Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather

Book One

The Vicar Apostolic


The Cruciform Tree

One afternoon in the autumn of 1851 a solitary horseman, followed by a pack-mule, was pushing through an arid stretch of country somewhere in central New Mexico. He had lost his way, and was trying to get back to the trail, with only his compass and his sense of direction for guides. The difficulty was that the country in which he found himself was so featureless — or rather, that it was crowded with features, all exactly alike. As far as he could see, on every side, the landscape was heaped up into monotonous red sand-hills, not much larger than haycocks, and very much the shape of haycocks. One could not have believed that in the number of square miles a man is able to sweep with the eye there could be so many uniform red hills. He had been riding among them since early morning, and the look of the country had no more changed than if he had stood still. He must have travelled through thirty miles of these conical red hills, winding his way in the narrow cracks between them, and he had begun to think that he would never see anything else. They were so exactly like one another that he seemed to be wandering in some geometrical nightmare; flattened cones, they were, more the shape of Mexican ovens than haycocks — yes, exactly the shape of Mexican ovens, red as brick-dust, and naked of vegetation except for small juniper trees. And the junipers, too, were the shape of Mexican ovens. Every conical hill was spotted with smaller cones of juniper, a uniform yellowish green, as the hills were a uniform red. The hills thrust out of the ground so thickly that they seemed to be pushing each other, elbowing each other aside, tipping each other over.

The blunted pyramid, repeated so many hundred times upon his retina and crowding down upon him in the heat, had confused the traveller, who was sensitive to the shape of things.

“Mais, c’est fantastique!” he muttered, closing his eyes to rest them from the intrusive omnipresence of the triangle.

When he opened his eyes again, his glance immediately fell upon one juniper which differed in shape from the others. It was not a thick-growing cone, but a naked, twisted trunk, perhaps ten feet high, and at the top it parted into two lateral, flat-lying branches, with a little crest of green in the centre, just above the cleavage. Living vegetation could not present more faithfully the form of the Cross.

The traveller dismounted, drew from his pocket a much worn book, and baring his head, knelt at the foot of the cruciform tree.

Under his buckskin riding-coat he wore a black vest and the cravat and collar of a churchman. A young priest, at his devotions; and a priest in a thousand, one knew at a glance. His bowed head was not that of an ordinary man, — it was built for the seat of a fine intelligence. His brow was open, generous, reflective, his features handsome and somewhat severe. There was a singular elegance about the hands below the fringed cuffs of the buckskin jacket. Everything showed him to be a man of gentle birth — brave, sensitive, courteous. His manners, even when he was alone in the desert, were distinguished. He had a kind of courtesy toward himself, toward his beasts, toward the juniper tree before which he knelt, and the God whom he was addressing.

His devotions lasted perhaps half an hour, and when he rose he looked refreshed. He began talking to his mare in halting Spanish, asking whether she agreed with him that it would be better to push on, weary as she was, in hope of finding the trail. He had no water left in his canteen, and the horses had had none since yesterday morning. They had made a dry camp in these hills last night. The animals were almost at the end of their endurance, but they would not recuperate until they got water, and it seemed best to spend their last strength in searching for it.

On a long caravan trip across Texas this man had had some experience of thirst, as the party with which he travelled was several times put on a meagre water ration for days together. But he had not suffered then as he did now. Since morning he had had a feeling of illness; the taste of fever in his mouth, and alarming seizures of vertigo. As these conical hills pressed closer and closer upon him, he began to wonder whether his long wayfaring from the mountains of Auvergne were possibly to end here. He reminded himself of that cry, wrung from his Saviour on the Cross, “J’ai soif!” Of all our Lord’s physical sufferings, only one, “I thirst,” rose to His lips. Empowered by long training, the young priest blotted himself out of his own consciousness and meditated upon the anguish of his Lord. The Passion of Jesus became for him the only reality; the need of his own body was but a part of that conception.

His mare stumbled, breaking his mood of contemplation. He was sorrier for his beasts than for himself. He, supposed to be the intelligence of the party, had got the poor animals into this interminable desert of ovens. He was afraid he had been absent-minded, had been pondering his problem instead of heeding the way. His problem was how to recover a Bishopric. He was a Vicar Apostolic, lacking a Vicarate. He was thrust out; his flock would have none of him.

