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- THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS - 6/26 -


under a purple mist. The large stone fountain in the court splashed lazily. As the worshippers rose and withdrew, the silver bells rang out a merry peal, announcing that the morrow would be Sunday.

Roldan fell asleep again. When he awoke it was dark outside, but on the table by his cot was a lighted taper and a dish of fruit. He ate of the fine grapes and pears, then rose and opened his door. In the small room beyond a young priest was seated at a table, bending over a large leaf of parchment, to which he was applying a pen with quick delicate strokes. He looked up with a smile.

"What are you doing?" asked Roldan, curiously, approaching the table.

"Illuminating the manuscripts of a mass. Look." And he displayed the exquisite border to the music, the latter written with equal precision and neatness. "This will be alive when I am not even dust. No one will know that I did it; but I like the thought that it may live for centuries."

"If I did it, I should sign my name to it," said Roldan, with his first prompting of ambition. "But I never could do that; I have not the patience. I mean to be governor of the Californias."

"I hope you may be," said the young priest, gravely.

"Are all your Indians docile?" asked Roldan, abruptly.

The priest raised his head. "Why do you ask?"

Roldan related his suspicions.

The priest shot a furtive glance through the open window at the dark square.

"I don't know," he said slowly. "Sometimes I have thought--you see, many are stubborn and intractable, and have to be flogged and chained. Privately I think we are wasting our energies. We will leave California several beautiful monuments for posterity to wonder at, but as for the Indians we will end where we began. They are always escaping and running back to the mountains. Their every instinct is for barbarism; they have not one for civilization, nor can any be planted whose roots will not trail over the surface. The good Lord intended them to be savages, nothing more; and it is mistaken sentimentalism--However, it is not for me to criticise, and I beg, Don Roldan, that you will not repeat what I have said."

"Of course I shall not; but tell me, do you think there is danger?"

"We have one rather bright young Indian--there are about a dozen exceptions in all California, and they are treacherous. His name is Anastacio, and he has great influence with the other Indians. A good many of them are angry at present because they have been punished for stealing grapes and stores, and just now they are rather excited because it has been proposed to banish Anastacio to a Mission where there are more soldiers,--he is regarded as the inciter of the outrages."

"Have you soldiers here?"

"Eleven. The guard house is in the left hand corner of the square. But what could they do in an uprising? We must get rid of Anastacio. I will go now and speak to Padre Flores."

Roldan went out into the square and strolled over to the soldiers' quarters. The door was closed, but light streamed from an uncovered window, and he had a good view of the guard room. A half dozen soldiers were lying about on benches, half-dressed, smoking the eternal cigarrito. Two were at a table writing. None looked alert, but as Roldan passed out of the plaza to the open beyond, he encountered a sentinel who was ready to gossip with the young don and told him that three more were on duty on the several sides of the square.

Roldan strolled on to the rancheria, a collection of six or eight hundred huts of mud and straw among a thicket of willows by the creek. Here all was dark and quiet. He glanced through several of the uncurtained windows and saw whole families peacefully asleep. Suddenly he paused and held his breath, at the same time retreating into the heavy shade of a willow. A number of doors had opened almost simultaneously; there was the sharp crunch of dry brush, and dark figures glided, with the snake-like motion peculiar to the Indian, toward the upper end of the rancheria.

Roldan waited a moment, then followed softly. He had set himself the duty of saving the Mission which had shown him hospitality, and was not to be deterred. Moreover, the spirit of adventure was by no means quenched.

In a few moments he paused opposite a large hut, from which issued a subdued murmur. The window had been covered, but a thin ray of light pierced through a crack in the door, and to this Roldan applied his eye.

The room was crowded with Indians standing respectfully about a man in the middle of the room, whom Roldan knew instinctively to be Anastacio. He was big and clean-limbed and sinewy, with small cunning eyes, a resolute mouth and chin, and an air of perfect fearlessness. Roldan warmed to him, and looked with admiration and envy at the muscles on his splendid limbs.

