Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather

Book Eight

Gold Under Pike’s Peak

1

Cathedral

Father Vaillant had been in Santa Fé nearly three weeks, and as yet nothing had been revealed to him that warranted his Bishop in calling him back from Tucson. One morning Fructosa came into the garden to tell him that lunch would be earlier than usual, as the Bishop was going to ride somewhere that afternoon. Half an hour later he joined his superior in the dining-room.

The Bishop seldom lunched alone. That was the hour when he could most conveniently entertain a priest from one of the distant parishes, an army officer, an American trader, a visitor from Old Mexico or California. He had no parlour — his dining-room served that purpose. It was long and cool, with windows only at the west end, opening into the garden. The green jalousies let in a tempered light. Sunbeams played on the white, rounded walls and twinkled on the glass and silver of the sideboard. When Madame Olivares left Santa Fé to return to New Orleans and sold her effects at auction, Father Latour bought her sideboard, and the dining-table around which friends had so often gathered. Doña Isabella gave him her silver coffee service and candelabra for remembrance. They were the only ornaments of the severe and shadowy room.

The Bishop was already at his place when Father Joseph entered. “Fructosa has told you why we are lunching early? We will take a ride this afternoon. I have something to show you.”

“Very good. Perhaps you have noticed that I am a little restless. I don’t know when I have been two weeks out of the saddle before. When I go to visit Contento in his stall, he looks at me reprovingly. He will grow too fat.”

The Bishop smiled, with a shade of sarcasm on his upper lip. He knew his Joseph. “Ah, well,” he said carelessly, “a little rest will not hurt him, after coming six hundred miles from Tucson. You can take him out this afternoon, and I will ride Angelica.”

The two priests left Santa Fé a little after midday, riding west. The Bishop did not disclose his objective, and the Vicar asked no questions. Soon they left the wagon road and took a trail running straight south, through an empty greasewood country sloping gradually in the direction of the naked blue Sandia mountains.

At about four o’clock they came out upon a ridge high over the Rio Grande valley. The trail dropped down a long decline at this point and wound about the foot of the Sandias into Albuquerque, some sixty miles away. This ridge was covered with cone-shaped, rocky hills, thinly clad with piñons, and the rock was a curious shade of green, something between sea-green and olive. The thin, pebbly earth, which was merely the rock pulverized by weather, had the same green tint. Father Latour rode to an isolated hill that beetled over the western edge of the ridge, just where the trail descended. This hill stood up high and quite alone, boldly facing the declining sun and the blue Sandias. As they drew close to it, Father Vaillant noticed that on the western face the earth had been scooped away, exposing a rugged wall of rock — not green like the surrounding hills, but yellow, a strong golden ochre, very much like the gold of the sunlight that was now beating upon it. Picks and crowbars lay about, and fragments of stone, freshly broken off.

“It is curious, is it not, to find one yellow hill among all these green ones?” remarked the Bishop, stooping to pick up a piece of the stone. “I have ridden over these hills in every direction, but this is the only one of its kind.” He stood regarding the chip of yellow rock that lay in his palm. As he had a very special way of handling objects that were sacred, he extended that manner to things which he considered beautiful. After a moment of silence he looked up at the rugged wall, gleaming gold above them. “That hill, Blanchet, is my Cathedral.”

Father Joseph looked at his Bishop, then at the cliff, blinking. “Vraiment? Is the stone hard enough? A good colour, certainly; something like the colonnade of St. Peter’s.”

The Bishop smoothed the piece of rock with his thumb. “It is more like something nearer home — I mean, nearer Clermont. When I look up at this rock I can almost feel the Rhone behind me.”

“Ah, you mean the old Palace of the Popes, at Avignon! Yes, you are right, it is very like. At this hour, it is like this.”

