IN WHICH MASCADO HEARS NEWS
THE keepers of the camp lay supine in the late yellow light, on beds of skins or heaped brown needles of the pines, following the shade around. The women, of whom there were three or four with the renegades, stooped at their interminable puttering housewifery by the cold ashes of their careless hearths.
Isidro lay apart from the camp. He had his back to the Indians, and stared into the hot sunshine lying heavily on the fern beginning to curl brownly at the edges. Fading torches of castillea stood up here and there, and tall yellow lilies running fast to seed. The air above the meadow was weighted with the scent of the sun-steeped fern; small broken winds wafted it to him, palpable, like wisps of blown hair. It recalled a day when a gust of warm sweet rain had sent him and the lad to shelter under a madrono on the hill above Monterey. They had to run for it, crowding against the tree bole shoulder to shoulder, with the boy’s hair blown across his cheek. He was conscious of a thrill that flew to his heart at the recollection and settled there.
Arnaldo lay on the earth the full width of the camp from Escobar. He seemed asleep, and now drew up a limb and now thrust it out in the abandon of drowsing indolence. Every move carried him an inch or two nearer the edge of the rose thickets and deep fern. Arnaldo was, in fact, widest awake of any at Hidden Waters, bent upon a series of experiments to discover how far and by what means he could get away from the camp without exciting suspicion. For the tracker had made up his mind to escape. Devotion to Escobar, in whose service he held himself to be, had kept him faithful to his bonds, but now the virtue was gone out of patience. He understood better than Escobar how the campaign went against the renegades, and in the event of Urbano’s absence at any critical moment of defeat, doubted if Mascado would have the ability or the wish to save his prisoners. Besides, the tracker was greatly bored by the company of the renegades; the food was poor, and Isidro had no more cigarettes, and though he managed to win all the young man’s coin at cards one day, Escobar as regularly won it back the next. The escape must be made good in broad day, when the prisoners had the freedom of the camp, being bound at night and placed between watchers. Therefore he lay awake and experimented while the camp dozed. Being so alert, he caught the first motion of approach, and guessed what it augured by the manner of it. The noise of battle had not penetrated so far in the thick wood; the panic of flight, sobered by distance, brought the refugees up at nearly their normal discretion. They came noiselessly enough, dropping from the trackless stony rim of the hollow, or by secret trails through the manzanita. They cast down their arms as they came, and trod upon them with moccasined feet; they dropped to earth by the unlit hearths and turned their backs upon their kind. One who had broken his bow across his knee stood up and made a song of it, treading upon the fragments as he sang.
The heart of a juniper tree.
False, false is the heart,
For it answered not to the cord,
For it spake not truly the will of the bowman.
“ Ai, ai, ai / ” rose the wail of the women; they beat upon their breasts and cast ashes on their unbound hair. “Ai, ai!&emdash;false is the bow,” they chanted.
The voice of the singer rose bleak and bitterly, and this was the sense of his broken words, sighs, gesticulations, and wild intoning: —
The feathered reed, the swift-flier.
The reed that stings like a snake,
That speaks of death to the foeman,
Like a snake it is false to the bowstring,
Like the snake of two tongues it speaks falsely.
Mascado came haltingly into the isle of pines, and held up his hand; the song and the wailing ceased.
“Faugh!” he said; “ye sing and ye weep, but ye will not fight, frightened at the sound of guns as children at thunder, beaten upon your own ground! Weep, then, for ye cannot fight!”
The men took the whips of his scorn in silence, but Marta’s motherliness was proof against the occasions. “Neither will you fight any more, my son, if you lie not down and let me tend your wound.”
He turned from her and dropped sullenly upon the ground.
Isidro had drawn in toward the group of wounded with the natural motion of curiosity and concern. The prolonged dribble of fugitives over the rim of the hollow, the distress of their hurts, the noiseless effect of hurry and disaster, involved him in the sense of defeat. Being so fine as to feel that, he was too fine not to be conscious of the isolation made for him, as a party of the enemy, by the indrawing of their thoughts upon their own concerns. The best help he could offer was the turning of his back upon their shameful hour.
The sun, sloping far to seaward, parted the shadows of the pines in slender files by long paths of light that led the eye away from the prone and sullen fighting men toward the lonely wood. Isidro let his gaze rove down the yellow lane, walked toward the outskirts of the camp, leaned his back against a tree, looking into the shadowy hollow of Hidden Waters, thinking homesickly of El Zarzo, and turning presently, obedient to the instinct which warns of approaching presence, saw her there. She stood beyond him in the shadow, where the sunbeams filtering through the boughs of pines spread a vapor thin and blue,— the erect young figure and the level, unfrightened gaze. He could have touched her where she stood, but made no motion; his pulse leaped toward her with the tug of his startled spirit.
“Lad, lad,” he whispered.
“Señor,” she breathed.
A long flight of time went over them while they stood in the shadow and each grew aware, without so much as daring to look, what absence and circumstance had wrought upon the other. A keen and sudden whistling shocked their spirits back to the sense of things, as the naked blade of a knife flashed between them and sank to the hilt in the earth at their feet. Back in the camp Mascado had half raised himself from his bed to throw it, and now leaned upon his elbow watching them with keen darts of hate. They saw the weary and sullen braves turn toward him with momentary amazement, and Marta running to ease him to the ground with a steady flow of talk, presenting her broad back as a screen between the pair and him. The knife handle still quivered in the sod.
“Now if he were not already a fallen man I could kill him for that,” said Isidro.
“Let him be,” said the girl; “Marta has much to say to him.”
“And I to you, Lady Wife; I left you safe at San Antonio; how comes it that you are here ?”
It was a long story, and the best telling of it would have left something wanting to a full understanding. Jacintha lifted up her eyes and laid it bare. Isidro could not escape the conviction that this detached young spirit loved him, and for a man who meant to make a priest of himself took it light-heartedly.
“I did wrong,” he said, “to leave you so; wrong, again, not to go straight to you from Peter Lebecque’s. Will you sit ? There is much to tell.”
