|Home -> Paul Elder - > The Lure of San Francisco -> The Mission and its Romance|
A view from Twin Peaks - The city with its historic crosses. A visit to the old church - Its past, and the romance of Lüis Argüello
The Mission and Its Romance
"Tickets to the city, Sir?" The conductor's voice sounded above the rumble of the train. As my companion's hand went to his pocket he glanced at me with a quizzical smile.
"I should think you Oaklanders would resent that. Hasn't your town put on long skirts since the fire?" There was an unpleasant emphasis on the last phrase, but I passed it over unnoticed.
"Of course we have grown up," I assured him. "We're a big flourishing city, but we are not the city. San Francisco always has been, and always will be the city to all northern California; it was so called in the days of forty-nine and we still cling affectionately to the term."
"I believe you Californians have but two dates on your calendar," he exclaimed, "for everything I mention seems to have happened either 'before the fire' or 'in the good old days of forty-nine!' 'Good old days of forty-nine,'" he repeated, amused. "In Boston we date back to the Revolution, and 'in Colonial times' is a common expression. We have buildings a hundred years old, but if you have a structure that has lasted a decade, it is a paragon and pointed out as built 'before the fire.' Do you remember the pilgrimage we made to the historic shrines of Boston, just a year ago?"
"Shall I ever forget it!" I exclaimed.
He smiled appreciatively. "Faneuil Hall and the old State House are interesting."
"Oh, I wasn't thinking about the buildings! I don't even recall how they look. But I do remember the weather. I was so cold I couldn't even speak."
"Impossible!" he cried, "you not able to talk!"
"But it's true! My cheeks were frozen stiff. I wore a thick dress, a sweater, a heavy coat and my furs, and, still I was cold while all the time I was thinking that the fruit trees and wild flowers were in blossom in California. If it hadn't been for the symphony concerts and the opera, I never could have endured an Eastern winter."
"A fine compliment to me when I spent days taking you to points of historic interest."
I sent him an appreciative glance. "It was good of you," I acknowledged, "and do you remember that I promised to take you on a similar pilgrimage when you came to San Francisco?"
He laughed. "And I was foolish enough to believe you, since I had never been to the Pacific Coast."
The train came to a stop in the Ferry Building and we followed the other passengers onto the boat. "San Francisco is modern to the core," he continued. "Boston dates back generations, but you have hardly acquired your three score years and ten."
"If you don't like fine progressive cities, why did you come to California?" His fault-finding with San Francisco hurt me as if it had been a personal criticism.
"You know why I came," he said gently, with his eyes on my face.
I felt the blood creeping to my cheeks and turned quickly to look for an out-of-doors seat. In the crowd we were jostled by a little slant-eyed man of the Orient, resplendent in baggy blue silk trousers tied neatly at the ankles and a loose coat lined with lavender, whose flowing sleeves half concealed his slender brown hands.
"There's a man who has centuries at his back." My companion's eyes traveled from the soft padded shoes to the little red button on the top of the black skull cap. "Even his costume is the same as his forefathers'."
"If you are interested in the Chinese, I'll show you Oriental San Francisco. It lies in the heart of the city and its very atmosphere is saturated with Eastern customs. It is much more sanitary but not as picturesque as it was before the fire." I flushed as I saw his amusement, and quickly called his attention to the receding shores where the encircling green hills had thrown out long banners of yellow mustard and blue lupins. To the right was Mt. Tamalpais, a sturdy sentinel looking out to the ocean, its summit pressed against the sky's blue canopy and its base lost in a network of purple forests. In front of the Golden Gate was Alcatraz Island, like a huge dismantled warship, guarding the entrance to the bay, and before us, San Francisco rested upon undulating hills, its tall buildings piercing the sky at irregular intervals. We made our way to the forward deck in order to have the full sweep of the waterfront.
"You should see it at night!" I said, "it is a marvelous tiara. The red and green lights on these wharves close to the water's edge are the rubies and emeralds, while above, sweeping the hills, the lights of the residences sparkle like rows and rows of diamonds."
