Or The Song of Temptation
By Owen Wister
At Santa Ysabel del Mar the season was at one of those moments when the
air rests quiet over land and sea. The old breezes were gone; the new ones
were not yet risen. The flowers in the mission garden opened wide; 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 hung golden and motionless long after the rider
was behind the hill, and the Pacific lay like a floor of sapphire, whereon
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 the ship his
homesick heart awaited. But it had slowly passed. From an arch in his
garden cloisters he was now 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 in the guise of a
youth, riding toward 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, from
Spain, tokens and home-tidings came to him, sent by certain beloved
friends of his youth. A barkentine brought him these messages. Whenever
thus the mother-world remembered him, it was like the touch of a warm
hand, a dear and tender caress; a distant life, by him long left behind,
seemed to be drawing the exile homeward from these alien shores. As the
time for his letters and packets drew near, the eyes of Padre Ignacio
would be often fixed wistfully upon the harbor, watching for the
barkentine. Sometimes, as to-day, he mistook other sails for hers, but
hers he mistook never. That Pacific Ocean, which, for all its hues and
jeweled mists, he could not learn to love, had, since long before his day,
been furrowed by the keels of Spain. Traders, and adventurers, and men of
God had passed along this coast, planting their colonies and cloisters;
but it was not his ocean. In the year that we, a thin strip of patriots
away over on the Atlantic edge of the continent, declared ourselves an
independent nation, a Spanish ship, in the name of Saint Francis, was
unloading the centuries of her own civilization at the Golden Gate. San
Diego had come earlier. Then, slowly, as mission after mission was built
along the soft coast wilderness, new ports were established—at Santa
Barbara, and by Point San Luis for San Luis Obispo, which lay inland a
little way up the gorge where it opened among the hills. Thus the world
reached these missions by water; while on land, through the mountains, a
road led to them, and also to many more that were too distant behind the
hills for ships to serve—a rough road, long and lonely, punctuated
with church towers and gardens. For the Fathers gradually so stationed
their settlements that the traveler might each morning ride out from one
mission and by evening of a day's fair journey ride into the next. A
lonely, rough, dangerous road, but lovely, too, with a name like music—El
Camino Real. Like music also were the names of the missions—San Juan
Capistrano, San Luis Rey de Francia, San Miguel, Santa Ynes—their
very list is a song.
So there, by-and-by, was our continent, with the locomotive whistling from
Savannah to Boston along its eastern edge, and on the western 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 still the old mission-road goes through the mountains, and
along it the footsteps of vanished Spain are marked with roses, and broken
cloisters, and the crucifix.
But this was 1855. Only the barkentine brought to Padre Ignacio the signs
from the world that he once had known and loved so dearly. As for the new
world 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 luxury.
As the little, ancient bronze bell continued swinging in the tower, its
plaintive call reached something in the Padre's memory. Softly, absently,
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 the bell.
[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, if possible, to die 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 Ignacio repeated Auber's remark in French: "'Est-ce le bon Dieu, oui
est-ce bien le diable, qui veut tonjours que j'aime 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, the jasmines and the oleanders to the sacristy. "At
least," he said, "if we cannot carry with us into exile the friends and
the places we have loved, music will go whither we go, even to an end of
the world such 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 from a single hearing."
The swarthy boy of sixteen stood watching his master's fingers, delicate
and white, as they played. Thus, 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 mio. 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; and 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 yet been heard in California. 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."
The Padre retired once more to the sacristy, while the horse that brought
Temptation came over the hill.
The hour of service drew near; and as the Padre waited he 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, bare 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 a pack-animal, ambled into the mission and
dismounted. Church was not so much in his thoughts as food and, after due
digestion, a bed; but the doors stood open, and, as everybody was passing
within 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 in a corner near the entrance, and after a brief, jaunty
glance at the sunburned, 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, paid him no
attention—a rough American bound for the mines was but an object of
aversion to them.
The Padre, of course, had been instantly aware of the stranger's presence.
To be aware of unaccustomed presences is the sixth sense with vicars of
every creed and heresy; and if the parish is lonely and the worshipers few
and seldom varying, a newcomer will gleam out like a new book to be read.
And a trained priest learns to read keenly 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 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 he had taken from 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 his eye fell again upon the stranger near the door,
and he straightway forgot his Dixit Dominus. The face of the young man was
no longer hidden by the slouching position he had at first taken. "I only
noticed his clothes at first," thought the Padre. Restlessness was plain
upon the handsome brow, and violence was in the mouth; but Padre Ignacio
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
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's face reddened beneath its sun-beaten bronze, and he became
aware of the Padre's pale features, molded 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 amazed me. If you carried such
associations as—Ah! the days and the nights!"—he broke off.