They sat down on the strong roots of the redwood. Mascado’s knife stuck in the ground between them. They told their story in concert, capping each other’s adventures with coincidences of time and occasion, with now and then a shy hint of explanation of motive or impulse, not clear but wonderfully satisfactory. They thrilled together over the fact of their nearness on the night of the raid at Soled ad, and discovered in themselves on that occasion presentiments that should have warned each of the other’s proximity. They touched lightly on the reasons for Jacintha’s flight toward Hidden Waters. She was afraid, she said, lest Mascado should do him harm, and only Marta could persuade Mascado; this did not quite account for Jacintha, but they let it go at that.
The light failed out of the hollow, and little fires began to glow among the dead leaves. An Indian woman brought them food heaped on a piece of bark. Pungent odors of night-blooming plants came out of the meadow, and the wind creaked the drowsy redwoods. Jacintha told of her night’s sally from Monterey, the long strain of riding, the shock of the battle and retreat. Isidro’s hand crept out along the gnarly roots; another hand fluttered toward it and lay softly in its grasp.
“Oh, my Briar, Wild Rose of the Mountain, was it worth while to endure so long, to risk so much ?”
“It was worth,” she whispered.
An Indian came up and plucked Isidro silently from the earth and led him to his bonds. The girl crept away to Marta. Mascado’s knife stuck still in the ground.
The first thing Isidro did in the morning, when he had his freedom, was to pull up the blade and carry it to Mascado. The renegade’s face was set in its usual lines of severity, but the rage and sweat of battle, the drain of his wound, more than all, the fever of his night’s musing on Marta’s news, had not left him without traces. He sat with his back to a tree, and his eyes were dull; he dropped the knife in its sheath, and turned away. Marta and Escobar exchanged glances.
“He knows?” questioned one.
“Knows all,” answered the other.
The young man turned back to Mascado. “Madam my wife,” he said, “the Commandante’s daughter, comes to no harm?” It was put as a question, but appeared a threat.
Mascado, who was at the ebb of spirit and strength, made a motion of negative.
“I am surety for that,” said Marta. Urbano’s lieutenant roused; he was not yet at the point of letting a woman speak for him.
“She needs no surety,” he said. He rose up stiffly, hesitated, and turned. “Even now we hold a council; it will be as well she remains a boy in the eyes of the camp, and is not seen too much with the prisoners.”
“You know best,” said Escobar with no trace of raillery. It was the first word that had passed between them concerning the girl, since Las Chimineas. Once spoken it bound them together for her protection, and they began to grow in each other’s esteem.
Maybe Mascado’s wound had drained a little of the graceless savage out of him. As the affair stood it was too big for him. He believed Jacintha to be a wife in fact and Castro’s daughter. Escobar had beaten him, and so had the Comm andante. He felt the girl immeasurably removed from him; if it came to that, in her dispassionate contempt she had beaten him worst of all. What he might have thought had he been whole and his men undaunted is another matter, — one does not often think unharnessed by conditions.
Isidro saw the force of Mascado’s warning in the sour looks he had from the defeated renegades drawing in to council. It threatened open hostility at the discovery that Arnaldo the tracker was missing. It was surmised that in the confusion he had slipped away to bring Castro down upon them. Isidro was genuinely put out by the breach of faith.
“A graceless dog,” he said to Mascado. “He knew I had passed my word, and as my servant should have been bound by it.”
“It is not much matter ; Castro would find us in a few days at most,” said Mascado dully; “but the men believe you concerned in it; I have ordered that you be bound.”
Bound he was with the most ungentle handling. So much of an explanation was almost an apology. It irked Mascado exceedingly to seem at that time to push his advantage against Escobar. Dumbly he was trying to pull himself up to the other man’s standard of magnanimous behavior.
Scouts were out to try to intercept Arnaldo and to keep watch of Castro’s men. The council proceeded heavily; men spoke at long intervals with dragging speech; gusty flaws of passion broke out and fell away as the smoke of the camp-fire dropped back to earth in the heavy air. One of the wounded had died in the night, and his kin sat around him with pitch smeared on their faces, raising the death song in a hushed, mutilated cry. The pine wood, the over-ripe grasses, the fruiting shrubs looked skimp and dingy in the hot, straight beams of the sun.
Isidro had only a few words with Jacintha as she strayed near him in Marta’s company, and those went contrarily.
“You did wrong,” she said, “to give back Mascado’s knife; you should have kept it against need.”
“Mascado himself will use it better in your defense. Are you armed?”
“I have a pistol that I brought from my father’s house.”
“If the worst comes,” said Isidro, strained with anxiety, “stay close by Marta, turn your back, and make no motion to be of my party. You will be safest so.”
“I will not twice bestow my company where it is not wanted,” said the girl stiffly.
“Eh, my Briar,” said Isidro, “will you still prick?” But the girl had turned away.
The tension of strained nerves increased with the day. The air was close; it quivered above the meadow, and breathed like cotton wool. Toward midmorning they heard the long-drawn, dolorous whine of a coyote, singular and terrifying for that time of day. Hearing it, one of the naked savages shivered in the sun. One laughed, and in a twinkling knives were out.
“Down, fools!” roared Mascado.
They sat down, sheepish and sullen. Flocks of quail began to go by in numbers ; their alarm calls sounded thickly in the wood. Touching the rim of the meadow they broke into whirring flight, running and flying alternately as they struck the farther side. A bear pushed eastward, snorting heavily with haste ; squirrels began to move in the same direction with flying leaps. From the forest sounded short throaty howls of coyotes going by. Several of the Indians stood up, nosing the air like hounds.
It was about noon of the sun. There began to be a faint smell of smoke. Isidro thought it came from the camp-fire, but one of the renegades went and stamped it out. There was distinctly an acrid smell as of green wood burning. Suddenly one of the scours broke running from the lower edge of the meadow passing through tire camp.
“Fire,” he said, “forest fire,” and went on running.
Fretting to get back to his daughter at Monterey, and finding any other method of driving the renegades from their stronghold too tedious and costly of men, Castro had fired the wood.
