It was a bright summer morning in the month of June of the year 1798. All was bustle and excitement at the wharf in the harbor of the town of Acapulco, on the western coast of Mexico, for at noon a ship was to sail away for the province of Nueva California, in the far north. This was always an event to attract the attention of the town, partly from its infrequent occurrence, but more especially because, in those days, this northern Mexican province was an almost unknown land to the general mind. The first expedition to the new country, under the spiritual direction of the beloved Father Serra, had been sent out nearly thirty years before. But so many and conflicting were the tales of wars with the Indian natives, the struggles of the Franciscans to make and maintain a footing, the hardships endured by all who journeyed thither -sometimes to the point of suffering the pangs of hunger – , and, on the other hand, the marvelous tales of the perfect climate, grand mountain ranges with snowy peaks, fertile soil nearly everywhere, there was a want of unanimous opinion respecting the northern land. Whenever, therefore, from time to time, a ship was sent from the mother country to her struggling colony, a great interest was always displayed. Each ship would be filled with agricultural produce of all kinds, implements of labor, clothing of every sort, including vestments and adornings for the mission churches, as well as laborers and soldiers, together, sometimes, with a few priests to swell the number already in the new field. The ship preparing for her voyage this pleasant June morning was the centre of all such busy scenes witnessed many times before, but which never seemed to lose their interest for the inhabitants of the town.
But this particular occasion was one of more than usual interest to the people assembled by the water to watch the preparations for departure. An hour before the time set for sailing, a procession was seen coming slowly down the main street of the town, heading for the ship. It was a strange, silent, pathetic little company. At the head were two sisters of charity, following them a score of young children, evenly divided as to sex, and all under ten years of age. They were dressed with the utmost simplicity, almost severity, although with extreme neatness. Hardly a word was spoken among them, as they came along, but their eyes were busy glancing from one side to the other, noting everything about them, and, in particular, the ship which was evidently their destination.
This little procession was the cause of the unusual interest shown in the sailing of the ship. The children were on their way from Mexico City to the new country, where they were to find homes among the people settled there; for they were foundlings, with no one but the Church to look to for aid in their helplessness. The Church had responded nobly, and had cared for these poor little waifs from infancy, and until they were large enough to be sent to their new home.
“Caramba!” exclaimed a by-stander to his companion. “What will become of the pobrecitos in that heathen country? I grow cold to think of it,” he added with a shiver.
“Basta, Juan!” said his friend. “What do you know about. it? Were it not for my wife and little one, I would go away quickly, and be glad to go. There are Indians here and in Baja California, plenty of them, and what harm do they do any one?”
“All very well,” replied the other. “You may not believe it. But I have heard tales of that land which made my flesh creep. Know you not what the Indians did to Father Jaime at Mission San Diego? Would you like to have been there then? I think not.”
“You remember well,” answered his companion. “That was over twenty years ago. There are many more people there now, and the Indians would not dare do such things again. Besides, these children are going to Monterey, and that is a large town, I have heard.”
The children boarded the ship, and were soon standing by the taffrail, watching the busy scene below, as the men hurried with the last loads of the cargo. Presently all was done, the vessel weighed anchor, and slowly making her way out of the harbor, set her course for the distant northern country.
During the three weeks’ voyage these children lost much of their shyness at their strange surroundings, made friends with all on board, and had a generally royal good time – probably the first they had ever had in their short lives. Under charge of the sisters of the asylum whence they came, they had had the best of training, which, although lacking the individual love of the mother for her own children, was one to influence and increase their religious instincts, and to make them good, pious Catholic men and women. The children, almost without exception, were docile and obedient, venerating the sisters in charge, and quick to respond to their slightest word. Among the girls was one to be especially remarked, from her face and its habitual expression. Indistinguishable from the others in general appearance, it was only in glancing at her countenance that one thought to look at her a second time with close attention. She was not handsome, or even pretty, although not by any means homely; but her face was almost transfigured by its expression of earnest piety and goodness, remarkable in one so young. Quiet and sedate as was her habit, she was ever ready to enter freely into the fun and play of the other children; but even in the most absorbing frolic, if any one became hurt from too much roughness, she was the first to be on the spot to comfort the suffering one and to ease its pain.
