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   Chapter 14 THE MYSTERY OF SAN MIGUEL

The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 14181

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


"Do you think you will go to Shasta in Mr. Falconer's private car?" Nick asked wistfully.

They were flying along together on the winds of the Bright Angel, Angela by Nick's side, on the way to Paso Robles. It was afternoon of the next day; Falconer and Mrs. Harland and Theo Dene had left Santa Barbara in the morning; and the sister and brother had been so pressing in their invitation that Angela had hardly known how to refuse, though not quite willing to accept. Late that night, Mrs. Harland and Theo would arrive at Del Monte, where Falconer would join them, and in a day or two they would go on to San Francisco, where Miss Dene had already been visiting. In Mrs. Harland's maid, Kate had found a friend from her own part of "the ould country," who had "come over" three years ago, and who had known Tim. This meeting was such a joy, that Angela had fallen in with Mrs. Harland's suggestion that Kate should go on to Paso Robles in Mr. Falconer's car McCloud. The girl would thus enjoy her friend's society for several hours, and having arranged Mrs. May's things in the rooms already engaged at the hotel, would await her mistress's arrival that evening. Therefore, Angela, Nick, and the little chauffeur had the Bright Angel to themselves for a run of a few hours through beautiful country, and a visit to the old Mission of San Miguel before arriving at Paso Robles.

"Do I think I shall go?" Angela echoed the question lazily, for she was happier this morning, and basking dreamily in the change, not troubling to wonder what had brought it about. "I hardly know. They were very kind to ask me. Californian people seem so warm-hearted to strangers, and so hospitable, one can't help feeling one's known them for years instead of days. You are like that too-otherwise I shouldn't be here! And I've almost forgotten to be surprised at myself for-anything. I like Mr. Falconer; Mrs. Harland, too; but he is what you said-splendid. I understand why you called him typically Californian."

"I'm glad," said Nick. And he tried to be glad. But he had not been told the romance of Mademoiselle Dobieski. Falconer did not guess that Angela or Theo Dene knew it, though he proposed introducing Mrs. May to a "Polish lady, staying at Paso Robles." "Then, of course, you will go to Shasta, and they'll take you to their place on the McCloud River. They say Falconer's house is the prettiest place of the sort in California. Mrs. Gaylor's never been, but she reads a lot about society folk and their doings in the papers. You'll sure have a good time."

"Why do you say 'you'? They invited you, too."

"Yes, and that was really kind," Nick said. "It isn't 'kindness' to ask you, because 'twould be an honour to have your visit. But they don't want me. I was asked only because I happened to be with you, and Mrs. Harland was afraid my feelings would be hurt if I was left out."

"I'm sure you're mistaken," Angela insisted, laughing within herself because he had not seen Theo's manoeuvres. "Of course they want you." She could not add what was in her mind. "Anyway, Miss Dene does." As for Carmen, Angela had no idea that the invitation was to be extended to her, and the figure of Mrs. Gaylor, who, according to Theo, intended to marry Hilliard, loomed less important than after listening to Miss Dene's gossip. Of course, it would be a good thing for him to care for Mrs. Gaylor, and if she were really nice, to marry her in the end. Only, when a young woman is in a motor-car with a handsome "forest creature" who appears to live only for her pleasure, she does not think much beyond the hour. For that hour he may be hers, and hers alone, though to-morrow they part; and she shuts her eyes to anything so far away, so out of the picture, as an "end."

"I'm not Mrs. Harland's kind," Nick explained; "nor Falconer's, though he's too big a man to care for what people call 'social distinctions.' They'd be kind to me if I went, and wouldn't let me feel any difference they could help. But there'd be a house-party, maybe, and I wouldn't know any one. I'd be 'out of it.' I couldn't stand for that, Mrs. May."

"You're sensitive," Angela said.

"In some ways," Nick admitted. But he did not admit the truth; that he could not, and would not, go to Rushing River Camp because he was jealous of Falconer. To Nick it seemed impossible that any man, free to love, could be five minutes in Angela's society without falling in love with her.

