Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE FRONTIER
by Bret Harte
AT THE MISSION OF SAN CARMEL
A BLUE GRASS PENELOPE
LEFT OUT ON LONE STAR MOUNTAIN
AT THE MISSION OF SAN CARMEL
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 depressing. 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 no response.
"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 bearings by."
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 north. Hark!"
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,
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 range.
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 fat 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
"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!
'Tis like any foolish girl!"
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 overmuch 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
"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
"'Tis 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 trees."
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 side.
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
"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
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
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 belayin-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 of 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
inshore, 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 wasn'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," assented 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 talkin about,' ez 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 stolen it."
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 DO know."
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 skywards, "and get absolution; and I've told you THAT
wasn't in my line."
"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
"This is but sacrilegious levity," interrupted Father Pedro,
turning as if to go. But the stranger did not make any movement to
"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
"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
"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
"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
snuff box he had somewhat ostentatiously drawn from his pocket
still open in his hand.
"Why is it not, Senor?" 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, Senor--"
"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 refectory.
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 Jose to-morrow
"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
"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 Jose.
As Francisco, emerging from the canada, 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 mongrel, Juanita."
"But, good Antonio, Juanita was my play-fellow, and I may not soon
again chance this way. And Juanita is not a mongrel, no more than
"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
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 aloud.
The little acolyte tried to comfort her, but with such abstraction
of manner and inadequacy of warmth that she hastily removed his
"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."
"Oh, 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
"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 moustache and a sad, sweet smile, and a voice so
gentle and yet so strong that you felt he ordered you to do things
with out 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
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
"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--may be 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 Jose, 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 a crescendo.
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 it.
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 girl's skirt.
"Nay; run to the hacienda quickly, and leave me to search the
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 amidst 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 Jose.
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
mestiza 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 read.
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 beside her.
Juanita was crimson, but unconquered. She mechanically held out
her hand for the letter; the American took her little fingers,
kissed them, and said:--
"How are you again?"
"The letter," replied Juanita, with a strong disposition to stamp
"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 Jose 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
"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,
"Then, Mother of God! Senor Crancho, what do you want?"
"I do not want to separate two such good friends as you and
"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
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 Senor Brown, the
"Well, I reckon we kin about call the thing fixed," said Senor
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, Senor Cranch," continued the old man,
carried away by his emotion; "but the American nation gives me a
"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 canada 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 towards 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
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 Jose Peralta remembered, ah
yes, to have heard in old Spain of boy choristers with such voices!
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 rejection 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 garments.
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 Jose, 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 Jose 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 allowances 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, Jose. Father Pedro's
sunken eye brightened.
"Ah, Jose! 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
"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 horse tails, 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
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 shoulder.
"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 Jose will bring thee back
again. I will summon him."
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 Jose was heard in the
corridor, and she became again inert.
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 Jose 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 Senor 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 was 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 found her!"
"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 down?"
"Pardon me--pardon me, Senor," 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,
Senor! 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,
Senor, 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
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, later on."
"But why lawyers," continued Padre Pedro, with a slight sneer he
could not repress, "if the child is found and Senor Cranch is
"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, Senor 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 his companion.
"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 of 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, Senor?"
"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
"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,
Senor 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-
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
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 seashore 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 Jose, 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 Jose
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 further 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 not 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 Jose 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
"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 Jose 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,"
"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 man."
"And to save him you have deceived me? Thank you, Senor," 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 other."
"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 laugh.
"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
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 backwards and forwards. 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 Jose'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
"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, Senor 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 Jose 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 Jose 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 that 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 it is."
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,
mouldy 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 the cottage.
Father Pedro had neither noticed the concluding words nor the
movement of Cranch. His eyes were fixed upon the imbecile
Sanchicha,--Sanchicha, on 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
"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 inshore, hastening their departure, he only answered
their farewells by a silent pressure of the hand, mute lips, and
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 Jose 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."
A BLUE GRASS PENELOPE
She was barely twenty-three years old. It is probable that up to
that age, and the beginning of this episode, her life had been
uneventful. Born to the easy mediocrity of such compensating
extremes as a small farmhouse and large lands, a good position and
no society, in that vast grazing district of Kentucky known as the
"Blue Grass" region, all the possibilities of a Western American
girl's existence lay before her. A piano in the bare-walled house,
the latest patented mower in the limitless meadows, and a silk
dress sweeping the rough floor of the unpainted "meeting-house"
were already the promise of those possibilities. Beautiful she
was, but the power of that beauty was limited by being equally
shared with her few neighbors. There were small, narrow, arched
feet besides her own that trod the uncarpeted floors of outlying
log-cabins with equal grace and dignity; bright, clearly opened
eyes that were equally capable of looking unabashed upon princes
and potentates, as a few later did, and the heiress of the county
judge read her own beauty without envy in the frank glances and
unlowered crest of the blacksmith's daughter. Eventually she had
married the male of her species, a young stranger, who, as
schoolmaster in the nearest town, had utilized to some local extent
a scant capital of education. In obedience to the unwritten law of
the West, after the marriage was celebrated the doors of the
ancestral home cheerfully opened, and bride and bridegroom issued
forth, without regret and without sentiment, to seek the further
possibilities of a life beyond these already too familiar voices.