The traveller was Jean Marie Latour, consecrated Vicar Apostolic of New Mexico and Bishop of Agathonica in partibus at Cincinnati a year ago — and ever since then he had been trying to reach his Vicarate. No one in Cincinnati could tell him how to get to New Mexico — no one had ever been there. Since young Father Latour’s arrival in America, a railroad had been built through from New York to Cincinnati; but there it ended. New Mexico lay in the middle of a dark continent. The Ohio merchants knew of two routes only. One was the Santa Fé trail from St. Louis, but at that time it was very dangerous because of Comanche Indian raids. His friends advised Father Latour to go down the river to New Orleans, thence by boat to Galveston, across Texas to San Antonio, and to wind up into New Mexico along the Rio Grande valley. This he had done, but with what misadventures!

His steamer was wrecked and sunk in the Galveston harbour, and he had lost all his worldly possessions except his books, which he saved at the risk of his life. He crossed Texas with a traders’ caravan, and approaching San Antonio he was hurt in jumping from an overturning wagon, and had to lie for three months in the crowded house of a poor Irish family, waiting for his injured leg to get strong.

It was nearly a year after he had embarked upon the Mississippi that the young Bishop, at about the sunset hour of a summer afternoon, at last beheld the old settlement toward which he had been journeying so long. The wagon train had been going all day through a greasewood plain, when late in the afternoon the teamsters began shouting that over yonder was the Villa. Across the level, Father Latour could distinguish low brown shapes, like earthworks, lying at the base of wrinkled green mountains with bare tops, — wave-like mountains, resembling billows beaten up from a flat sea by a heavy gale; and their green was of two colours — aspen and evergreen, not intermingled but lying in solid areas of light and dark.

As the wagons went forward and the sun sank lower, a sweep of red carnelian-coloured hills lying at the foot of the mountains came into view; they curved like two arms about a depression in the plain; and in that depression was Santa Fé, at last! A thin, wavering adobe town . . . a green plaza . . . at one end a church with two earthen towers that rose high above the flatness. The long main street began at the church, the town seemed to flow from it like a stream from a spring. The church towers, and all the low adobe houses, were rose colour in that light, — a little darker in tone than the amphitheatre of red hills behind; and periodically the plumes of poplars flashed like gracious accent marks, — inclining and recovering themselves in the wind.

The young Bishop was not alone in the exaltation of that hour; beside him rode Father Joseph Vaillant, his boyhood friend, who had made this long pilgrimage with him and shared his dangers. The two rode into Santa Fé together, claiming it for the glory of God.

How, then, had Father Latour come to be here in the sand-hills, many miles from his seat, unattended, far out of his way and with no knowledge of how to get back to it?

On his arrival at Santa Fé, this was what had happened: The Mexican priests there had refused to recognize his authority. They disclaimed any knowledge of a Vicarate Apostolic, or a Bishop of Agathonica. They said they were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Durango, and had received no instructions to the contrary. If Father Latour was to be their Bishop, where were his credentials? A parchment and letters, he knew, had been sent to the Bishop of Durango, but these had evidently got no farther. There was no postal service in this part of the world; the quickest and surest way to communicate with the Bishop of Durango was to go to him. So, having travelled for nearly a year to reach Santa Fé, Father Latour left it after a few weeks, and set off alone on horseback to ride down into Old Mexico and back, a journey of full three thousand miles.

He had been warned that there were many trails leading off the Rio Grande road, and that a stranger might easily mistake his way. For the first few days he had been cautious and watchful. Then he must have grown careless and turned into some purely local trail. When he realized that he was astray, his canteen was already empty and his horses seemed too exhausted to retrace their steps. He had persevered in this sandy track, which grew ever fainter, reasoning that it must lead somewhere.

All at once Father Latour thought he felt a change in the body of his mare. She lifted her head for the first time in a long while, and seemed to redistribute her weight upon her legs. The pack-mule behaved in a similar manner, and both quickened their pace. Was it possible they scented water?

