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San Diego De Alcalá
Padre Urbano's Umbrella
Padre Urbano, priest in charge of the Mission of San Diego, was in a bad humor. If he had been asked what was the most necessary article in the cargo of the supply ship Santiago on the first of her half-yearly visits in the year 1830, he would almost certainly have said, the umbrella. The candles were important, no doubt; so was the new altar-cloth, for the present one had become shockingly worn under the unskillful treatment of the Indian lavanderas; so were the seeds, all the more so because he had included in the list seeds for an onion-bed, and onions were a delicacy to which his soul had long been a stranger. And many others of the articles he had named in his requisition had passed from a state of shortage into one of absolute vacancy on the storeroom shelves. But foremost in his thoughts was the umbrella. He had specified it with care, - such an umbrella as he had used in Spain, before ever he came to this destitute and heathen land; the size, a vara and a half across; the material, silk; the color, yellow; and as the warm spring sun smote ever more fervently upon his tonsured head, his thoughts had daily turned with yearning towards the good, ample quitasol that was to shield him from the fiery persecutions of his enemy, the prince of the power of the air.
Well, the vessel had come that day, and with it the umbrella; and now, most cruelly dashing his long-cherished hopes, one of his Indians had stolen it! Moreover, to-morrow he was to start on his annual visitation of the outlying stations, and he had especially relied for comfort, on that long, hot, dusty round, upon the umbrella, - the fiend fly away with the miscreant who had taken it! thought the Father in his wrath.
This is how it happened: The ship had sailed into the bay at early morning, and the lieutenant at the fort had straightway sent a runner up to the Mission with the cheering news, adding that the articles for the Father's personal use had been thoughtfully packed separately from the heavier goods, and the captain had obligingly kept the special package in his own cabin, so that it could be delivered to the expectant consignee at once on arrival. The Father had immediately dispatched two of his most trusted Indians, Pio and José, to receive the goods, which the captain had promised to have brought ashore in the first boat-load.
The sergeant who delivered the goods to the Indians, in order to make the unwieldy package easy of transportation by the two men over the two leagues of road that lay between the bay and the Mission, had unwisely opened it in the presence of the Indians, so as to arrange the contents in two loads. The men had each taken one of the bundles and started for the Mission. In due course, José had arrived with his load, but alone, and in explanation had reported that at a mile or two from the bay his companion had fallen behind - to rest, as he supposed - while he continued on his way. After a time he had waited for Pio to come up, but the latter had not rejoined him. José had left his own load by the roadside and gone back to see what had become of him, but no trace was to be found of either Pio or his burden. There was nothing for him, José, to do but to continue on his way with his own part of the Padre's property, and here he was. Pio would doubtless come soon with the remainder.
But Pio had not come, and the Father's fears, born as he listened to José's story, grew into angry certainty as hours passed and no Pio appeared. Examination of José's bundle had revealed the altar-cloth, the ink, the sugar, the onionseed, some books, and a few of the articles of clothing he expected, but the umbrella and part of the clothes were numbered with the missing; and though the clothes were not only valuable but much needed, somehow it was the umbrella that made the head and front of the crime in the Father's mind. Calling the Indians together after vespers, he announced the theft, denounced the thief, and pronounced his severest displeasure, with punishments proportionate, against any who should fail to do all in his or her power toward the apprehension of that ungrateful sinner, Pio.
Let us see what had become of the rascal from the time when he disappeared. He had really dropped behind to rest, as José had supposed; but while resting, the desire had come to him to look again at that strange thing in his package. What could it be? He had seen the sergeant take it out of the box, along, thin object; then he put his hand somewhere on it, and pushed, and, wonderful! it had changed in an instant into a huge flower! Such a flower! Yellow like a sunflower, nay, like a thousand sunflowers, or the sun itself. Then he had done something again, and all at once it was as it had been at first. Talk about magic! All the things his father, old Kla-quitch, the medicine-man, used to do were nothing to this. He simply must have another look at it, and now was his chance, while José, who might tell the Padre, could not see. He slipped the cords from the bundle and took out the thing of mystery. A long stick, with some yellow cloth rolled round one end: but how to turn it into the other wonderful thing? He could not resist trying, and he felt about the stick, pushing this way and that, as he had seen the soldier do, and it began to open. He pushed again - it was done; behold the magic sunflower, beautiful, wonderful! And turning it round and round he feasted his eyes on it, the most astonishing thing he had ever seen; yes, and done, for he, Pio, knew how to make the Big Flower open.