A crowd of passengers surged around us as the boat poked its nose into the slip. "There was nothing left of this part of the city but a fringe of wharves, after the fire." I bit the last word in two, for it was evident the expression was getting on his nerves. I was thankful that the clanging chains of the descending gang plank and the tramp of many feet made further conversation impossible.
"Hurry," he urged, "there's the Exposition car." We were in front of the Ferry Building and the crowd was jostling us in every direction.
"You surely are not going to the Exposition!" I exclaimed in mock surprise.
"Of course I am. Where else should we go?"
"But, my dear Antiquary, those buildings are only a few months old!"
He laughed good naturedly. "It ought to suit you Westerners, anyway," he retaliated. Then taking my arm, "Let us hurry! Look, the car is starting!"
"I am going to take the one behind," I announced. "There must be something old in San Francisco and I am going to find it."
"You'll have a long hunt," rejoined the skeptic, and with his eyes still on the tail of the disappearing Exposition car, he reluctantly followed me.
"Lots of strangers in San Francisco for the Fair," he remarked, as from the car window he watched the big turban of a Hindoo bobbing among the crowd on the sidewalk; then his eyes wandered to a Japanese arrayed in a new suit of American clothes and finally rested on a bright yellow lei wound about the hat of a swarthy Hawaiian. I smiled as I nodded to the Japanese who had worked in my kitchen for three years, and recognized in the dusky Hawaiian one of the regular singers in a popular café.
The train had now left commercial San Francisco behind and was climbing the hills to where the nature loving citizens had perched their houses in order to obtain a better view of the bay. We abandoned the car and following an upward path, finally stood on the lower shoulder of Twin Peaks. Tired from our exertions we sank upon the soft grass. The hills had put on their festival attire, catching up their emerald gowns with bunches of golden poppies and veiling their shoulders in filmy scarfs of blue lupins. The air was filled with Spring and the delicate blush of an apple-tree told of the approach of Summer. Below, the city, noisy and bustling a few moments ago, now lay hushed to quiet by the distance and beyond, the sun-flecked waters of the bay stretched to a girdle of verdant hills, up whose sides the houses of the towns were scrambling. To the left, resting on the top of Mt. Tamalpais, could be seen the "sleeping maiden" who for centuries had awaited the awakening kiss of her Indian lover.
"What a glorious play-ground for San Francisco." His voice rang with enthusiasm. "Look at the ferryboats plowing up the bay in every direction. A man could escape from the factory grime on the water front and in an hour be asleep under a tree on a grassy hillside."
"It is a splendid country to tramp through, but if a man wants to sleep, why not spend less time and money by selecting a nearer place? There are plenty of trees and grassy mounds in the Presidio and Golden Gate Park."
His eyes followed mine to the green patch edging the entrance to the bay and then ran along the tree-lined avenue to the parked section extending almost from the center of the city to the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly he stood up and took his field glasses from his pocket.
"There's a granite cross just visible above the trees in Golden Gate Park." He focused his glasses for a better view. "It's quite elaborate in design and seems to be raised on a hill."
He offered me the glasses but I did not need them. "It's the Prayer-Book Cross and commemorates the first Church of England service held on this Coast by Sir Francis Drake in 1579. I think it is a shame that we haven't also a monument for Cabrillo, the real discoverer, who was here nearly forty years earlier. If Sir Francis hadn't stolen a Spanish ship's chart, he would never have found the Gulf of the Farallones. Cabrillo sailed along the coast more than half a century before Massachusetts Bay was discovered," I added maliciously.
"I had forgotten the old duffer," he smiled back at me. Raising his glasses again, he scanned the sombre roofs to the right. "There's another monument," he volunteered, "rising out of the heart of the city."
I followed the direction indicated to where the outstretched arms of a white wooden cross were silhouetted against the sky.
"If I were in Europe," he continued, "I should call it a shrine, for the sides of the hill on which it stands are seamed with paths running from the net-work of houses to the foot of the cross."