He had had his moments of hope, but with Falconer for a rival the handicap was too great. Not that Nick meant to give up the fight; but if she went to Shasta it would be a knockdown blow. John Falconer was high enough for a place in Mrs. May's own world. Nick despised jealousy as common and shameful, and had always scorned men who yielded to so mean a vice. Now, however, they had his pity. He knew what they suffered, and he could not go with Mrs. May, in Falconer's car.

Nevertheless he beat down the desire to dissuade her from the trip.

"You oughtn't to miss McCloud River," he forced himself to say.

"I'll see," said Angela. "It's nice not to make up one's mind, but just to enjoy the minute."

"Are you enjoying the minute?"

"Yes."

He was rewarded. For this minute was his. They were spinning along the coast road, between sea and meadow, with the salt breeze in their faces. The red-gold earth rose and fell in gracious curves, like the breasts of a sleeping Indian girl, and now and then an azure inlet of the sea lit up a meadow as eyes light a face. In the distance, mountains seemed to float like spirit guardians of hill-children; and desert dunes billowed through irrigated garden oases, like rivers of gold boiling up from magic mines.

Nick pointed out the two little mountains named after Louis the Bishop, and told Angela tales of the country, of the people, and of the little towns with Spanish names and faces, which gave her always that haunting impression of the Old World. Some of the stories were her father's stories, and she liked Hilliard the better for knowing them.

They had both forgotten Miss Sara Wilkins, who had "stopped off" at Santa Barbara because all her life she had wanted to see the place. But just at that moment, on her way to Bakersfield, she happened to be thinking of them both.

At last the car plunged into a maze of folding hills, like giant dunes. The motor road was woven in twisted strands while the railway overhead strode across the gaps between height and height, on a vast trestle that might have been built for an army of Martians. Rock-crested hills rose gray in the sun above the soft night of oak forests; and as the road ascended, its ribbons were looped from mountain to mountain like the thrown lasso of a cowboy.

"Paso Robles means 'Pass of the Oaks,'" said Nick, as they came into a stretch of billowing country where immense trees shadowed the summer gold of meadows.

"Shall we go first to the Mission of San Miguel?" Nick asked. "Or are you tired, and shall I take you to the hotel now?"

"I'm not tired," said Angela. She did not w

ant this day to end yet.

"We'll hit the trail for the Mission, then," said Nick, "and see the sunset, as we did from Santa Barbara."

"Can this be as beautiful?" Angela asked. "Surely not?"

"You, maybe, won't think so, but I know it will be more beautiful for me," he answered. "That imported young lady, with all those elegant fixings, sort of jarred with the Mission architecture, to my mind."

Angela hoped that her laugh was not cattish. "But I'm imported, too," she said. "Shall I jar on you at San Miguel?"

"You're not imported!" Nick dared to contradict her. "Or, if you are, you're the kind there oughtn't to be any duty on."

A rain of sunset colour poured over mountains, hills, and meadows as Nick turned his car toward San Miguel. When they came in sight of the old Mission (built far from the Springs because of hostile Indians), the changing lights were like an illuminated fountain. At last, when they began to fade, Angela said, "Let us go. If we stay longer we shan't remember this at its best."

She would have been surprised if she had known what happiness there was for Nick in the word "we," spoken as she often spoke it now: "We" must do this; "We" mustn't forget that.

But it was a blow when she asked Billy, the chauffeur, if he would like to see the Mission. "Nothing can hurt the car," she said; "and when we come back it will be too late."

Nick was tempted to glare a warning and suppress the youth's interest in objects of historical value: but he refrained. Billy must not get it into his head that there was "anything going on." So the chauffeur was allowed to follow Nick and Angela as they wandered, so it seemed to him, sentimentally about the big Mission enclosure, between crumbling adobe walls where the Franciscan Fathers had sheltered cattle in nights of peace, and Indians in nights of danger. Billy could not feel the pathos of the place-desolate, yet impressive in its simplicity; but as he sauntered about, his hands in his pockets, whistling beneath his breath, "I can't marry you!" his smart little modern mind began to work. The strategic value of the position appealed to him, and he saw why "those old Johnnies," as he irreverently styled the Padres, had planted the Mission here. "Guess they knew their business 'most as well as if they'd been soldiers," he said to himself.