"To come down a California mountain and find Paris at the bottom! The
Huguenots, Rossini, Herold—I was waiting for Il Trovatore."
"Is that something new?" inquired 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," murmured
"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 theater's name. "And have you been
long in America?" he asked.
"Why, always—except two years of foreign travel after college."
"An American!" exclaimed the surprised Padre, with perhaps a tone of
disappointment in his voice. "But no Americans who are 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 hear 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 to-morrow, 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 toward the Padre's door. The guest was twenty-five, the
"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 desert and
unpeopled mountains, "that now and again you might have wished to travel."
"Were I your age," murmured Padre Ignacio, "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 till now met any one
to share his thought. 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 violin-cellist that is come up over there."
The Padre gazed down at his blithe guest. "To see somebody, somebody, once
again, 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 for
ever 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
Shakspere, Dante, Moliere, and Cervantes. These were here also; but it
could not 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 histrionic Southern gravity which his Northern
education had not wholly schooled out of him that he said:
"I fear I am no scholar, sir. But I know what writers every gentleman
ought to respect."
The polished 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 piled and scattered everywhere, making a
pleasant disorder; and, as perfume comes from 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
"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?" asked 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 on 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 Ignacio, "and then you
shall give me a little absolution."
"For a penance," said Gaston, "you must play over some of these things to
"I suppose I could not permit myself this luxury," 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 would 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 indeed an occasion!
"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." But he did not
mean this any more than his host had meant his remark about the food. 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 Spanish centuries of stately 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 waft 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 wafted upon mesclados—the
half-breeds. There was meat with spices, and roasted quail, with various
cakes and other preparations of grain; also the brown 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 told him of a new
play he was ready with old quotations from the same author. Alfred de
Vigny they spoke of, 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 hail, fondly talking to his guest of his bygone
Paris and fondly learning of the later Paris that the guest had seen. And
thus the two lingered, exchanging their enthusiasms, 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 fork.
"Come and convert me, then," said Padre Ignacio, 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 comfortably in his chair to hear and expose the false doctrine of
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 rhythms, the torrid, copious
inspiration of the South, mastered him. "Verdi has grown," he cried.
"Verdi is become a giant." And he swayed to the beat of the melodies, and
waved an enthusiastic arm. He demanded every note. 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 scorder,'" 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 voyaged 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. But while the guest lay
sleeping all night in unchanged position like a child, up and down between
the oleanders went Padre Ignacio, walking until dawn. Temptation indeed
had come over the hill and entered the cloisters.
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, 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 it. 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!" exclaimed Gaston, pathetically.
"Ah, don't go away soon!" pleaded the exile. It was the first unconcealed
complaint that had escaped him, and he felt instant shame.
But Gaston was too much elated with the enjoyment of each new day to
comprehend the Padre's soul. The shafts of another's pain might hardly
pierce the bright armor of his gaiety. He mistook the priest's entreaty,
for anxiety about his own happy spirit.
"Stay here under your care?" he asked. "It would do me no good, Padre.
Temptation sticks closer to me than a brother!" and he gave that laugh of
his which had 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 for—how shall I say it?—for insecurity, for
danger, and of all kinds—not merely danger to the body. Within these
walls, beneath these sacred bells, you live too safe for a man like me."
"Too safe!" These echoed words upon the lips of the pale Padre were a
whisper too light, too deep, for Gaston's heedless ear.
"Why," the young man pursued in a spirit that was but half levity, "though
I yield often to temptation, at times I have resisted it, and here I
should miss the very chance to resist. Your garden could never be Eden for
me, because temptation is absent from it."
"Absent!" Still lighter, still deeper, was this whisper that the Padre
"I must 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 I
do. I have never, to my knowledge, harmed any one. I didn't 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
"That's nothing dishonorable," said Gaston, answering the priest's look.
And then, because this look made him not quite at his ease: "Perhaps a
priest might feel obliged to say it was dishonorable. She and her father
were—a man owes no fidelity before he is—but you might say
that had been dishonorable."
"I have not said so, my son."
"I did what every gentleman would do." insisted Gaston.
"And that is often wrong!" said the Padre, gently and gravely. "But I'm
not your confessor."
"No," said Gaston, looking down. "And it is all over. It will not begin
again. Since leaving New Orleans I have traveled an innocent journey
straight to you. And when I make my fortune I shall be in a position to
"Claim the pressed flower?" suggested the Padre. He did not smile.
"Ah, you remember how those things are!" said Gaston: and he laughed and
"Yes," said the Padre, looking at the anchored barkentine, "I remember how
those things are."
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 detain them.
The barkentine was only a coaster like many others which had begun to fill
the sea a little more of late years, and presently host and guest were
riding homeward. Side by side they rode, companions to the eye, but wide
apart in mood; within the turbulent young figure of Gaston dwelt a spirit
that could not be more at ease, while revolt was steadily kindling beneath
the schooled and placid mask of the Padre.