Apolinaria Lorenzana (for so the child had been named by her guardians) had become the object of the love of the entire asylum, and of the sisters in charge of it, in particular. She was looked up to with respect, almost adoration, for her piety and devotion to all religious observances; and the sisters never tired of whispering to each other, prophesying what good works she would do during her life, led and taught by the Virgin as she most certainly was. The parting from her was a sore one to the sisters, more so than to Apolinaria herself, great as was her affection for them; but, in spite of her youth, she was already filled with her work in the new land to which she was going; and she was almost the only one of the little group of children to look forward with joy to the new life.
With fair winds, and under bright skies, the ship sped on her course, and, at the end of three weeks, cast anchor in the bay before the town of Monterey and opposite the presidio. Here the scenes enacted at their departure from Acapulco, were repeated, with even greater animation, although the number of people was pitifully small. It was touching to see the eagerness with which they welcomed the newcomers, strangers though they were; the passion with which they seized on letters from friends in Mexico, as soon as they were distributed; the interest shown in the news, extorted from each of the passengers, as they in turn were questioned, of everything which had occurred in their old home and in Spain, as well as in the rest of the world. Such was the hunger manifested by these home-sick persons! The children aroused quite as much interest here as they had on their departure, and with more reason, for this was to be their future home. Boys and girls stood on the deck, and noted everything going on. Such a little place Monterey seemed to these young people fresh from Mexico City – some dozen houses scattered here and there, a church, the Governor’s house and the presidio, all of adobe, and all small and insignificant. But the little town made a pretty sight in the warm sunshine, with the bay and ocean in front, and the hills, forest-clad, behind.
During the height of the excitement incident to unloading, Governor Borica was seen to approach, accompanied by half a dozen soldiers from the presidio, and a Franciscan priest, who was come from the mission, six miles distant, to take charge of the little band of children, until they should be placed in permanent homes. Boarding the ship, the Governor and the Father made their way to the group, and greeted the two sisters, both of whom had been acquainted with the Governor before he left Mexico. The children, instructed by the sisters, made a deep obeisance to the Governor, and kneeled before the Father, as he spoke to each in turn. A few minutes later all left the ship, and the priest, with the sister and children, set out, on foot, for the mission. The way was long, but no one thought of fatigue; for it lay, for the most part, along the edge of the shore, with the ocean in full sight, the waves dashing on to the rocks strewn thickly here and there, while now and then the scene was varied with clusters of cypress trees growing in fantastic shapes. It was past noon when they reached the mission, a small establishment, having, at this time, about eight hundred Indians, under the charge of the Father and his assistants.
The children, however, did not remain here long. During the next two weeks homes were found for them, some among the families at Monterey, some were sent across the bay to Mission Santa Cruz, and some as far as Mission Santa Clara; so that, by the end of that time, not one was left at Mission San Carlos, the two sisters alone continuing there to give their aid in all manner of work looking toward the betterment of the Indians.
Among the children finding homes in Monterey was Apolinaria. Pleased with her appearance, when he saw her at the disembarkation, Don Raimundo Carrillo, a well-known and powerful personage in the new country, decided to take her into his own family, consisting of himself, his wife and three small children. This was a piece of rare good fortune for Apolinaria, for Seor Carrillo was noted for his kind heart to all inferiors; and with this family she found a home than which none could have been happier in the whole colony. Apolinaria was not adopted by the Carrillos – she filled, in some measure, the place of a servant, while, at the same time, she was regarded as one of the family in all domestic relations, and became a companion, in many respects, to Seora Carrillo, who was an invalid. And beyond all this, Apolinaria was under the religious charge of the mission fathers, as were all the foundlings brought to the province. The fathers not only instructed and admonished them in the Catholic faith, but kept informed as to the temporal welfare of their every-day life.
