The Vision of Portola

By George Sterling

    SCENE: the present grove of The Family in Portola Valley.TIME: the last of twilight. A band of mounted men emerges from the shadows of the grove, DON GASPAR DE PORTOLA at their head. The troop consists of himself, his two officers, PEDRO FAGES and MIGUEL DE CONSTANSO, and ten  Troopers, the latter clad in jerkins of leather, much travel-stained. Two Priests, also mounted, are of the company. Their names are FATHER GOMEZ and FATHER CRESPI.


Portola: Halt! In this pleasant spot we'll pitch our camp. Don Fages, see that all's in order.  I will fare a little westward to yon hill. For as ere eve upon the mountainside we wandered, half I thought northward glimpsed great waters. Fare ye well a time.

[Portola rides onward. The others dismount, FAGES and CONSTANSO giving their horses into the care of the Troopers. A camp-fire is built and lit, and food and wine passed round. FAGES and CONSTANSO sit apart from the Troopers, who talk in a low tone among themselves.]

Constanso: Didst note Pedro, that good Don Gaspar's brow is ridged with care?

Fages: Of late it has been so.

Constanso: Would we might find this dubious port we seek. O Pedro! North and ever north we ride, beyond the limits that Cabrera gave, and seek the gulf he christened Monterey: Its haven eludes us

Fages: Even so. Yet we have kept the cost, or gazing down from heights that Christian foot trod not till now, have sought in vain that harbor.

Constanso: Sought in vain. Yet ever on, through savage men and wilds, the starlike soul of Portola contends, piercing this night of heathendom.

Fages: But when, when shall the quest be done? Think you, Miguel, Cabrera's chart was faulty? Did he err?

Constanso: Nay! The great pilot erred not. It is we that stray in darkness. Yet the hills reach north barring the sea forever.

Fages: It may be that soon we come upon the Russian's fort that lately they have builded in these wilds.

Constanso: 'Tis like that Galvez send us to the north even for that. But with our scanty ranks how shall we drive them from their high redoubt?

Fages: All is a mystery. Behind the plan for missions and the cure of heathen souls, a vaster purpose hides. Methinks that Spain would hold both Californias.

Constanso: But why? For scarcely in the lower land have we sure footing. It would seem a thousand years must grope their passage to eternity ere this wild land be tamed, and fit for homes.

Fages: So seems it—now. But, good Miguel, enough of doubts! Let's give our woes a merry end! [To the Soldier] A song! A song of those we love!

Soldiers: A song! [The Soldiers sing. Before the end of the song PORTOLA rides in and dismounts.]

Portola: Where are the Padres?

Fages: They essay to heal the mules that fell when we were in the hills today. Three were sore injured.

Portola: Send us Gomez.

[FAGES retires, and appears in a moment followed by PADRE GOMEZ, PORTOLA in the meanwhile engaging CONSTANSO in conversation]

Portola: Father, what think you of this land?

Gomez: 'Tis fair. Shall we not build a mission hereabouts?

Portola: Some day we'll found a mission, and your hands shall be outstretched to reap a thousand souls. These Indians shall be your heritage. But now, good Gomez, 'tis another thing we seek.

Gomez: aye, aye! That port of Monterey Viscayno found.

Portola: He found it with his ships: But we do wander in this wilderness, and speak by signs to these barbarians, nor find that harbor. I am just returned from yonder hill. Far to the north and east I gazed, but o'er the plains was poured a fog in mystery on mystery. The land appalls me. It is far and lone and sad. Who will leave friendly Mexico for this?

Gomez: I!... I tell you that to save one simple soul I'd cross yon sea, and on its bleakest isle labor and die forsaken by my kind! To save one soul, to save one savage soul!

Portola: Aye, aye! such is thy nature. As for me, I do abhor these solitudes, and now would fain return to where our ships await; But in far Mexico great Galvez sits and plans an empire, mindful of the Russian. I am an arrow that his bow has shot. In the ocean's voice I catch his last command. The very night seems but his shadow. I must on—but whither?

Gomez: I'll ask our God for thee. Perchance He'll send a sign, a voice, a guide.

Portola: None else can say unto what end or aim or mortal good we wander in this desert which no man will make his home for centuries to come...But let's to sleep. At sunrise I will call a council. We'll decide if furthermore we northward hold our way, or to the south haste, and the welcome shelter of our ships.

[The Troopers disperse. PORTOLA wraps his cloak about him and lies down by the fire. Beyond him sleep CONSTANSO and FAGES. The fire burns low. PORTOLA sleeps. From the depths of the grove beyond him now approaches, slowly, a figure in the guise of an angel, white-robed. It comes to PORTOLA, takes him by the hand, and leads him several steps forward. During the dialogue that follows, PORTOLA'S eyes are closed and he speaks as if in slumber, with a deepening awe in his tones.]

The Spirit: I am the angel of the years to be,—Star of that night wherein the future lies. Vision I grant, and light on times unborn, and prospect of inevitable things that are not, yet shall be. Gaze, Gaspar, gaze to south: what seest thou?