The Bishop sat down on a boulder, still looking up at the cliff. “It is the stone I have always wanted, and I found it quite by chance. I was coming back from Isleta. I had been to see old Padre Jesus when he was dying. I had never come by this trail, but when I reached Santo Domingo I found the road so washed by a heavy rain that I turned out and decided to try this way home. I rode up here from the west in the late afternoon; this hill confronted me as it confronts us now, and I knew instantly that it was my Cathedral.”

“Oh, such things are never accidents, Jean. But it will be a long while before you can think of building.”

“Not so very long, I hope. I should like to complete it before I die — if God so wills. I wish to leave nothing to chance, or to the mercy of American builders. I had rather keep the old adobe church we have now than help to build one of those horrible structures they are putting up in the Ohio cities. I want a plain church, but I want a good one. I shall certainly never lift my hand to build a clumsy affair of red brick, like an English coach-house. Our own Midi Romanesque is the right style for this country.”

Father Vaillant sniffed and wiped his glasses. “If you once begin thinking about architects and styles, Jean! And if you don’t get American builders, whom will you get, pray?”

“I have an old friend in Toulouse who is a very fine architect. I talked this matter over with him when I was last at home. He cannot come himself; he is afraid of the long sea voyage, and not used to horseback travel. But he has a young son, still at his studies, who is eager to undertake the work. Indeed, his father writes me that it has become the young man’s dearest ambition to build the first Romanesque church in the New World. He will have studied the right models; he thinks our old churches of the Midi the most beautiful in France. When we are ready, he will come and bring with him a couple of good French stone-cutters. They will certainly be no more expensive than workmen from St. Louis. Now that I have found exactly the stone I want, my Cathedral seems to me already begun. This hill is only about fifteen miles from Santa Fé; there is an upgrade, but it is gradual. Hauling the stone will be easier than I could have hoped for.”

“You plan far ahead.” Father Vaillant looked at his friend wonderingly. “Well, that is what a Bishop should be able to do. As for me, I see only what is under my nose. But I had no idea you were going in for fine building, when everything about us is so poor — and we ourselves are so poor.”

“But the Cathedral is not for us, Father Joseph. We build for the future — better not lay a stone unless we can do that. It would be a shame to any man coming from a Seminary that is one of the architectural treasures of France, to make another ugly church on this continent where there are so many already.”

“You are probably right. I had never thought of it before. It never occurred to me that we could have anything but an Ohio church here. Your ancestors helped to build Clermont Cathedral, I remember; two building Bishops de la Tour back in the thirteenth century. Time brings things to pass, certainly. I had no idea you were taking all this so much to heart.”

Father Latour laughed. “Is a cathedral a thing to be taken lightly, after all?”

“Oh, no, certainly not!” Father Vaillant moved his shoulders uneasily. He did not himself know why he hung back in this.

The base of the hill before which they stood was already in shadow, subdued to the tone of rich yellow clay, but the top was still melted gold — a colour that throbbed in the last rays of the sun. The Bishop turned away at last with a sigh of deep content. “Yes,” he said slowly, “that rock will do very well. And now we must be starting home. Every time I come here, I like this stone better. I could hardly have hoped that God would gratify my personal taste, my vanity, if you will, in this way. I tell you, Blanchet, I would rather have found that hill of yellow rock than have come into a fortune to spend in charity. The Cathedral is near my heart, for many reasons. I hope you do not think me very worldly.”

As they rode home through the sage-brush silvered by moonlight, Father Vaillant was still wondering why he had been called home from saving souls in Arizona, and wondering why a poor missionary Bishop should care so much about a building. He himself was eager to have the Cathedral begun; but whether it was Midi Romanesque or Ohio German in style, seemed to him of little consequence.

2

A Letter from Leavenworth

The day after the Bishop and his Vicar rode to the yellow rock the weekly post arrived at Santa Fé. It brought the Bishop many letters, and he was shut in his study all morning. At lunch he told Father Vaillant that he would require his company that evening to consider with him a letter of great importance from the Bishop of Leavenworth.

