Part 4 out of 4
too slow. And Willomene, she come more among us. She'd not stay shut
in-doors, like she done at first. I'd have like to've showed her how to
"Afteh she had downed yu' with her eye?" inquired the Virginian.
Young McLean reddened, and threw a furtive look upon me, the stranger,
the outsider. "Oh, well," he said, "I done nothing onusual. But that's
all different now. All of us likes her and respects her, and makes
allowances for her bein' Dutch. Yu' can't help but respect her. And she
shows she knows."
"I reckon maybe she knows how to deal with Hank," said the Virginian.
"Shucks!" said McLean, scornfully. And her so big and him so puny! She'd
ought to lift him off the earth with one arm and lam him with a baste or
two with the other, and he'd improve."
"Maybe that's why she don't," mused the Virginian, slowly; "because she
is so big. Big in the spirit, I mean. She'd not stoop to his level. Don't
yu' see she is kind o' way up above him and camp and everything--just her
and her crucifix?"
"Her and her crucifix!" repeated young Lin McLean, staring at this
interpretation, which was beyond his lively understanding. "Her and her
crucifix. Turruble lonesome company! Well, them are things yu' don't know
about. I kind o' laughed myself the first time I seen her at it. Hank, he
says to me soft, 'Come here, Lin,' and I peeped in where she was
a-prayin'. She seen us two, but she didn't quit. So I quit, and Hank came
with me, sayin' tough words about it. Yes, them are things yu' sure don't
know about. What's the matter with you camping with us boys tonight?"
We had been going to visit them the next day. We made it to-day, instead.
And Mr. McLean helped us with our packs, and we carried our welcome in
the shape of elk meat. So we turned our faces down the grass-topped
mountains towards Galena Creek. Once, far through an open gap away below
us, we sighted the cabin with the help of our field-glasses.
"Pity we can't make out Hank sleepin' in that brush," said McLean.
"He has probably gone into the cabin by now," said I.
"Not him! He prefers the brush all day when he's that drunk, you bet!"
"Afraid of her?"
"Well--oneasy in her presence. Not that she's liable to be in there now.
She don't stay inside nowadays so much. She's been comin' round the
ditch, silent-like but friendly. And she'll watch us workin' for a spell,
and then she's apt to move off alone into the woods, singin' them Dutch
songs of hern that ain't got no toon. I've met her walkin' that way, tall
and earnest, lots of times. But she don't want your company, though
she'll patch your overalls and give yu' lunch always. Nor she won't take
Thus we proceeded down from the open summits into the close pines; and
while we made our way among the cross-timber and over the little streams,
McLean told us of various days and nights at the camp, and how Hank had
come to venting his cowardice upon his wife's faith.
"Why, he informed her one day when he was goin' take his dust to town,
that if he come back and found that thing in the house, he'd do it up for
her. 'So yu' better pack off your wooden dummy somewheres,' says he. And
she just looked at him kind o' stone-like and solemn. For she don't care
for his words no more.
"And while he was away she'd have us all in to supper up at the shack,
and look at us eatin' while she'd walk around puttin' grub on your plate.
Day time she'd come around the ditch, watchin' for a while, and move off
slow, singin' her Dutch songs. And when Hank comes back from spendin' his
dust, he sees the crucifix same as always, and he says, 'Didn't I tell
yu' to take that down?' 'You did,' says Willomene, lookin' at him very
quiet. And he quit.
"And Honey Wiggin says to him, 'Hank, leave her alone.' And Hank, bein'
all trembly from spreein' in town, he says, 'You're all agin me!' like as
if he were a baby."
"I should think you would run him out of camp," said I.
"Well, we've studied over that some," McLean answered. "But what's to be
done with Willomene?"
I did not know. None of us seemed to know.
"The boys got together night before last," continued McLean, "and after
holdin' a unanimous meetin', we visited her and spoke to her about goin'
back to her home. She was slow in corrallin' our idea on account of her
bein' no English scholar. But when she did, after three of us takin'
their turn at puttin' the proposition to her, she would not accept any of
our dust. And though she started to thank us the handsomest she knowed
how, it seemed to grieve her, for she cried. So we thought we'd better
get out. She's tried to tell us the name of her home, but yu' can't
pronounce such outlandishness."
As we went down the mountains, we talked of other things, but always came
back to this; and we were turning it over still when the sun had departed
from the narrow cleft that we were following, and shone only on the
distant grassy tops which rose round us into an upper world of light.
"We'll all soon have to move out of this camp, anyway," said McLean,
unstrapping his coat from his saddle and drawing it on. "It gets chill now
in the afternoons. D' yu' see the quakin'-asps all turned yello', and the
leaves keeps fallin' without no wind to blow 'em down? We're liable to
get snowed in on short notice in this mountain country. If the water goes
to freeze on us we'll have to quit workin'. There's camp."
We had rounded a corner, and once more sighted the cabin. I suppose it
may have been still half a mile away, upon the further side of a ravine
into which our little valley opened. But field-glasses were not needed
now to make out the cabin clearly, windows and door. Smoke rose from it;
for supper-time was nearing, and we stopped to survey the scene. As we
were looking, another hunter joined us, coming from the deep woods to the
edge of the pines where we were standing. This was Honey Wiggin. He had
killed a deer, and he surmised that all the boys would be back soon.
Others had met luck besides himself; he had left one dressing an elk over
the next ridge. Nobody seemed to have got in yet, from appearances.
Didn't the camp look lonesome?
"There's somebody, though," said McLean.
The Virginian took the glasses. "I reckon--yes, that's Hank. The cold
has woke him up, and he's comin' in out o' the brush."
Each of us took the glasses in turn; and I watched the figure go up the
hill to the door of the cabin. It seemed to pause and diverge to the
window. At the window it stood still, head bent, looking in. Then it
returned quickly to the door. It was too far to discern, even through the
glasses, what the figure was doing. Whether the door was locked, whether
he was knocking or fumbling with a key, or whether he spoke through the
door to the person within--I cannot tell what it was that came through
the glasses straight to my nerves, so that I jumped at a sudden sound;
and it was only the distant shrill call of an elk. I was handing the
glasses to the Virginian for him to see when the figure opened the door
and disappeared in the dark interior. As I watched the square of darkness
which the door's opening made, something seemed to happen there--or else
it was a spark, a flash, in my own straining eyes.
But at that same instant the Virginian dashed forward upon his horse,
leaving the glasses in my hand. And with the contagion of his act the
rest of us followed him, leaving the pack animals to follow us as they
"Look!" cried McLean. "He's not shot her."
I saw the tall figure of a woman rush out of the door and pass quickly
round the house.
"He's missed her!" cried McLean, again. "She's savin' herself."
But the man's figure did not appear in pursuit. Instead of this, the
woman returned as quickly as she had gone, and entered the dark interior.
"She had something," said Wiggin. "What would that be?"