With their departure for California as Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Tucker,
the parental nest in the Blue Grass meadows knew them no more.
They submitted with equal cheerfulness to the privations and
excesses of their new conditions. Within three years the
schoolmaster developed into a lawyer and capitalist, the Blue Grass
bride supplying a grace and ease to these transitions that were all
her own. She softened the abruptness of sudden wealth, mitigated
the austerities of newly acquired power, and made the most glaring
incongruity picturesque. Only one thing seemed to limit their
progress in the region of these possibilities. They were
childless. It was as if they had exhausted the future in their own
youth, leaving little or nothing for another generation to do.
A southwesterly storm was beating against the dressing-room windows
of their new house in one of the hilly suburbs of San Francisco,
and threatening the unseasonable frivolity of the stucco
ornamentation of cornice and balcony. Mrs. Tucker had been called
from the contemplation of the dreary prospect without by the
arrival of a visitor. On entering the drawing-room she found him
engaged in a half-admiring, half-resentful examination of its new
furniture and hangings. Mrs. Tucker at once recognized Mr. Calhoun
Weaver, a former Blue Grass neighbor; with swift feminine intuition
she also felt that his slight antagonism was likely to be
transferred from her furniture to herself. Waiving it with the
lazy amiability of Southern indifference, she welcomed him by the
familiarity of a Christian name.
"I reckoned that mebbee you opined old Blue Grass friends wouldn't
naturally hitch on to them fancy doins," he said, glancing around
the apartment to avoid her clear eyes, as if resolutely setting
himself against the old charm of her manner as he had against the
more recent glory of her surroundings, "but I thought I'd just drop
in for the sake of old times."
"Why shouldn't you, Cal?" said Mrs. Tucker with a frank smile.
"Especially as I'm going up to Sacramento to-night with some
influential friends," he continued, with an ostentation calculated
to resist the assumption of her charms and her furniture. "Senator
Dyce of Kentucky, and his cousin Judge Briggs; perhaps you know
'em, or may be Spencer--I mean Mr. Tucker--does."
"I reckon," said Mrs. Tucker smiling; "but tell me something about
the boys and girls at Vineville, and about yourself. YOU'RE
looking well, and right smart too." She paused to give due
emphasis to this latter recognition of a huge gold chain with which
her visitor was somewhat ostentatiously trifling.
"I didn't know as you cared to hear anything about Blue Grass," he
returned, a little abashed. "I've been away from there some time
myself," he added, his uneasy vanity taking fresh alarm at the
faint suspicion of patronage on the part of his hostess. "They're
doin' well, though; perhaps as well as some others."
"And you're not married yet," continued Mrs. Tucker, oblivious of
the innuendo. "Ah, Cal," she added archly, "I am afraid you are as
fickle as ever. What poor girl in Vineville have you left pining?"
The simple face of the man before her flushed with foolish
gratification at this old-fashioned, ambiguous flattery. "Now look
yer, Belle," he said, chuckling, "if you're talking of old times
and you think I bear malice agin Spencer, why--"
But Mrs. Tucker interrupted what might have been an inopportune
sentimental retrospect with a finger of arch but languid warning.
"That will do! I'm dying to know all about it, and you must stay
to dinner and tell me. It's right mean you can't see Spencer too;
but he isn't back from Sacramento yet."
Grateful as a tete-a-tete with his old neighbor in her more
prosperous surroundings would have been, if only for the sake of
later gossiping about it, he felt it would be inconsistent with his
pride and his assumption of present business. More than that, he
was uneasily conscious that in Mrs. Tucker's simple and unaffected
manner there was a greater superiority than he had ever noticed
during their previous acquaintance. He would have felt kinder to
her had she shown any "airs and graces," which he could have
commented upon and forgiven. He stammered some vague excuse of
preoccupation, yet lingered in the hope of saying something which,
if not aggressively unpleasant, might at least transfer to her
indolent serenity some of his own irritation. "I reckon," he said,
as he moved hesitatingly towards the door, "that Spencer has made
himself easy and secure in them business risks he's taking. That
'ere Alameda ditch affair they're talking so much about is a mighty
big thing, rather TOO big if it ever got to falling back on him.
