“Not one is left,” was the reply. “Though once the Mission counted them by thousands, they are all dead and gone. There are their monuments,” he added, pointing to the fragments of a mill and one or two industrial shops.
[Illustration: The cemetery, Santa Barbara.]
I looked and saw the remnants of a giant wheel which formerly had been turned by water, brought from the hills to feed the Fathers’ lands. The water was still flowing, but the wheel lay, broken,—symbolic of the link which bound the Mission to the vanished past.
The first Roman Catholic Bishop of California and some of the early Fathers are buried in the chapel of the monastery, but interments are now made in a neighboring cemetery, strictly reserved for members of the Mission, each of whom has there his predestined place. Yet even in this humble Campo Santo life will not yield entirely to death. The hum of droning insects breaks the stillness of the empty cloisters; occasionally a lizard darts like a tongue of flame along the walls; grasses and trailing plants adorn impartially the ground containing human dust, and that which still awaits an occupant; while round a stately crucifix, which casts its shadow like a benediction on the sleeping dead, sweet wild flowers bloom throughout the year, and from their swinging censers offer incense to the figure of the Saviour with each passing breeze. The hush of melancholy broods over the entire place. The mountains, gazing down upon it in stony silence, are haggard and forbidding; below it lies the modern town; while from a neighboring hillside the inmates of a villa look directly into the monastery garden, on which the earlier Fathers little dreamed a female eye would ever rest. A little life, however, was still visible about this Santa Barbara Mission. Two brown-robed monks were hoeing in the field; occasionally, visitors came and went; and, just as I was leaving, one of the priests, in obedience to a summons, hurried away to minister to the sick; yet over all there hung an atmosphere of unreality and sadness. I felt myself the guest of an anachronism.
[Illustration: Dreaming of other days.]
A fashionable city has risen at the feet of these old monks, but they regard it not. A trolley car brings curious tourists to their doors; but the ways of the Santa Barbara Fathers are those of long ago. Like aged pilgrims, dreaming by their firesides, they seem to be living in the past; they certainly have no present worthy of the name; and when I sought to draw forth from my priestly guide some idea of their future, he answered me by pointing to a grave.