"Maybe it's all right, after all," said McLean. "She went out to get
The rough steepness of our trail had brought us down to a walk, and as we
continued to press forward at this pace as fast as we could, we compared
a few notes. McLean did not think he saw any flash. Wiggin thought that
he had heard a sound, but it was at the moment when the Virginian's horse
had noisily started away.
Our trail had now taken us down where we could no longer look across and
see the cabin. And the half-mile proved a long one over this ground. At
length we reached and crossed the rocky ford, overtaking the Virginian
"These hawsses," said he, "are played out. We'll climb up to camp afoot.
And just keep behind me for the present."
We obeyed our natural leader, and made ready for whatever we might be
going into. We passed up the steep bank and came again in sight of the
door. It was still wide open. We stood, and felt a sort of silence which
the approach of two new-comers could not break. They joined us. They had
been coming home from hunting, and had plainly heard a shot here. We
stood for a moment more after learning this, and then one of the men
called out the names of Hank and Willomene. Again we--or I at least--felt
that same silence, which to my disturbed imagination seemed to be rising
round us as mists rise from water.
"There's nobody in there," stated the Virginian. "Nobody that's alive,"
he added. And he crossed the cabin and walked into the door.
Though he made no gesture, I saw astonishment pass through his body, as
he stopped still; and all of us came after him. There hung the crucifix,
with a round hole through the middle of it. One of the men went to it and
took it down; and behind it, sunk in the log, was the bullet. The cabin
was but a single room, and every object that it contained could be seen
at a glance; nor was there hiding-room for anything. On the floor lay the
axe from the wood-pile; but I will not tell of its appearance. So he had
shot her crucifix, her Rock of Ages, the thing which enabled her to bear
her life, and that lifted her above life; and she--but there was the axe
to show what she had done then. Was this cabin really empty? I looked
more slowly about, half dreading to find that I had overlooked something.
But it was as the Virginian had said; nobody was there.
As we were wondering, there was a noise above our heads, and I was not
the only one who started and stared. It was the parrot; and we stood away
in a circle, looking up at his cage. Crouching flat on the floor of the
cage, his wings huddled tight to his body, he was swinging his head from
side to side; and when he saw that we watched him, he began a low
croaking and monotonous utterance, which never changed, but remained
rapid and continuous. I heard McLean whisper to the Virginian, "You bet
The Virginian stepped to the door, and then he bent to the gravel and
beckoned us to come and see. Among the recent footprints at the threshold
the man's boot-heel was plain, as well as the woman's broad tread. But
while the man's steps led into the cabin, they did not lead away from it.
We tracked his course just as we had seen it through the glasses: up the
hill from the brush to the window, and then to the door. But he had never
walked out again. Yet in the cabin he was not; we tore up the half-floor
that it had. There was no use to dig in the earth. And all the while that
we were at this search the parrot remained crouched in the bottom of his
cage, his black eye fixed upon our movements.
"She has carried him," said the Virginian." We must follow up Willomene."
The latest heavy set of footprints led us from the door along the ditch,
where they sank deep in the softer soil; then they turned off sharply
into the mountains.
"This is the cut-off trail," said McLean to me. "The same he brought her
The tracks were very clear, and evidently had been made by a person
moving slowly. Whatever theories our various minds were now shaping, no
one spoke a word to his neighbor, but we went along with a hush over us.
After some walking, Wiggin suddenly stopped and pointed.
We had come to the edge of the timber, where a narrow black canyon began,
and ahead of us the trail drew near a slanting ledge, where the footing
was of small loose stones. I recognized the odor, the volcanic whiff,
that so often prowls and meets one in the lonely woods of that region,
but at first I failed to make out what had set us all running.
"Is he looking down into the hole himself?" some one asked; and then I
did see a figure, the figure I had looked at through the glasses, leaning
strangely over the edge of Pitchstone Canyon, as if indeed he was peering
to watch what might be in the bottom.
We came near. But those eyes were sightless, and in the skull the story
of the axe was carved. By a piece of his clothing he was hooked in the
twisted roots of a dead tree, and hung there at the extreme verge. I went
to look over, and Lin McLean caught me as I staggered at the sight I saw.
He would have lost his own foothold in saving me had not one of the
others held him from above.
She was there below; Hank's woman, brought from Austria to the New World.
The vision of that brown bundle lying in the water will never leave me, I
think. She had carried the body to this point; but had she intended this
end? Or was some part of it an accident? Had she meant to take him with
her? Had she meant to stay behind herself? No word came from these dead
to answer us. But as we stood speaking there, a giant puff of breath rose
up to us between the black walls.
"There's that fluffy sigh I told yu' about," said the Virginian.
"He's talkin' to her! I tell yu' he's talkin' to her!" burst out McLean,
suddenly, in such a voice that we stared as he pointed at the man in the
tree. "See him lean over! He's sayin', 'I have yu' beat after all.'" And
McLean fell to whimpering.
Wiggin took the boy's arm kindly and walked him along the trail. He did
not seem twenty yet. Life had not shown this side of itself to him so
"Let's get out of here," said the Virginian.
It seemed one more pitiful straw that the lonely bundle should be left in
such a vault of doom, with no last touches of care from its
fellow-beings, and no heap of kind earth to hide it. But whether the
place is deadly or not, man dares not venture into it. So they took Hank
from the tree that night, and early next morning they buried him near
camp on the top of a little mound.
But the thought of Willomene lying in Pitchstone Canyon had kept sleep
from me through that whole night, nor did I wish to attend Hank's burial.
I rose very early, while the sunshine had still a long way to come down
to us from the mountain-tops, and I walked back along the cut-off trail.
I was moved to look once more upon that frightful place. And as I came to
the edge of the timber, there was the Virginian. He did not expect any
one. He had set up the crucifix as near the dead tree as it could be
"It belongs to her, anyway," he explained.
Some lines of verse came into my memory, and with a change or two I wrote
them as deep as I could with my pencil upon a small board that he
smoothed for me.
"Call for the robin redbreast and the wren,
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
And with flowers and leaves do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call to this funeral dole
The ant, the field-mouse, and the mole
To rear her hillocks that shall keep her warm.
"That kind o' quaint language reminds me of a play I seen onced in Saynt
Paul," said the Virginian. "About young Prince Henry."
I told him that another poet was the author.
"They are both good writers," said the Virginian. And as he was finishing
the monument that we had made, young Lin McLean joined us. He was a
little ashamed of the feelings that he had shown yesterday, a little
anxious to cover those feelings with brass.
"Well," he said, taking an offish, man-of-the-world tone, "all this fuss
just because a woman believed in God."
"You have put it down wrong," said the Virginian; "it's just because a
At Santa Ysabel del Mar the season was at one of its moments when the air
hangs quiet over land and sea. The old breezes had gone; the new ones
were not yet risen. The flowers in the mission garden opened wide, for no
wind came by day or night to shake the loose petals from their stems.