Yet still the strangeness of his situation in such a remote, resourceless
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 theaters, 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 Ignacio, 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 ways to live 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 one another, 'There goes Gaston Villere!' and to deserve one's
prominence. Why, if I was 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 natures that can feel as 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, again 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? Are you never
to save any souls of your own kind? 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 barkentine."
Padre Ignacio was silent for a space.
"I have not offended you?" asked 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 Ignacio, "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. By 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. To have been a husband for a
year, and a father for a moment, and in that moment to lose all—this
unblinded me. 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 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 Ignacio, fixing his eyes steadily upon Gaston,
"you will understand how great a privilege it is to help such people, and
how 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 is come or not, I
shall not allow you to leave us until you have taught all you know of it
The new opera, however, had duly arrived. And as he turned its pages Padre
Ignacio 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
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 jessamine, the orange blossoms, the oleanders, in the
presence of the round 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 restlessness 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. But 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 eternal 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 elder man's
Temptation had arrived with Gaston, but was destined to make a longer stay
at Santa Ysabel del Mar. Yet it was perhaps a week before the priest knew
this guest was come to abide with him. The guest could be discreet, could
withdraw, was not at first importunate.
Sail away on the barkentine? A wild notion, to be sure! although fit
enough to enter the brain of such a young scape-grace. The Padre shook his
head and smiled affectionately when he thought of Gaston Villere. The
youth's handsome, reckless countenance would shine out, smiling, in his
memory, 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 was not imaginable! The mere parting alone would make
it for ever impossible to think of such a thing. "And then," he said to
himself each new morning, when he looked out at the ocean, "I have given
to them my life. 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 than 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 has 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 then 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 secretly 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 preserving of all the fruits
that the mission fields grew. Lotions and medicines was distilled from
garden herbs. Perfume was manufactured from the petals of 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 Ignacio had
begun to show his years. At Santa Ysabel del Mar they whispered, "The
Padre is not well." 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
unwell." 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 better served in other places," 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. And he lay
for two days and nights hearing the wind and the nightingales in the far
trees of Aranhal. But Felipe, watching, only heard 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 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 for ever the same way, beat his spirit sore, like
blows upon flesh already bruised. If he could only change what they said,
he would rest.
"Has the Padre any mall for Santa Barbara?" asked Felipe. "The ship bound
southward should be here to-morrow."
"I will attend to it," said the priest, not moving. And Felipe stole away.
At Felipe's words the voices had stopped, as a clock finishes 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 it 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 and then: "To die at home! Surely I may be 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, until suddenly he sprang from his bed and
looked at the sea. Blue it lay, sapphire-hued and dancing with points of
gold, lovely and luring as a charm; and over its triangle the south-bound
ship was approaching. People were on board who in a few weeks would be
sailing the Atlantic, while he would stand here looking out of this same
window. "Merciful God!" he cried, sinking on his 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 was 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 still so early that few of the Indians were stirring, and one of
these 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, 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 canyon.
The vessel lay at anchor, and some one had landed from ha 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 Ignacio."
"Then you'll save me a journey. I promised him to deliver these into your
The stranger gave them to him.
"A bag of gold-dust," he explained, "and a letter. I wrote it at his
dictation while he was dying. He lived hardly an hour afterward."
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. By
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 afterward; 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 am 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 them 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, must my
body must go under ground in a strange country, that it might have been at
Santa Ysabel did 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 me good-by."
"You knew him well, then?"
"No; not until after he was hurt. I'm the man he quarreled 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
strange. "I thank you. 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 Ignacio turned away from the ship and rode back through the gorge.
When he had 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 resumed 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
With it departed Temptation for ever.
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]
For the repose of Gaston's young, world-loving spirit, they sang all that
he had taught them of Il Trovatore.
After this day, Felipe and all those who knew and loved the Padre best,
saw serenity had returned to his features; but for some reason they began
to watch those features with more care.
"Still," they said, "he is not old." And as the months went by they would
repeat: "We shall have him yet for many years."
Thus the season rolled round, bringing the time for the expected messages
from the world. Padre Ignacio was wont to sit in his garden, waiting for
the ship, as of old.
"As of old," they said, cheerfully, who saw him. But Renunciation with
Contentment they could not see; it was deep down in his silent and thanked
One day Felipe went to call him from his garden seat, wondering why the
ringing of the bell had not brought him to vespers. Breviary in lap, and
hands folded upon it, the Padre sat among his flowers, looking at the sea.
Out there amid the sapphire-blue, tranquil and white, gleamed the sails of
the barkentine. It had brought him a new message, not from this world; and
Padre Ignacio was slowly borne in from the garden, while the mission-bell
tolled for the passing of a human soul.