But I suppose he's accustomed to take risks?"
"Of course he is," said Mrs. Tucker gayly. "He married ME."
The visitor smiled feebly, but was not equal to the opportunity
offered for gallant repudiation. "But suppose you ain't accustomed
"Why not? I married HIM," said Mrs. Tucker.
Mr. Calhoun Weaver was human, and succumbed to this last charming
audacity. He broke into a noisy but genuine laugh, shook Mrs.
Tucker's hand with effusion, said, "Now that's regular Blue Grass
and no mistake!" and retreated under cover of his hilarity. In the
hall he made a rallying stand to repeat confidentially to the
servant who had overheard them: "Blue Grass, all over, you bet your
life," and, opening the door, was apparently swallowed up in the
Mrs. Tucker's smile kept her lips until she had returned to her
room, and even then languidly shone in her eyes for some minutes
after, as she gazed abstractedly from her window on the storm-
tossed bay in the distance. Perhaps some girlish vision of the
peaceful Blue Glass plain momentarily usurped the prospect; but it
is to be doubted if there was much romance in that retrospect, or
that it was more interesting to her than the positive and sharply
cut outlines of the practical life she now held. Howbeit she soon
forgot this fancy in lazily watching a boat that, in the teeth of
the gale, was beating round Alcatraz Island. Although at times a
mere blank speck on the gray waste of foam, a closer scrutiny
showed it to be one of those lateen-rigged Italian fishing boats
that so often flecked the distant bay. Lost in the sudden
darkening of rain, or reappearing beneath the lifted curtain of the
squall, she watched it weather the island, and then turn its
laboring but persistent course towards the open channel. A rent in
the Indian-inky sky, that showed the narrowing portals of the
Golden Gate beyond, revealed, as unexpectedly, the destination of
the little craft, a tall ship that hitherto lay hidden in the mist
of the Saucelito shore. As the distance lessened between boat and
ship, they were again lost in the downward swoop of another squall.
When it lifted, the ship was creeping under the headland towards
the open sea, but the boat was gone. Mrs. Tucker in vain rubbed
the pane with her handkerchief; it had vanished. Meanwhile the
ship, as she neared the Gate, drew out from the protecting
headland, stood outlined for a moment with spars and canvas hearsed
in black against the lurid rent in the horizon, and then seemed to
sink slowly into the heaving obscurity beyond. A sudden onset of
rain against the windows obliterated the remaining prospect; the
entrance of a servant completed the diversion.
"Captain Poindexter, ma'am!"
Mrs. Tucker lifted her pretty eyebrows interrogatively. Captain
Poindexter was a legal friend of her husband, and had dined there
frequently; nevertheless she asked: "Did you tell him Mr. Tucker
was not at home?"
"Did he ask for ME?"
"Tell him I'll be down directly."
Mrs. Tucker's quiet face did not betray the fact that this second
visitor was even less interesting than the first. In her heart she
did not like Captain Poindexter. With a clever woman's instinct
she had early detected the fact that he had a superior, stronger
nature than her husband; as a loyal wife, she secretly resented the
occasional unconscious exhibition of this fact on the part of his
intimate friend in their familiar intercourse. Added to this
slight jealousy, there was a certain moral antagonism between
herself and the captain which none but themselves knew. They were
both philosophers, but Mrs. Tucker's serene and languid optimism
would not tolerate the compassionate and kind-hearted pessimisms of
the lawyer. "Knowing what Jack Poindexter does of human nature,"
her husband had once said, "it's mighty fine in him to be so kind
and forgiving. You ought to like him better, Belle." "And qualify
myself to be forgiven," said the lady pertly. "I don't see what
you're driving at, Belle; I give it up," had responded the puzzled
husband. Mrs. Tucker kissed his high but foolish forehead
tenderly, and said: "I'm glad you don't, dear."
Meanwhile her second visitor had, like the first, employed the
interval in a critical survey of the glories of the new furniture,
but with apparently more compassion than resentment in his manner.
Once only had his expression changed. Over the fireplace hung a
large photograph of Mr. Spencer Tucker. It was retouched, refined,
and idealized in the highest style of that polite and diplomatic
art. As Captain Poindexter looked upon the fringed hazel eyes, the
drooping raven moustache, the clustering ringlets, and the Byronic
full throat and turned-down collar of his friend, a smile of
exhausted humorous tolerance and affectionate impatience curved his
lips. "Well, you ARE a fool, aren't you?" he apostrophized it
He was standing before the picture as she entered. Even in the
trying contiguity of that peerless work he would have been called a
fine-looking man. As he advanced to greet her, it was evident that
his military title was not one of the mere fanciful sobriquets of
the locality. In his erect figure and the disciplined composure of
limb and attitude there were still traces of the refined academic
rigors of West Point. The pliant adaptability of Western
civilization which enabled him, three years before, to leave the
army and transfer his executive ability to the more profitable
profession of the law, had loosed sash and shoulder-strap, but had
not entirely removed the restraint of the one, or the bearing of
"Spencer is in Sacramento," began Mrs. Tucker in languid
explanation, after the first greetings were over.