At the first shock of the scout’s warning cry the camp at Hidden Waters stiffened into instant attention, and instantly afterward, as if from the twang of a bowstring, several of the braves set off running in the same direction as the wild creatures had gone all that day. There were others who ran about crazily, picking up belongings and dropping them, recollecting themselves, and going on over the edge of the hollow with the flights of quail. The wounded cried out upon the others for help; all were running and in commotion, dizzily, as men run in dreams. The wife of the dead man began to run, came back, and lifted him by the shoulders, dragging him a pace or two on the slippery needles, then dropping him, ran on into the deep fern.
Isidro had hardly grasped the words of the warning, but he understood the smell of burning, the hurry of the camp, and the crash of deer like gray darts through the underbrush. He looked once at his bonds, and then around for Jacintha. He saw her running with her arms outspread, and observed that Mascado came toward him hastily with his knife out, and the girl made as if to intercept him. Mascado avoided her, and put his keen blade to the rawhide thongs that held Escobar hand and foot. He ‘drew him up from the earth, and shook him as if to relieve the cramping of his limbs. Thought seemed to translate itself into action without sound. Escobar and the mestizo took the girl between them and set off in the wake of the flying camp, Marta laboring alongside them. She was middle-aged and fat; she could offer Mascado no help, nor could he on account of his wound do anything for her. Jacintha ran lightly between the two men.
“Not so fast,” said Mascado ; “there is worse yet.”
After that no one spoke.
The forest of Hidden Waters was perhaps ten miles in extent, from the point where the Arroyo Seca cut the open swale diagonally to its thinning out on the crest of the range. Castro had started the fire at the lowest point of the triangle, and at several places along the open side, favored by the light wind which blew diagonally up the slope. On the farther side Hidden Waters was divided from the rest of the wooded region, which went on sparsely after that, by the stony wash of the Arroyo Seca. The path of the intermittent river lay dry at this season for more than half its length. Nearer its source a brownish stream spread thinly over a rocky bottom, and filled into boulder-rimmed pools that purled over gently to lower levels where the stream pinched out at last in sandy shoals. The wash of the river was steep and choked with water-smoothed stones, widened at intervals to several hundred yards, or narrowing to a stone’s throw between points of boulder-anchored pines. It was usually just at the entrance of one of these defiles that the pools occurred. A chain of them, threaded on the slender rill, lay about five miles from the camp of the renegades, but higher up and barred from it by more than one terrace wall, nearly perpendicular, and smothered in gooseberry, buckthorn, and manzanita.
The fire had been started toward the arroyo, and the natural configuration of the forest carried it up the slope. Toward the pools and the open stony spaces bobcat, coyote, and deer ran steadily, with the unteachable instinct for safety, and the Indians followed them.
Mascado and his party were almost the last to leave the camp. Beyond the meadow the wood grew more openly and the rise of the ground was slight. They could see the renegades spread out among the trees, running. A brown bear went between them, trotting heavily like a pig, with an impatient woof! — woof! as he crossed paths with the Indians. A coyote pack went by with dropped heads and now and then a mutilated whine. Squirrels hopped in the branches with long flying bounds, all traveling east by north. At the first barrier they caught up with several of the warriors who had not found their second wind, with the wounded and the women. There was no trail here, but heaps of angular stones, piled logs, and a nearly straight ascent of a hundred feet. They worked up over this, every man for himself; nobody spoke or cried. They pushed up, crowding with the beasts. The smell of burning increased; Marta began to pant. From the top of this wall they could see, over the lower terraces, smoke rising; the fire had not yet reached the thickest wood, but rolled up by puffs from single trees lit like torches, and came from four or five points at once.
The second terrace sloped more steeply and offered a check to the running. The wood was still overhead ; all the birds had gone on; the squirrels dropped to the ground, eating up the distance by incredible bounds. The only sound was the thudding of feet on the soft litter of the trees. The open places were full of small hurrying things. Two porcupines trailed beside Isidro, and seemed to find comfort in his company. He passed them. A fox vixen and her young snaked through the brush at his side and passed him. The fox mother snarled at him as she went.
Presently a sound rose in the wood and gripped them all with terror. It was the freshening of the afternoon wind which was to be looked for at that season, following on the heated noons. It blew on the tempered needles till the pleasant hum shrilled to the singing of flames, and hurried the pounding feet to the pace of increasing fear.
Jacintha and Escobar were still going with tolerable ease. In the strips of calico bound about Mascado’s body across his wound a red spot showed that spread visibly. Marta had mixed with the renegades and the other women, perhaps to hide from them the distress of her laboring sides.
At the next barrier they could see the fires rolled together as one and the smoke of it glowing ruddily underneath. It spread toward them above the trees; particles of ashes floated in the air. Here they had half an hour of hard climbing, while the fire gained visibly. The man with the wounded knee, whose friends had abandoned him. climbed on doggedly beside them; he made no plea or outcry,but dug his fingers into the earth and climbed. The muscles of his chest seemed fit to burst with his incredible labors. Isidro lent him a hand over the edge and ran on. Only once an Indian uttered an exclamation. The fire traveled more rapidly along the edge of the open draw south of them, and nearing a narrow passage of the river, it had blown over and caught in the redwoods on the farther side. Now the wind drove it toward the Indians from the middle of the wood, in two crescent arms like the horns of a bull. After that there was only the business of running. Jacintha and Isidro went touching; Mascado held both his hands to his side. The air was suffocating with smoke that blew over the fire and struck and rolled against the higher ground.
The wall of the third terrace had a smooth stony front rooted in a strong thicket of mountain shrubs. From the foot of it men and beasts turned northward toward the river. Above the hurry of running they heard the high shrieking of the flame and the deep crescendo of it as it climbed the slope behind them. One of the hurt Indians, arrived at the limit of his strength, sat by a tree with his head hanging on his breast. They ran on and left him.
Jacintha began to faint. Mascado held her up on his side, but his knees trembled under him. A sharper crash broke at their back; Isidro thought it was the fire, and for an instant the use of his limbs forsook him. He saw Mascado’s mouth open, a ring of blackness in the brown pallor of his face, but he could hear nothing; only the sense of the words reached him.
