The moment he had longed for and dreaded had come. She
stood there, animated, handsome, filled with a hurtful consciousness in
her new charms, her fresh finery, and the pitiable trinkets that had
supplanted her scapulary, and which played under her foolish fingers.
The past had no place in her preoccupied mind; her bright eyes were
full of eager anticipation of a substantial future. The incarnation of
a frivolous world, even as she extended one hand to him in
half-coquettish embarrassment she arranged the folds of her dress with
the other. At the touch of her fingers he felt himself growing old and
cold. Even the penance of parting, which he had looked forward to, was
denied him; there was no longer sympathy enough for sorrow. He thought
of the empty chorister's robe in the little cell, but not now with
regret. He only trembled to think of the flesh that he had once caused
to inhabit it.
"That's all, gentlemen," broke in the practical voice of Cranch.
"Whether there are proofs enough to make Francisca the heiress of her
father's wealth, the lawyers must say. I reckon it's enough for me that
they give me the chance of repairing a wrong by taking her father's
place. After all, it was a mere chance."
"It was the will of God," said Father Pedro, solemnly.
They were the last words he addressed them. For when the fog had begun
to creep in-shore, hastening their departure, he only answered their
farewells by a silent pressure of the hand, mute lips, and far-off
When the sound of their laboring oars grew fainter, he told Antonio to
lead him and Sanchicha again to the buried boat. There he bade her
kneel beside him. "We will do penance here, thou and I, daughter," he
said, gravely. When the fog had drawn its curtain gently around the
strange pair, and sea and shore were blotted out, he whispered, "Tell
me, it was even so, was it not, daughter, on the night she came?" When
the distant clatter of blocks and rattle of cordage came from the
unseen vessel, now standing out to sea, he whispered again, "So, this
is what thou didst hear, even then." And so during the night he marked,
more or less audibly to the half-conscious woman at his side, the low
whisper of the waves, the murmur of the far-off breakers, the
lightening and thickening of the fog, the phantoms of moving shapes,
and the slow coming of the dawn. And when the morning sun had rent the
veil over land and sea, Antonio and José found him, haggard but erect,
beside the trembling old woman, with a blessing on his lips, pointing
to the horizon where a single sail still glimmered:—
"Va Usted con Dios."