Nearly an hour went by, and then, winding between two hills that were like all the hundreds they had passed, the two beasts whinnied simultaneously. Below them, in the midst of that wavy ocean of sand, was a green thread of verdure and a running stream. This ribbon in the desert seemed no wider than a man could throw a stone, — and it was greener than anything Latour had ever seen, even in his own greenest corner of the Old World. But for the quivering of the hide on his mare’s neck and shoulders, he might have thought this a vision, a delusion of thirst.

Running water, clover fields, cottonwoods, acacias, little adobe houses with brilliant gardens, a boy driving a flock of white goats toward the stream, — that was what the young Bishop saw.

A few moments later, when he was struggling with his horses, trying to keep them from overdrinking, a young girl with a black shawl over her head came running toward him. He thought he had never seen a kindlier face. Her greeting was that of a Christian.

“Ave María Purísima, Señor. Whence do you come?”

“Blessed child,” he replied in Spanish, “I am a priest who has lost his way. I am famished for water.”

“A priest?” she cried, “that is not possible! Yet I look at you, and it is true. Such a thing has never happened to us before; it must be in answer to my father’s prayers. Run, Pedro, and tell father and Salvatore.”


Hidden Water

An hour later, as darkness came over the sand-hills, the young Bishop was seated at supper in the mother-house of this Mexican settlement — which, he learned, was appropriately called Agua Secreta, Hidden Water. At the table with him were his host, an old man called Benito, the oldest son, and two grandsons. The old man was a widower, and his daughter, Josepha, the girl who had run to meet the Bishop at the stream, was his housekeeper. Their supper was a pot of frijoles cooked with meat, bread and goat’s milk, fresh cheese and ripe apples.

From the moment he entered this room with its thick whitewashed adobe walls, Father Latour had felt a kind of peace about it. In its bareness and simplicity there was something comely, as there was about the serious girl who had placed their food before them and who now stood in the shadows against the wall, her eager eyes fixed upon his face. He found himself very much at home with the four dark-headed men who sat beside him in the candlelight. Their manners were gentle, their voices low and agreeable. When he said grace before meat, the men had knelt on the floor beside the table. The grandfather declared that the Blessed Virgin must have led the Bishop from his path and brought him here to baptize the children and to sanctify the marriages. Their settlement was little known, he said. They had no papers for their land and were afraid the Americans might take it away from them. There was no one in their settlement who could read or write. Salvatore, his oldest son, had gone all the way to Albuquerque to find a wife, and had married there. But the priest had charged him twenty pesos, and that was half of all he had saved to buy furniture and glass windows for his house. His brothers and cousins, discouraged by his experience, had taken wives without the marriage sacrament.

In answer to the Bishop’s questions, they told him the simple story of their lives. They had here all they needed to make them happy. They spun and wove from the fleece of their flocks, raised their own corn and wheat and tobacco, dried their plums and apricots for winter. Once a year the boys took the grain up to Albuquerque to have it ground, and bought such luxuries as sugar and coffee. They had bees, and when sugar was high they sweetened with honey. Benito did not know in what year his grandfather had settled here, coming from Chihuahua with all his goods in ox-carts. “But it was soon after the time when the French killed their king. My grandfather had heard talk of that before he left home, and used to tell us boys about it when he was an old man.”

“Perhaps you have guessed that I am a Frenchman,” said Father Latour.

No, they had not, but they felt sure he was not an American. José, the elder grandson, had been watching the visitor uncertainly. He was a handsome boy, with a triangle of black hair hanging over his rather sullen eyes. He now spoke for the first time.

“They say at Albuquerque that now we are all Americans, but that is not true, Padre. I will never be an American. They are infidels.”

“Not all, my son. I have lived among Americans in the north for ten years, and I found many devout Catholics.”

The young man shook his head. “They destroyed our churches when they were fighting us, and stabled their horses in them. And now they will take our religion away from us. We want our own ways and our own religion.”

Father Latour began to tell them about his friendly relations with Protestants in Ohio, but they had not room in their minds for two ideas; there was one Church, and the rest of the world was infidel. One thing they could understand; that he had here in his saddle-bags his vestments, the altar stone, and all the equipment for celebrating the Mass; and that tomorrow morning, after Mass, he would hear confessions, baptize, and sanctify marriages.