This letter of many pages was concerned with events that were happening in Colorado, in a part of the Rocky Mountains very little known. Though it was only a few hundred miles north of Santa Fé, communication with that region was so infrequent that news travelled to Santa Fé from Europe more quickly than from Pike’s Peak. Under the shadow of that peak rich gold deposits had been discovered within the last year, but Father Vaillant had first heard of this through a letter from France. Word of it had reached the Atlantic coast, crossed to Europe, and come from there back to the Southwest, more quickly than it could filter down through the few hundred miles of unexplored mountains and gorges between Cherry Creek and Santa Fé. While Father Vaillant was at Tucson he had received a letter from his brother Marius, in Auvergne, and was vexed that so much of it was taken up with inquiries about the gold rush to Colorado, of which he had never heard, while Marius gave him but little news of the war in Italy, which seemed relatively near and much more important.

That congested heaping up of the Rocky Mountain chain about Pike’s Peak was a blank space on the continent at this time. Even the fur trappers, coming down from Wyoming to Taos with their pelts, avoided that humped granite backbone. Only a few years before, Frémont had tried to penetrate the Colorado Rockies, and his party had come half-starved into Taos at last, having eaten most of their mules. But within twelve months everything had changed. Wandering prospectors had found large deposits of gold along Cherry Creek, and the mountains that were solitary a year ago were now full of people. Wagon trains were streaming westward across the prairies from the Missouri River.

The Bishop of Leavenworth wrote Father Latour that he himself had just returned from a visit to Colorado. He had found the slopes under Pike’s Peak dotted with camps, the gorges black with placer miners; thousands of people were living in tents and shacks, Denver City was full of saloons and gambling-rooms; and among all the wanderers and wastrels were many honest men, hundreds of good Catholics, and not one priest. The young men were adrift in a lawless society without spiritual guidance. The old men died from exposure and mountain pneumonia, with no one to give them the last rites of the Church.

This new and populous community must, for the present, the Kansas Bishop wrote, be accounted under Father Latour’s jurisdiction. His great diocese, already enlarged by thousands of square miles to the south and west, must now, on the north, take in the still undefined but suddenly important region of the Colorado Rockies. The Bishop of Leavenworth begged him to send a priest there as soon as possible, — an able one, by all means, not only devoted, but resourceful and intelligent, one who would be at his ease with all sorts of men. He must take his bedding and camp outfit, medicines and provisions, and clothing for the severe winter. At Camp Denver there was nothing to be bought but tobacco and whisky. There were no women there, and no cook stoves. The miners lived on half-baked dough and alcohol. They did not even keep the mountain water pure, and so died of fever. All the living conditions were abominable.

In the evening, after dinner, Father Latour read this letter aloud to Father Vaillant in his study. When he had finished, he put down the closely written pages.

“You have been complaining of inactivity, Father Joseph; here is your opportunity.”

Father Joseph, who had been growing more and more restless during the reading of the letter, said merely: “So now I must begin speaking English again! I can start tomorrow if you wish it.”

The Bishop shook his head. “Not so fast. There will be no hospitable Mexicans to receive you at the end of this journey. You must take your living with you. We will have a wagon built for you, and choose your outfit carefully. Tranquilino’s brother, Sabino, will be your driver. This, I fear, will be the hardest mission you have ever undertaken.”

The two priests talked until a late hour. There was Arizona to be considered; somebody must be found to continue Father Vaillant’s work there. Of all the countries he knew, that desert and its yellow people were the dearest to him. But it was the discipline of his life to break ties; to say farewell and move on into the unknown.

Before he went to bed that night Father Joseph greased his boots and trimmed the calloused spots on his feet with an old razor. At the Mexican village of Chimayo, over toward the Truchas mountains, the good people were especially devoted to a little equestrian image of Santiago in their church, and they made him a new pair of boots every few months, insisting that he went abroad at night and wore out his shoes, even on horseback. When Father Joseph stayed there, he used to tell them he wished that, in addition to the consecration of the hands, God had provided some special blessing for the missionary’s feet.