That is where the tempter caught him. What power that would give him over the other Indians! What was Kla-quitch, with his painted sticks and bones, compared with him, if only he were the possessor of this marvel! He should need no other stock in trade as medicine-man. The people would pay well to have it opened - that would be good medicine: - and simply keeping it shut would be bad medicine: - delightfully easy! How did it shut, by the by? He fumbled at the stick, but it did not close: he pushed and pulled, it made no difference. He pressed on the cloth; an ominous creaking warned him that Big Flower objected to being shut by force, and threatened to break.
A nice fix he was in now: the genie he had raised would not down! He grew hot and cold by turns. José was far ahead by now: he ought to overtake him, but he could not appear before the Padre like this. He did not know what the purpose of the thing was, but most likely it had something to do with the Church, and he knew how strict the Padre was about even the handling of such objects. What should he do? The tempter had the answer ready, - there was only one thing he could do, - run away with the magic thing and be a medicine-man, as his father had been, only he would be a much more powerful and cunning one. Sly tempter! Poor Pio! He had only meant to nibble, and here he was, fairly hooked.
Well, since he was in for it, he had better get away before any one saw him. He caught up the clothes and the umbrella and hurried off into the brush. It was not easy for him to make his way along with the obstreperous load, and he soon discovered that the best way to manage the umbrella was to carry it over his head. Very comforting he found it, too, though it did not for a moment occur to him that this was its real purpose. His plan was to go to his father's tribe, the Elcuanams, in the mountains far away. There he should be safe from the Padre, and should also have the prestige of his father's reputation. If there were another medicine-man in the tribe Pio could easily outrank him and capture the business. So he made a long détour, and came back by evening to the valley, but a mile or two above the Mission. It would be easier to travel with Big Flower by keeping to the river-bed instead of going through the brush, which constantly threatened to tear it. He had a faint idea that it might close of its own accord at evening, and glanced up anxiously several times to see if it was doing so; but evidently it was not that kind of flower.
He heard the bells of the Mission ringing the Angelus, and shuddered as he thought of the wrathful Padre, no doubt now denouncing him publicly as a thief and renegade, and he hurried on till dark, when he found a sheltered spot and lay down. The night was chilly, and after a time the thought came to him that Big Flower would make a fine shelter: so he got up and arranged it so as to keep off the wind. Another idea: the clothes, why not put them on and be warm? It seemed a terrible thing to do, but he was running away from the Padre anyhow, so he might as well be comfortable as not. He got up again and spread out the clothes in the dim light: two woolen undershirts, two pairs of unmentionables to match, four large handkerchiefs of red silk, three pairs of blue woolen stockings, and a queer, three-cornered article, white, with strings, which he took to be some kind of pouch, but, by a happy thought, found to make an agreeable protection for the head. Also there was a pair of thick slippers of dark felt. He rolled the handkerchiefs up in a ball, and then drew on all the other garments except the slippers, not troubling to first remove his own scanty clothes consisting of a cotton jacket and pantaloons. He now felt pretty comfortable, and lying down again was soon fast asleep.
When he awoke it was early morning. It was still cold, and he kept the clothes on. Indeed, it occurred to him that this was just the thing to do; it was much easier than carrying the bundle in one hand while Big Flower occupied the other. He would still have the slippers to carry, for he saw that they would soon be worn out if he wore them. With a few edible roots and berries he made a sort of breakfast, not without pensive recollection of the warm atole now being dished out at the Mission. When he was ready to go on he thought of the morning prayers at the Mission, and believing Big Flower to be something connected with the Church, the natural thing to do was to say his prayers before it, which he did, and then started on his way. After a few miles he knew he was near the shut-in valley (which we call El Cajon) and he remembered that there were Indians there who might know him. It is doubtful, really, whether any of his acquaintances would have stopped to recognize him had they caught sight of the figure he made, for it is safe to say that no such spectacle had ever been seen thereabouts as our friend Pio made, attired in the Father's underclothes, adorned with a nightcap, and carrying in one hand a vast yellow umbrella and in the other a pair of slippers. The handkerchiefs, much too fine to be wasted, he had tied together by the corners and made into a sash, such as be had seen the Mexican caballeros wear; and in his piebald of red, white, and blue, he made altogether a decidedly striking appearance.