After supper Father Latour took up a candle and began to examine the holy images on the shelf over the fireplace. The wooden figures of the saints, found in even the poorest Mexican houses, always interested him. He had never yet seen two alike. These over Benito’s fireplace had come in the ox-carts from Chihuahua nearly sixty years ago. They had been carved by some devout soul, and brightly painted, though the colours had softened with time, and they were dressed in cloth, like dolls. They were much more to his taste than the factory-made plaster images in his mission churches in Ohio — more like the homely stone carvings on the front of old parish churches in Auvergne. The wooden Virgin was a sorrowing mother indeed, — long and stiff and severe, very long from the neck to the waist, even longer from waist to feet, like some of the rigid mosaics of the Eastern Church. She was dressed in black, with a white apron, and a black reboso over her head, like a Mexican woman of the poor. At her right was St. Joseph, and at her left a fierce little equestrian figure, a saint wearing the costume of a Mexican ranchero, velvet trousers richly embroidered and wide at the ankle, velvet jacket and silk shirt, and a high-crowned, broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero. He was attached to his fat horse by a wooden pivot driven through the saddle.

The younger grandson saw the priest’s interest in this figure. “That,” he said, “is my name saint, Santiago.”

“Oh, yes; Santiago. He was a missionary, like me. In our country we call him St. Jacques, and he carries a staff and a wallet — but here he would need a horse, surely.”

The boy looked at him in surprise. “But he is the saint of horses. Isn’t he that in your country?”

The Bishop shook his head. “No. I know nothing about that. How is he the saint of horses?”

“He blesses the mares and makes them fruitful. Even the Indians believe that. They know that if they neglect to pray to Santiago for a few years, the foals do not come right.”

A little later, after his devotions, the young Bishop lay down in Benito’s deep feather-bed, thinking how different was this night from his anticipation of it. He had expected to make a dry camp in the wilderness, and to sleep under a juniper tree, like the Prophet, tormented by thirst. But here he lay in comfort and safety, with love for his fellow creatures flowing like peace about his heart. If Father Vaillant were here, he would say, “A miracle”; that the Holy Mother, to whom he had addressed himself before the cruciform tree, had led him hither. And it was a miracle, Father Latour knew that. But his dear Joseph must always have the miracle very direct and spectacular, not with Nature, but against it. He would almost be able to tell the colour of the mantle Our Lady wore when She took the mare by the bridle back yonder among the junipers and led her out of the pathless sand-hills, as the angel led the ass on the Flight into Egypt.

In the late afternoon of the following day the Bishop was walking alone along the banks of the life-giving stream, reviewing in his mind the events of the morning. Benito and his daughter had made an altar before the sorrowful wooden Virgin, and placed upon it candles and flowers. Every soul in the village, except Salvatore’s sick wife, had come to the Mass. He had performed marriages and baptisms and heard confessions and confirmed until noon. Then came the christening feast. José had killed a kid the night before, and immediately after her confirmation Josepha slipped away to help her sisters-inlaw roast it. When Father Latour asked her to give him his portion without chili, the girl inquired whether it was more pious to eat it like that. He hastened to explain that Frenchmen, as a rule, do not like high seasoning, lest she should hereafter deprive herself of her favourite condiment.

After the feast the sleepy children were taken home, the men gathered in the plaza to smoke under the great cottonwood trees. The Bishop, feeling a need of solitude, had gone forth to walk, firmly refusing an escort. On his way he passed the earthen thrashing-floor, where these people beat out their grain and winnowed it in the wind, like the Children of Israel. He heard a frantic bleating behind him, and was overtaken by Pedro with the great flock of goats, indignant at their day’s confinement, and wild to be in the fringe of pasture along the hills. They leaped the stream like arrows speeding from the bow, and regarded the Bishop as they passed him with their mocking, humanly intelligent smile. The young bucks were light and elegant in figure, with their pointed chins and polished tilted horns. There was great variety in their faces, but in nearly all something supercilious and sardonic. The angoras had long silky hair of a dazzling whiteness. As they leaped through the sunlight they brought to mind the chapter in the Apocalypse, about the whiteness of them that were washed in the blood of the Lamb. The young Bishop smiled at his mixed theology. But though the goat had always been the symbol of pagan lewdness, he told himself that their fleece had warmed many a good Christian, and their rich milk nourished sickly children.