Along the basking, silent, many-colored shore gathered and lingered the
crisp odors of the mountains. The dust floated golden and motionless long
after the rider was behind the hill, and the Pacific lay like a floor of
sapphire, on which to walk beyond the setting sun into the East. One
white sail shone there. Instead of an hour, it had been from dawn till
afternoon in sight between the short headlands; and the padre had hoped
that it might be his ship. But it had slowly passed. Now from an arch in
his garden cloisters he was watching the last of it. Presently it was
gone, and the great ocean lay empty. The padre put his glasses in his
lap. For a short while he read in his breviary, but soon forgot it again.
He looked at the flowers and sunny ridges, then at the huge blue triangle
of sea which the opening of the hills let into sight."Paradise," he
murmured, "need not hold more beauty and peace. But I think I would
exchange all my remaining years of this for one sight again of Paris or
Seville. May God forgive me such a thought!"
Across the unstirred fragrance of oleanders the bell for vespers began to
ring. Its tones passed over the padre as he watched the sea in his
garden. They reached his parishioners in their adobe dwellings near by.
The gentle circles of sound floated outward upon the smooth immense
silence--over the vines and pear-trees; down the avenues of the olives;
into the planted fields, whence women and children began to return; then
out of the lap of the valley along the yellow uplands, where the men that
rode among the cattle paused, looking down like birds at the map of their
home. Then the sound widened, faint, unbroken, until it met Temptation
riding towards the padre from the south, and cheered the steps of
Temptation's jaded horse
"For a day, one single day of Paris!" repeated the padre, gazing through
his cloisters at the empty sea.
Once in the year the mother-world remembered him. Once in the year a
barkentine came sailing with news and tokens from Spain. It was in 1685
that a galleon had begun such voyages up to the lower country from
Acapulco, where she loaded the cargo that had come across Tehuantepec on
mules from Vera Cruz. By 1768 she had added the new mission of San Diego
to her ports. In the year that we, a thin strip of colonists away over on
the Atlantic edge of the continent, declared ourselves an independent
nation, that Spanish ship, in the name of Saint Francis, was unloading
the centuries of her own civilization at the Golden Gate. Then, slowly,
as mission after mission was planted along the soft coast wilderness, she
made new stops--at Santa Barbara, for instance; and by Point San Luis for
San Luis Obispo, that lay inland a little way up the gorge where it
opened among the hills. Thus the world reached these places by water;
while on land, through the mountains, a road came to lead to them, and
also to many more that were too distant behind the hills for ships to
serve--a long, lonely, rough road, punctuated with church towers and
gardens. For the fathers gradually so stationed their settlements that
the traveller might each morning ride out from one mission and by evening
of a day's fair journey ride into the next. A long, rough road; and in
its way pretty to think of now.
So there, by-and-by, was our continent, with the locomotive whistling
from Savannah to Boston along its eastern edge, and on the other the
scattered chimes of Spain ringing among the unpeopled mountains. Thus
grew the two sorts of civilization--not equally. We know what has
happened since. To-day the locomotive is whistling also from the Golden
Gate to San Diego; but the old mission road goes through the mountains
still, and on it the steps of vanished Spain are marked with roses, and
white cloisters, and the crucifix.
But this was 1855. Only the barkentine brought the world that he loved to
the padre. As for the new world which was making a rude noise to the
northward, he trusted that it might keep away from Santa Ysabel, and he
waited for the vessel that was overdue with its package containing his
single worldly indulgence.
As the little, ancient bronze bell continued its swinging in the tower,
its plaintive call reached something in the padre's memory. Without
knowing, he began to sing. He took up the slow strain not quite
correctly, and dropped it, and took it up again, always in cadence with
[Musical Score Appears Here]
At length he heard himself, and glancing at the belfry, smiled a little.
"It is a pretty tune," he said, "and it always made me sorry for poor Fra
Diavolo. Auber himself confessed to me that he had made it sad and put
the hermitage bell to go with it because he too was grieved at having to
kill his villain, and wanted him to die, if possible, in a religious
frame of mind. And Auber touched glasses with me and said--how well I
remember it!-- 'Is it the good Lord, or is it merely the devil, that
makes me always have a weakness for rascals?' I told him it was the
devil. I was not a priest then. I could not be so sure with my answer
now." And then Padre Ignazio repeated Auber's remark in French: "'Est-ce
le bon Dieu, on est-ce bien le diable, qui me fait tonjours aimer les
coquins?' I don't know! I don't know! I wonder if Auber has composed
anything lately? I wonder who is singing Zerlina now?"
He cast a farewell look at the ocean, and took his steps between the
monastic herbs and the oleanders to the sacristy. "At least," be said,
"if we cannot carry with us into exile the friends and the places that we
have loved, music will go where we go, even to such an end of the world
as this. Felipe!" he called to his organist. "Can they sing the music I
taught them for the Dixit Dominus to-night?"
"Yes, father, surely."
"Then we will have that. And, Felipe--" The padre crossed the chancel to
the small shabby organ. "Rise, my child, and listen. Here is something
you can learn. Why, see now if you cannot learn it with a single
The swarthy boy of sixteen stood watching his master's fingers, delicate
and white, as they played. So of his own accord he had begun to watch
them when a child of six; and the padre had taken the wild, half-scared,
spellbound creature and made a musician of him.
"There, Felipe!" he said now. "Can you do it? Slower, and more softly,
muchacho. It is about the death of a man, and it should go with our
The boy listened. "Then the father has played it a tone too low," said
he; "for our bell rings the note of sol, or something very near it, as
the father must surely know." He placed the melody in the right key--an
easy thing for him; but the padre was delighted.
"Ah, my Felipe," he exclaimed, "what could you and I not do if we had a
better organ! Only a little better! See! above this row of keys would be
a second row, and many more stops. Then we would make such music as has
never been heard in California yet. But my people are so poor and so few!
And some day I shall have passed from them, and it will be too late;"
"Perhaps," ventured Felipe, "the Americanos--"
"They care nothing for us, Felipe. They are not of our religion--or of
any religion, from what I can hear. Don't forget my Dixit Dominus." And
the padre retired once more to the sacristy, while the horse that carried
Temptation came over the hill.
The hour of service drew near; and as he waited, the padre once again
stepped out for a look at the ocean; but the blue triangle of water lay
like a picture in its frame of land, empty as the sky. "I think, from the
color, though," said he, "that a little more wind must have begun out
The bell rang a last short summons to prayer. Along the road from the
south a young rider, leading one pack-animal, ambled into the mission and
dismounted. Church was not so much in his thoughts as food and, in due
time after that, a bed; but the doors stood open, and as everybody was
going into them, more variety was to be gained by joining this company
than by waiting outside alone until they should return from their
devotions. So he seated himself at the back, and after a brief, jaunty
glance at the sunburnt, shaggy congregation, made himself as comfortable
as might be. He had not seen a face worth keeping his eyes open for. The
simple choir and simple fold gathered for even-song, and paid him no
attention on their part--a rough American bound for the mines was no
longer anything but an object of aversion to them.
