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 own hands."
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 the headland.
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 heart.
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.