He recalled affectionately an incident which concerned this Santiago of Chimayo. Some years ago Father Joseph was asked to go to the calabozo at Santa Fé to see a murderer from Chimayo. The prisoner proved to be a boy of twenty, very gentle in face and manner. His name was Ramón Armajillo. He had been passionately fond of cock-fighting, and it was his undoing. He had bred a rooster that never lost a battle, but had slit the necks of cocks in all the little towns about. At last Ramón brought the bird to Santa Fé to match him with a famous cock there, and half a dozen Chimayo boys came along and put up everything they had on Ramón’s rooster. The betting was heavy on both sides, and the gate receipts also were to go to the winner. After a somewhat doubtful beginning, Ramón’s cock neatly ripped the jugular vein of his opponent; but the owner of the defeated bird, before anyone could stop him, reached into the ring and wrung the victor’s neck. Before he had dropped the limp bunch of feathers from his hand, Ramón’s knife was in his heart. It all happened in a flash — some of the witnesses even insisted that the death of the man and the death of the cock were simultaneous. All agreed that there was not time for a man to catch his breath between the whirl of the wrist and the gleam of the knife. Unfortunately the American judge was a very stupid man, who disliked Mexicans and hoped to wipe out cock-fighting. He accepted as evidence statements made by the murdered man’s friends to the effect that Ramón had repeatedly threatened his life.

When Father Vaillant went to see the boy in his cell a few days before his execution, he found him making a pair of tiny buckskin boots, as if for a doll, and Ramón told him they were for the little Santiago in the church at home. His family would come up to Santa Fé for the hanging, and they would take the boots back to Chimayo, and perhaps the little saint would say a good word for him.

Rubbing oil into his boots by candlelight, Father Vaillant sighed. The criminals with whom he would have to do in Colorado would hardly be of that type, he told himself.

3

Auspice Maria!

The construction of Father Vaillant’s wagon took a month. It must be a wagon of very unusual design, capable of carrying a great deal, yet light enough and narrow enough to wind through the mountain gorges beyond Pueblo, — where there were no roads at all except the rocky ravines cut out by streams that flowed full in the spring but would be dry now in the autumn. While his wagon was building, Father Joseph was carefully selecting his stores, and the furnishings for a small chapel which he meant to construct of saplings or canvas immediately upon his arrival at Camp Denver. Moreover, there were his valises full of medals, crosses, rosaries, coloured pictures and religious pamphlets. For himself, he required no books but his breviary.

In the Bishop’s court-yard he sorted and resorted his cargo, always finding a more necessary article for which a less necessary had to be discarded. Fructosa and Magdalena were frequently called upon to help him, and when a box was finally closed, Fructosa had it put away in the wood-shed. She had noticed the Bishop’s brows contract slightly when he came upon these trunks and chests in his hallway and dining-room. All the bedding and clothing was packed in great sacks of dressed calfskin, which Sabino procured from old Mexican settlers. These were already going out of fashion, but in the early days they were the poor man’s trunk.

Bishop Latour also was very busy at this time, training a new priest from Clermont; riding about with him among the distant parishes and trying to give him an understanding of the people. As a Bishop, he could only approve Father Vaillant’s eagerness to be gone, and the enthusiasm with which he turned to hardships of a new kind. But as a man, he was a little hurt that his old comrade should leave him without one regret. He seemed to know, as if it had been revealed to him, that this was a final break; that their lives would part here, and that they would never work together again. The bustle of preparation in his own house was painful to him, and he was glad to be abroad among the parishes.