The padre, of course, had been instantly aware of the stranger's
presence. For this is the sixth sense with vicars of every creed and
heresy; and if the parish is lonely and the worshippers few and seldom
varying, a newcomer will gleam out like a new book to be read. And a
trained priest learns to read shrewdly the faces of those who assemble to
worship under his guidance. But American vagrants, with no thoughts save
of gold-digging, and an overweening illiterate jargon for their speech,
had long ceased to interest this priest, even in his starvation for
company and talk from the outside world; and therefore after the
intoning, he sat with his homesick thoughts unchanged, to draw both pain
and enjoyment from the music that he had set to the Dixit Dominus. He
listened to the tender chorus that opens "William Tell"; and as the Latin
psalm proceeded, pictures of the past rose between him and the altar. One
after another came these strains which he had taken from the operas
famous in their day, until at length the padre was murmuring to some
music seldom long out of his heart--not the Latin verse which the choir
sang, but the original French words:
"Ah, voile man envie,
Voila mon seul desir:
Rendez moi ma patrie,
Ou laissez moi mourir."
Which may be rendered:
But one wish I implore,
One wish is all my cry:
Give back my native land once more,
Give back, or let me die.
Then it happened that he saw the stranger in the back of the church
again, and forgot his Dixit Dominus straightway. The face of the young
man was no longer hidden by the slouching position he had at first taken.
"I only noticed his clothes before," thought the padre. Restlessness was
plain upon the handsome brow, and in the mouth there was violence; but
Padre Ignazio liked the eyes. "He is not saying any prayers," he
surmised, presently. "I doubt if he has said any for a long while. And he
knows my music. He is of educated people. He cannot be American. And
now--yes, he has taken--I think it must be a flower, from his pocket. I
shall have him to dine with me." And vespers ended with rosy clouds of
eagerness drifting across the padre's brain.
But the stranger made his own beginning. As the priest came from the
church, the rebellious young figure was waiting. "Your organist tells
me," he said, impetuously, "that it is you who--"
"May I ask with whom I have the great pleasure of speaking?" said the
padre, putting formality to the front and his pleasure out of sight.
The stranger reddened, and became aware of the padre's features, moulded
by refinement and the world. "I beg your lenience," said he, with a
graceful and confident utterance, as of equal to equal. "My name is
Gaston Villere, and it was time I should be reminded of my manners."
The padre's hand waved a polite negative.
"Indeed yes, padre. But your music has astonished me to pieces. If you
carried such associations as-- Ah! the days and the nights!" he broke
off. "To come down a California mountain," he resumed, "and find Paris at
the bottom! 'The Huguenots,' Rossini, Herold-- I was waiting for 'Il
"Is that something new?" said the padre, eagerly.
The young man gave an exclamation. "The whole world is ringing with it,"
"But Santa Ysabel del Mar is a long way from the whole world," said Padre
"Indeed it would not appear to be so," returned young Gaston. "I think
the Comedie Francaise must be round the corner."
A thrill went through the priest at the theatre's name. "And have you
been long in America?" he asked.
"Why, always--except two years of foreign travel after college."
"An American!" said the surprised padre, with perhaps a flavor of
disappointment in his voice." But no Americans who have yet come this way
have been--have been"--he veiled the too blunt expression of his
thought--"have been familiar with 'The Huguenots,'" he finished, making a
Villere took his under-meaning. "I come from New Orleans," he returned.
"And in New Orleans there live many of us who can recognize a--who can
recognize good music wherever we meet it." And he made a slight bow in
The padre laughed outright with pleasure, and laid his hand upon the
young man's arm. "You have no intention of going away tomorrow, I trust?"
"With your leave," answered Gaston, "I will have such an intention no
It was with the air and gait of mutual understanding that the two now
walked on together towards the padre's door. The guest was twenty-five,
the host sixty.
"And have you been in America long?" inquired Gaston.
"And at Santa Ysabel how long?"
"I should have thought," said Gaston, looking lightly at the empty
mountains, "that now and again you might have wished to travel."
"Were I your age," murmured Padre Ignazio, "it might be so."
The evening had now ripened to the long after-glow of sunset. The sea was
the purple of grapes, and wine colored hues flowed among the high
shoulders of the mountains.
"I have seen a sight like this," said Gaston, "between Granada and
"So you know Spain!" said the padre.
Often he had thought of this resemblance, but never heard it told to him
before. The courtly proprietor of San Fernando, and the other patriarchal
rancheros with whom he occasionally exchanged visits across the
wilderness, knew hospitality and inherited gentle manners, sending to Europe
for silks and laces to give their daughters; but their eyes had not
looked upon Granada, and their ears had never listened to "William Tell."
"It is quite singular," pursued Gaston, "how one nook in the world will
suddenly remind you of another nook that may be thousands of miles away.
One morning, behind the Quai Voltaire, an old yellow house with rusty
balconies made me almost homesick for New Orleans."
"The Quai Voltaire!" said the padre.
"I heard Rachel in 'Valerie' that night," the young man went on. "Did you
know that she could sing too? She sang several verses by an astonishing
little Jew musician that has come up over there."
The padre gazed down at his blithe guest. "To see somebody, somebody,
once again," he said, "is very pleasant to a hermit."
"It cannot be more pleasant than arriving at an oasis," returned Gaston.
They had delayed on the threshold to look at the beauty of the evening,
and now the priest watched his parishioners come and go. "How can one
make companions--" he began; then, checking himself, he said: "Their
souls are as sacred and immortal as mine, and God helps me to help them.
But in this world it is not immortal souls that we choose for companions;
it is kindred tastes, intelligences, and--and so I and my books are
growing old together, you see," he added, more lightly. "You will find my
volumes as behind the times as myself."
He had fallen into talk more intimate than he wished; and while the guest
was uttering something polite about the nobility of missionary work, he
placed him in an easy-chair and sought aguardiente for his immediate
refreshment. Since the year's beginning there had been no guest for him
to bring into his rooms, or to sit beside him in the high seats at table,
set apart for the gente fina.
Such another library was not then in California; and though Gaston
Villere, in leaving Harvard College, had shut Horace and Sophocles
forever at the earliest instant possible under academic requirements, he
knew the Greek and Latin names that he now saw as well as he knew those
of Shakespeare, Dante, Moliere, and Cervantes. These were here also; nor
could it be precisely said of them, either, that they made a part of the
young man's daily reading. As he surveyed the padre's august shelves, it
was with a touch of the florid Southern gravity which his Northern
education had not wholly schooled out of him that he said:
"I fear that I am no scholar, sir. But I know what writers every
gentleman ought to respect."
The subtle padre bowed gravely to this compliment.
It was when his eyes caught sight of the music that the young man felt
again at ease, and his vivacity returned to him. Leaving his chair, he
began enthusiastically to examine the tall piles that filled one side of
the room. The volumes lay richly everywhere, making a pleasant disorder;
and as perfume comes out of a flower, memories of singers and chandeliers
rose bright from the printed names. "Norma," "Tancredi," "Don Pasquale,"
"La Vestale"--dim lights in the fashions of to-day--sparkled upon the
exploring Gaston, conjuring the radiant halls of Europe before him. "'The
Barber of Seville!'" he presently exclaimed."And I happened to hear it in
But Seville's name brought over the padre a new rush of home thoughts.