“The deer, the deer!” cried Mascado.
A great herd of them, starting far south of their camp, had turned atthefoot of the terrace and run into the midst of the flying Indians. The rush of their coming seemed to shake the stifling air. A great buck plunging in the thickets brushed between the two men; they felt the breath of his panting. Mascado, who had the girl on his side, heaved her up out of the path; Isidro caught her arm across the buck’s shoulder; she swung there. The herd tore trampling through the thicket. Mascado’s wound burst as he lifted the girl and he went down under the cutting hooves. The deer went on toward the river, Isidro and the girl with them. The buck checked and blundered with his double burden; his tongue hung out of his mouth; the stiff thickets tore them as he ran. Isidro was able to help himself a little. Jacintlia lay white and flaccid; her body swayed with the running, and the wind of the fire blew forward her hot, soft hair. Fragments of burning bark sailed past them, and lit the patches of ripe grass. The buck cleared them and ran on. Their skin crawled with the heat; the roar of the fire blotted out all thought; the boulders of the river were in sight. The buck reached a pool, plunged into it belly deep; Isidro blessed God. The wind, moving the free tips of the flames forward, lighted the tops of all the trees; roseate spires streamed up from them toward a low black heaven of smoky cloud. Between the boles he saw small creatures and Indians running. Now and then fires lit by falling brands flared up and obscured them, but they broke through; they shouldered together into the pool. Marta panted among the boulders and saw Escobar.
“Mascado?” she cried.
Isidro pointed; it seemed no time for considerate lying. The woman turned instantly. The wind lifted the smoke and showed long aisles of yet unlighted boles roofed with flame. Marta took something from her bosom; it was the blessed candle that had burned for Mascado before San Antonio and the Child. The Indians thought her crazed with fear. She stooped and lit it at a glowing brand and ran back toward Mascado. They saw her holding the candle aloft in the lighted aisle for a moment, and the curtain of smoke and flame swept down and obscured her. It seemed as if great lapses of time occurred between these incidents, but it was a very little while.
Several of the Indians were crowded in a lower pool, and they seemed to call, but the roaring of the wood shut out all. The air trembled with heat; lighted brands fell in the water and steamed there. Men and beasts crouched to bring themselves as much as possible into the pool. Three deer, two bobcats, and a coyote rubbed shoulders with the renegades; two foxes, one of them with a burned quarter, whimpered at the edge of the water.
In the shelter of the boulders, and along the shallow rill that slipped between the stones, there were small cowering things,— rabbits and badgers, wood rats and porcupines. When the last border of the redwoods was lit, and the fire roared at them from the opposite side of the gully, little dead bodies floated down into the pool. Presently there was no stream left to float them, cut off by the heat that scorched out its source. The pool grew almost intolerably hot, and shrunk at the edges. There was no other noise could live in the rip of the flames; the smoke billowed down upon them, and they had no knowledge when the day passed into night.
Isidro sprinkled water on the girl’s face, still holding her against the buck’s shoulder. After a little she revived and began to ask for Marta.
“I think she must be in the lower pool, ” said Escobar. “I saw her come out of the woods soon after us.” Jacintha slipped from the buck’s shoulders and found her feet under her. The water came to her armpits. Isidro took the kerchief from her head and wet it for her to breathe through and cover up her eyes. They clasped hands under the buck’s white throat. The fierce incandescence of the forest faded, and the pitchy smoke obscured them more and more. They edged together and Isidro took her in his arms.
“Where is Mascado?” at length she whispered.
“His wound burst; he went down under the deer.”
She shivered in spite of the heat, “He lifted me up,” she said; “I remember that; was it then?” Isidro pressed her softly against his breast.
“He saved my life,” she said, “he saved my life, and I had never so much as a kind word for him.”
“Think no more of it,” said Escobar.
The girl was quiet for a long time; her mind still ran on Mascado.
“He was very brave,” she said. “I remember, as much as six years ago, there was a place near Peter Lebecque’s where none of the Indians would go, — a tall, strange rock in a lonely canon. There had been witchcraft there which made them afraid. Juana, my mother, would cross herself if so much as a wind blew from it, and I being both wild and bad thought to frighten her by going there. She was nearly frantic; Lebecque was from home, so she sent Mascado to fetch me. He was young, then, and quite as much frightened as any, but he came; he was quite pale with fright, and I laughed at him, but he came. He was a brave man.”
“ He died as a brave man would wish to die. Think no more of it, my Briar,” said Escobar.
Billows of hot smoke beat upon them, the water hissed on the stones; she hid her face on his bosom. Presently she asked,—
“Do you see Marta?”
“I see nothing but thick smoke.”
“Do you think we shall come safely through ? ”
“I am sure of that.”
They were silent a longer time.
“ What is that which stirs by me in the water?” asked the girl.
“It is a doe that pants with the running. It is better so, to screen you from the heat.”
His lips were very near her face. They struggled in the smother of heat and smoke for breath.
“What is that I hear?” she whispered.
“It is a hurt fox at the water’s edge,” answered Isidro.
“It is a woeful sound,” she said.
“Do not hear, then;” he sheltered her head within his arm.
The cloud of smoke passed a little from them.
“I would Marta, were with us,” said she.
“Am I not enough, Heart’s Dearest ?”
“You will not leave me ? ” breathed the girl.
“Never while my life lasts,” said he.
Presently he raised her face between his hands and kissed her with a tender passion. The tall buck stooped above them and breathed lightly on their hair.
Isidro roused out of a doze, leaning against the buck, to hear the slow soft trickle of the water that had come back to its borders, sure sign that the fire had raged out on the bald summit of the hill. The night wind which came from the sea blew up the arroyo and cleared the smoke; it was possible to breathe freely. He could see through the murk a fringe of red fire outlining the bulk of the hills. Heat and smoke still rose from the burnt district; logs snapped asunder in glowing coals; tall trunks of standing trees burned feebly at the top like half-extinguished torches. In pits and hollows, where two or three had fallen together, the fire still ripped and flared.
