In spite of his recitation of el Rosario, Father Mayorga cannot wipe out the sounds of the desert night from his ears. He finds it difficult to believe that a land so barren and hostile can hold such life.
A coyote calls out in the light of the three quarters moon and is quickly answered by two or three others. Insects chirr and make sharp noises, suddenly silent when the soft call of an owl signals its hunt. One of the mules stamps its foot and nickers, another responding. Night birds call to one another as they seek the creatures that come out once the light of day has faded.
While fingering the beads in the decades of the prayer, the priest looks up at the sky filled with twinkling gems, wondering if He is listening to his prayers. He then cringes and almost cries out at having doubted The Lord's love for His faithful. Without hesitation, he stops his prayer and turns to the small cloth bag he carries with him. Beside his bible and missal, it contains a single spare cassock and his látigo. After withdrawing it, he bares his back and whips himself with the leather strings with sharp pieces of metal embedded in them. Such a sin deserves nothing but the most severe atonement.
The night air caresses the blood flowing down his skin and sinfully provides slight relief from the pain.
After thirty lashes, the priest replaces the whip in his sack and covers his back before returning to saying his Rosary.
Padre Ugarte is a stern man but clearly shows his love for those Cochimi who have come to him to accept The Word. When not conducted religious rites, he teaches them more, not only of matters of doctrine, but those things needed to provide themselves with food in a land of great difficulty.
“As you learned in Loreto, one of the most difficult part about raising crops is keeping arable land from washing away when we irrigate it.” He led to where several converts were scooping up dirt to place in canvas containers to take back to the garden plots. He bent to the task of helping, Father Mayorga pitching in.
Meanwhile, Castro is busy with the local Cochimi governor, explaining which plants in the gardens are unwanted and need to be removed. The convert smiles and quickly orders sever of the converts to do as directed. He then moves to the area set aside for the livestock to care for his horses, along with the mule Father Mayorga had ridden.
As it had been done at la Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, the day is carefully structured to enable to converts to participate in religious rites and training, perform the tasks needed to make the mission successful, and generally keep them from mischief. Father Mayorga enjoys passing out food to the converts, especially watching them chatter among themselves as they eat.
He also surprises himself by quickly learning some of the Cochimi words. Listening to Father Ugarte reciting prayers in Cochimi is a big help, although when he learns the various meanings of the words, he sees how difficult it was to translate them to Latin. His respect only increases for those who came before him who taught the concepts of the church to people who had no belief in a supreme being.
That The Son of God had died, only to rise again, was a concept that awed them. Their lives had always been centered upon knowing that death was always nearby and often took their loved ones in unexpected ways. The knowledge that death was no longer a thing to be feared helped them cope with a discipline never before experienced.
One thing that puzzles the good father is the care taken in gathering material for the cooking fires. A land so dry should provide plenty. Yet, Father Ugarte and Castro urges the converts to carefully select the wood.
“When one removes too many of the plants from a hillside, it easily washes away when we get the rains. That clogs up the stream and reduces the amount of good water we have to drink and irrigate.”
Mayorga is impressed with the extensive knowledge of the man he knows to be a soldier in the service of the society. He is also aware that he has much to learn if he is to be successful in his calling.
A rider comes to the mission on the third day. The tall lance is noticeable from a distance so Father Mayorga rightfully guesses it to be Father Ugarte's escort. Juan Carrillo is a man in his late thirties, his visage dark and creased from the strong sun of the land. He has hazel eyes, dark hair, and a gleaming smile. He clearly appreciates the presence of de Castro and this new priest. More importantly, he is eager to see he supplies they have brought.
He goes directly to Father Ugarte and, after dismounting, apologizes. “I am afraid, reverend father, they killed one of the cows before I could get there. They had already cut it into pieces and were cooking it over a big fire.”
He explaines how the Cochimi who had stolen the livestock had come to a fiesta several months before and, seeing how easy it is to eat a cow instead of scrubbing for insects and small animals, had decided to take the three cows.
Just then, two converts riding mules drive the remaining two cows up the river bed. One of them also leads an Indian tied by a rope. Piece of the carcass are draped over the back of the spare mule.
“He is the leader of the family who decided to take them, reverend father.”