As he was considering turning aside and making another détour, he had an object lesson of the effect he produced upon his countrymen. An Indian appeared at a little distance. He was gathering wood, and as he straightened from stooping his eyes fell upon Pio. With a yell he dropped his load and fled at topmost speed, emitting such sounds as we try, but vainly, to utter in a nightmare. This, though a tribute to Pio's impressive aspect, and a gratifying omen of his success in the rôle of medicine man, was also a warning of danger. He dived again into the brush and devoted strenuous hours to threading his way through thickets of chaparral until he emerged on the trail that led northeast into the heart of the mountains. Big Flower was happily intact, and the nightcap also except for a missing string, but the outer layer of the other garments had paid toll to many an affectionate scrub-oak and manzanita, and the stockings that had stood the brunt were practically footless. Pio surveyed the damage ruefully, and rebuked himself for not having preserved his new property by wearing his own clothes outside. He would make the change now, and as it was getting hot he decided to wear only one set of the undergarments (the damaged ones) under his own clothes, and to carry the others. When the change was made, he hurried on. He had made one or two more attempts to make Big Flower close, but had not succeeded, so he now marched along in a businesslike way under the great parasol, apparently an Indian gentleman more than usually careful of his complexion, taking a brisk walk.
One thing, however, he had to attend to, the question of food, for he was getting very hungry. He was now on a steep trail that led up to the valley now known as the Santa María, and there, he knew, was another ranchería, or village. Here, too, he might be known, but he must take the chance: he must have food, and would boldly go and ask for it. As he pushed his way through the trees he came unexpectedly upon three fat squaws who were sitting beside the creek, pounding acorns and grass seeds into meal. Just as he saw them, they saw him, umbrella, nightcap, slippers, and all. There was one shriek, or rather, a trio of shrieks that sounded like one, and the women rushed like deer (albeit very fat deer) down the creek, and Pio heard them gabbling at top voice to what he knew must be the assembled and startled ranchería.
Our friend was a philosophical fellow, as we have seen, and as the natural thing to do was to gather up the little piles of meal, tie them up in the extra shirt, and make off with them, he did it. There was no need now for him to trouble the village, so he quietly withdrew by the way he had come, and, guided by the excited sounds that still reached his ears, made a roundabout way back to the trail, striking it beyond the village. At the next water, he mixed some of the meal into a gruel and ate it. It was not very palatable, and again he thought of the good food at the Mission, from which he was now forever debarred. But a look at Big Flower, gleaming like a great golden mushroom in the sun, consoled him, as he thought of the wealth and power he would enjoy among his tribe by means of this unparalleled marvel.
Night found him halfway between the Santa María Valley and the next higher one, to which the Spaniards who had first seen it had given the name of Ballena, from the long mountain, like a whale in outline, that shuts it in on the northwest. He found water, made a fire in the time-honored Indian way by rubbing two dry sticks together, and cooked the remaining meal. There was enough for a good supper, and some over, which he made into little cakes, drying them hard on the hot stones. He put on all the clothes again to sleep in, and made a wind-break as before with the umbrella. It was really more comfortable than the hard bed in his hut at the Mission, and he felt more than contented, even jubilant, over the change in his fortunes.
In the morning he said his prayers again before Big Flower, and started on his way early. He had pulled on the extra clothing at night over what he was then wearing, and as the morning was cold, and the trail good, so that the clothes would not be harmed, he did not take them off, except the extra stockings, nor change so as to wear his own outside. Thus he again presented the tricolor aspect that had paralyzed the natives he had met. It now occurred to him to make a little experiment, a sort of trial canter, of his new profession, upon the Indians in the next valley. He was not far now from his own village of the Elcuanams, and might as well be getting into training. He would avoid surprising any stragglers at the next village, and would get into touch with the head men, explaining that he was the long-lost son of Kla-quitch, who had escaped after all these years from the Mission, and had come back, learned in all the knowledge of the white men and armed further with this most wonderful appliance of magic, to take his place as hereditary medicine-man of his tribe. He should see by that means what sort of impression he would be likely to make on his own people. Nominally they were Christians; but they were hardly ever visited by the priest, and he knew that the bulk of them were still much as in his father's day, and still placed reliance on the fetishes of the shamans.
