PART ONE: FOG AT MIDNIGHT, San Francisco Bay
Although Mission Dolores has been abandoned by all those who once cared for it and all its glory is gone, I cling to it. I am Valerian. I was born of two cultures, American and Mexican, and I am distinctive among Californios by my black curling hair, blue eyes and light skin. My father Don Rudolfo brought me to the mission eight years ago, finally intolerant of my obstinate, solitary, year-long mourning for my mother. The mission then was still prosperous, and it was here Magdalena delivered me out of my great darkness and made me want to live again. I am no nun, but I am a devoted servant to the mission. At the time there were only the three of us left to watch over Dolores.
Still, we were innocents and could not have suspected the danger. It came to us, however, the same night we first heard about the Bear Flag trouble, when the americanos took our friend Mariano Vallejo from his hacienda in Sonoma and imprisoned him at Sutter’s Fort. Senor Richardson at twilight had ridden to Mission Dolores especially to tell us, then immediately rode back to his big adobe on San Francisco Bay, where he said he was going straight to bed, so distressed he was by the news. It was 1846, the middle of summer.
An hour or so after Senor Richardson had ridden away, Padre Prudencio went to his bed after supper with pains in his stomach. Magdalena and I joked with him that it was because he’d heard the bad news; though we suspected it was something he’d eaten. Two hours later the pains were worse, and we thought it was influenza. Another two hours and the fever had him sweating and that kept Magdalena sitting beside him with a cool cloth on his forehead. He was too uncomfortable to lie still and sleep. It was nearly midnight when the padre began straining to make his breaths. That ended all my patience. I spoke, not waiting any longer for Magdalena, who usually decided these emergencies. “We must go to San Rafael for Padre Mendez. It’s foolish and dangerous to wait here any longer, expecting our padre to get better. Senor Richardson surely will take us.”
Magdalenda looked at me and I saw real fear in her eyes, maybe the first time I had ever seen her with that much fear. Like a whisper she said, “And leave the padre here without us?” Then in only a moment more I saw the strength come back to her; she sat up straight and said, “You are right, we must go. And there is only you and I to go. Pilar and her sister can stay and give him water and keep him cool. Till we return. Senor Richardson will certainly help us.”
We departed, Magdalena and I both wearing cloaks with hoods, expecting fog and damp before the night was over. The plank road had not yet been laid and we walked the well-worn trail among the sand dunes and the Manzanita and it was midnight already. We hurried and soon we came over the last slope and saw the water of the bay glimmering in the moonlight and saw among many lesser buildings on that beach Senor Richardson’s moonlit Casa Grande, whiter it seemed for all the darkness surrounding it.
However, it was only after Magdalena and I had knocked at the front door of his house and while we waited: that we also saw way out there westward the immense wall of fog from deep ocean sweeping over the headlands at the mouth of the bay. The relentless fog had already smothered these headlands and had flowed majestically and unimpeded between the great gap in the headlands, flowed over the quiet water of the bay until it had cloaked in white Senor Richardson’s docks across the bay in Sausalito. Fog had not advanced yet as far as Angel Island, or to our own cove at Yerba Buena, but soon would. Only then did we both see, down slope and at the far left end of our cove, still free of fog, a lantern shining from the mainmast of Senor Richardson’s schooner the Josephine, tied up at Broadway wharf.
We both said Hail Mary’s.