"Is not Andalusia beautiful?" he said." Did you see it in April, when the
"Yes," said Gaston, among the music. "I was at Cordova then."
"Ah, Cordova!" murmured the padre.
"'Semiramide!'" cried Gaston, lighting upon that opera. "That was a week!
I should like to live it over, every day and night of it!"
"Did you reach Malaga from Marseilles or Gibraltar?" said the padre,
"From Marseilles. Down from Paris through the Rhone Valley, you know."
"Then you saw Provence! And did you go, perhaps, from Avignon to Nismes
by the Pont du Gard? There is a place I have made here--a little, little
place--with olive-trees. And now they have grown, and it looks something
like that country, if you stand in a particular position. I will take you
there to-morrow. I think you will understand what I mean."
"Another resemblance!" said the volatile and happy Gaston. "We both seem
to have an eye for them. But, believe me, padre, I could never stay here
planting olives. I should go back and see the original ones--and then I'd
hasten up to Paris. "And, with a volume of Meyerbeer open in his hand,
Gaston hummed: "'Robert, Robert, toi que j'aime.' Why, padre, I think
that your library contains none of the masses and all of the operas in
"I will make you a little confession," said Padre Ignazio, "and then you
shall give me a little absolution."
"With a penance," said Gaston. "You must play over some of these things
"I suppose that I could not permit myself this indulgence," began the
padre, pointing to his operas; "and teach these to my choir, if the
people had any worldly associations with the music. But I have reasoned
that the music cannot do them harm--"
The ringing of a bell here interrupted him. "In fifteen minutes," he
said, "our poor meal will be ready for you." The good padre was not quite
sincere when he spoke of a poor meal. While getting the aguardiente for
his guest he had given orders, and he knew how well such orders could be
carried out. He lived alone, and generally supped simply enough, but not
even the ample table at San Fernando could surpass his own on occasions.
And this was for him an occasion indeed!
"Your half-breeds will think I am one of themselves," said Gaston,
showing his dusty clothes. "I am not fit to be seated with you." He, too,
was not more sincere than his host. In his pack, which an Indian had
brought from his horse, he carried some garments of civilization. And
presently, after fresh water and not a little painstaking with brush and
scarf, there came back to the padre a young guest whose elegance and
bearing and ease of the great world were to the exiled priest as sweet as
was his traveled conversation.
They repaired to the hall and took their seats at the head of the long
table. For the stately Spanish centuries of custom lived at Santa Ysabel
del Mar, inviolate, feudal, remote.
They were the only persons of quality present; and between themselves and
the gente de razon a space intervened. Behind the padre's chair stood an
Indian to wait upon him, and another stood behind the chair of Gaston
Villere. Each of these servants wore one single white garment, and
offered the many dishes to the gente fina and refilled their glasses. At
the lower end of the table a general attendant waited upon the
mesclados--the half-breeds. There was meat with spices, and roasted
quail, with various cakes and other preparations of grain; also the black
fresh olives, and grapes, with several sorts of figs and plums, and
preserved fruits, and white and red wine--the white fifty years old. Beneath
the quiet shining of candles, fresh-cut flowers leaned from vessels of
old Mexican and Spanish make.
There at one end of this feast sat the wild, pastoral, gaudy company,
speaking little over their food; and there at the other the pale padre,
questioning his visitor about Rachel. The mere name of a street would
bring memories crowding to his lips; and when his guest would tell him of
a new play, he was ready with old quotations from the same author. Alfred
de Vigny they had, and Victor Hugo, whom the padre disliked. Long after
the dulce, or sweet dish, when it was the custom for the vaqueros and the
rest of the retainers to rise and leave the gente fina to themselves, the
host sat on in the empty hall, fondly telling the guest of his bygone
Paris, and fondly learning of the Paris that was to-day. And thus the two
lingered, exchanging their fervors, while the candles waned, and the
long-haired Indians stood silent behind the chairs.
"But we must go to my piano," the host exclaimed. For at length they had
come to a lusty difference of opinion. The padre, with ears critically
deaf, and with smiling, unconvinced eyes, was shaking his head, while
young Gaston sang "Trovatore" at him, and beat upon the table with a
"Come and convert me, then," said Padre Ignazio, and he led the way.
"Donizetti I have always admitted. There, at least, is refinement. If the
world has taken to this Verdi, with his street-band music--But there,
now! Sit down and convert me. Only don't crush my poor little Erard with
Verdi's hoofs. I brought it when I came. It is behind the times too. And,
oh, my dear boy, our organ is still worse. So old, so old! To get a
proper one I would sacrifice even this piano of mine in a moment--only
the tinkling thing is not worth a sou to anybody except its master. But
there! Are you quite comfortable?" And having seen to his guest's needs,
and placed spirits and cigars and an ash-tray within his reach, the padre
sat himself luxuriously in his chair to hear and expose the false
doctrine of "Il Trovatore."
By midnight all of the opera that Gaston could recall had been played and
sung twice. The convert sat in his chair no longer, but stood singing by
the piano. The potent swing and flow of tunes, the torrid, copious
inspiration of the South, mastered him. "Verdi has grown," he cried.
"Verdi has become a giant." And he swayed to the beat of the melodies,
and waved an enthusiastic arm. He demanded every crumb. Why did not
Gaston remember it all? But if the barkentine would arrive and bring the
whole music, then they would have it right! And he made Gaston teach him
what words he knew."'Non ti scordar,"' he sang--"'non ti scordar di me.'
That is genius. But one sees how the world; moves when one is out of it.
'A nostri monti ritorneremo'; home to our mountains. Ah, yes, there is
genius again." And the exile sighed and his spirit went to distant
places, while Gaston continued brilliantly with the music of the final
Then the host remembered his guest. "I am ashamed of my selfishness," he
said. "It is already to-morrow."
"I have sat later in less good company," answered the pleasant Gaston.
"And I shall sleep all the sounder for making a convert."
"You have dispensed roadside alms," said the padre, smiling. "And that
should win excellent dreams."
Thus, with courtesies more elaborate than the world has time for at the
present day, they bade each other good-night and parted, bearing their
late candles along the quiet halls of the mission. To young Gaston in his
bed easy sleep came without waiting, and no dreams at all. Outside his
open window was the quiet, serene darkness, where the stars shone clear,
and tranquil perfumes hung in the cloisters. And while the guest lay
sleeping all night in unchanged position like a child, up and down
between the oleanders went Padre Ignazio, walking until dawn.
Day showed the ocean's surface no longer glassy, but lying like a mirror
breathed upon; and there between the short headlands came a sail, gray
and plain against the flat water. The priest watched through his glasses,
and saw the gradual sun grow strong upon the canvas of the barkentine.