"It is a shrine at which all San Francisco worships. Wrapped in mystery it stands, for when it was placed there no one knows. It comes to us out of the past - a token left by the Spanish padres. Three times it has fallen into decay, but always loving hands have reached forward to restore it, and as long as San Francisco shall last, a cross will rise from the summit of Lone Mountain."
"The Spanish padres!" The ring in his voice bespoke his interest. "Are there any other relics left?"
I pointed to the level section below. "Do you see that low red roof almost hidden by its towering neighbors? That is the old Mission San Francisco de Asis, colloquially called Dolores, from the little rivulet on whose bank it was built."
Through his field glasses he scrutinized the expanse of substantial houses and paved streets. "I can't find the rivulet," he announced.
"Of course you can't, you stupid man!" I laughed. "If you'll use your imagination instead of your glasses you will see it easily. The stream arose, we are told, between the summits of Twin Peaks, and tumbling down the hill-side, made its way east, emptying into the Laguna."
"I don't see a laguna!" Again the skeptic surveyed the field of roofs.
"Put down your glasses and close your eyes," I commanded. "When you open them the houses from here to the bay will have disappeared and the ground will be covered with a carpet of velvety green, dappled here and there by groves of oak trees and relieved by patches of bright poppies."
"And fields of yellow mustard," he supplemented.
"No, your imagination is too vivid. The padres brought the mustard seed later. A little south of the present mission," I continued, "you will see a group of willows bending to drink the crystal waters of the Arroyo de los Dolores, so named because Anza and his followers discovered it on the day of our Mother of Sorrows, and to the east is the shining laguna."
"It's clear as a San Francisco fog," he laughed. "I'd like to take a look at the old building! Is there a car line?"
"Let's follow in the footsteps of the padres," I begged. "They used often to climb this hill and it isn't very far."
He looked dubiously down the rugged side and mentally measured the distance from the base to the low tiled roof.
"All right," he said at last," "if you'll let me take a ten minutes nap before we start." He stretched himself at full length on the soft grass and pulled his hat low over his eyes.
I was glad to be quiet for a time and let my imagination have full sweep. I seemed to see, toiling up the peninsula, a little band of foot-sore travelers, the leathern-clad soldiers on the alert for hostile Indians, the brown-robed friars encouraging the women and children, and the sturdy colonists bringing up the rear with their flocks and herds. At last the little company come to a sparkling rivulet and stoop to drink eagerly of the cool water. The commander examines his chart and nods to the tonsured priest who falls on his knees and raises his voice in thanksgiving. Stretching out his arms in blessing to his flock, he exclaims: "Rest now, my children. Our journey is at an end. Here on the Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, we will establish the mission to our Father San Francisco de Asis."
"If we want to see the old building before lunch time, we shall have to be moving," said a sleepy voice at my elbow.
"Come on, then, I'll be your pathfinder," and we raced down the hill-side until the paved streets reminded us that city manners were expected.
We followed the former course of the Arroyo de los Dolores down Eighteenth to Church street, then turned north. Two, blocks further on I laid a detaining hand on my companion's arm.
"Hold, skeptic," I whispered, "thou art on holy ground."
He looked up at the two-story dwelling house before us, let his eyes wander down the row of modest residences and linger on the pavements where a tattered newsboy was shying stones at a stray cat; then his glance came back to my face with a smile. "My belief in your veracity is unlimited. I uncover." He stood for an instant with bared head. "Just when did this sanctification take place, was it before the fire or - "
"It was on October 9th, 1776," I tried to speak impressively, "the year the Colonies made their Declaration of Independence. The procession began over there at the Presidio," I pointed to the north. "A brown-robed friar carrying an image of St. Francis led the little company of men, women and children over the shifting sand-dunes to this very spot where a rude church had been erected. Its sides were of mud plastered over a palisade wall of willow poles and its ceiling a leaky roof of tule rushes but it was the beginning of a great undertaking and Father Paloú elevated the cross and blessed the site and all knelt to render thanks to the Lord for His goodness."
"But I thought you said the church still existed." His eyes again sought the row of dwelling houses.
