From: The Jimmyjohn Boss And Other Stories
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," he 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
"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
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
"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 slight bow.
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?" said he.
"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
"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 Seville."
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 flowers come?"
"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 the world!"
"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 scene.
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
"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
"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
"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 and blushed.
"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 these?"
"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
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
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
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
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 could rest.
"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, declaiming 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 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 pass."
"'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 for me."
"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."
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