The message from his world was at hand, yet to-day he scarcely cared so
much. Sitting in his garden yesterday he could never have imagined such a
change. But his heart did not hail the barkentine as usual. Books, music,
pale paper, and print--this was all that was coming to him, and some of
its savor had gone; for the siren voice of life had been speaking with
him face to face, and in his spirit, deep down, the love of the world was
restlessly answering that call. Young Gaston showed more eagerness than
the padre over this arrival of the vessel that might be bringing
"Trovatore" in the nick of time. Now he would have the chance, before he
took his leave, to help rehearse the new music with the choir. He would
be a missionary too. A perfectly new experience.
"And you still forgive Verdi the sins of his youth?" he said to his host.
"I wonder if you could forgive mine?"
"Verdi has left his behind him," retorted the padre.
"But I am only twenty-five," explained Gaston, pathetically.
"Ah, don't go away soon!" pleaded the exile. It was the plainest burst
that had escaped him, and he felt instant shame.
But Gaston was too much elated with the enjoyment of each new day to
understand. The shafts of another's pain might scarcely pierce the bright
armor of his gayety. He mistook the priest's exclamation for anxiety
about his own happy soul.
"Stay here under your care?" he said. "It would do me no good, padre.
Temptation sticks closer to me than a brother!" and he gave that laugh of
his which disarmed severer judges than his host. "By next week I should
have introduced some sin or other into your beautiful Garden of Ignorance
here. It will be much safer for your flock if I go and join the other
serpents at San Francisco."
Soon after breakfast the padre had his two mules saddled, and he and his
guest set forth down the hills together to the shore. And beneath the
spell and confidence of pleasant, slow riding, and the loveliness of
everything, the young man talked freely of himself.
"And, seriously," said he, "if I missed nothing else at Santa Ysabel, I
should long to hear the birds. At home our gardens are full of them, and
one smells the jasmine, and they sing and sing! When our ship from the
Isthmus put into San Diego, I decided to go on by land and see
California. Then, after the first days, I began to miss something. All
that beauty seemed empty, in a way. And suddenly I found it was the
birds. For these little scampering quail are nothing. There seems a sort
of death in the air where no birds ever sing."
"You will not find any birds at San Francisco," said the padre.
"I shall find life!" exclaimed Gaston. "And my fortune at the mines, I
hope. I am not a bad fellow, father. You can easily guess all the things
that I do. I have never, to my knowledge, harmed any one. I did not even
try to kill my adversary in an affair of honor. I gave him a mere flesh
wound, and by this time he must be quite recovered. He was my friend. But
as he came between me--"
Gaston stopped; and the padre, looking keenly at him, saw the violence
that he had noticed in church pass like a flame over the young man's
"There's nothing dishonorable," said Gaston, answering the priest's look.
"I have not thought so, my son."
"I did what every gentleman would do," said Gaston.
"And that is often wrong!" cried the padre. "But I'm not your confessor."
"I've nothing to confess," said Gaston, frankly. "I left New Orleans at
once, and have travelled an innocent journey straight to you. And when I
make my fortune I shall be in a position to return and--"
"Claim the pressed flower!" put in the padre, laughing.
"Ah, you remember how those things are!" said Gaston; and he laughed also
"Yes," said the padre, looking at the anchored barkentine, "I remember
how those things are." And for a while the vessel and its cargo and the
landed men and various business and conversations occupied them. But the
freight for the mission once seen to, there was not much else to hang
about here for.
The barkentine was only a coaster like many others which now had begun to
fill the sea a little more of late years, and presently host and guest
were riding homeward. And guessing at the two men from their outsides,
any one would have got them precisely wrong; for within the turbulent
young figure of Gaston dwelt a spirit that could not be more at ease,
while revolt was steadily smouldering beneath the schooled and placid
mask of the padre.
Yet still the strangeness of his being at such a place came back as a
marvel into the young man's lively mind. Twenty years in prison, he
thought, and hardly aware of it! And he glanced at the silent priest. A
man so evidently fond of music, of theatres, of the world, to whom
pressed flowers had meant something once--and now contented to bleach
upon these wastes! Not even desirous of a brief holiday, but finding an
old organ and some old operas enough recreation! "It is his age, I
suppose," thought Gaston. And then the notion of himself when he should
be sixty occurred to him, and he spoke.
"Do you know, I do not believe," said he, "that I should ever reach such
contentment as yours."
"Perhaps you will," said Padre Ignazio, in a low voice.
"Never!" declared the youth. "It comes only to the few, I am sure."
"Yes. Only to the few," murmured the padre.
"I am certain that it must be a great possession," Gaston continued; "and
yet--and yet--dear me! life is a splendid thing!"
"There are several sorts of it," said the padre.
"Only one for me!" cried Gaston. "Action, men, women, things--to be
there, to be known, to play a part, to sit in the front seats; to have
people tell each other, 'There goes Gaston Villere!' and to deserve one's
prominence. Why, if I were Padre of Santa Ysabel del Mar for twenty
years--no! for one year--do you know what I should have done? Some day it
would have been too much for me. I should have left these savages to a
pastor nearer their own level, and I should have ridden down this canyon
upon my mule, and stepped on board the barkentine, and gone back to my
proper sphere. You will understand, sir, that I am far from venturing to
make any personal comment. I am only thinking what a world of difference
lies between men's natures who can feel alike as we do upon so many
subjects. Why, not since leaving New Orleans have I met any one with whom
I could talk, except of the weather and the brute interests common to us
all. That such a one as you should be here is like a dream."
"But it is not a dream," said the padre.
"And, sir--pardon me if I do say this--are you not wasted at Santa Ysabel
del Mar? I have seen the priests at the other missions They are--the sort
of good men that I expected. But are you needed to save such souls as
"There is no aristocracy of souls," said the padre, almost whispering
"But the body and the mind!" cried Gaston. "My God, are they nothing? Do
you think that they are given to us for nothing but a trap? You cannot
teach such a doctrine with your library there. And how about all the
cultivated men and women away from whose quickening society the brightest
of us grow numb? You have held out. But will it be for long? Do you not
owe yourself to the saving of higher game henceforth? Are not twenty
years of mesclados enough? No, no!" finished young Gaston, hot with his
unforeseen eloquence; "I should ride down some morning and take the
Padre Ignazio was silent for a space.
"I have not offended you?" said the young man.
"No. Anything but that. You are surprised that I should--choose--to stay
here. Perhaps you may have wondered how I came to be here at all?"
"I had not intended any impertinent--"
"Oh no. Put such an idea out of your head, my son. You may remember that
I was going to make you a confession about my operas. Let us sit down in
So they picketed the mules near the stream and sat down.
"You have seen," began Padre Ignazio, "what sort of a man I--was once.