"This was only for temporary use and later was pulled down. Six years after the fathers arrived, a larger and more substantial church was built one block farther east. But before you see that you must get into the spirit of the past by imagining a square of four blocks lying between Fifteenth and Seventeenth streets and Church and Guerrero, swept clean of these modern structures and filled with mission buildings. At the time when you New Englanders were pushing the Indians farther and farther into the wilderness, killing and capturing them, we Californians were drawing them to our missions with gifts and friendship. While you were leaving them in ignorance we were teaching them - "
He stooped to get a full look at my eyes. "I never knew a Spaniard to have eyes the color of violets. Look up your family tree, my dear enthusiast, and I think you will find that you are we."
"I'm not," I declared indignantly. "I'm a Californian. I was born here and even if I haven't Spanish blood in my veins, I have the spirit of the old padres."
"But the spirit has not left a lasting impression. Indeed civilization
whether dealt out with friendly hands or thrust upon the natives at the point of the bayonet seems to have been equally poisonous on both sides of the continent."
"True, philosopher, but would you call the work of these padres impressionless, when it has permeated all California? The open-hearted hospitality of the Spaniards is a canonical law throughout the West, and their exuberant spirit of festivity still remains, impelling us to celebrate every possible event, present and commemorative."
We had reached Dolores Street, a broad parked avenue where automobiles rushed by one another, shrieking a warning to the pedestrian. Suddenly I found myself alone. My companion had darted across the crowded street to a little oasis of grass where a mission bell hung suspended on an iron standard.
"It marks 'El Camino Real,'" he reported as he rejoined me.
"The King's Highway," I translated. "It must have been wonderful at this season of the year, for as the padres traveled northward, they scattered seeds of yellow mustard and in the spring a golden chain connected the missions from San Francisco to San Diego. Over there nearer the bay," I nodded toward the east where a heavy cloud of black smoke proclaimed the manufacturing section of the city, "lay the Potrero - the pasture-land of the padres - and the name still clings to the district. Beyond was Mission Cove, now filled in and covered with store-houses, but formerly a convenient landing place for the goods of Yankee skippers who, contrary to Spanish law, surreptitiously traded with the padres."
We turned to the massive façade of the old church, where hung the three bells, of which Bret Harte wrote.
"Bells of the past, whose long forgotten music
As we entered the low arched doorway, we seemed to step from the hurry of the twentieth century into the peace of a by-gone era. Outside, the modern structures crowd upon the low adobe building, staring down upon it with unsympathetic eyes and begrudging it the very land it stands on, while inside, hand-hewn rafters, massive grey walls, and a red tiled floor slightly depressed in places by years of service, point mutely to the past, to the days when padres and neophytes knelt at the sound of the Angelus. Within still stand the elaborate altars brought a century ago from Mexico, before which Junipero Serra held mass during his last visit to San Francisco. On the massive archway spanning the building, can be seen the dull red scroll pattern, a relic of Indian work.
"Sing something," my companion suggested. "It needs music to make the spell complete."
"It does," I assented, "but you must stay where you are," and climbing to a balcony at the end of the building, I concealed myself in the shadow.
He glanced up at the first notes, then sat with bowed head. I filled the old church with an Ave Maria, then another. As I sang, the candles seemed to have been lighted on the gilded altars, and the brown friars and dusky Indians took form in the dim enclosure.
"More," he urged, but I would not, for I feared that the spell might be broken. So he came up to see why I lingered, and found me mounted on a ladder peering up at the old mission bells and the hand-hewn rafters tied with ropes of plaited rawhide.
My song must have attracted a passer-by, for a voice greeted us as we descended.
"Did you see the bells?" he asked eagerly. "They're a good deal like some of us old folks, out of commission because of age and disuse, but nevertheless they have their value. One has lost its tongue, another is cracked and the third sags against the side wall, so they're useless as church bells, but still they seem to speak of the days of the padres and the Indians."
"Were there many Indians here?" questioned the Bostonian.
"Often more than a thousand. I was born in the shadow of this building, in the year when the Mission was secularized, but my father knew it in its glory and used to tell me many stories about the good old padres."