Father Mayorga is more than curious to see exactly what is going to be done with the culprit. He has no idea what kind of punishment will be called for by the local rules.
He is further surprised when, far down the river bed, a small group of Indians appears. Like other wild ones he has seen, the males wear nothing but tattoos and paint while the females only have leather strips around their waist with a flap covering their genitals. One male is about twelve or thirteen while the other could be no less than four or five. The woman is clearly their mother with three little girls who are her daughters.
Father Ugarte walks to the man and carefully unlooses his ropes, signaling for the herder converts to take the cattle to their place with the others. The then turns to the man and speaks to him at length in Cochimi.
“He is telling him what a bad thing he has done and how it has hurt many other people.”
Father Mayorga listenes to Carrillo while paying attention to Father Ugarte.
“He tells him that he and his family must stay here at the mission and work to earn the meat they have eaten. He also explains that, in the eyes of The Big Father and His Son, he must suffer for his actions.”
“And the Indian understands this?”
“Yes, reverend father. He and his family have been here several times before but have not yet accepted The Word to where they can be baptized.” He smiles and adds, “They will work and attend classes beside the converts until they are ready to accept The Rain of Jesus, as they call baptism.”'
Mayorga also learns the father will be punished. But it will not be given until after the evening's prayer and before the meals.
When the time comes, Carrillo and Jorge, the converts' governor, bring the man to the center of the plaza where everyone is assembled. The Cochimi is pushed to the hard-packed earth to kneel. Father Ugarte, holding a slim willow stick, addresses the crowd and explains in their language just what the man did and why it is against the customs of the church, of all gente de razn, and the community of the mission. He asks and, when the man nods his understanding, carefully rests the stick against the man's bare back.
Reciting the Our Father to provide the tempo, the priest lays strokes upon the man. Not too hard so as to break the skin and cause blood to flow or to cause bruising but enough to shame him in front of the others.
“The worst punishment for any Cochimi is to be made to appear smaller than another in front of other Cochimi. It will be something he can never forget.”
Mayorga nods his thanks to de Castro and turns his attention to the converts. He notices the man's woman and children looking down at the ground, unable to watch what is happening.
When twenty lashes are complete, Father Ugarte says Amen, to which the congregates loudly responds. Carrillo and Jorge then ties the man's hand around the pole by the door to the chapel and Father Ugarte tells all it is time to partake of the evening meal.
“He will stay here in the plaza until tomorrow at evening prayers. He will then be cut down and put to work under close supervision.”
Father Mayorga is impressed with Father Ugarte's action and carefully notes the reactions of the converts and the man's family.
He and de Castro prepare to depart early the next morning for the return to Loreto. Instead of allowing the soldier to prepare his mount for him, the priest does it himself, finding it slightly more difficult than it appears. But, he manages to do so, proud of his accomplishment. He instantly chastises himself inwardly, determined to atone for the sin that evening during his prayers.
During the ride back down the river bed, Mayorga continually asks questions about the land and what de Castro has learned from the Cochimi to survive in it. He knows it is but the first of many he will need but is determined to carry out the task set before him.
That night, after prayers and their meal, Mayorga convinces de Castro to show him the land at night. The soldier prepares two torches and, in their light, they walk through the area nearby the camp. Many creatures are barely glimpsed as they skitter off into the dark, but some are visible long enough to be identified.
There is el alacrán, the creature carrying its poison-filled tail high above its head. An serpiente de cascabel coils and shakes its tail in the clear warning that it feels threatened. Una troglodito del cactus pops in and out of the hole it has drilled high atop a towering cactus as it and its mate enter and depart to bring insects to its brood.
“When the wren family moves away, other creatures will use the nest for their own uses,” de Castro explains.
And, as they return to camp, Mayorga sees upon the crest of a hill, the silhouette of a coyote calling to its clan. He wonders is it has caught a rabbit with the long ears of a mule and calls him family to join him.
After punishing himself for his early sins of pride, Father Mayorga kneels in the sand of the river bed still warm from the sun's rays and fervently says the Rosary, seeking to calm his mind from spinning from all he has seen and learned. His brow sweats and his stomach churns from the difficult foods and he earnestly prays to have sufficient strength and health to carry out his mission.
Please, oh Lord, give me strength to carry out Your will. Thy will be done...