Billy found pleasure in picturing the massacres which must have taken place, imagining the great doors of the enclosure opened hastily to let in an escaping band of "friendlies"; then the bursting in of the enemy, and the death of the Fathers as they tried to protect their Indian children. Many had died by fire and tomahawk, but always others had come to take their place; and so the work had gone on through time, even as the bell-signals had gone on sounding from Mission to Mission along El Camino Reale, the highway of the Padres.

"One Father lives here; a dear old gentleman," said Nick. "I met him once, but he mayn't remember me. I'll knock at his door to ask for the key of the church. Somehow I think you're going to like it better than the church of Santa Barbara. There's something special about this place, I hardly know what, but you'll know. And they've got some vestments they're proud of-made by Queen Isabella the Catholic and her ladies."

It rather surprised Angela to hear Nick speak of "Isabella the Catholic," for this way of naming the Queen showed knowledge of history; and Angela had not yet discovered that history was Nick's favourite reading. Indeed, she was only beginning to learn a few things about him. At first her whole rather patronizing idea of the young man had been that he was an "interesting type," a "picturesque figure." Then, when she heard him talk with Falconer, and Falconer talk of him and of what he had done, she saw that Hilliard was already a man of importance in his State: that the "picturesque figure" was merely the woman's point of view. She was ceasing to patronize him mentally now, and almost every hour he gave her some surprise.

At a closed door in the white, deserted cloisters, Hilliard knocked, but there was no answer. His face clouded, for he had set his heart on showing Mrs. May this Mission church.

"This means we can't get the key," sighed Angela.

"I'm afraid so," he agreed. "But it's possible the Padre's showing some one around, or having a look at his beloved vestments."

They walked to the church door and found it shut; but to their surprise the big old-fashioned key was in the lock. Nick pushed the door open and they both went in, followed by Billy. The Padre was not to be seen. So far as they could tell in the dimness the church was empty.

"Queer!" exclaimed Nick. "I wonder what can have become of the Padre? It isn't like him to leave his church open at this time of the evening. It's late, and we'll have to light up before we start on, although we've only eight miles to go."

"I'm sorry he's not here," Angela said. "I should have loved to see Queen Isabella's vestments."

"Would you? Well, you shall, if I have to turn everything in the church upside down. They must be somewhere."

The two wandered on, peering through the dusk at the primitive paintings and decorations, made by Indians according to designs of Spanish monks.

"Do you suppose the vestments may be kept up in that gallery?" Angela suggested. "It looks a safe sort of place for treasures. But if they're there I'm afraid we shall find them in a locked box."

It was worth trying, and they climbed the narrow stairs that led up to a gallery curtained with twilight. There sure enough was a box, and, like the door, it was open, the key in the lock. Within, free to every hand, were the embroideries, the great treasures of the church.

"Isn't it mysterious?" she asked, in a half-whisper, for loud tones would make jarring notes in this haunt of silence. "Can anything have happened to the Padre?"

"Things don't happen these days," Nick reassured her.

But he was not quite easy in his mind. "It's too dark for you to see the vestments well. Shall I carry them downstairs?"

"No," said Angela. "I'd rather look at them here. It's like staring at flowers in the night. The colours come up to your eyes in the most wonderful way."

Seeing that she meant to kneel by the open chest Nick whipped off his coat to lay under her knees, and she laughed as she named him Sir Walter Raleigh. Hilliard and Billy stood behind her, Nick stooping sometimes to examine a stole or altar-cloth she wished to show him, Billy frankly bored, until a faint sound somewhere made him prick up his ears.

"Maybe that's the Padre now," said he. "Shall I go and look?" Then he pattered down the steep stairway without waiting to be answered.

Angela and Nick forgot him for a moment, until his nasal young voice called excitedly from below the gallery:

"Say, Mr. Hilliard, we're locked in!"

"What!" exclaimed Nick, straightening himself up and dropping the end of an embroidered stole.

"Some fellow's been to the door and locked it on the outside."

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