Seeing the interest in our faces, the dark eyes brightened and he patted the thick adobe wall affectionately. "This church was only a small part of the Mission in those days. The buildings formed an inner quadrangle and two sides of an outer one, all a beehive of industry. There were the work rooms of the Indians, where blankets and cloth were woven; great vats for trying out tallow and curing hides, and also huge storehouses for grain and other foodstuffs, all built and cared for by the Indians."
"Quite a change from their lazy roving life," suggested the Easterner.
"Still the padres were not hard taskmasters," insisted the stranger. "The work lasted only from four to six hours a day and the evenings were devoted to games and dancing. All were required to attend religious services, however, and at the sound of the Angelus, they gathered within these walls. There was no sleeping through long prayers in those days," he added with an amused smile, "for a swarthy disciple paced the aisles and with a long pointed stick aroused the nodding ones, or quieted the too hilarious spirits of the small boys."
"A good example for some of our modern churches," remarked my companion, as we followed our guide to the altar at the end of the chapel. The light streaming through the mullioned window fell full upon the carved figure of a tonsured monk clad in a loose robe girdled with a cord. "It is our father, St. Francis," explained the old man. "It was in accordance with his direct wish that this Mission was founded."
"Yes?" questioned the skeptic.
"When Father Junípero Serra received orders from Galvez for the establishment of the missions in Alta California, and found that there was none for St. Francis, he ex-claimed: 'And is the founder of our order, St. Francis, to have no mission?' Thereupon the Visitador replied: 'If St. Francis desires a mission, let him show us his port,' and the Saint did!" the old face with its fringe of soft white hair was transformed with religious enthusiasm. "He blinded the eyes of Portolá and his men so that they did not recognize Monterey and led them on to his own undiscovered bay. And in spite of the fact that the Mission has been stripped of its lands, we know that it is still under the special protection of St. Francis, for it was not ten years ago that the second miracle was performed."
"The second miracle!" we wonderingly repeated.
"Yes, it was at the time of the fire of 1906. The heart of San Francisco was a raging furnace. The fireproof buildings melted under the tremendous heat and collapsed as if they had been constructed of lead; the devouring flames swept over the Potrero; they fell upon the brick building next door and crept close to the walls of this old adobe, when suddenly, as if in the presence of a sacred relic, the fire crouched and died at its very doors."
We passed the altar and the old man crossed himself, while in our hearts we, too, gave thanks for the preservation of this monument of the past.
"You must not go until you have seen the cemetery," said our guide as we moved toward the entrance, and throwing open a door to the right he admitted us to the neglected graveyard. Here and there a rude cross marked the resting place of an early Indian convert and an almost obliterated inscription on a broken headstone revealed the name of a Spanish grandee. Shattered columns, loosened by the hand of time and overthrown in recent years, lay upon the ground, while great willow and pepper trees spread out protecting arms, as if to shield the silent company from the inroads of modern enterprise. We picked our way along vine-latticed paths, past graves over which myrtle and roses wandered in untrimmed beauty, to where a white shaft marked the resting place of Don Luis Argüello, comandante of the San Francisco Presidio for twenty-three years and the first Mexican governor of California.
"How splendidly strong he looms out of the past," I said. "His keen insight into the needs of this western outpost and his determined efforts for the best interests of California will forever place him in the front rank of its rulers. I wonder if his young wife, Rafaela, is buried here also?" I drew aside the tangled vines from the near-by headstones. "She was always a little dearer to me than his second wife, the proud Dona Maria Ortega, perhaps because Rafaela belonged pre-eminently to San Francisco. Her father, Ensign Sal, was acting comandante of the Presidio when Vancouver visited the Coast, and Rafaela and Luis Argüello grew up together in the little adobe settlement."
"Go on," said the skeptic, leaning comfortably against a tree trunk. "This old Mexican governor seems to have had an interesting romance."