One day when the Bishop had just returned from Albuquerque, Father Vaillant came in to luncheon in high spirits. He had been out for a drive in his new wagon, and declared that it was satisfactory at last. Sabino was ready, and he thought they would start the day after tomorrow. He diagrammed his route on the table-cloth, and went over the catalogue of his equipment. The Bishop was tired and scarcely touched his food, but Father Joseph ate generously, as he was apt to do when fired by a new project.

After Fructosa had brought the coffee, he leaned back in his chair and turned to his friend with a beaming face. “I often think, Jean, how you were an unconscious agent in the hands of Providence when you recalled me from Tucson. I seemed to be doing the most important work of my life there, and you recalled me for no reason at all, apparently. You did not know why, and I did not know why. We were both acting in the dark. But Heaven knew what was happening on Cherry Creek, and moved us like chessmen on the board. When the call came, I was here to answer it — by a miracle, indeed.”

Father Latour put down his silver coffee-cup. “Miracles are all very well, Joseph, but I see none here. I sent for you because I felt the need of your companionship. I used my authority as a Bishop to gratify my personal wish. That was selfish, if you will, but surely natural enough. We are countrymen, and are bound by early memories. And that two friends, having come together, should part and go their separate ways — that is natural, too. No, I don’t think we need any miracle to explain all this.”

Father Vaillant had been wholly absorbed in his preparations for saving souls in the gold camps — blind to everything else. Now it came over him in a flash, how the Bishop had held himself aloof from his activities; it was a very hard thing for Father Latour to let him go; the loneliness of his position had begun to weigh upon him.

Yes, he reflected, as he went quietly to his own room, there was a great difference in their natures. Wherever he went, he soon made friends that took the place of country and family. But Jean, who was at ease in any society and always the flower of courtesy, could not form new ties. It had always been so. He was like that even as a boy; gracious to everyone, but known to a very few. To man’s wisdom it would have seemed that a priest with Father Latour’s exceptional qualities would have been better placed in some part of the world where scholarship, a handsome person, and delicate preceptions all have their effect; and that a man of much rougher type would have served God well enough as the first Bishop of New Mexico. Doubtless Bishop Latour’s successors would be men of a different fibre. But God had his reasons, Father Joseph devoutly believed. Perhaps it pleased Him to grace the beginning of a new era and a vast new diocese by a fine personality. And perhaps, after all, something would remain through the years to come; some ideal, or memory, or legend.

The next afternoon, his wagon loaded and standing ready in the court-yard, Father Vaillant was seated at the Bishop’s desk, writing letters to France; a short one to Marius, a long one to his beloved Philomène, telling her of his plunge into the unknown and begging her prayers for his success in the world of gold-crazed men. He wrote rapidly and jerkily, moving his lips as well as his fingers. When the Bishop entered the study, he rose and stood holding the written pages in his hand.

“I did not mean to interrupt you, Joseph, but do you intend to take Contento with you to Colorado?”

Father Joseph blinked. “Why, certainly. I had intended to ride him. However, if you have need for him here — ”

“Oh, no. Not at all. But if you take Contento, I will ask you to take Angelica as well. They have a great affection for each other; why separate them indefinitely? One could not explain to them. They have worked long together.”

Father Vaillant made no reply. He stood looking intently at the pages of his letter. The Bishop saw a drop of water splash down upon the violet script and spread. He turned quickly and went out through the arched doorway.

At sunrise next morning Father Vaillant set out, Sabino driving the wagon, his oldest boy riding Angelica, and Father Joseph himself riding Contento. They took the old road to the northeast, through the sharp red sand-hills spotted with juniper, and the Bishop accompanied them as far as the loop where the road wound out on the top of one of those conical hills, giving the departing traveller his last glimpse of Santa Fé. There Father Joseph drew rein and looked back at the town lying rosy in the morning light, the mountain behind it, and the hills close about it like two encircling arms.

“Auspice, Maria!” he murmured as he turned his back on these familiar things.