And now began a time of happiness for Apolinaria; busy all day, sometimes at the roughest toil, she worked with her whole heart, full of joy because she was busy, and was doing something for the good people with whom she had found a home. But more than this: the change from her old shelter in the asylum in the great city to a life in the sweet, wild new country, beautiful with all that was loveliest in nature, was one to make a character like Apolinaria expand and grow into a rounded simplicity of soul and spirit. Father Pujol had heard of Apolinaria’s piety on her coming to Monterey, having a chance, also, of observing it during her short stay at the mission; and he watched over her with more than usual interest, instructing her mentally, as occasion offered, in addition to fostering the religious side of her nature. Apolinaria attended the school in the town until she was thirteen years old, and acquired the elements of an education, as much as she could possibly have any occasion to use in after years in the country whither she was come for life.
As Apolinaria grew older, and after she had ceased going to school, she found, even with her accustomed duties in Don Raimundo’s home, that she had much unoccupied time; and with her religious fervor she thought long on the matter, trying to find in what way she could more completely fill the place she believed the Holy Virgin had destined for her. But in vain did she seek for this object; and at length arose slowly in her, becoming more and more fixed as she dwelt on it, the thought that maybe she had been mistaken in considering that a life in Nueva California was meant for her; and with the thought was awakened the longing to return to Mexico and become a nun. This was during her fifteenth year. A young girl with her religious habit of mind would, naturally, turn to the convent, and regard a life spent in it as the worthiest, therefore the most desirable, to be found in this sinful world; and Apolinaria, notwithstanding her strength of character, soon became fascinated with the prospect. She thought long and seriously before saying a word to any one; for much as she now wished it, she knew it would be painful both to herself and to the good Carrillos, and she dreaded to disclose her plan. But at last, believing she had definitely decided that it concerned the future welfare of her soul, she betook herself to her spiritual adviser, Father Pujol, and laid her thought before him.
Now Father Pujol was a man – one of many in this imperfect world – who had not found his proper place in life. His father had intended to take him, as a partner, into business, toward which he had a natural leaning, so soon as he was of sufficient age; but Seor Pujol suffered reverses which swept away his modest fortune, and left his family destitute. Rather than receive aid from his uncle, and waiving his claim in favor of his younger brother, this son, although with reluctance, decided to enter the priesthood, for he was a singularly religious young man. But Father Pujol, in his capacity as priest, combined, in a marked degree, the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove. He had a deeply rooted aversion to the custom of women sequestering themselves from the world behind the walls of a convent; and it had been his habit, whenever opportunity offered, to dissuade any who, by so doing, might leave a void in the world. Indeed, he had been so zealous in one or two cases that the suspicions of his fellow-brethren had been aroused, and, eventually, he was selected to make one of a company of Franciscans to the new province. Therefore, on hearing for the first time what Apolinaria meditated doing, he felt almost angry with her, foolish and unreasonable though he knew he was.
“My blessed child!” he exclaimed, “what has made you think of such a thing?”
“I know not, Father,” replied Apolinaria, “but it seemed to have been put into my mind by the saints in Heaven that that was what I should do; and I believe that must be what I was destined for when I was found by the dear sisters, forsaken and starving, and was taken to the asylum. Did not they save my life that I might glorify God and the Blessed Virgin the rest of my days?”
“Listen, Apolinaria,” replied the Father solemnly. “I know well the state of your mind concerning this question. I have no word of blame to give you, and I am sure that the life you would pass in the convent would be acceptable to God; one, indeed, of good work done for others, in so far as your limited sphere of action would permit. But, my dear child, consider carefully before you decide to take this step, whether it may not be a step backward in your progress toward a heavenly home. Here you are, a member of a leading family in Nueva California, in the midst of duties which you can, and do, discharge faithfully, and which would not be done so well by any one else, should you give them up. Think of the help and comfort you are to Seora Carrillo, in her poor health, with three children, who would be a sad burden to her without you. Look at the place you fill in the household, where you are, in truth, the housekeeper. Is not your life full of good work? What more could you find in a convent? I know, my daughter, you wish for the life of devotion to be found there, and that you look on it as a life of rapture and uplifting. That is all very well for many poor women who have no especial sphere of usefulness to fill in the world; but, Apolinaria, I should deeply mourn the day that saw you become one of them. Do not think I am decrying the convent – far be from me such a thing! But I believe, I know, God never intended that his creatures should isolate themselves in any such way from the duties among which He had placed them.”
