Chapter XIV
 

A door on the opposite corridor opened and a youth came forth. He jerked his head diffidently at the guests and took the longest way round instead of crossing the court; but when he reached the boys, who were risen and awaiting him, he wore a dignified air of welcome, as befitted a young gentleman of his race.

"Welcome to Casa Carillo, senores," he said gravely. "The house is yours. Burn it if you will. I, myself, Rafael Carillo, am your slave."

To which Roldan replied: "We are at your feet, for you and yours have rescued us from death and given us food and clothing when we most needed it. Our lives are yours to do with as you wish."

"Then would we keep you here always, Don Roldan and Don Adan. All guests are welcome at Casa Carillo, but doubly those that need it."

Then, formalities over, as boys are pretty much alike the world round, Rafael was soon pouring forth eager questions, and our heroes were reliving the events of the past weeks. Arm in arm they strolled out into the wide beautiful valley, green with sprouting winter, the distant mountains of terrible memory quivering under a dark blue mist.

"Hist!" said Rafael, suddenly. "Do you know what day this is?"

"Day?" The adventurers had lost all count of time.

"It is the day before Christmas, my friends."

"No! Madre de dios!" Roldan and Adan stood still. For a moment they felt homesick. They saw the reproachful faces of their parents and brothers and sisters, to say nothing of visions of unclaimed presents. But Rafael gave them no time for regrets. He was the only child at home, and delighted with his new companions.

"To-morrow many people will come," he said. "I have ten married sisters and brothers. They all come from their ranchos, and many more. It will be very gay, my friends."

"Good," said Roldan, dismissing regret. "We will enjoy."

"And after Christmas is gone I know of something else," said Rafael, mysteriously. He glanced about. They stood in the midst of a great vineyard, each engaged upon a large purple bunch. "Come," said Rafael, with an air of mystery. "Not here. Some one may hide beneath the vines."

It was extremely unlikely, but the adventurers liked the suggestion and followed their host breathlessly into the open field. "One day in the summer," whispered Rafael, his eyes rolling about, "I went with four vaqueros with a present of venison to Father Osuna. He was not at the Mission, and a brother told us that he walked among the hills. I thought I would go to meet him and receive his blessing. For a time I saw no one, and I thought, 'Caramba! but the padre has long legs this hot weather!' Just then he stood before me. He had walked out of the side of the hill through a hole no wider than himself. He sweated like a bull after coliar, and his cassock was gathered in his two hands, leaving his bare shanks no more sacred than an Indian's. He did not look like a priest at all, and I forgot to kneel to him, but stared with my mouth open. And what do you think he did, my friends? He turned white like the hand of a dona in her teens and--and--dropped his cassock. And--"

"Well? well?"

"What do you think rolled to the ground, my friends? Chunks of yellow stuff that glittered, and a shower of sparkling yellow sand--beautiful as sunshine on the floor. I gave a cry and ran to pick it up. I had never seen anything so beautiful, I never had wanted anything so much. I felt that I would die for it in that moment, my friends. But that priest, what do you think he did? He gave a yell of rage, as if he could tear me in pieces, and flung himself all over that sunshine of earth. 'My gold!' he cried. 'Mine! mine! You shall not take it from me.' 'If it is yours it is not mine, my father,' I said, feeling ashamed,--though I still wanted it; 'I will help you to pick it up.' He got up then, his face very red again, and I could see that he was trying to put on his dignity as fast as he had put down his cassock--he looked better with both in place. 'My son,' he said,'the day is warm and I am very tired, and, I fear, a little ill. These rocks are nothing. They please my eye, and I pick them up sometimes as I walk among the hills. Leave them there. I do not want them. We will return to the Mission.' 'If you do not want them, then may I have them?' I asked--the blood flew all over my body, my friends. He scowled as if I had asked him for the candles on the altar. 'No,' he said, 'you cannot.' Then he put his big hand on my shoulder--he could twist your neck in a minute with those hands-- 'Listen to me, my son,' he said, very soft, and looking so kind now, you can't think. 'There is poison in those stones, pretty as they are, deadly poison. It has murdered millions of souls and hundreds of bodies. Therefore I will not let you touch it--only a priest can touch it without ruining his soul. Therefore I forbid you---forbid you--' he shouted this over me, 'to tell any one of what you have seen to-day. Neither your father nor your mother--no one. Do you understand?' I said 'Yes,' but I did not promise, and he was excited and did not notice. Then he dragged me away, and I looked about for other rocks that glittered. But there were none--not anywhere. And then I knew that they had come out of the hill; but I said nothing, and when we got back to the Mission and had had dinner and he was himself again and would have spoken alone with me, I ran and got on my horse, and all the brothers stood on the corridor to see me go. He came up to me and blessed me, and whispered: 'Tell no one, my son. If you do'--and he gave me a look that made my hair crackle at the roots. And to this day I have told no one. Did I tell my parents the priest would know in six hours. No boy has stayed here that I like. But now--"

"We will go to the hill and see for ourselves," said Roldan, promptly, and Adan gasped with horror and delight.

"Ay, I knew you would. I am brave, but I dared not go myself--that padre is too big. I wake up in the night and see his hands pawing in the air. But three of us--we need fear no one."