"He wasn't old," I protested, "only forty-six when he died. He was a splendid type of a young Spanish grandee, tall and lithe of form, with the dark skin and hair of his race. He combined the freedom born of an out-of-door life with the courtly manners inherited from generations of Spanish ancestry. To Rafaela Sal, watching the soldiers file out of the mud-walled Presidio, it seemed that none sat his horse so straight nor so bravely as did Don Luis Argüello. And at night to the young soldier dozing before the campfire in the forest, the billowy smoke seemed to shape itself into the soft folds of a lace mantilla from which looked out the smiling face of a lovely grey-eyed girl, framed in an exquisite mist of copper-colored hair.
"There was no opposition on the part of the parents to the union of these young people. The elder Argüello loved the sweet Rafaela as if she were his own daughter, and Ensign Sal was proud to claim the splendid young soldier as a son-in-law. So the betrothal was solemnized, but since Don Luis was a Spanish officer, the marriage must await the consent of the king, and forthwith papers were dispatched to the court of Madrid. California was an isolated province in those days and the packet boat, touching on the shore but twice a year, frequently brought papers from Spain dated nine months previous, so the older people affirmed that permission could not be received for two years, while Luis and Rafaela declared that if the king answered at once - and surely he would recognize the importance of haste - word might be received in eighteen months.
"After a year and a half had passed the young people could talk of little besides the expected arrival of the boat with an order from the king. Frequently Luis would climb the hills back of the Presidio where the wide expanse of the ocean could be seen. At last a sail was discovered on the horizon and the little settlement was thrown into a turmoil of excitement. Luis was first at the beach and impatiently watched the ship make its way between the high bluffs that guarded the entrance to the bay, and nose along the shore until it came to anchor in the little cove in front of the Presidio. Had the king's permission come? he eagerly asked his father, who was running through the papers handed him by the captain. But the elder man shook his head, and Luis turned with lagging steps to tell Rafaela that they must wait another six months. It seemed a long time to the impatient lovers and yet there was much to make the days pass quickly at the Presidio. The door of the commodious sala at the home of the comandante always stood wide open, and almost nightly the feet of the young people which had danced since their babyhood tripped over the floor of the old adobe building. Picnics were planned to the woods near the Mission and frequently longer excursions were undertaken; for El Camino Real was not only, the king's highway to church and military outposts, but also the royal road to pleasure, and when a wedding or a fiesta was at the end of a journey, no distance was counted too great. Luis watched his betrothed blossom to fuller beauty, fearful lest someone else might steal her away before word from the king should arrive.
"A year passed, then another. Packet boats came and went every six months, bringing orders to the comandante in regard to the administration of the military forces, concerning the treatment of foreign vessels, and of numerous other matters, but still the king remained silent on the one subject which, to the minds of the two young people, overshadowed all else. Luis rashly threatened to run away with his betrothed, while Rafaela, frightened, reminded him that there was not a priest in California or Mexico who would marry them without the king's order. And so each time the packet boat entered the harbor their hearts beat with renewed hope and then, disappointed, they watched it disappear through the Gulf of the Farallones, knowing that months would pass before another would arrive.
"Thus six years had gone by since permission had been asked of the king; six interminable years, they seemed to the lovers. Again the packet boat was sighted on the distant horizon. Luis saw the full white sails sweep past the fort guarding the entrance; he heard the salute of the guns and watched the anchor lowered into the water before he made his way slowly down to the shore. It would be the same answer he had received so many times, he was, sure, and he dreaded to put the question again. Ten minutes later he was racing over the sand-dunes to the Presidio, his face radiant and his hand tightly clasping an official document. It had come at last - the order from the king! Where was Rafaela? He hurried to her house and, folding her close in his arms, be whispered that their long waiting was at an end; that she was his as long as life should last.
"But, oh, such a little span of happiness was theirs! Only two brief years, and then the cold hand of death was laid upon the sweet Rafaela."
For a moment my companion did not move. A bird sang in the tree above us and the wind sent a shower of pink petals over the green mound. Then, stooping, he picked a white Castilian rose from a tangle of shrubbery and laid it at the base of the granite shaft. "In memory of the lovely Rafaela," he said softly; I unpinned a bunch of fragrant violets from my jacket and placed, them beside his offering, then we silently followed the shaded path to the white picket gate and were once more on the noisy thoroughfare.