The Bishop rode home to his solitude. He was forty-seven years old, and he had been a missionary in the New World for twenty years — ten of them in New Mexico. If he were a parish priest at home, there would be nephews coming to him for help in their Latin or a bit of pocket-money; nieces to run into his garden and bring their sewing and keep an eye on his housekeeping. All the way home he indulged in such reflections as any bachelor nearing fifty might have.

But when he entered his study, he seemed to come back to reality, to the sense of a Presence awaiting him. The curtain of the arched doorway had scarcely fallen behind him when that feeling of personal loneliness was gone, and a sense of loss was replaced by a sense of restoration. He sat down before his desk, deep in reflection. It was just this solitariness of love in which a priest’s life could be like his Master’s. It was not a solitude of atrophy, of negation, but of perpetual flowering. A life need not be cold, or devoid of grace in the worldly sense, if it were filled by Her who was all the graces; Virgin-daughter, Virgin-mother, girl of the people and Queen of Heaven: le rêve suprême de la chair. The nursery tale could not vie with Her in simplicity, the wisest theologians could not match Her in profundity.

Here in his own church in Santa Fé there was one of these nursery Virgins, a little wooden figure, very old and very dear to the people. De Vargas, when he recaptured the city for Spain two hundred years ago, had vowed a yearly procession in her honour, and it was still one of the most solemn events of the Christian year in Santa Fé. She was a little wooden figure, about three feet high, very stately in bearing, with a beautiful though rather severe Spanish face. She had a rich wardrobe; a chest full of robes and laces, and gold and silver diadems. The women loved to sew for her and the silversmiths to make her chains and brooches. Father Latour had delighted her wardrobe keepers when he told them he did not believe the Queen of England or the Empress of France had so many costumes. She was their doll and their queen, something to fondle and something to adore, as Mary’s Son must have been to Her.

These poor Mexicans, he reflected, were not the first to pour out their love in this simple fashion. Raphael and Titian had made costumes for Her in their time, and the great masters had made music for Her, and the great architects had built cathedrals for Her. Long before Her years on earth, in the long twilight between the Fall and the Redemption, the pagan sculptors were always trying to achieve the image of a goddess who should yet be a woman.

Bishop Latour’s premonition was right: Father Vaillant never returned to share his work in New Mexico. Come back he did, to visit his old friends, whenever his busy life permitted. But his destiny was fulfilled in the cold, steely Colorado Rockies, which he never loved as he did the blue mountains of the South. He came back to Santa Fé to recuperate from the illnesses and accidents which consistently punctuated his way; came with the Papal Emissary when Bishop Latour was made Archbishop; but his working life was spent among bleak mountains and comfortless mining camps, looking after lost sheep.

Creede, Durango, Silver City, Central City, over the Continental Divide into Utah, — his strange Episcopal carriage was known throughout that rugged granite world.

It was a covered carriage, on springs, and long enough for him to lie down in at night, — Father Joseph was a very short man. At the back was a luggage box, which could be made into an altar when he celebrated Mass in the open, under a pine tree. He used to say that the mountain torrents were the first road builders, and that wherever they found a way, he could find one. He wore out driver after driver, and his coach was repaired so often and so extensively that long before he abandoned it there was none of the original structure left.

Broken tongues and singletrees, smashed wheels and splintered axles he considered trifling matters. Twice the old carriage itself slipped off the mountain road and rolled down the gorge, with the priest inside. From the first accident of this kind, Father Vaillant escaped with nothing worse than a sprain, and he wrote Bishop Latour that he attributed his preservation to the Archangel Raphael, whose office he had said with unusual fervour that morning. The second time he rolled down a ravine, near Central City, his thigh-bone was broken just below the joint. It knitted in time, but he was lamed for life, and could never ride horseback again.