The Indians had drawn out of the water and slept on the warm stones, but the wild things looked not to have moved all night; their eyes were all open and a-gaze. The air lightened a little to approaching dawm.
Jacintha slept on Isidro’s breast, standing deep in the water; her face made a pale disk in the dark. The heat, the suffocation, the acrid smoke, the tepid, ash-impregnated water, full of crowding men and beasts and small charred bodies, the intolerable tedium of the night, had no more poignant sense for Escobar than the feeling of the soft young body within the hollow of his arms. If he had not felt the want of a wife before, he fell it now. It was something to comfort and protect, something to wear against his heart to keep it warm.
The sky lightened behind its veil of smoke. The sun rose above the ranges, shorn of all his rays. The Indians began to stir; Jaeintha woke.
Her first inquiry was for Marta. Isidro avoided it, drawing her out of the pool to dry their clothing on the still heated boulders.
“You said that you saw her come safely out of the burning,” she insisted.
“She came, yes,” said Escobar, driven to mannish bluntness by distress. “But when she saw Mascado was not with us she ran back.”
“Back there! Into the fire? Marta?” The girl started up for an instant as if she would have gone after her. “And you let her go? You let her go?”
Isidro took her by the shoulders.
“I had you to see to; it was done all in a moment; no one could have prevented her. She had something, a candle I think, which she took from her bosom.”
“I know; a blessed candle from the church at Carmelo. She burned one always for Mascado before San Antonio and the Child.”
“She ran with it among the trees. No doubt San Antonio had her in hand. The flames seemed to part to let her through.”
“Oh, but you should not have let her go!” cried Jaeintha; “you should not have let her go.” She sobbed dryly; the heat and exhaustion had stopped the source of tears. The girl’s grief was genuine; Isidro let it have way. Marta had been the first to show her tenderness since her foster-mother had died.
They sat down with their backs to a boulder, hand in hand, doubtful what the Indians would do to them. They had little matter for conversation; now and then Jaeintha gave a shudder and a shaking sob and Isidro pressed her hand.
The Indians got together. Most of them were scorched along their naked backs, many were badly burned. Including Marta, five of their party had failed to win through. They did not talk much. One of them had killed a deer with his knife where it stood beside him in the pool, and they ate of it in the same sombre silence. Isidro, seeing no motion in his direction, cut strips of the flesh with his own knife, and toasted them on the coals for himself and the girl. After food the courage of them all revived. The blueness of smoke hung thick in the air, relieved a little above the canon of the stream which made a little draft of wind.
The renegades, with no debate, but as if by the concerted instinct which sets a herd of deer in motion, began to move upstream, taking with them what was left of the meat. They walked in the track of the water and gingerly among the hot stones of its borders. They looked not once nor spoke to Escobar. Upstream and over the blackened ridge lay a safe green country full of game, and beyond that was home. By twos and threes they vanished into the mist of smoke. One of them, hesitating at the last, half turned toward Escobar with a gesture of dismissal. Their game was up; they wanted no more of him.
All this time the animals in the water had not moved, shocked into quietude by the disorder of their world. The pool reddened still with the blood of the slain deer.
“Wife, let us go,” said Escobar.
Jacintha waded out to the buck and put her arms up to his neck; he suffered it with timidity. She laid her cheek to his throat and blessed him, signing the cross on his shoulders.
“Let none come after thee to hurt thee, and none lie in wait by night. Let no arrow find thee, no, nor hunger, nor forsaking of thy kind. Blessed be thou among beasts.”
She came up out of the water, and Isidro took her hand. They went downstream.
“What shall we do?” said Jaeintha when they had traveled in silence a painful quarter of an hour. The broadening day brought them an accession of embarrassment, mixed with a deep satisfaction in each other’s company.
“Yesterday,” said Isidro, “the Commandante must have been at the lower part of the wood. I trust he is not far removed. We may come up with him. If Arnaldo made his way safely, as I have no doubt he did, he may be looking for us.”
“He — my father — does not know that I am here,” faltered Jacintha. She was still greatly in awe of the Cornmandante.
“No matter,” said Escobar stoutly; “it is proper that you be with me.”
The implication of his words reddened her pinched and weary face.
They made way very slowly, being stiff with the strain and exertion of the night and day. They met animals, rabbits, ground-inhabiting things, bobcats, and a lean cougar mother mouthing three dead kittens, herself all singed and scarred, and came frequently on dead bodies of beasts lying in the wash. Then Jacintha would think of Marta, and her face would quiver and draw pitifully, until Isidro would quiet her with audacious tenderness and set her glowing as from a delicate inner flame. Once after such a sally she smiled up to him.
“You are too good to me, senor.”
“Eh, what!” cried Isidro in mock amazement. “Is that a name for a man’s wife to give him? Senor, indeed!”
“ Am I really that to you, Don Isidro ? ”
“Are you what?”
“ What you said.”
“ My wife ? As much as the Sacrament can make you!” was his assurance; the look that went with it said much more.
“And you wish it so?”
“Must I tell you that, my Briar?”
“But you are vowed to Holy Church.”
“No vow of mine; an old promise made before I was born. I am convinced that I have no vocation.”
“And after all,” she said wistfully, “I am really the Commandante’s daughter.”
“You are — Ah, I do not know what you are. I think I shall need all my life to find you out, all my life and heart. Ah lad, lad!” It was always after a word of supreme endearment between them. He held both her hands and drew her up to him.
Castro, having delivered his final stroke at the stronghold of the renegades, drew off to wait and see what came of it, and to deliberate how he should strike as effectively at the remnant under Urbano. The condition of mission affairs, and the spirit of insurrection kept alive among the neophytes by the successes of Urbano’s men, justified, in his sight, the severest measures. He esteemed the fire roaring up the terraces of Hidden Waters a splendid engine of war, but not for long. That was the day and, when the fire raged the hottest, the hour when Pascual and Don Valentin dropped in upon his camp on the scarp of a low hill, with fagged horses and bloody spurs.
Pascual, mindless of military dignities, called out to him as man to man.