"A fitting resting place for the first Mexican governor of California," he said, glancing back at the heavy façade of the church, "so simple and dignified. Yet if Luis Argüello had lived in New England, we should have considered his house of equal importance with his grave and have placed a bronze tablet on the front, but you Westerners have, so little regard for old - "
"If you would like to see the home of Luis Argüello, I will show it to you. It is at the Presidio."
"A hopeless mass of neglected ruins, I suppose. But still I should like to see the old walls, if you can find them."
"Shall we take the Camino Real on foot, just as the old padres used to?"
"Not if I have my way. I'll acknowledge that the Spanish friars have left you Californians one legacy that no Easterner can vie with, that is your love of tramping over these hills. I've seen streets in San Francisco so steep that teams seldom attempt them, as is evident from the grass between the cobblestones, and yet they are lined with dwellings."
"Houses that are never vacant," I assured him. "We like to get off the level, and value our residence real estate by the view it affords."
Noticing that the sun was now high, my companion drew out his watch. "Luncheon time," he announced. "Shall it be the Palace or St. Francis hotel?"
"Let's keep in the spirit of the times and go to a Spanish restaurant," I suggested, and soon we were on a car headed for the Latin quarter.
"May I replace the violets you left at the Mission?" he asked, as stepping from the car at Lotta's fountain, we lingered before the gay flower stands edging the sidewalk.
Before I had a chance to reply a fragrant bunch was thrust into his hands by an urchin who announced: "Two for two-bits."
"Two-bits is twenty-five cents," I interpreted, seeing the Easterner's mystified look.
"I'll take three bunches." His eyes rested admiringly on the big purple heads as he held out a dollar bill.
"Ain't you got any real money?" asked the boy, not offering to touch the currency.
Again the man's hand went to his pocket and drew out some small change, from which he selected a quarter, a dime and three one-cent pieces. The urchin turned the coppers over in his palm, then, diving below the heap of violets, he pulled out several California poppies. "We always give these to Easterners," he announced as he tucked them in among the violets.
"I wonder how that boy knew I was an Easterner?" the Bostonian reflected as we turned away. Then gently touching the golden petals, he asked: "Where did you get the odd name 'eschscholtzia' for this lovely flower?"
"It was given by the French-born poet-naturalist, Chamisso, in honor of the German botanist, Dr. Eschscholz, who came together to San Francisco on a Russian ship in 1816. However, I like better the Spanish names, dormidera - the sleepy flower - or copa de oro - cup of gold," I added as I pinned the flowers to my coat. The man's glance wandered around Newspaper Corners, when suddenly his look of surprise told me that he had discovered on this crowded section of commercial San Francisco a duplicate of the old bell hung in front of the Mission San Francisco de Asís.
"We are following El Camino Real from the Mission to the Presidio," I reminded him.
We turned toward the shopping district, but the lure of the place made our feet lag. We watched the people purchasing flowers at the corner, and the little newsboys drinking from Lotta's fountain.
"A tablet," he exclaimed delightedly, examining the bronze plate fastened to the fountain. "I didn't know you Westerners ever indulged in such things. 'Presented to San Francisco by Lotta, 1875,'" he read.
"Little Lotta Crabtree," I explained, "the sweet singer who bewitched the city at a time when gold was still more plentiful than flowers, and her song was greeted by a shower of the glittering metal flung to her feet by enthusiastic miners. But read the second tablet," I suggested. "It was placed there with the permission of Lotta."
"Tetrazzini!" his voice rang with surprise.