Portola: Behold! the path I and my band have trodden is become a highway to my people. Mexico puts forth her sons and daughters, and the land is happy with their homes. Far, far away, extend the fertile acres. Over all, a silver music cast from mission tow'rs tells of salvation to the savage. Still they take the royal highway, and I hear the sound of men and horses hurrying north—ever north. Oh! hearthstones of my race!

The Spirit: They take what they shall lose, and come in hope who soon must pass. God dreams a wider dream than theirs. Yet have they shown the path to man...Gaspar, look to the east!

Portola: Whence are those men, those eager multitudes? The tramplings of their cohorts shake the plains! They seem a flood, whose waters in their rage the mighty mountains bar not. Now at last the earlier torrents reach the rocky flanks and hurry through the gorges, and come forth resistless, to these valleys.

The Spirit: Turn again, O Gaspar, to the south: what seest thou?

Portola: I see smoke rising out of Mexico, and hollow echoes of a thunder spent. I see a Banner never seen till now.

The Spirit: O Gaspar, gaze thou westward, for those hills are now as crystal to thee, like the years. What seest thou?

Portola: I see a thousand sails that northward, ever northward, urge the keels; They pass me, hasting northward.

[PORTOLA turns his face slowly northward, following the ship's course, till his gaze is turned full to the north. An expression of awe and amazement comes over his countenance.]

The Spirit: And what there beholdest thou, Gaspar de Portola?

Portola: I see a city rising on far hills. It spreads, and masts and towers crowd the sky. Queen of this sea and all the virgin west, she sits her throne in beauty, holding forth her scepter unto many lands and men. They come; they meet: they serve her. In her courts are many laughters. Now she casts abroad a largess to the nations of her gold, and feeds them with her grain, and with her grapes maketh them merry. Was there ever yet a queen so gracious? Still her realms expand and still arise the houses and the groves, and now—nay, pity, pity!

[An expression of terror crosses his face.]

The Spirit: Take thou heart! Tell what thou seest!

Portola: Christ! the solid earth is shaken, and she falters on her throne! Her walls are down! her temples pass in fire! A pall of smoke conceals her from my sight! God! she is dead! she will not smile again, who was so fair, so gracious!

[PORTOLA sinks to one knee, and covers his face with his mantle]

The Spirit: Gaze once more, O Portola! and trust the eternal ways.

[PORTOLA still on one knee, but with mantle cast back and arms outstretched to the north]

Portola: Oh! still she lives, and fairer than before! Her children still surround her and her tow'rs gleam in the morning! Over sea and land they come in homage, for a mystic flame is on her turrets, and her deathless lips, wiser for sorrows past, call unto men with promise of new freedoms. Still the years bless and replenish, and make wide her fame. Her sister cities over all the world envy yet love her. Still the winds of good cleanse her and fill her and make clean her heart with vaster knowledge of man's need of man. Now Justice, and not Charity, hath sway.  Each in each other sees his brother's face. The weak grow strong, the strong lose not their strength, and all men, now one purpose, face the years— One purpose for all, wisdom, joy, and good. Behold! mankind shall be one Family!

The Spirit: [Taking PORTOLA, who rises, by the hand] Gaspar, the secret light by which thy soul hath gazed into the years I now withdraw. Remember. Yet that hidden radiance shall leave some trace of glory; thou henceforth shalt face thy perils with a stouter heart, till victory be thine, O thou first knight and champion of this imperial land, Incomparable California!

[The Spirit leads PORTOLA once more to his place by the camp-fire. He sinks down, his eyes still closed and his slumber still unbroken. The Spirit withdraws on the path by which it came, slowly and silently. A deep hush is on the grove. PORTOLA suddenly stirs, lifts himself on one arm, and stares wildly about him. He staggers to his feet, still searching the night with his eyes. Suddenly he cries out]

Portola: O Fages! Gomez! Constanso! Crespi! Come swiftly.[PORTOLA is suddenly surrounded by his officers and men, amid clashing swords.] I would tell you! Fages! Gomez!

[There are cries of "Aye! tell us!'—"Where is the foe?"—"What have you seen?"]

Portola: Lo! Even now it seemed that one stood here in radiance, and he said—what did he say? I saw—what saw I? Glories? Terrors? Dreams! Lo! vision was upon me, but some wind has swept the waters of my memory. And all that lay enmirrored there is gone—Aye, blurred and perished! Christ! what was the dream? For I have gazed on splendors and despairs, and on the night skies of futurity have seen strange stars and shadows, and beheld vast morning surging eastward on the world! What flags were those? what face? and what hope cried from that music? Christ! but all is fled!

Gomez: Yet has that vision come to you from God. For some new light is in your eyes. It seems as though a saint had laid his palm upon your brow, or led you by the hand. This is God's work.

Portola: I know it is of God; For now fresh hope and strength exult my soul, and now I feel this new land shall be ours. It is not long before the morning breaks—Let us go forth to meet it with a song—The road is free before us. Onward, all! The world shall know of California!

[The troops form behind PORTOLA, and depart, singing.]

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