“My brother, Escobar, have you got him ? Is he yet with the rascals ? What is that fire?” The two men had smelled the burning an hour since, and guessed what Castro was about. Don Valentin spoke more to the point and at length.
“Señor Escobar a prisoner with the renegades ?” said the Commandante, visibly disturbed. “How long has this been known ?”
“Since Tuesday of this week. It was at first a rumor hardly believed.”
“We lost our way in these damnable hills,” exploded Pascual, “or you should have heard of it soon enough. Did you light that fire ?”
Delgardo waved him aside. “Send out the men,” he said; “there is more.”
Castro gave the order. “My daughter ? ” he said.
“ Senorita C astro and the woman Marta have been missing since Wednesday morning. It is believed they have gone in search of him. Marta is Mascado’s mother.”
Castro’s body strained with the impotent violence of nightmare. The news seemed to divide him body and spirit. He made as if he would have struck Delgardo for his disastrous tidings.
He saw the men’s eyes upon him from a little distance under the trees and gulped back a momentary control.
“Montaña! Montaña!” he cried out to his lieutenant, and lapsed weakly to his seat; his hands moved fumblingly across his lips.
“Put out the fire, Montaña,” he said in a dead, flaccid voice.
“Pardon?” said the puzzled lieutenant.
“I said put out the fire, the fire on the mountain;” he moved with a feeble impatience at the other’s slowness. “My daughter is there on the mountain; she will burn.”
Delgardo went to him. “Señor Commandante, it is best that you lie down. I will see that Montana understands.”
All the while Mascado and Escobar, with the girl between them, were making their running in the redwoods above Hidden Waters; all that night, when they stood against the tall buck in the pool, Castro lay in his blankets, burying his head in them to shut out the shriek and snapping of the fire, the roseate purple glow, the great roar of the pitchy smoke going skyward. Bodily weakness served to intervene between him and the force of his mind’s distress, which returned upon him at intervals like a spasm of pain. He thought Montana and the men busy about putting out the fire, asking Delgardo continually how they sped, and Delgardo humored him.
Montaña had, in fact, dispatched men up the arroyo and along the open south side, but the first came back reporting the trees afire on both sides of the wash and the passing dangerous; the others found only Arnaldo nearly dead with running, and no comforting news.
“How does it now?” questioned Castro from his bed when they had turned him away from gazing on the hills.
“It dies out along the lower edges,”said Don Valentin, propping his tired eyes upon his hand.
“Does it burn fast?”
“ Hardly so fast as an Indian can run, said the conscienceless Delgardo.
“And Marta had horses, you say?”
“She had; José, Martinez’s man, got them for her.”
“Besides,” said Castro for the thousandth time, “they may not yet have reached the camp.”
Delgardo, who had seen Arnaldo, had nothing to say to that. Pascual groaned. Then they fell into silence and a doze of deep exhaustion, until Castro roused them, fretting from his bed.
“How does it now?”
“It burns slowly where the bluffs are treeless and steep.”
“Will they win through, think you?”
“By the grace of God, I am sure of it.”
And so on through the hours until the fire passed thinly to the tree line, and the smoke hid all but the red reflection on the sky.
Pascual and Don Valentin got some needed sleep at last. Castro’s strength began to come back to him, and with it his collected spirit, which, though it quickened the agony of apprehension, helped him to spare others the exhibition of it. By morning, which broke dully, blurred with smoke, he was able to mount and ride; but the ten years which it was said he had lost since his daughter was found came back, and settled heavily on his shoulders and bent him toward the saddle-bow.
From Arnaldo’s account he judged it best seeking up the arroyo. He sent the tracker with men to try if possible to cross the hot ashes to the camp, and follow the probable line of flight, for he knew now all that Arnaldo could tell him of Escobar and his daughter.
Castro, Pascual, Delgardo, and six men rode up the stony wash. The stench of burning, the acrid ash that whirled about in the wind, the difficulties and discomforts of the way, took the edge off of anguished expectation. The men rode in advance,— Castro had no hope to spur him forward, — and whatever of dead they found they hid out of the way.
Isidro and the girl heard the clank of shod hoofs on the boulders. Escobar raised a cracked, dry halloo. The answer to it set them trembling with the eagerness of relief.
“Virgen Santissima, Mother inviolate, Mary most Holy, Queen of the Angels,” murmured the Commandante in deep thankfulness as he saw her come.
Not the greatest moments are long proof against daily habits and hates. Castro’s anxiety for his daughter’s life was not of such long standing that his prejudice against Escobar was not longer; but his habit of authority was older than both. Tt fretted him in his enfeebled state, almost before he had done returning thanks, to have her appear so in boyish disguise before his men; chafed his new dignity as a parent to have her leave his house and go running to the woods after this young sprig Escobar; and since his daughter was above all blame,he blamed Escobar. There was a moment of embarrassment and chill after the greeting and congratulation. Don Isidro had that in his heart which fortified him against all frostiness of behavior.
Castro turned to his men. “Miguel and Pedro,” he said, “ will give up their horses to Senor Escobar and my daughter.” He kept fast hold of the girl, but Isidro claimed her with his eyes. The men led up the horses. She, who a month before had been free to vault Indian-like from the ground, suffered herself to be lifted up ladywise. Castro reserved that occupation for himself, though he was hardly able for it. Isidro went on quietly shortening the stirrups; the two men eyed each other over the horse’s shoulders.
Said Isidro, courteous and smiling, “I give madam my wife into your keeping, Senor Commandante, until we come to a better state.”
The Commandante turned abruptly to his own horse and broke twice in the effort to mount. One of the troopers gave him a hand. Isidro’s hand was on the girl’s, her eyes on his eyes. She stooped lightly; the young man brought his horse alongside, one foot in the stirrup; her soft hair fell forward, his eyes drew her, they kissed.
“March!” cried the Commandante. The horses clattered on the start; they struck into a trot.
Pascual burst out a-laughing. “By my soul, brother,” he cried, “but you begin well for a priest!”
“I am not a priest yet,” he said, “and the lady is really my wife.”
They mounted and rode after Castro’s men.
THE END OF THE TRAIL
“And what,” said the Father President, pacing up and down in the mission parlor, “what becomes of your priestly calling?”