About a mile above the village he came upon the water-head, a spring overhung by the sharp-leafed variety of cottonwood called water willow. All about it crowded the oven-shaped hills, — nothing to hint of water until it rose miraculously out of the parched and thirsty sea of sand. Some subterranean stream found an outlet here, was released from darkness. The result was grass and trees and flowers and human life; household order and hearths from which the smoke of burning piñon logs rose like incense to Heaven.

The Bishop sat a long time by the spring, while the declining sun poured its beautifying light over those low, rose-tinted houses and bright gardens. The old grandfather had shown him arrow-heads and corroded medals, and a sword hilt, evidently Spanish, that he had found in the earth near the water-head. This spot had been a refuge for humanity long before these Mexicans had come upon it. It was older than history, like those well-heads in his own country where the Roman settlers had set up the image of a river goddess, and later the Christian priests had planted a cross. This settlement was his Bishopric in miniature; hundreds of square miles of thirsty desert, then a spring, a village, old men trying to remember their catechism to teach their grandchildren. The Faith planted by the Spanish friars and watered with their blood was not dead; it awaited only the toil of the husbandman. He was not troubled about the revolt in Santa Fé, or the powerful old native priest who led it — Father Martínez, of Taos, who had ridden over from his parish expressly to receive the new Vicar and to drive him away. He was rather terrifying, that old priest, with his big head, violent Spanish face, and shoulders like a buffalo; but the day of his tyranny was almost over.


The Bishop Chez Lui

It was the late afternoon of Christmas Day, and the Bishop sat at his desk writing letters. Since his return to Santa Fé his official correspondence had been heavy; but the closely-written sheets over which he bent with a thoughtful smile were not to go to Monsignori, or to Archbishops, or to the heads of religious houses, — but to France, to Auvergne, to his own little town; to a certain grey, winding street, paved with cobbles and shaded by tall chestnuts on which, even today, some few brown leaves would be clinging, or dropping one by one, to be caught in the cold green ivy on the walls.

The Bishop had returned from his long horseback trip into Mexico only nine days ago. At Durango the old Mexican prelate there had, after some delay, delivered to him the documents that defined his Vicarate, and Father Latour rode back the fifteen hundred miles to Santa Fé through the sunny days of early winter. On his arrival he found amity instead of enmity awaiting him. Father Vaillant had already endeared himself to the people. The Mexican priest who was in charge of the procathedral had gracefully retired — gone to visit his family in Old Mexico, and carried his effects along with him. Father Vaillant had taken possession of the priest’s house, and with the help of carpenters and the Mexican women of the parish had put it in order. The Yankee traders and the military Commandant at Fort Marcy had sent generous contributions of bedding and blankets and odd pieces of furniture.

The Episcopal residence was an old adobe house, much out of repair, but with possibilities of comfort. Father Latour had chosen for his study a room at one end of the wing. There he sat, as this afternoon of Christmas Day faded into evening. It was a long room of an agreeable shape. The thick clay walls had been finished on the inside by the deft palms of Indian women, and had that irregular and intimate quality of things made entirely by the human hand. There was a reassuring solidity and depth about those walls, rounded at door-sills and window-sills, rounded in wide wings about the corner fireplace. The interior had been newly whitewashed in the Bishop’s absence, and the flicker of the fire threw a rosy glow over the wavy surfaces, never quite evenly flat, never a dead white, for the ruddy colour of the clay underneath gave a warm tone to the lime wash. The ceiling was made of heavy cedar beams, overlaid by aspen saplings, all of one size, lying close together like the ribs in corduroy and clad in their ruddy inner skins. The earth floor was covered with thick Indian blankets; two blankets, very old, and beautiful in design and colour, were hung on the walls like tapestries.

On either side of the fire-place plastered recesses were let into the wall. In one, narrow and arched, stood the Bishop’s crucifix. The other was square, with a carved wooden door, like a grill, and within it lay a few rare and beautiful books. The rest of the Bishop’s library was on open shelves at one end of the room.