Accordingly he made his approaches to the Ballena village with caution. It was about noon when he came near, and he could see, as he reconnoitered, that a group of men were talking together in the open space about which the houses were irregularly placed. That was excellent. He crept cautiously near, having some trouble to keep the umbrella out of sight till the psychological moment: and then, holding it high overhead with one hand and the slippers and extra garments in the other, in token of amity, he uttered the orthodox Indian greeting which answers to our "How d' ye do?" and advanced upon them.
They looked up all together: there was a yell that wakened echoes that had slept for many a year; and in a twinkling the plaza (so to call it) was empty but for himself, and the braves were dodging about behind the houses in mortal terror of the hideous monster, worse than the white men, for he was an unheard-of, polychromatic kind of being, not only white, but red, blue, and yellow as well. It was no doubt the monster of whom the priest had warned them, who would appear one day, if they were not careful of their Christian duties (and they could not say they had been), and destroy them all and burn their village. The thing he had in his hand was doubtless the torch - see how it shone, just like fire! In vain poor Pio declaimed his speech: it fell on ears too demoralized to hear; and when one or two of them began to fit arrows to their bowstrings, the best thing to do was plainly to beat a prompt retreat. This he did, holding Big Flower ignominiously behind him to catch the arrows that he expected every moment to hear whizzing about him.
He ran for some distance till he was out of sight of the inhospitable village, and then sat down to rest and think. The adventure began to take on an unpleasant complexion. If every one he came near acted like this he could not be a medicine-man, for there would be no one on whom to practice; and the bow and arrow episode was really alarming. What if his own people refused to hear him? No one would recognize him there, for he was a boy when he had been taken to the Mission, and he had never been chosen to accompany the Padre on his rare visitations to the Elcuanams, as it had been thought wise not to allow him to return to the old surroundings. What had he better do? Of course he might discard Big Flower and all the other fine things, and return to his people an undistinguished runaway from the Mission (as not a few others had done to the scandal of good Father Urbano); but he could not bring himself to that, not yet, at least. Well, he would go on: probably the well-remembered name of Kla-quitch would make it all right.
His discouragement over the Ballena reception caused him to travel slowly, and it was nearly sunset when he drew near the Elcuanam village. It had been a cool day, so he had kept all the clothes on (except the extra stockings). The village was in an open place, near the upper end of a wide valley, and he could see it and be seen from it for a good distance. He could not think of a better plan of operations than the one he had tried at Ballena, badly as it had worked there: namely, to maneuver so as to make his first appearance when a number of the chief men were together, and then get the name of Kla-quitch to their ears as quickly as possible. That would arrest their attention, and further particulars could follow.
When he came in sight of the ranchería he stopped and sat down to bide his time. Only a few women and children and an old man or two were about: the braves were probably out hunting, or, perhaps, bravely sleeping until the squaws should announce that supper was served. So he waited, hidden behind a rise of ground. At last the men, to the number of ten or a dozen, had congregated for the evening lounge and pow-wow. Pio slipped into the shadow of one of the little houses whence he could issue in full view of the conclave. He settled the nightcap on his head, grasped the umbrella in one hand and the slippers and stockings in the other, and at a lull in the conversation advanced. He had decided to dispense with the "How d' ye do?" in order to play his best card at once: so as he stepped into the light of the fire he merely uttered in a loud tone the word "Kla-quitch," to catch their attention. He succeeded. A dozen startled heads turned toward him, and as he spoke his talisman again, and moved toward them, there came a hysterical howl from a dozen most unmusical throats, and his audience, followed by the women, children, and dogs of the village, all shrieking in chorus, vanished into the night. It was a striking tribute to the memory and prowess of Kla-quitch (who, it was naturally supposed, had appeared and announced his return from the spirit world); but it was far from being what his son and intending successor had hoped.
