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.