Before this accident befell him, however, he had one long visit among his friends in Santa Fé and Albuquerque, a renewal of old ties that was like an Indian summer in his life. When he left Denver, he told his congregation there that he was going to the Mexicans to beg for money. The church in Denver was under a roof, but the windows had been boarded up for months because nobody would buy glass for them. In his Denver congregation there were men who owned mines and saw-mills and flourishing businesses, but they needed all their money to push these enterprises. Down among the Mexicans, who owned nothing but a mud house and a burro, he could always raise money. If they had anything at all, they gave.

He called this trip frankly a begging expedition, and he went in his carriage to bring back whatever he could gather. When he got as far as Taos, his Irish driver mutinied. Not another mile over these roads, he said. He knew his own territory, but here he refused to risk his neck and the Padre’s. There was then no wagon road from Taos to Santa Fé. It was nearly a fortnight before Father Vaillant found a man who would undertake to get him through the mountains. At last an old driver, schooled on the wagon trains, volunteered; and with the help of ax and pick and shovel, he brought the Episcopal carriage safely to Santa Fé and into the Bishop’s court-yard.

Once again among his own people, as he still called them, Father Joseph opened his campaign, and the poor Mexicans began taking dollars out of their shirts and boots (favourite places for carrying money) to pay for windows in the Denver church. His petitions did not stop with windows — indeed, they only began there. He told the sympathetic women of Santa Fé and Albuquerque about all the stupid, unnecessary discomforts of his life in Denver, discomforts that amounted to improprieties. It was a part of the Wild West attitude to despise the decencies of life. He told them how glad he was to sleep in good Mexican beds once more. In Denver he lay on a mattress stuffed with straw; a French priest who was visiting him had pulled out a long stem of hay that stuck through the thin ticking, and called it an American feather. His dining-table was made of planks covered with oilcloth. He had no linen at all, neither sheets nor serviettes, and he used his worn-out shirts for face towels. The Mexican women could scarcely bear to hear of such things. Nobody in Colorado planted gardens, Father Vaillant related; nobody would stick a shovel into the earth for anything less than gold. There was no butter, no milk, no eggs, no fruit. He lived on dough and cured hog meat.

Within a few weeks after his arrival, six feather-beds were sent to the Bishop’s house for Father Vaillant; dozens of linen sheets, embroidered pillow-cases and table-cloths and napkins; strings of chili and boxes of beans and dried fruit. The little settlement of Chimayo sent a roll of their finest blankets.

As these gifts arrived, Father Joseph put them in the woodhouse, knowing well that the Bishop was always embarrassed by his readiness to receive presents. But one morning Father Latour had occasion to go into the woodhouse, and he saw for himself.

“Father Joseph,” he remonstrated, “you will never be able to take all these things back to Denver. Why, you would need an ox-cart to carry them!”

“Very well,” replied Father Joseph, “then God will send me an ox-cart.”

And He did, with a driver to take the cart as far as Pueblo.

On the morning of his departure for home, when his carriage was ready, the cart covered with tarpaulins and the oxen yoked, Father Vaillant, who had been hurrying everyone since the first streak of light, suddenly became deliberate. He went into the Bishop’s study and sat down, talking to him of unimportant matters, lingering as if there were something still undone.

“Well, we are getting older, Jean,” he said abruptly, after a short silence.

The Bishop smiled. “Ah, yes. We are not young men any more. One of these departures will be the last.”

Father Vaillant nodded. “Whenever God wills. I am ready.” He rose and began to pace the floor, addressing his friend without looking at him. “But it has not been so bad, Jean? We have done the things we used to plan to do, long ago, when we were Seminarians, — at least some of them. To fulfil the dreams of one’s youth; that is the best that can happen to a man. No worldly success can take the place of that.”

“Blanchet,” said the Bishop rising, “you are a better man than I. You have been a great harvester of souls, without pride and without shame — and I am always a little cold — un pédant, as you used to say. If hereafter we have stars in our crowns, yours will be a constellation. Give me your blessing.”

He knelt, and Father Vaillant, having blessed him, knelt and was blessed in turn. They embraced each other for the past — for the future.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30