"Can you picture this place surging with people as it was on Christmas night five years ago, when Tetrazzini sang to San Francisco?" I asked. "The crowd began to gather long before the appointed time - the wealthy banker from his spacious home on Pacific Heights, the grimy laborer from the Potrero and the little newsboy with the badge of his profession slung over his shoulder. Flushed with excitement, the courted debutante drew back to give her place to a tired factory girl and close to the platform an old Italian, who had tramped all the way from Telegraph Hill, patiently waited to hear the sweet voice of his country woman. 'Tetrazzini is here,' they said to one another; Tetrazzini, who had been discovered and adored by the people of San Francisco when, as an unknown singer, she appeared in the old Tivoli opera house. At last she came, wrapped in a rose-colored opera coat, and was greeted with shouts of joy from a quarter of a million throats. She was radiant; smiling and dimpling she waved her handkerchief with the abandonment of a child. The storm of applause increased, rolling up the street to the very summit of Twin Peaks. Suddenly the soft liquid notes of a clear soprano fell upon the air, and instantly the great multitude was wrapped in silence. Out over the heads of the people the exquisite tones floated, mounting upward to the stars. It was the 'Last Rose of Summer,' and as she sang her opera coat slipped from her, leaving her bare shoulders and white filmy gown silhouetted against the sombre background. She sang again and again, while the vast throng seemed scarcely to breathe. Then she began the familiar strains of 'Old Lang Syne,' and at a sign, two hundred and fifty thousand people joined in the refrain."
"There is not a city in all the world except San Francisco which could have done such a thing," enthusiastically rejoined my companion, but the next instant the eccentricities of the place struck him afresh.
"Furs and apple blossoms!" he exclaimed, observing a woman opposite. "What a ridiculous combination!" Then, turning, he scrutinized me from the top of my flower-trimmed hat to the bottom of my full skirt until my cheeks burned with embarrassment. "Why, you have on a thin summer silk, while that woman is dressed for mid-winter!"
"Of course," I assented. "She's on the shady side of the street."
But still his face did not lighten. "We've been in the sun all morning," I continued to explain. "People talk about San Francisco being an expensive place to live in, but really it is the cheapest in the world. If a woman has a handsome set of furs, she wears them and keeps in the shadow, or if her new spring suit has just come home, she puts that on and walks on the sunny side of the street, being comfortably and appropriately, dressed in either."
"Great heavens!" he cried, "what a city!"
We passed through the shopping district and lingered for a moment at the edge of Portsmouth Square. My eyes rested affectionately on the clean-cut lawns and blossoming shrubs. Then I turned to the skeptic, but before I could speak, he had dismissed it with a nod.
"Too modern," he commented. "Looks as if it had been planted yesterday. "Now the Boston Common - "
A rasping discordant sound burst from a near-by store and the Easterner sent me a questioning glance.
"A Chinese orchestra," I replied. "We are in Oriental San Francisco."
"That park was doubtless made as a breathing place for this congested Chinese quarter," he glanced back at the green square. "A good civic improvement."
"That park is a relic of old Spanish days and one of the most historic spots in San Francisco," I said severely.
He stopped short. "You don't mean - I didn't suppose there was anything old in commercial San Francisco."
"Portsmouth Square was once the Plaza of the little Spanish town of Yerba Buena, and the public meeting place of the community when there were not half a dozen houses in San Francisco."
"Let's go back." He wheeled about abruptly and started in the direction of the square, but I protested.
"I am hungry and I want some luncheon!" "Then we'll return this afternoon." There was determination in his voice.
"We will hardly have time if we visit Luis Argüello's home at the Presidio," I objected.
"All right, we'll take it in tomorrow, then."
Hastening on, we were soon in the midst of the huddled houses of the Latin quarter. Tucked away between two larger buildings, we found a quaint Spanish restaurant. As we opened our tamales, my companion again referred to Portsmouth Square.
"Tell me about it," he demanded. "Does it date with the Mission and Presidio?"
"No, it is of later birth, but still of equal interest in the history of San Francisco. The city grew up from three points - the Mission" -I pulled a poppy from my bouquet and placed it on the table to mark the old adobe - "the Presidio" - I moved a salt cellar to the right of the flower - "and the town of Yerba Buena," this I indicated by a pepper box below the other two. "Roads connected these points like the sides of a triangle and gradually the intervening spaces were filled with houses."
"Go on." He leaned back in his chair, but I had already risen. "It will be more interesting to hear the story on the spot tomorrow," I assured him as I drew on my gloves.