ON THE FRONTIER
ON THE FRONTIER
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