Indeed, it seems very strange to myself that you should have been here
not twenty-four hours yet, and know so much of me. For there has come no
one else at all"--the padre paused a moment and mastered the unsteadiness
that he had felt approaching in his voice--"there has been no one else to
whom I have talked so freely. In my early days I had no thought of being
a priest. My parents destined me for a diplomatic career. There was
plenty of money and--and all the rest of it; for by inheritance came to
me the acquaintance of many people whose names you would be likely to
have heard of. Cities, people of fashion, artists--the whole of it was my
element and my choice; and by-and-by I married, not only where it was
desirable, but where I loved. Then for the first time Death laid his
staff upon my enchantment, and I understood many things that had been
only words to me hitherto. Looking back, it seemed to me that I had never
done anything except for myself all my days. I left the world. In due
time I became a priest and lived in my own country. But my worldly
experience and my secular education had given to my opinions a turn too
liberal for the place where my work was laid. I was soon advised
concerning this by those in authority over me. And since they could not
change me and I could not change them, yet wished to work and to teach,
the New World was suggested, and I volunteered to give the rest of my
life to missions. It was soon found that some one was needed here, and
for this little place I sailed, and to these humble people I have
dedicated my service. They are pastoral creatures of the soil. Their
vineyard and cattle days are apt to be like the sun and storm around
them--strong alike in their evil and in their good. All their years
they live as children--children with men's passions given to them like
deadly weapons, unable to measure the harm their impulses may bring.
Hence, even in their crimes, their hearts will generally open soon to
the one great key of love, while civilization makes locks which that
key cannot always fit at the first turn. And coming to know this," said
Padre Ignazio, fixing his eyes steadily upon Gaston, "you will
understand how great a privilege it is to help such people, and hour
the sense of something accomplished--under God--should bring
contentment with renunciation."
"Yes," said Gaston Villere. Then, thinking of himself, "I can understand
it in a man like you."
"Do not speak of me at all!" exclaimed the padre, almost passionately.
"But pray Heaven that you may find the thing yourself some day
--contentment with renunciation--and never let it go."
"Amen!" said Gaston, strangely moved.
"That is the whole of my story," the priest continued, with no more of
the recent stress in his voice. "And now I have talked to you about
myself quite enough. But you must have my confession." He had now resumed
entirely his half-playful tone. "I was just a little mistaken, you see
too self-reliant, perhaps--when I supposed, in my first missionary ardor,
that I could get on without any remembrance of the world at all. I found
that I could not. And so I have taught the old operas to my choir--such
parts of them as are within our compass and suitable for worship. And
certain of my friends still alive at home are good enough to remember
this taste of mine, and to send me each year some of the new music that I
should never hear of otherwise. Then we study these things also. And
although our organ is a miserable affair, Felipe manages very cleverly to
make it do. And while the voices are singing these operas, especially the
old ones, what harm is there if sometimes the priest is thinking of
something else? So there's my confession! And now, whether 'Trovatore'
has come or not, I shall not allow you to leave us until you have taught
all you know of it to Felipe."
The new opera, however, had duly arrived. And as he turned its pages
Padre Ignazio was quick to seize at once upon the music that could be
taken into his church. Some of it was ready fitted. By that afternoon
Felipe and his choir could have rendered "Ah! se l'error t' ingombra"
without slip or falter.
Those were strange rehearsals of "Il Trovatore" upon this California
shore. For the padre looked to Gaston to say when they went too fast or
too slow, and to correct their emphasis. And since it was hot, the little
Erard piano was carried each day out into the mission garden. There, in
the cloisters among the oleanders, in the presence of the tall yellow
hills and the blue triangle of sea, the "Miserere" was slowly learned.
The Mexicans and Indians gathered, swarthy and black-haired, around the
tinkling instrument that Felipe played; and presiding over them were
young Gaston and the pale padre, walking up and down the paths, beating
time, or singing now one part and now another. And so it was that the
wild cattle on the uplands would hear "Trovatore" hummed by a passing
vaquero, while the same melody was filling the streets of the far-off
For three days Gaston Villere remained at Santa Ysabel del Mar; and
though not a word of the sort came from him, his host could read San
Francisco and the gold-mines in his countenance. No, the young man could
not have stayed here for twenty years! And the padre forbore urging his
guest to extend his visit.
"But the world is small," the guest declared at parting. "Some day it
will not be able to spare you any longer. And then we are sure to meet.
And you shall hear from me soon, at any rate."
Again, as upon the first evening, the two exchanged a few courtesies,
more graceful and particular than we, who have not time, and fight no
duels, find worth a man's while at the present day. For duels are gone,
which is a very good thing, and with them a certain careful politeness,
which is a pity; but that is the way in the general profit and loss. So
young Gaston rode northward out of the mission, back to the world and his
fortune; and the padre stood watching the dust after the rider had passed
from sight. Then he went into his room with a drawn face. But appearances
at least had been kept up to the end; the youth would never know of the
old man's discontent.
Temptation had arrived with Gaston, but was going to make a longer stay
at Santa Ysabel del Mar. Yet it was something like a week before the
priest knew what guest he had in his house now. The guest was not always
present--made himself scarce quite often.
Sail away on the barkentine? That was a wild notion, to be sure, although
fit enough to enter the brain of such a young scapegrace. The padre shook
his head and smiled affectionately when he thought of Gaston Villere. The
youth's handsome, reckless countenance would come before him, and he
repeated Auber's old remark, "Is it the good Lord, or is it merely the
devil, that always makes me have a weakness for rascals?"
Sail away on the barkentine! Imagine taking leave of the people here--of
Felipe! In what words should he tell the boy to go on industriously with
his music? No, this could not be imagined. The mere parting alone would
make it forever impossible that he should think of such a thing. "And
then," he said to himself each new morning, when he looked out at the
ocean, "I have given my life to them. One does not take back a gift."
Pictures of his departure began to shine and melt in his drifting fancy.
He saw himself explaining to Felipe that now his presence was wanted
elsewhere; that there would come a successor to take care of Santa
Ysabel--a younger man, more useful, and able to visit sick people at a
distance. "For I am old now. I should not be long here in any case." He
stopped and pressed his hands together; he had caught his temptation in
the very act. Now he sat staring at his temptation's face, close to him,
while there in the triangle two ships went sailing by.
One morning Felipe told him that the barkentine was here on its return
voyage south. "Indeed?" said the padre, coldly. "The things are ready to
go, I think." For the vessel called for mail and certain boxes that the
mission sent away. Felipe left the room, in wonder at the padre's manner.
But the priest was laughing alone inside to see how little it was to him
where the barkentine was, or whether it should be coming or going. But in
the afternoon, at his piano, he found himself saying, "Other ships call
here, at any rate." And then for the first time he prayed to be delivered
from his thoughts. Yet presently he left his seat and looked out of the
window for a sight of the barkentine; but it was gone.
