The Padre again met the stranger’s eyes. He stopped, with the snuff box he had somewhat ostentatiously drawn from his pocket still open in his hand.
“Why is it not, Senor?” he demanded.
“If she lives, she is a young lady by this time, and might not want the details of her life known to any one.”
“And how will you recognize your baby in this young lady?” asked Father Pedro, with a rapid gesture, indicating the comparative heights of a baby and an adult.
“I reckon I’ll know her, and her clothes too; and whoever found her wouldn’t be fool enough to destroy them.”
“After fourteen years! Good! you have faith, Senor—”
“Cranch,” supplied the stranger, consulting his watch. “But time’s up. Business is business. Good-by; don’t let me keep you.”
He extended his hand.
The Padre met it with a dry, unsympathetic palm, as sere and yellow as the hills. When their hands separated, the father still hesitated, looking at Cranch. If he expected further speech or entreaty from him he was mistaken, for the American, without turning his head, walked in the same serious, practical fashion down the avenue of fig trees, and disappeared beyond the hedge of vines. The outlines of the mountain beyond were already lost in the fog. Father Pedro turned into the refectory.
A strong flavor of leather, onions, and stable preceded the entrance of a short, stout vaquero from the little patio.
“Saddle Pinto and thine own mule to accompany Francisco, who will take letters from me to the Father Superior at San Jose to-morrow at daybreak.”
“At daybreak, reverend father?”
“At daybreak. Hark ye, go by the mountain trails and avoid the highway. Stop at no posada nor fonda, but if the child is weary, rest then awhile at Don Juan Briones’ or at the rancho of the Blessed Fisherman. Have no converse with stragglers, least of all those gentile Americanos. So . . .”
The first strokes of the Angelus came from the nearer tower. With a gesture Father Pedro waved Antonio aside, and opened the door of the sacristy.
“Ad Majorem Dei Gloria.”
The hacienda of Don Juan Briones, nestling in a wooded cleft of the foot-hills, was hidden, as Father Pedro had wisely reflected, from the straying feet of travelers along the dusty highway to San Jose. As Francisco, emerging from the canada, put spurs to his mule at the sight of the whitewashed walls, Antonio grunted.
“Oh aye, little priest! thou wast tired enough a moment ago, and though we are not three leagues from the Blessed Fisherman, thou couldst scarce sit thy saddle longer. Mother of God! and all to see that little mongrel, Juanita.”
“But, good Antonio, Juanita was my play-fellow, and I may not soon again chance this way. And Juanita is not a mongrel, no more than I am.”