“Padre,” said Escobar, leaning his arm upon the table, “I have no true vocation.”
“You thought differently a month since.”
“A month since, yes. Much may happen in a month.”
“Hardly enough, I should think, to outbalance a decision made practically before you were born.”
“Before I was born, Padre, and therefore hardly within my power of agreeing or disagreeing. But within the month, Reverend Father, I have been in captivity and distress. I have faced dreadful death, and fleeing from it have learned that I wished to live, not to do priest’s work in the world, but for the sake of life itself, for seeing and feeling and stirring about among men.”
“You wish not to do the work of Our Father Christ?”
“It is not that I do not wish it, but I wish to do a man’s work more.”
“A month since,” said Saavedra again, “that was not your thought.”
“My thought then was the thought of a boy; but hear now what is in my mind. You have heard how Marta died, going into the fire after she had come safe out of it. We. do not know well what was in her heart, but my — but Jacintha thinks that she wished to bring the blessed candle to Mascado, so that he might have that much of religion at his end. She took no care of what might happen to herself. It is my thought that God’s priests should so carry salvation to men, counting not the cost, and I have not that spirit, Padre; I should count the cost.”
“What, then, do you wish?” The Padre was visibly patient and, by an effort, kind.
“I wish—the common life of man, the common chances; no more, I think; common duties, labors, occupations; to have my own house, my wife,”—here the young man colored slightly,— “and children, if God please. It is not much.”
The Padre stopped in his walk and laid both hands on the table, looking across at Escobar.
“No, it is not much,” he said, “not much for which to give over a great labor, toward which we thought, — or at least I thought and you agreed with me, a month since,— toward which the need and occasion pointed as the Finger of God.”
“A great work. Padre, but wanting a proper instrument. I am afraid I could not help you there.” There was a pause.
“What do you mean, my son?” said the Padre at last. There was a hint of anxiety in his voice, a dawning grayness in his face.
“I mean, Padre,” the young mail came out, halting and reluctantly, with his thought, “in regard to the foundation of the Franciscans, — the Missions, — there is much that sticks in my mind.”
“You mean” — said the Padre dully.
“ I mean — I hardly know what, except that what you expected of me as to the continuance of the Missions in their present aspiration and direction has become impossible.” He was going on with argument and extenuation, all that Jacintha had taught him, all that he had learned from Mascado in the hills, all the eager young straining after ideals of liberty which fomented in the heart of Mexico, but the Padre held up his hand.
“Spare me,” he said, “spare me.” The old man turned away to the window and looked long toward the sea, toward the orchard, the laborers in the barley, the women spinning in the sun, the comfort, busyness and peace, the cross twinkling over all. He was used in these days to men who doubted the efficiency of all these; but the hurt, the deep intolerable wound, lay in knowing that the matter had been brought to Escobar by his own hand, the contrary judgment shaped, as far as he knew, on his own showing. He came back at last and laid his worn, thin palms on the young man’s shoulders.
“Oh, my son, my son, could you not have spared me this?”
Tears rose in Isidro’s eyes, and he touched the old hands reverently with his lips, but he could not take back his word.
“We priests,” said Saavedra with an unused accent of bitterness, “have none of the joys of parents, but at least one of their pangs, — to know that those we have nurtured in our dearest hopes have not found those hopes worth gathering up.”
The young man said nothing to this; there was, in fact, nothing to say.
“I am an old man,” went on Saavedra, “and a great sinner. No doubt I set my mind above my Master’s, desiring what is not good for me to have.”
They were silent for some time, and Escobar guessed that the Padre prayed. Finally he moved somewhat feebly as if he felt his age press upon him, brought up a chair, and sat at the opposite side of the table.
“What, then, do you wish of me ? ” he said with courageous cheer.
“That you persuade Castro to recognize my marriage with his daughter, or at least my claims to her hand.”
“The marriage was duly celebrated with the Sacrament, you say, and recorded ?”
“ It was. But for the recording we had uot the lady’s name. It was written Señorita Lebecque. The Commandante holds that to invalidate the marriage.”
“Hardly, unless conscious fraud was used, and that it was not could easily be proved. The Sacrament of the Church cannot be lightly set aside. What says the lady?”
Isidro had the grace to blush, but held on steadfastly. “The lady wishes what I wish. We are of one mind.”
The Padre’s face softened with a weary smile. “No doubt it can be arranged; I will see Castro. Now leave me, my son; I have much to think on.”
Isidro knelt to ’receive a blessing; he looked up into the kind, pale eyes, and his heart wrung him for his defection. He thought of the quest of Juan Ruiz.
“Oh, Padre, Padre,” he cried with half a sob, “I owe you much!”
“It is nothing. Go in peace, my son; the Lord keep you and make His face to shine upon you.”
The old priest, left to himself, sat a long time sadly staring into the room. It is an ill hour for an old man when the objects of a life-long renunciation, lusts of the heart, the common human aspirations, rise up to defeat him in the end.
At the last Castro made no great difficulty. He persuaded himself that he wished merely to be assured that his daughter’s heart inclined toward Escobar. Really the trouble was in his hurt susceptibilities at being so soon set aside.
All the lean, wifeless, childless years could not be filled out in a month. Now that his daughter was found he wanted time for adoring her, and though he had not been a parent long, it was long enough to develop parental proclivities for meddling in his daughter’s affairs. His worst objection to Escobar at this juncture was that Jacintha had chosen him. As much as the young man had associated himself with the girl’s life before her father had found her, the Commandante resented it. All those companionable hours, the captivity, the distress which they shared, their very youth which they had in common, Castro envied them.
The experience of an unhappy love as often as not unfits a man to deal fairly by a happy one. Castro had lost the mother, before he had her, to another man; now, it appeared, he was to lose the daughter, and in the same case; but with her, as with Ysabel, he had the passionate purpose to hold to the form and shadow of possession.