"I knew he was not here," replied Captain Poindexter gently, as he
drew the proffered chair towards her, "but this is business that
concerns you both." He stopped and glanced upwards at the picture.
"I suppose you know nothing of his business? Of course not," he
added reassuringly, "nothing, absolutely nothing, certainly." He
said this so kindly, and yet so positively, as if to promptly
dispose of that question before going further, that she assented
mechanically. "Well, then, he's taken some big risks in the way of
business, and--well, things have gone bad with him, you know. Very
bad! Really, they couldn't be worse! Of course it was dreadfully
rash and all that," he went on, as if commenting upon the amusing
waywardness of a child; "but the result is the usual smash-up of
everything, money, credit, and all!" He laughed and added: "Yes,
he's got cut off--mules and baggage regularly routed and dispersed!
I'm in earnest." He raised his eyebrows and frowned slightly, as
if to deprecate any corresponding hilarity on the part of Mrs.
Tucker, or any attempt to make TOO light of the subject, and then
rising, placed his hands behind his back, beamed half-humorously
upon her from beneath her husband's picture, and repeated: "That's
Mrs. Tucker instinctively knew that he spoke the truth, and that it
was impossible for him to convey it in any other than his natural
manner; but between the shock and the singular influence of that
manner she could at first only say, "You don't mean it!" fully
conscious of the utter inanity of the remark, and that it seemed
scarcely less cold-blooded than his own.
Poindexter, still smiling, nodded.
She arose with an effort. She had recovered from the first shock,
and pride lent her a determined calmness that more than equaled
Poindexter's easy philosophy.
"Where is he?" she asked.
"At sea, and I hope by this time where he can not be found or
Was her momentary glimpse of the outgoing ship a coincidence, or
only a vision? She was confused and giddy, but, mastering her
weakness, she managed to continue in a lower voice:
"You have no message for me from him? He told you nothing to tell
"Nothing, absolutely nothing," replied Poindexter. "It was as much
as he could do, I reckon, to get fairly away before the crash
"Then you did not see him go?"
"Well, no," said Poindexter. "I'd hardly have managed things in
this way." He checked himself and added, with a forgiving smile,
"But he was the best judge of what he needed, of course."
"I suppose I will hear from him," she said quietly, "as soon as he
is safe. He must have had enough else to think about, poor
She said this so naturally and quietly that Poindexter was
deceived. He had no idea that the collected woman before him was
thinking only of solitude and darkness, of her own room, and madly
longing to be there. He said, "Yes, I dare say," in quite another
voice, and glanced at the picture. But as she remained standing,
he continued more earnestly, "I didn't come here to tell you what
you might read in the newspapers to-morrow morning, and what
everybody might tell you. Before that time I want you to do
something to save a fragment of your property from the ruin; do you
understand? I want you to make a rally, and bring off something in
"For him?" said Mrs. Tucker, with brightening eyes.
"Well, yes, of course--if you like--but as if for yourself. Do you
know the Rancho de los Cuervos?"
"It's almost the only bit of real property your husband hasn't
sold, mortgaged, or pledged. Why it was exempt, or whether only
forgotten, I can't say."
"I'll tell you why," said Mrs. Tucker, with a slight return of
color. "It was the first land we ever bought, and Spencer always
said it should be mine and he would build a new house on it."
Captain Poindexter smiled and nodded at the picture. "Oh, he did
say that, did he? Well, THAT'S evidence. But you see he never
gave you the deed, and by sunrise to-morrow his creditors will
"Unless--" repeated Mrs. Tucker, with kindling eyes.
"Unless," continued Captain Poindexter, "they happen to find YOU in
"I'll go," said Mrs. Tucker.
"Of course you will," returned Poindexter, pleasantly; "only, as
it's a big contract to take, suppose we see how you can fill it.
It's forty miles to Los Cuervos, and you can't trust yourself to
steamboat or stage-coach. The steamboat left an hour ago."
"If I had only known this then!" ejaculated Mrs. Tucker.
"I knew it, but you had company then," said Poindexter, with
ironical gallantry, "and I wouldn't disturb you." Without saying
how he knew it, he continued, "In the stage-coach you might be
recognized. You must go in a private conveyance and alone; even I
can not go with you, for I must go on before and meet you there.
Can you drive forty miles?"