"We will go as soon as the guests are gone. I have heard of this 'gold.' ln Europe--I have an uncle who has travelled and has told me many things--bueno, in Europe, they make it into money and give it for things in big houses they call shops. Even here, in Monterey, and perhaps the other towns, they have a little--it comes from Mexico. My uncle said that one reason we were so happy was because we had so little money--none at all, we might say. That we got what we wanted out of the earth, or by trading with one another or with the skippers from Boston, who are glad to give us what we need from other lands in return for our hides and tallow. So, if we find this 'gold' perhaps we had better say nothing about it; but to find it--that will be a great, a grand adventure."

"We'll tell if we find it," said Adan, philosophically.

The boys concocted a plan of campaign to their satisfaction, then went home to supper. Don Tiburcio and his wife, Dona Martina, were already seated at the table in the big bare room. The grandee was a huge man with a soft profile, and cheeks as large and cream-hued as one of the magnolias hanging in the patio. He had an expression of indolent good- nature above his straight mouth, and long hands that looked lean and hard when they closed suddenly. He was a man of much influence in the politics of his country. His small-clothes were of dark green cloth with large silver buttons, the lace on his linen was fine and abundant. Dona Martina wore a gown of stiff flowered silk and a profusion of topaz ornaments. As the boys entered and bowed respectfully, Don Tiburcio eyed them keenly, but shook them cordially by the hand.

"So you are the son of Mateo Castanada," he said to Roldan. "It is evident enough, although you have something in the face that he has not. Otherwise I should not have done him to death in more than one political battle. Well, my sons, you are very welcome, and the longer you stay with us the better. The officers passed here some days ago--Rafael hid in the garret for the two days I feasted them, and they do not know that I have a son so young. Well, you are in good time to help my son enjoy his Christmas."

There was an abundant supper of meat with hot pepper-sauce, tomatoes and eggs baked together, and many dulces. The boys wondered if dried meat and coarse cakes were part of an adventurous dream.

The next morning chocolate was brought to the boys at half-past five, after which they dressed, and mounting the mustangs. awaiting their pleasure in the courtyard, went off for a morning canter. At Roldan's suggestion they reconnoitred the hills behind the Mission and got the bearings definitely shaped in their minds; the great raid was to be at night. They returned to a big breakfast at nine o'clock, then rode out again to meet the expected guests. It was but a few moments before they saw several cavalcades approaching from as many different directions. The young men and women, in silken clothes of every hue, were on horses caparisoned with velvet, carved leather, and silver; in many instances a girl had proud possession of the saddle, while her swain bestrode the anquera behind, his arm supporting her waist. Roldan wondered if anything would ever induce him to sacrifice his dignity like that. (It may be remarked here, as this history has only to do with the famous Californian's boyhood, that the day came when he could bow the knee to the fair sex with as graceful an ardour as did he not employ his sterner moments making laws and enforcing them.) The older folk travelled in carretas, the conveyance of the country, a springless wagon set on wheels cut from the solid thickness of the tree. It was driven by gananes, sitting astride the mustangs and singing lustily. The interior was lined with satin and padded, but was probably uncomfortable enough. Everybody looked smiling and happy, and a number of lads left their respective parties and cantered over to Rafael and his guests. A few moments later they all galloped at the top speed of their much-enduring mustangs to a great clump of oaks, where they dismounted and listened with breathless interest to the adventures of Roldan and Adan. All had been drafted, and must leave for barracks with the new year. They complimented the adventurers in a curious mixture of stately Spanish and eager youthfulness, and their admiration was so apparent that our heroes would have doubled the dangers of the past on the spot.

When they returned home to dinner the great space before the house was filled with shining horses pawing the ground under their heavy saddles. The court and corridors were an animated scene, overflowing with dons and donas in brilliant array. When dinner was over and the grown-up guests and young girls were lingering over the Christmas dulces, all the boys slipped away and went out to the huge kitchen, where countless Indian servants were busy or resting. They demanded four dozen eggs and help to blow them at once. The maids hastened to do the bidding of the little dons, and in less than a quarter of an hour the eggs were free of their natural contents, and all were busy refilling them with flour, or cologne, or scraps of gold and silver paper. Then the boys stuffed the fronts of their shirts, their sleeves, and their pockets with the eggs, and hid themselves among the palms of the court. Presently the guests came forth and scattered about the corridor, smiling and chatting in the soft subdued Spanish way. Suddenly twelve eggs, thrown with supple wrist and aimed with unfailing dexterity, flew through the air and crashed softly on the backs of caballeros' curls and donas' braids, flour powdering, gold and silver paper glittering on the dense blackness of those Californian tresses, cologne shooting down dignified spines. There was a chorus of shrieks, and then, as every head whisked about, and as a blow did not count unless it struck at the back, the boys ran up to the corridors, dodged under vengeful arms and continued the battle. Finally they were chased out into the open, and the guests having been provided with the remaining eggs by Dona Martina, the battle waged fierce and hot until, exhausted, the guests retired for siesta.

But siesta was brief that day. In less than an hour's time all had reappeared and were mounting for the race.