Jacintha left him in no doubt as to her sentiments. Now that Escobar claimed her she went no longer shamefaced, but wore her love nakedly and gloried in it. She increased in dignity; her beauty grew apace like a flower. Not all the artificialities of dress and behavior imposed on her by the matrons Castro brought to be her advisers had made her a woman, but a man’s need of womanliness to love. Where Escobar put her in his thought she stayed; she might live a little above that level, but never below it. She gave Castro no warrant for his reluctance to admit the marriage at San Antonio, though warrant might have been found for it in his agreement with Valentin Delgardo. He had gone so far with that gentleman as to recognize his claim to be considered a suitor for his daughter’s hand. As usage was at that time, the Commandante might have held himself bound, but here Delfina’s tongue came aptly in. The interval between Jacintha’s flight to Hidden Waters and her return had been employed by Delfina and Fray Demetrio in making the fame of the girl and Escobar a thing of shreds and tatters. There will always be these blue flies buzzing on the fringe of nobler lives, shaping them unguessed to contrary courses. Originating, if it had any origin but pure affinity for mischief, in malice toward Escobar, the gossip served him an excellent turn. Not much of it reached the Commandante, but it was in the air, and Don Valentin, who was not known to be directly implicated, heard more than he stomached easily. Besides, he had seen the kiss exchanged by Isidro and the girl in the Arroyo Seca, and bring a politic youth as well as honorable in the main, Don Valentin withdrew. Castro was, however, the poorer for that, and Delgardo made a beginning of that fortune which in the heyday of Alta California became notable. The Commandante, all other consideration going down before it, allowed the announcement of the marriage at last, to quiet scandal. He would have wished to have the ceremony repeated, but Saavedra judged it inexpedient. They had in lieu of it a special service in the church of San Carlos, followed by a baile at the Presidio, at which both Pascual and Don Valentin outdid the groom in the splendor of their buttons and embroideries. The festivities were attended by the Governor and his lady, by everybody who could by any reasonable excuse be invited, by long trains of Indians bearing flowers; and it lacked but one item of an exceptionally fashionable affair, — the bride, riding to the church as the custom was, chose, not her father’s splendid mount as would any girl in her senses, but the same kicking pinto which had brought her up from the hut of the Grapevine in the train of Escobar. As the wedding party halted at the church door, Isidro unpinned a fly-specked paper from it, offering, in the handwriting of the secretary, a reward for information concerning certain papers found in the almsbox. He passed it up to the Commandante; Castro gave a thin, wintry smile.
“You have not given me the information,” he said, “but you seem to have the reward.”
Within a month after the marriage the Commandante got his release, and soon after that, the galleon La Golindrina putting into port, bound for Mexico, he embarked upon her with his daughter and Escobar.
Isidro with his young wife leaned upon the rail and watched the dwindling of the white walls of Monterey. “Said I not truly,” whispered the girl, “that when you sailed for Mexico 1 should be with you on the sea ?”
“Most truly, my Briar, and with me shall see the world, though it seems I serve myself more than God.”
“But that was not what I said.”
“What was it, most dear? I forget.”
“That I should serve God—and you.” She lifted soft eyes to him, shy and adoring, as to a saint. It appeared she would make an excellent wife; Isidro, at least, was sure of it. He held her hand under the rebozo, and watched the town fade into the blueness of the hills.
They said to each other, and believed it, that they would come again and visit the places of their young delight, — the cañada of the Grapevines, the Mission San Antonio, and all the seaward, poppycolored slope of the coastwise hills; but, in fact, they never came together to Alta California. The care of the Ramirez estates and the political preferment to which Escobar’s facile temper led him proved sufficient occupation. Isidro came once to see his father die, but Dona Jacintha kept at home with her young children.
Padre Saavedra knew them well in Old Mexico, where he followed them within two years, upon the breaking up of the Missions, the loss of which colored all his later years with a gentle and equable grief. His faith and the natural temper of his mind forbade that any bitterness should mingle with it, but he left much of his sprightly vigor at Carmelo, where the memory of him served to keep many of his following in the faith when all other props failed. Among the traditions of the Mission recounted by the dwindling band of neophytes were many incidents of his great-heartedness, and one, admonishing them to steadfastness, of Marta, the story of whose life and heroic end showed her in receding time a sainted figure vanishing between the lines of lighted trees attended by a host of flaming wings.
It was reported at the time of the secularization of the Missions that one and another of the Padres secretly enriched themselves from their accumulated coin, — the discoverable amount of which fell so far below the popular estimate, — and of these there was none had so much laid to his credit as Demetrio Fages. Certainly, when one considers the prelate he became, knowing the man he was, one might well believe it; no doubt he found his opportunity in the simple-seeming honesty of the Padre Presidente.
Padre Tomas de las Penas went out of California with the retiring Franciscans, bewept by his people; but being a single-hearted man of few affections, had no peace, nor gave his superiors any, until he was permitted, as he believed in answer to prayer, to return to his children of the wilderness. He found the Mission in ruins, the church a breedingplace for bats, and his Indians far sunk in original savagery. A few of them came about him again, remembering his simple jollity, and hungering, no doubt, for the old order, the comfortable meals, the ceremonial, the show, the sense of things orderly and secure. Neither so round nor so rosy after a few years of such labors, Padre Tomas set his hand to harvesting the few lean ears that a mistaken policy had left of the Franciscans’ splendid sowing.
Peter Lebecque, missing the Briar from the lonely hut of the Grapevine, and having no fancy for annexing another woman, perhaps finding none so suited to his taste as the silent Juana, took to wandering again, and was killed by a bear under an oak in the canon of El Tejon, in 1835, and was buried there.
Delfina continued an uninterrupted course of busyness about other people’s affairs until the influx of Gringos drove her and too many of her race on a lee shore; after that she became very religious, as ladies of her metal are apt to become, and was to be seen on Sundays and Saints’days telling a rosary in the church of San Carlos.
So all these, having danced their measure in the time of Escobar’s life, passed on separate ways, neither more merry nor more sad because of it; but as for Castro, he got no ease of his heart hunger until he held a grandchild on his knees who looked at him with Ysabel’s eyes, and the eyes were full of love.
- Copyright, 1904. by MARY AUSTIN.↩