This was the very dickens (or whatever the Elcuanam equivalent may be), for poor Pio! Whatever was he to do now? He prowled about among the houses trying to find some one to whom to explain, but the panic had swept even the old men and women away. He could hear the people calling to one another from their spots of refuge, and ever the burden of the shout was either "Kla-quitch!" or "Yellow!" - that is to say, the Elcuanam word for that suddenly unpopular color. He began to feel bitterly toward Big Flower, the cause, it seemed, of so much trouble, and even toward his departed parent, whose name, so long after his death, was such very bad medicine as to wreck his son's chances everywhere.
He squatted down by the fire, hoping that some of the men would return after a time, but none came. After sitting again by the fire for two hours or so, hoping vainly for company and pondering on his doubtful future, he felt sleepy, and stretched out with his feet to the blaze, not forgetting to set up his wind-break, really the only thing, he began to think, that Big Flower was good for.
He did not wake till morning, when he looked round anxiously. He could see the whole population gathered a quarter of a mile away, pointing toward him and skirmishing for the best positions for viewing his actions. Evidently he was taboo for good and all, and the vision he had had of himself, as the feared and prosperous medicine-man of his tribe had been a very fancy portrait: feared he certainly was, but there it ended. It looked as if he had to choose between being a medicine-man all by himself, or abandoning all his paraphernalia and, after a day or two's judicious absence, rejoining his tribe in the humble capacity of a mere runaway from the Mission.
Meanwhile he found some food - with difficulty, for the proprietors had removed their valuables during the night and made a middling breakfast. He had not fully determined what to do, so he stayed where he was until his next step should become clearer. The morning passed slowly, with no developments. He kept an eye on the crowd of watchers, and once or twice he was puzzled to see that they pointed not only at him, but along the trail to the south, by which he had come.
Let us now go back a few hours, and take a look at Padre Urbano. We shall find him, not at the Mission, but only a few miles away - in fact, at Ballena. He had started on his visitations the next day after Pio's defalcation, and in anything but good temper. He had come, with his little party of half a dozen Indians, by the same general route that Pio had traveled, and had been only a few hours behind him. He did not stop at the Cajon and Santa María villages, as he meant to attend to his pastoral duties in those places on his return; but rumors reached him of some apparition having been seen by the natives. He knew these superstitious people only too well, however, and smiled at their credulity. At Ballena he stayed for the night, and was entertained with a more circumstantial account of a parti-colored demon who had been chased out of the village at arrow's point: but as he had not had time to check up the shortage in his clothes before leaving home, he did not recognize Pio under the description. He told the Indians, on general principles, that it was, as they supposed, a monster who had scented their slackness in religious affairs, and who would certainly call again if they did not amend, and next time would not be so easily put off.
He left the Ballena ranchería early and started for Elcuanam. This was the farthest from headquarters of all his parishes. An outpost station had been established there nine years before, under the name of Santa Ysabel, but, with only yearly visits since then, it was in a moribund condition and had not progressed beyond the architectural stage of a ramada, or brush shelter. A message had been sent a few days before (without Pio's knowledge, as it happened), telling the Indians to get the ramada ready for use, and giving the time of the Padre's intended arrival.
The little procession, Padre, six Indians, and two burros carrying the necessaries for the observance of mass, wound its way slowly up from the lower to the higher valley, and just before noon arrived at the top of the last rise before the Elcuanam, or Santa Ysabel, village should be reached. The Father was in the lead, our early acquaintance José close behind. They halted for a moment to rest before going on to the village. The Father noticed with gratification that the whole population was stationed on a hillock just beyond the village, evidently in expectation of his arrival; but he wondered why the foolish people waited there, instead of hastening to meet him. They had caught sight of him, for he saw them gesticulate, and it seemed to him that they pointed toward the houses, as if to draw his attention to something. So he looked, and his eyes caught the gleam of a large yellow object, set up as if it were a shrine, in the center of the village. Very odd, he thought; what had the silly Indians been up to now? They moved on toward the village, and as they approached, the Elcuanams cautiously approached also. When the Father arrived pretty near, he stopped, gazed hard, rubbed his eyes, gazed again, and then said to José, "José, your eyes are better than mine: what is that in the village?" José's eyes were already starting from his head, as if to get a better focus on what he saw. "Padre," he said, almost in a whisper, "I think it is the yellow thing that Pio stole. The sergeant made it open when we went for the package, and it was like that." "Holy Saints!" cried the Father; "it looks like that to me, too, but it cannot be. How could my umbrella get to Santa Ysabel? And what has become of Pio? If it is the umbrella, he must have brought it here." "Padre," said José, "there he is. I think it is Pio, but he looks very funny, and he is kneeling in front of the yellow thing as if he was saying his prayers." "Saying his prayers!" said the priest with warmth; "indeed, he had better say his prayers if it is he!" And the party hurried forward.