The Father had risen to his feet as he uttered the last sentence, and, with some agitation, took a few steps back and forth in the room. He was an earnest, deep-souled man, eager and passionate, almost to the point of inspiration, when aroused from his usual reserved manner. Apolinaria was greatly beloved by him, and it was with genuine pain that he had heard her wish.
“Apolinaria,” he said at last, after a few moments of silence on the part of both, “hija mia, have I made you see this matter clearly,? Can not you trust me to decide this weighty question for you? Is your heart so set on the quiet life of prayer, cut off from so much of the work, without which, Saint James tells us, faith is dead? Do not decide now,” he added, as Apolinaria made an uncertain attempt to speak, “take plenty of time, daughter; think it over during the next week, and then come to see me again and let me know.”
“I thank you, Father, and I shall consider what you have said to me. Will you pray for me that I may be guided aright?”
“Surely, my daughter,” replied the Father, and laying his hands on her head as Apolinaria knelt before him, continued in slow, measured tones: “May the Mother of God help you to choose that which will ever be most pleasing and acceptable to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Amen,” whispered Apolinaria.
During the next few days Apolinaria thought of Father Pujol’s words. It was a great disappointment to her to give up her long-cherished plan; but from the moment of leaving the Father she knew in her heart what the outcome would be. Yet it cost her a pang of regret as she thought of the quiet walls in Mexico which she used to look upon with a hush of awe, and dream of the lives of peace and holiness passed behind them. But she was not one to grieve long over what cost some tears to resign, and soon was, heart and soul, absorbed once more in whatever her hand found to do. Father Pujol having suggested the plan to her, she now, for the first time, took up the study of nursing at the mission hospital, instructed by the two sisters who had come with her and the other children some years before, and who had remained at the mission. There were always many patients among the neophytes, and here Apolinaria found a work ready to her hand, which soon claimed all the time she could give to it. This was an intense happiness to her, and the Father saw, with the utmost satisfaction, that his remedy was a good one.
Not long after this Seor Carrillo was called to Santa Barbara to take command of the presidio, and knowing he should be kept there for many months, perhaps years, he decided to move his family to this new place of activity, and make it his future home. Apolinaria alone, of all the household, was averse to the change. She had just given herself unreservedly to her work with calm, patient enthusiasm, that left no room for regretful thought for what she had once longed to do; she could not bear the idea of parting from Father Pujol, who had been, indeed, a father to her, and who had had so much influence in marking out her life work. It was with tears she said the last bitter “adios” to him, on the eve of the departure; for in those days and in that country, there could be no probability that she would ever see him again, less likely in this case, as Father Pujol was far on life’s decline. But even Apolinaria’s sorrow at leaving Monterey could not destroy the interest and pleasure felt on arriving at Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful places in the province, and at that time much larger than Monterey. As the ship came into the roadstead which served as a harbor, the town lay spread out before them: in the foreground, straggling along the beach and for some distance back, were the adobe houses of the inhabitants, about one hundred in number, most of them glittering white in the brilliant sunlight; among them, somewhat distant from the shore, was the huge, low building of the presidio, frowning out over the rest of the scene; beyond the houses, and nearly two miles from the water, was the mission, a large group of buildings, from the midst of which rose the white two-towered Moorish church. Back of all was the long range of mountains, stretching off far into the north, in color a wonderful changing golden pink, streaked with palest blue-grey in the shadows. It was a perfect picture of peace, the sole hostile point in the whole being the presidio, which served but to accentuate the quiet beauty of the rest.