The furniture of the house Father Vaillant had bought from the departed Mexican priest. It was heavy and somewhat clumsy, but not unsightly. All the wood used in making tables and bedsteads was hewn from tree boles with the ax or hatchet. Even the thick planks on which the Bishop’s theological books rested were ax-dressed. There was not at that time a turning-lathe or a saw-mill in all northern New Mexico. The native carpenters whittled out chair rungs and table legs, and fitted them together with wooden pins instead of iron nails. Wooden chests were used in place of dressers with drawers, and sometimes these were beautifully carved, or covered with decorated leather. The desk at which the Bishop sat writing was an importation, a walnut “secretary” of American make (sent down by one of the officers of the Fort at Father Vaillant’s suggestion). His silver candlesticks he had brought from France long ago. They were given to him by a beloved aunt when he was ordained.

The young Bishop’s pen flew over the paper, leaving a trail of fine, finished French script behind, in violet ink.

“My new study, dear brother, as I write, is full of the delicious fragrance of the piñon logs burning in my fireplace. (We use this kind of cedar-wood altogether for fuel, and it is highly aromatic, yet delicate. At our meanest tasks we have a perpetual odour of incense about us.) I wish that you, and my dear sister, could look in upon this scene of comfort and peace. We missionaries wear a frock-coat and wide-brimmed hat all day, you know, and look like American traders. What a pleasure to come home at night and put on my old cassock! I feel more like a priest then — for so much of the day I must be a ‘business man’! — and, for some reason, more like a Frenchman. All day I am an American in speech and thought — yes, in heart, too. The kindness of the American traders, and especially of the military officers at the Fort, commands more than a superficial loyalty. I mean to help the officers at their task here. I can assist them more than they realize. The Church can do more than the Fort to make these poor Mexicans ‘good Americans.’ And it is for the people’s good; there is no other way in which they can better their condition.

“But this is not the day to write you of my duties or my purposes. To-night we are exiles, happy ones, thinking of home. Father Joseph has sent away our Mexican woman, — he will make a good cook of her in time, but to-night he is preparing our Christmas dinner himself. I had thought he would be worn out today, for he has been conducting a Novena of High Masses, as is the custom here before Christmas. After the Novena, and the midnight Mass last night, I supposed he would be willing to rest today; but not a bit of it. You know his motto, ‘Rest in action.’ I brought him a bottle of olive-oil on my horse all the way from Durango (I say ‘olive-oil,’ because here ‘oil’ means something to grease the wheels of wagons!), and he is making some sort of cooked salad. We have no green vegetables here in winter, and no one seems ever to have heard of that blessed plant, the lettuce. Joseph finds it hard to do without salad-oil, he always had it in Ohio, though it was a great extravagance. He has been in the kitchen all afternoon. There is only an open fire-place for cooking, and an earthen roasting-oven out in the court-yard. But he has never failed me in anything yet; and I think I can promise you that to-night two Frenchmen will sit down to a good dinner and drink your health.”

The Bishop laid down his pen and lit his two candles with a splinter from the fire, then stood dusting his fingers by the deep-set window, looking out at the pale blue darkening sky. The evening-star hung above the amber afterglow, so soft, so brilliant that she seemed to bathe in her own silver light. Ave Maris Stella, the song which one of his friends at the Seminary used to intone so beautifully; humming it softly he returned to his desk and was just dipping his pen in the ink when the door opened, and a voice said,

“Monseigneur est servi! Alors, Jean, veux-tu apporter les bougies?”