As we know, there was no mistake about its being Pio. As for the prayers, - an unusual demonstration from the Elcuanams had caused him to glance again to the trail where they were pointing. There his horrified eyes had seen what seemed a miracle, but a most unfortunate miracle for him Padre Urbano himself, a sight as unmistakable as unbelievable. Panic seized him, but on the instant he had an inspiration, too: he was caught, and something awful was bound to happen; but why not at least make an attempt to disarm the Father's indignation by being caught in the attitude of worship, which the Padre was everlastingly inculcating? It might not mitigate his wrath, but then it might. He propped the unlucky Big Flower up so that it would stand, hurriedly stuffed a pair of stockings into each slipper, dropped them beside the umbrella, and then fell on his knees and began to patter Ave Marias, faster, and much more fervently, than he had ever said them before the altar at the Mission. In his haste he forgot to take off the nightcap, though, indeed, he hardly viewed it in the light of a hat, or cap.
In this position the culprit was found by the Padre and his escort, and also by the Elcuanams, who, emboldened by the Father's fearless demeanor, had ventured back to the zone of danger. "Pio!" cried the Father, "get up and show yourself, if it is you. Sancta María! what is all this? Why, those are my clothes you are wearing, you graceless rascal! Take them off instantly, and tell me what you mean by this outrage. Bring him to me in the ramada, José, and be sure you bring the umbrella. Praise to the Saints! I have found it, and it seems to be undamaged, after all."
On the way to the ramada the Father could not help looking round once or twice at the prisoner, who followed with hangdog look, escorted by the scandalized Indians from the Mission and a mob of astounded Elcuanams. His indignation began to melt as he thought of the miraculous recovery of the umbrella, and, since he was a genial and lenient soul, each glance he took at the wretched Pio tickled his risibles more and more, until his shoulders shook with merriment. Arrived at the court of justice he managed to get up an aspect of terrific severity as the malefactor was led in by José. The umbrella and the other incriminating evidence were deposited beside him. The Elcuanams and the other Indians, crowding about the entrance, crooked their necks with anxiety to see what would happen. Pio had not yet disrobed, and stood dolefully awaiting the worst, from nightcap to stockings a clown like and altogether incomprehensible figure. Again the Father's funny vein got the better of him. He knew that he was compromising himself forever, but for the life of him he could not help it - his lip trembled, he tried to control it but failed, he chuckled, giggled, cackled, and burst into a roar of laughter.
It was no use to think of punishment after that. When Father Urbano at last got the shreds of his dignity together, the whole history was extorted from the trembling Pio, who, however, was shrewd enough to say nothing of his pagan dream of turning medicine-man. Gladly enough he shed the unlucky clothing. Vast quantities of water were brought from the spring and blessed by the Padre: the umbrella was sprinkled and sprinkled till no taint could remain; and then Pio, guarded by José, spent the afternoon in scrubbing the desecrated garments with bucket after bucket of holy water, while the assembled village, down to the smallest papoose, jeered at that most ignominious of spectacles - a man, washing clothes like a squaw!
To complete Pio's penance, it was his task to carry the umbrella over the Padre during all the rest of the round of visitations, which, it seemed to him, as he marched mile after mile with aching arms, would never end. But end it did, and Father Urbano's umbrella at last arrived at its original destination, San Diego Mission. Finally, after many and various further peregrinations, it ended its travels at the sister Mission of Santa Inés, where to-day the reader may find it reposing, a treasured item in Father Alexander Buckler's curious collection of relics. It is but fair to say, however, that I am doubtful whether Good Father Alexander will vouch for my story of its early adventures.