Even when the passengers were landed from the ship, the quiet of the town was not disturbed in any great degree. It was only when a vessel from Mexico, arrived, when the Governor of the province visited them, or when news of an Indian uprising was brought, that the town awoke from its almost lethargic calm. All this Apolinaria found out later. Today, however, the undisturbed quiet of the place suited her best, and she would not have had it otherwise, surprised as she was at first to find it thus, so different from the bustle attending any event, even the slightest, occurring at Monterey. Don Raimundo and his family were domiciled in the home of Captain Jose de la Guerra, a friend of his, who met him at the landing to render all the assistance in his power. The captain’s house was a large one, and Don Raimundo was led to this plan on account of the growing infirmity of his wife.
It did not require a long while for a quiet soul like Apolinaria to take up once more in the new home the broken threads of her life; and before she had been there many days, she had found more than enough to employ all her time. At Monterey Apolinaria had been in part servant, in part mistress of the household, discharging the duties of her somewhat anomalous position. In Santa Barbara, on the contrary, her services as domestic and housekeeper were dispensed with, and she was at liberty to give her whole time and attention to the occupation which she had but just begun to pursue at Monterey. She offered her services to the priests at the mission as a nurse for the sick neophytes in the hospital. The winter before had been a severe one for the health of the Indian community, and there had been an unusual number of cases of smallpox – the most common disease with which they were afflicted. Capable nurses were hard to find, and the fathers gladly accepted Apolinaria’s offer. Once her qualities becoming known and appreciated, she was in almost constant demand from one end of the town to the other, for she displayed a skill in the care of the sick that came from born aptitude.
Here Apolinaria remained for several years, engrossed in her work which had now taken complete possession of her. As she became better known, she had calls from many high caste Spanish residents who desired her services, and not only those living in Santa Barbara, but in near-by towns – San Buenaventura, Santa In?s, and as far as Los Angeles; and her fame reached, at last, the whole length of the chain of settlements in the province, from San Diego to San Francisco, for she was the sole person in that part of the country who undertook the office of what is now filled by the trained nurse. After a time, Apolinaria, finding there was room for many more like herself, gathered a few young women into a class whom she taught what she knew in regard to nursing the sick, and upon whom she called for such assistance as they were able to give.
One morning a mission neophyte came to her with a message from Father Amestoy, that he desired to see her as soon as she could come to him. Wondering a little at the seeming urgency of the request, she took her way to the mission at the end of her morning’s visit to the hospital. She met the Father walking slowly up and down in front of the monastery, every now and then looking off down the road with anxious impatience. As soon as he saw Apolinaria approaching, he hurried to meet her.
“My child,” he exclaimed, “you are come at last! I have been watching for you the whole morning.”
“I could not come before, Father,” she replied. “Did you want me at once?”
“Yes, Apolinaria,” the Father answered. “Late last night a messenger came from San Diego with a letter from Father Barona, imploring us to send you down there. They are in great trouble. The smallpox is raging; so many neophytes are ill that help is needed to care for them. The fathers are worn out with watching and tending the dying, and burying the dead, and all the Spaniards are too occupied with their own sick to be of much assistance. They want you to come. Will you go, Apolinaria?”
“Most assuredly, Father,” Apolinaria replied promptly. “I shall be ready to start to-morrow at daybreak. I cannot leave sooner for I must give last directions to my pupils. But how shall I go? Have you made arrangements for me?”
“You can return with the messenger. I shall give him full instructions. With hard riding you can reach there in three days. Do you think you can stand it? I would not ask it did not they need you so badly – just as soon as you can get there.”
“Do not think of me, Father. I shall not fail.”
After a few more words Apolinaria left the mission, and returning to the town, made preparations for her absence, which bade fair to be a prolonged one. Bitter regrets were felt and expressed by the people, some going so far as to mutter against the priest for sending her, for “does not Apolinaria belong to us, and why should we, how can we, spare her to go so far away for a lot of sick Indians?”