The season of the wine-making passed, and the putting up of all the
fruits that the mission fields grew. Lotions and medicines were distilled
from the garden herbs. Perfume was manufactured from the petals of the
flowers and certain spices, and presents of it despatched to San Fernando
and Ventura, and to friends at other places; for the padre had a special
receipt. As the time ran on, two or three visitors passed a night with
him; and presently there was a word at various missions that Padre
Ignazio had begun to show his years. At Santa Ysabel del Mar they
whispered, "The padre is getting sick." Yet he rode a great deal over the
hills by himself, and down the canyon very often, stopping where he had
sat with Gaston, to sit alone and look up and down, now at the hills
above, and now at the ocean below. Among his parishioners he had certain
troubles to soothe, certain wounds to heal; a home from which he was able
to drive jealousy; a girl whom he bade her lover set right. But all said,
"The padre is sick." And Felipe told them that the music seemed nothing
to him any more; he never asked for his Dixit Dominus nowadays. Then for
a short time he was really in bed, feverish with the two voices that
spoke to him without ceasing ."You have given your life," said one voice.
"And therefore," said the other, "have earned the right to go home and
die." "You are winning better rewards in the service of God," said the
first voice. "God can be served in other places than this," answered the
second. As he lay listening he saw Seville again, and the trees of
Aranhal, where he had been born. The wind was blowing through them; and
in their branches he could hear the nightingales. "Empty! Empty!" he
said, aloud. "He was right about the birds. Death does live in the air
where they never sing." And he lay for two days and nights hearing the
wind and the nightingales in the trees of Aranhal. But Felipe, watching,
heard only the padre crying through the hours: "Empty! Empty!"
Then the wind in the trees died down, and the padre could get out of bed,
and soon could be in the garden. But the voices within him still talked
all the while as he sat watching the sails when they passed between the
headlands. Their words, falling forever the same way, beat his spirit
sore, like bruised flesh. If he could only change what they said, he
"Has the padre any mail for Santa Barbara?" said Felipe. "The ship bound
southward should be here to-morrow."
"I will attend to it," said the priest, not moving. And Felipe stole
At Felipe's words the voices had stopped, a clock done striking. Silence,
strained like expectation, filled the padre's soul. But in place of the
voices came old sights of home again, the waving trees at Aranhal; then
would be Rachel for a moment, deciaiming tragedy while a houseful of
faces that he knew by name watched her; and through all the panorama rang
the pleasant laugh of Gaston. For a while in the evening the padre sat at
his Erard playing "Trovatore." Later, in his sleepless bed he lay, saying
now a then: "To die at home! Surely I may granted at least this." And he
listened for the inner voices. But they were not speaking any more, and
the black hole of silence grew more dreadful to him than their arguments.
Then the dawn came in at his window, and he lay watching its gray grow
warm into color, us suddenly he sprang from his bed and looked the sea.
The southbound ship was coming. People were on board who in a few weeks
would be sailing the Atlantic, while he would stand here looking out of
the same window. "Merciful God!" he cried, sinking on knees. "Heavenly
Father, Thou seest this evil in my heart. Thou knowest that my weak hand
cannot pluck it out. My strength is breaking, and still Thou makest my
burden heavier than I can bear." He stopped, breathless and trembling.
The same visions were flitting across his closed eyes; the same silence
gaped like a dry crater in his soul. "There is no help in earth or
heaven," he said, very quietly; and he dressed himself.
It was so early still that none but a few of the Indians were stirring,
and one of them saddled the padre's mule. Felipe was not yet awake, and
for a moment it came in the priest's mind to open the boy's door softly,
look at him once more, and come away. But this he did not do, nor even
take a farewell glance at the church and organ. He bade nothing farewell,
but, turning his back upon his room and his garden, rode down the
The vessel lay at anchor, and some one had landed from her and was
talking with other men on the shore. Seeing the priest slowly coming,
this stranger approached to meet him.
"You are connected with the mission here?" he inquired.
"Perhaps it is with you that Gaston Villere stopped?"
"The young man from New Orleans? Yes. I am Padre Ignazio."
"Then you will save me a journey. I promised him to deliver these into
your own hands."
The stranger gave them to him.
"A bag of gold-dust," he explained, "and a letter. I wrote it from his
dictation while he was dying. He lived scarcely an hour afterwards."
The stranger bowed his head at the stricken cry which his news elicited
from the priest, who, after a few moments vain effort to speak, opened
the letter and read:
MY DEAR FRIEND,--It is through no man's fault but mine that I have come
to this. I have had plenty of luck, and lately have been counting the
days until I should return home. But last night heavy news from New
Orleans reached me, and I tore the pressed flower to pieces. Under the
first smart and humiliation of broken faith I was rendered desperate, and
picked a needless quarrel. Thank God, it is I who have the punishment. My
dear friend, as I lie here, leaving a world that no man ever loved more,
I have come to understand you. For you and your mission have been much in
my thoughts. It is strange how good can be done, not at the time when it
is intended, but afterwards; and you have done this good to me. I say
over your words, Contentment with renunciation, and believe that at this
last hour I have gained something like what you would wish me to feel.
For I do not think that I desire it otherwise now. My life would never
have been of service, I am afraid. You are the last person in this world
who has spoken serious words to me, and I want you to know that now at
length I value the peace of Santa Ysabel as I could never have done but
for seeing your wisdom and goodness. You spoke of a new organ for your
church. Take the gold-dust that will reach you with this, and do what you
will with it. Let me at least in dying have helped some one. And since
there is no aristocracy in souls--you said that to me; do you
remember?--perhaps you will say a mass for this departing soul of mine. I
only wish, since my body must go underground in a strange country, that
it might have been at Santa Ysabel del Mar, where your feet would often
"'At Santa Ysabel del Mar, where your feet would often pass.'" The priest
repeated this final sentence aloud, without being aware of it.
"Those are the last words he ever spoke," said the stranger, "except
bidding good-bye to me."
"You knew him well, then?"
"No; not until after he was hurt. I'm the man he quarrelled with."
The priest looked at the ship that would sail onward this afternoon. Then
a smile of great beauty passed over his face, and he addressed the
stranger. "I thank you," said he. "You will never know what you have done
"It is nothing," answered the stranger, awkwardly. "He told me you set
great store on a new organ."
Padre Ignazio turned away from the ship and rode back through the gorge.
When he reached the shady place where once he had sat with Gaston
Villere, he dismounted and again sat there, alone by the stream, for many
hours. Long rides and outings had been lately so much his custom, that no
one thought twice of his absence; and when he returned to the mission in
the afternoon, the Indian took his mule, and he went to his seat in the
garden. But it was with another look that he watched the sea; and
presently the sail moved across the blue triangle, and soon it had
rounded the headland. Gaston's first coming was in the padre's mind; and
as the vespers bell began to ring in the cloistered silence, a fragment
of Auber's plaintive tune passed like a sigh across his memory:
[Musical Score Appears Here]
But for the repose of Gaston's soul they sang all that he had taught them
of "Il Trovatore."
Thus it happened that Padre Ignazio never went home, but remained
cheerful master of the desires to do so that sometimes visited him, until
the day came when he was called altogether away from this world, and
"passed beyond these voices, where is peace."