Shouts called the members of the expedition once more before Father President Serra well before sunrise. The ceremony was simple, prayers for the success of their venture. The people then went to their assigned position and task.
The long trek started with Father President Serra leading. Timothy, Carla, Jaime, and Butterfly walked behind Padres Gregorio and José. The governor and his party, including twenty Soldados de Cuera, waited and watched as a line of heavily laden mules followed, led by volunteers from Loreto.
Each mule driver was accompanied by his woman. Ten wagons pulled by six mules each trailed that, again a woman seated beside each driver. The wives and children of the soldiers and volunteers came last.
When the governor was satisfied all was in order, he called over his lieutenant, José Carrillo, and gave him orders. Four riders moved out ahead of Father President Serra with orders to ensure the advance party found a good place to camp for the night. The remaining riders were posted alongside the caravan and as a rear guard.
Timothy and the others could not keep their eyes from the surrounding country. Soon after leaving the town, the road followed a pass into a valley that caused them to catch their breaths. Bristly fingers pointed skyward as if a sign of blessing on their venture. It appeared the friars thought something similar as they often crossed themselves. Two of the Indians who lived in Loreto came up to walk alongside the friars to explain what they were seeing were Cardón cacti.
Jaime ached to leave the group to explore the side trails and hills. He sensed Butterfly felt the same. But, he could not leave Timothy, at least not yet. Father President Serra led at his usual mile eating pace. Many wondered how a man his age and with his infected leg had done so for more miles than they cared to think about.
A Mestizo on horseback rode a respectful distance from Governor Portolá, responding when the governor pointed or asked a question.
A rumbling in the distance caught everybody by surprise. It was then the clouds hovering just behind mountains to the west caught their attention. Rain? At the beginning of January? That was most unusual. Father President Serra and Governor Portolá had planned their departure then as the short rainy season was supposed to be past. Streams would still have water and natural depressions would provide much-needed water for the caravan.
But, rain posed a serious threat. Even though it might fall many miles away, the runoff would rush downhill in a flood that would wash away anything - or anyone - in its way.
Timothy's companions knew this and Carla whispered that to him.
It did not take long until they passed ruins of la Visita de San Juan Bautista Londó. Just beyond that, they passed another set of ruins, those of the Mission of San Bruno that had lasted two years.
Padre Martin turned and told Timothy the Jesuits had founded it in 1699. “It was not a mission. It was a church to serve the Indians who lived in the area and a priest came once every two weeks to conduct Mass.” Again, answering before Timothy could ask, he said, “When the Jesuits heard they were being forced to leave, they ignored the church and locals took what they needed for their own use.”
They did not pause for a noontime rest or meal. Those who needed it fell out of line and found a place of privacy to relieve themselves. Each carried two flasks of water in addition to whatever their load was and dried meat and tortillas to quell their hunger. Carla and Butterfly had somehow obtained a fruit new to Timothy and Jaime they called fechas de palma, the fruit of the strange palm trees. They also had dried pears and peaches.
At last, far ahead of them, they saw smoke announcing the site of the night’s camp. They were in the midst of a forest of towering Cardón cacti, many of them growing out of clusters of prickly pear.
If he had not seen it for himself, Timothy would not have thought such a land could possibly exist. And contain life of any sort.
The scouts had done an excellent job and Father President Serra was pleased at the selected site. He stopped and said a prayer of blessing so that evil spirits of harmful things might beset them.
A wide, sandy riverbed wound through a large arroyo with small plants and no cactus beds. The water flowed reasonably and the scouts had dumped rocks into the stream bed to form a pool for the animals downhill from the camp. Another place upstream provided water for the cooking fires and bathing.
At least they do not expect us to drink the water where the livestock have been, Timothy thought. That was something the farmers of his region in England had recently learned and it had reduced some of the ills they had previously encountered.
The soldiers established the governor’s camp. He had a large tent for himself, several medium ones for his retinue and smaller two-man shelters for the soldiers.
Father President Serra and the friars found places in the sand to lay down their packs to serve as pillows. All the others followed their example once draft and pack animals were relieved of their burdens and herded into the temporary rope corral.
Timothy and his companions made their camp a little bit away from the main group but were not surprised when their guardians settled in next to them.
“Do you think we are safe from that evil man in Loreto?”
Timothy smiled and leaned over to kiss Carla’s cheek, causing her to blush.
Padre Gregorio answered, “It is most likely. Our scouts, while not accustomed to this land, should be able to spy anyone following us.”
Carla then said, “And los Indios would know far sooner.” She and Butterfly rose, saying they were going to the supply wagon for corn flour and jerked beef. They were gone before the men could stop them - although Timothy and Jaime knew that, once their minds were made up, they were unstoppable.
Timothy sighed. “Any idea how far we’ve come?”
“About twenty-five miles,” Padre Martin replied. “I sense Father President Serra eased up a bit for those following are not accustomed to walking.”
Timothy gulped. His feet had sores and the muscles of his legs felt like lead. He gazed at Jaime and realized his friend was fresh, not the least bit fatigued by the day’s march. “I would guess the governor and those on the backs of horses are not happy with our slow pace.”
Both friars chuckled. “In this country, they cannot travel without supply wagons and pack animals.”
Jaime joined the humor. “They have no idea how to live off this harsh land and would not last long on their own.”
Carla and Butterfly returned with the supplies and prepared the meal. Much to everyone’s surprise, they heard the tinkling of a small bell. It was the evening Call to Prayers so they all turned in the direction of the summons and crossed themselves, muttering the prayer of thanksgiving Father President Serra intoned from a spot overlooking the camp. Only when that ended did Carla and Butterfly serve the meal.
“Ratface is not following us. But we cannot be certain he has not sent someone from the pueblo to skulk in the hills overlooking us.”
The men looked at Butterfly, not surprised she would gain such knowledge.
They could not feel secure, even though Governor Portolá, his aides and soldiers were there.