The next morning, an hour before the sun was up, Father Amestoy and the messenger, each with a horse from which they had dismounted, stood at Apolinaria’s door. In a moment Apolinaria came out of the little adobe house which had been her abode since leaving the Carrillos, bearing a small bundle in her arms. Kneeling before the Father, he gave her his blessing, and then asked her abruptly if she was ready to start.
“Yes, Father, I am quite prepared.”
“Then you must be off at once,” he replied. “I have given the messenger instructions for your journey. You have swift horses. If possible, get to San Fernando to-night; that is the longest day’s ride you will have, but if too much for you, or if you be delayed on the way, stop at some rancho this side for the night. In that case your ride to-morrow will be longer, for you ought to get to Mission San Juan by tomorrow night; from there to San Diego is a short distance compared with the others. You will change horses at San Buenaventura, and at the ranchos on the way from there to San Fernando. Felipe knows where to stop for them. He has letters also for the padres at the missions, and will see to everything. And now, my daughter, may the saints protect you and keep you, and bring you back once more to your friends here, when you shall be no longer needed at San Diego.”
When the Father had ceased speaking, he assisted Apolinaria to mount her horse, and with a last “adios” she made off, preceded by the messenger, who had taken her bundle and fastened it to his saddle. The priest watched them as they hurried away in a cloud of dust, and then, breathing a blessing for Apolinaria, returned to the mission.
It was a glorious June morning. The air was fresh and crisp; the water was just taking on a tinge of yellow from the light of the yet unrisen sun, and the sky above was of the intensest blue. The road, for the first twenty miles, lay along the shore, now on the beach itself, the water not seldom lapping the horses’ feet, now on the mesa above. Open to all impressions of the beautiful in nature as was Apolinaria, she had little time, or, indeed, inclination, for its indulgence this morning, for the messenger had set the pace at a hard gallop, and her attention was taken up with the riding. She was a good horsewoman, and found no difficulty in keeping up with Felipe, although, whenever they came to a bit of bad road, he slackened his pace a little. The sun was not two hours high when they reached San Buenaventura, where they were received by the fathers, given fresh steeds, and were soon on their way again. With the exchange of horses they kept up their speed, and as the hours went by, the riders saw mile after mile left behind. Whenever they stopped for horses at the ranchos lying on the road, they were welcomed by all, and to Apolinaria was shown the greatest deference,, and everything was done to make her long ride as little fatiguing as possible, for her fame was known to all, as well as the reason for her present journey. Thus the day passed. Toward noon Apolinaria began to feel the effects of her rapid flight, but she had no thought of stopping, for she was determined to reach San Fernando that night. Slowly the day wore by, and the miles slipped behind them; but the sun was set, and night was over them before they reached San Fernando. Two miles before arriving, they met a horseman who had been sent out on the road to meet them, in case, as the padres hoped, Apolinaria should come that night. At last they reached the mission, where Apolinaria was welcomed warmly. But she was too exhausted to do more than eat a little, drink a cup of chocolate, and then retire for the night, which she passed in a heavy, dreamless sleep.
The next morning she was up with the first faint grey of dawn, although she was so stiff and lame that every movement caused her agony; but this wore off gradually as soon as she set out once more after breakfast with the fathers. We shall not follow her journey in detail. The second day was easier as she had only seventy-five miles to cover to reach San Juan Capistrano. At Capistrano she found the first traces of the epidemic, a few of the Indians being ill with the smallpox. At Mission San Luis Rey there were a much larger number, and at all of the settlements in the region were many patients, but only at the southernmost mission were the people in great straits. In the afternoon of the third day Apolinaria arrived at her destination, tired out, but happy to be, at last, where she was so much needed. Here she found a scene of desolation: more than half of the neophyte population down with the fell disease; the two fathers used up with the care of their especial work; the few Mexican women available for nurses without a head to take charge of affairs at the hospital. Apolinaria, forgetting her fatigue from the long, hard ride, set to work at once where she was most needed, in the hospital; and with her skill and experience she, in a few days, wrought a wonderful change. It was a simple matter, after all, and the fathers had acted wisely in sending for her, as she supplied what was lacking – a head; and after she had fitted herself into her proper place, everything went on smoothly, and Apolinaria and her assistants were able to cope with the plague successfully.