He was speaking rapidly in the native patois, and Roldan could gather little of his meaning beyond what his gestures conveyed. He shook his fist in the direction of the Mission, snapped his fingers in scorn, pointed toward the mountains, then made the motion of speeding an arrow from the bow, at the same time contracting his face hideously.

Roldan stayed as long as he dared, then returned hastily to the Mission. A friar was locking up for the night, and began to chide the young guest for being out so late, but Roldan interrupted him impatiently.

"Can I see Padre Flores to-night?" he asked. "I must see him. It is important."

"He has retired to his cell, but I will take your message; and he never denies himself to those that need him."

He went to the end of the corridor and tapped at a door. In a few moments he returned.

"Padre Flores will see you," he said.

The priest was standing by the little altar in the corner of his cell when Roldan entered.

"What is it, my son?" he asked. "Have you learned anything new? Padre Estenega has told me of your suspicions."

Roldan rapidly related what he had seen. The priest's face became grave and anxious.

"There is trouble brewing, I fear," he said. Then he smiled suddenly. "You ran away to avoid fighting. It would be odd if you found yourself in the midst of it."

"I did not run away to avoid fighting," said Roldan, flushing hotly. "Pardon, father; I meant that you have misunderstood. I do not choose to be shut up in a barrack against my will, but I am ready to fight; and, although I am not yet sixteen, you shall see that I can help you protect your Mission. And Adan too."

"I am sure of it. I did but tease you. And your part shall begin to- night. You are rested, no?"

"I feel as if I wanted no more sleep for a week."

"Very well. Tell brother Antonio--whom you met on the corridor just now --to let you in the church by the side door and give you the key, with which you will lock yourself in. Then go up into the belfry and watch. It is the full of the moon and clear. If you merely see a dozen or more figures gliding about the rancheria, that will mean that they are plotting, and intend no action to-night. If you see several hundred, run down and bring me word. But if you see a mass of men rise at once and descend upon the west gate, ring the bells. I shall go and warn the soldiers, and every priest and brother will sleep on his pistol to- night. But I don't think they are organised as yet. Before dawn I shall send a messenger to the nearest town for reinforcements. Go, my son. You are a brave and clever lad."

Roldan ran down the corridor and secured admission to the church. When he had locked the door behind him, the vast dark building, beneath whose tiles priests lay buried, shook his spirit as night and the plains had not done, and he wished that he had brought Adan. Then he jerked his shoulders, reflected that cowards did not carry off the prizes of the world, and determined that his first should be the admiration and approval of the priests and soldiers of this great Mission. He walked rapidly down the nave, trying not to hear the hollow echo of his footsteps, then opened several doors before he found the one behind which was the spiral stair leading to the belfry. His supple legs carried him swiftly up the steep ascent, and in a moment he was straining his eyes in the direction of the rancheria.

The belfry was about ten feet square. The massive walls contained three large apertures, through which the clear sonorous notes of the great bells carried far. Just beneath the arch Roldan had selected as observatory, and on the side opposite the plaza was the private garden of the padres, surrounded by cloisters. An aged figure, cowled, his arms folded, was pacing slowly.

Roldan, glancing over his shoulder, saw Padre Flores return from the soldiers' quarters; but in the rancheria there was no motion but the swaying tops of the willows, and no sound anywhere but the hoot of the owl and the yap of the coyote.

It was a long and lonely watch. Roldan felt as if he were suspended in air, cut off from Earth and all its details. Although his military instinct had been aroused and he burned for fight, his spirit grew graver in that isolation, and he resolved to do all he could to save the Mission from attack. It was there for peace and good deeds, and its preservation was of far more importance than a small pair of spurs for Master Roldan.

Nevertheless, Roldan was to win his spurs.

Toward morning he saw an Indian, attended by a priest, let himself out of a gate and steal toward the corral. A few moments later he reappeared, leading a mustang up the valley in the shadow of the trees. The priest re-entered the gate, and Roldan knew that the messenger had gone forth for help.

At sunrise a brother came running up the stair. "Better go down," he said, smiling. "I am going to ring for mass, and it will deafen you. You saw nothing, of course?"


THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS - 6/26

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