The Bishop carried the candles into the dining-room, where the table was laid and Father Vaillant was changing his cook’s apron for his cassock. Crimson from standing over an open fire, his rugged face was even homelier than usual — though one of the first things a stranger decided upon meeting Father Joseph was that the Lord had made few uglier men. He was short, skinny, bow-legged from a life on horseback, and his countenance had little to recommend it but kindliness and vivacity. He looked old, though he was then about forty. His skin was hardened and seamed by exposure to weather in a bitter climate, his neck scrawny and wrinkled like an old man’s. A bold, blunt-tipped nose, positive chin, a very large mouth, — the lips thick and succulent but never loose, never relaxed, always stiffened by effort or working with excitement. His hair, sunburned to the shade of dry hay, had originally been tow-coloured; “Blanchet” (“Whitey”) he was always called at the Seminary. Even his eyes were near-sighted, and of such a pale, watery blue as to be unimpressive. There was certainly nothing in his outer case to suggest the fierceness and fortitude and fire of the man, and yet even the thick-blooded Mexican half-breeds knew his quality at once. If the Bishop returned to find Santa Fé friendly to him, it was because everybody believed in Father Vaillant — homely, real, persistent, with the driving power of a dozen men in his poorly-built body.

On coming into the dining-room, Bishop Latour placed his candlesticks over the fire-place, since there were already six upon the table, illuminating the brown soup-pot. After they had stood for a moment in prayer, Father Joseph lifted the cover and ladled the soup into the plates, a dark onion soup with croutons. The Bishop tasted it critically and smiled at his companion. After the spoon had travelled to his lips a few times, he put it down and leaning back in his chair remarked,

“Think of it, Blanchet; in all this vast country between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean, there is probably not another human being who could make a soup like this.”

“Not unless he is a Frenchman,” said Father Joseph. He had tucked a napkin over the front of his cassock and was losing no time in reflection.

“I am not deprecating your individual talent, Joseph,” the Bishop continued, “but, when one thinks of it, a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.”

Father Joseph frowned intently at the earthen pot in the middle of the table. His pale, near-sighted eyes had always the look of peering into distance. “C’est ça, c’est vrai” he murmured. “But how,” he exclaimed as he filled the Bishop’s plate again, “how can a man make a proper soup without leeks, that king of vegetables? We cannot go on eating onions for ever.”

After carrying away the soupière, he brought in the roast chicken and pommes sautées. “And salad, Jean,” he continued as he began to carve. “Are we to eat dried beans and roots for the rest of our lives? Surely we must find time to make a garden. Ah, my garden at Sandusky! And you could snatch me away from it! You will admit that you never ate better lettuces in France. And my vineyard; a natural habitat for the vine, that. I tell you, the shores of Lake Erie will be covered with vineyards one day. I envy the man who is drinking my wine. Ah well, that is a missionary’s life; to plant where another shall reap.”

As this was Christmas Day, the two friends were speaking in their native tongue. For years they had made it a practice to speak English together, except upon very special occasions, and of late they conversed in Spanish, in which they both needed to gain fluency.

“And yet sometimes you used to chafe a little at your dear Sandusky and its comforts,” the Bishop reminded him — “to say that you would end a home-staying parish priest, after all.”

“Of course, one wants to eat one’s cake and have it, as they say in Ohio. But no farther, Jean. This is far enough. Do not drag me any farther.” Father Joseph began gently to coax the cork from a bottle of red wine with his fingers. “This I begged for your dinner at the hacienda where I went to baptize the baby on St. Thomas’s Day. It is not easy to separate these rich Mexicans from their French wine. They know its worth.” He poured a few drops and tried it. “A slight taste of the cork; they do not know how to keep it properly. However, it is quite good enough for missionaries.”

“You ask me not to drag you any farther, Joseph. I wish,” Bishop Latour leaned back in his chair and locked his hands together beneath his chin, “I wish I knew how far this is! Does anyone know the extent of this diocese, or of this territory? The Commandant at the Fort seems as much in the dark as I. He says I can get some information from the scout, Kit Carson, who lives at Taos.”

“Don’t begin worrying about the diocese, Jean. For the present, Santa Fé is the diocese. Establish order at home. To-morrow I will have a reckoning with the church-wardens, who allowed that band of drunken cowboys to come in to the midnight Mass and defile the font. There is enough to do here. Festina lente. I have made a resolve not to go more than three days’ journey from Santa Fé for one year.”

The Bishop smiled and shook his head. “And when you were at the Seminary, you made a resolve to lead a life of contemplation.”

A light leaped into Father Joseph’s homely face. “I have not yet renounced that hope. One day you will release me, and I will return to some religious house in France and end my days in devotion to the Holy Mother. For the time being, it is my destiny to serve Her in action. But this is far enough, Jean.”