One morning, while it was still at its height, Apolinaria, on making her visit for the day to the hospital, found a new patient. He was a soldier from the presidio, six miles away, who had developed symptoms of the disease, and had been dismissed and sent to the mission hospital, while he was yet able to bear the journey; a handsome young man, hardly more than a youth, with all the fire, vivacity and pride of the Spaniard, tempered in his case with a touch of sadness, lending an indefinable charm to his countenance. It was an attractive face, and so Apolinaria found it; but with a second glance at the young solder, she had an uneasy feeling that she had seen him before. She had met so few people in her life, that it was not difficult for her to remember the youth as one of her young companions from the asylum in Mexico, who had come with her to Nueva California nearly fifteen years before. But if she was a little slow in placing the stranger in her memory, he, on the contrary, as soon as his eyes rested on her, showed, by the lighting up of his countenance, that he already knew and recognized her. As she approached he held out his hand, crying eagerly:
“Apolinaria, tu me recuerdas (You remember me)?”
“Surely, Pedro, how could I forget one of those who were so large a part of my life in the old days? But little did I expect to see you here, and it grieves me sorely to find you ill.”
“That is a little thing, Apolinaria, after many of the hardships I have been through since we came to this country. But I shall not talk of that. It is a hard land for all who come. Tell me of yourself, Apolinaria. Have you found many trials? But I think you can have none now, for though you work hard, you must be very happy with it all. You see I have heard much about you, and the good you have done in these last years.”
“Another time maybe, Pedro,” Apolinaria replied, “but you are here to get well, and I cannot stop now to talk. I must make my rounds. I shall see you again, for I come here every day.”
And Apolinaria left him hastily to visit another room of the hospital. His gaze followed her until she was out of sight; then, slowly closing his eyes, he leaned back in his chair.
The next day he was too ill to leave his bed. His attack was not severe, but the disease seemed to leave him without strength to recover, and many days passed before he began to improve. During all the time, Apolinaria visited him once or twice every day, and it was not long before Pedro learned to know her hours for the hospital, and to watch and wait for her coming. If, for any reason, she was delayed in her daily visit to him, he fretted nervously until she appeared. Now this, to one in his condition, is dangerous, but how could poor, simple Pedro know it? So he gave himself to his one happiness of the moment, without suspicion of whither it was leading him. The nurses in the hospital soon noticed his interest in Apolinaria, but mistook the direction it was taking.
“How can I help loving her?” he said, in response to some remark made to him. “Saw you ever any one so beautiful as she? I could pray to her as I do to the Holy Virgin, for I think she is as good. She is una beata, is she not?”
And those who heard what he said were of one mind on this point, and the title thus given to Apolinaria by the man who loved her, was, ere long, the one by which she became known to all – La Beata1.
But before Pedro had entirely recovered from his illness, he realized the nature of his fondness for Apolinaria. Dismayed and perplexed, he knew not what to do, for, to tell his love for her seemed to his simple eyes an impertinence. That he should dare to love one so immeasurably above him one in whom earthly love was merged in her love for God and her fellowmen! No, he must go back to his old life at the presidio, just as soon as he was able, and leave her with his love unsaid.
But love sometimes is stronger than will, and so it proved in Pedro’s case. He determined to leave the mission the next day, without a word to any one, and this last evening he had wandered out into the olive orchard near the church. It was the close of a hot summer day, toward the end of June; the sun was just set in the glowing western sky, and all nature seemed to take a breath of relief in the cool evening air. Pedro had been there only a few moments when Apolinaria appeared, approaching from the river beyond the orchard, where she had been to see some of her patients. Pedro, undecided whether to stay quiet and risk a last meeting with her, or, as prudence whispered, to flee, hesitated too long, and she was close to him before he awoke from his indecision; She did not see him, in the fast gathering dusk, until close to the spot where he was standing.
“You here, Pedro!” she exclaimed. “But it is not well to be out at this time of the day. Don’t you know you are doing wrong? I am astonished to see you so careless,” she added, smiling.
It was the first time Pedro had seen her smile in any but a grave, quiet way. Now, accompanied as it was with the half-playful, half-deprecating manner in which she uttered her chiding, it proved too much for him.
“Doa,” he said, “I am going away to-morrow. I have struggled hard to leave here without showing you my heart, and I should have done so had not you come by this way to-night. Oh, why are you so far above me, that I must think of you as one belonging to Heaven rather than earth? Why are you so good and beautiful? For know, Doa, I love you, I love you,” and Pedro poured out his confession of love in a swift rushing stream of words.
Amazed at such vehemence in one who had always until now shown himself the quietest of mortals, Apolinaria listened, as in a dream, hardly comprehending the full significance of what she heard. At last, with a start, she gave a slight shiver, and interrupted Pedro in the midst of his impassioned speech.
“Pedro,” she said gently and quietly, “I am sorry you have told me this, more sorry you should have allowed such a feeling toward me to take root and grow up in you, for I am sure, my friend, you will see that I could not entertain any such change in my life as is implied in your words. Once, when I was younger than I am now, and before I had taken up my special work, I may have had dreams of a home and love as you are now experiencing; but it was only for a short time, for, I thought, ‘who would choose a poor outcast foundling for a wife?’ I will tell you how I came to take up the work I have been doing these years;” and Apolinaria related her youthful desire to enter a convent, and how she was led to give herself to her present active work. This she, did, partly because she felt it was only just to Pedro, partly because she wished to lead him away from again bringing up the subject of his love.
Pedro listened absently to her story. The fire had died out of his heart with the uttering of his confession, for he knew, even before he began, how hopeless it all was. How could such an one as Apolinaria, engrossed and absorbed in her work, but raised far, above this life and its passions, think of so poor and humble a being? He had been overpowered with the intensity of his emotion, and, his resolution broken, he had hurried on, knowing, poor fool that he was, the hopelessness and folly of it. Like a sudden, severe storm, coming after a day of intense, sultry heat, leaving the air refreshed, and the birds singing melodiously their evening hymns, so it was with Pedro. After his wild outburst, he was once more the quiet, reserved young man he had shown himself to be the same, yet with a difference, for his love for Apolinaria had an effect on him that he felt all his life. She became to him an example which he, followed willingly and joyfully, on their journey toward the life beyond.
When Apolinaria concluded her tale, a silence of some minutes fell upon the two, broken by the plaintive cry of an owl as it flew softly overhead toward the church. At last Apolinaria awoke from the revery into which she had fallen, and speaking brightly and cheerfully, but with a tender accent, said:
“You must go in, Pedro, and I have a sick woman to visit before I finish my day’s work. I shall not see you again, amigo mio, but I shall not forget you, believe me. Live a good life and be happy.”
And saying this, she held out her hand. Pedro bent low and kissed it reverently, without a word. Then, after one long, steady look into her face, he turned abruptly, and walked slowly through the orchard and back to the mission. The next morning he was gone.
Apolinaria continued with her nursing at San Diego for some weeks longer, until the disease had done its worst, and then returned to Santa Barbara. But after this she never was allowed to remain there for long at a time. From San Diego to San Luis Obispo, and beyond, she was in demand; and whenever a wish for her assistance was sent to her, she always responded. Not infrequently, more than one mission would implore her presence. Then she would visit the one most in distress, and send some of her pupils to the others. Thus she passed her days in good work toward her fellowmen, finding her reward in the blessing of God which crowned her life. And ever after her first visit to San Diego, she was called by the name which Pedro, in his love, had bestowed upon her -La Beata.