The Bishop again shook his head and murmured, “Who knows how far?”

The wiry little priest whose life was to be a succession of mountain ranges, pathless deserts, yawning canyons and swollen rivers, who was to carry the Cross into territories yet unknown and unnamed, who would wear down mules and horses and scouts and stage-drivers, tonight looked apprehensively at his superior and repeated, “No more, Jean. This is far enough.” Then making haste to change the subject, he said briskly, “A bean salad was the best I could do for you; but with onion, and just a suspicion of salt pork, it is not so bad.”

Over the compote of dried plums they fell to talking of the great yellow ones that grew in the old Latour garden at home. Their thoughts met in that tilted cobble street, winding down a hill, with the uneven garden walls and tall horse-chestnuts on either side; a lonely street after nightfall, with soft street lamps shaped like lanterns at the darkest turnings. At the end of it was the church where the Bishop made his first Communion, with a grove of flat-cut plane trees in front, under which the market was held on Tuesdays and Fridays.

While they lingered over these memories — an indulgence they seldom permitted themselves — the two missionaries were startled by a volley of rifle-shots and bloodcurdling yells without, and the galloping of horses. The Bishop half rose, but Father Joseph reassured him with a shrug.

“Do not discompose yourself. The same thing happened here on the eve of All Souls’ Day. A band of drunken cowboys, like those who came into the church last night, go out to the pueblo and get the Tesuque Indian boys drunk, and then they ride in to serenade the soldiers at the Fort in this manner.”


A Bell and a Miracle

On the morning after the Bishop’s return from Durango, after his first night in his Episcopal residence, he had a pleasant awakening from sleep. He had ridden into the court-yard after nightfall, having changed horses at a rancho and pushed on nearly sixty miles in order to reach home. Consequently he slept late the next morning — did not awaken until six o’clock, when he heard the Angelus ringing. He recovered consciousness slowly, unwilling to let go of a pleasing delusion that he was in Rome. Still half believing that he was lodged near St. John Lateran, he yet heard every stroke of the Ave Maria bell, marvelling to hear it rung correctly (nine quick strokes in all, divided into threes, with an interval between); and from a bell with beautiful tone. Full, clear, with something bland and suave, each note floated through the air like a globe of silver. Before the nine strokes were done Rome faded, and behind it he sensed something Eastern, with palm trees, — Jerusalem, perhaps, though he had never been there. Keeping his eyes closed, he cherished for a moment this sudden, pervasive sense of the East. Once before he had been carried out of the body thus to a place far away. It had happened in a street in New Orleans. He had turned a corner and come upon an old woman with a basket of yellow flowers; sprays of yellow sending out a honey-sweet perfume. Mimosa — but before he could think of the name he was overcome by a feeling of place, was dropped, cassock and all, into a garden in the south of France where he had been sent one winter in his childhood to recover from an illness. And now this silvery bell note had carried him farther and faster than sound could travel.

When he joined Father Vaillant at coffee, that impetuous man who could never keep a secret asked him anxiously whether he had heard anything.

“I thought I heard the Angelus, Father Joseph, but my reason tells me that only a long sea voyage could bring me within sound of such a bell.”

“Not at all,” said Father Joseph briskly. “I found that remarkable bell here, in the basement of old San Miguel. They tell me it has been here a hundred years or more. There is no church tower in the place strong enough to hold it — it is very thick and must weigh close upon eight hundred pounds. But I had a scaffolding built in the churchyard, and with the help of oxen we raised it and got it swung on cross-beams. I taught a Mexican boy to ring it properly against your return.”

“But how could it have come here? It is Spanish, I suppose?”

“Yes, the inscription is in Spanish, to St. Joseph, and the date is 1356. It must have been brought up from Mexico City in an ox-cart. A heroic undertaking, certainly. Nobody knows where it was cast. But they do tell a story about it: that it was pledged to St. Joseph in the wars with the Moors, and that the people of some besieged city brought all their plate and silver and gold ornaments and threw them in with the baser metals. There is certainly a good deal of silver in the bell, nothing else would account for its tone.”

Father Latour reflected. “And the silver of the Spaniards was really Moorish, was it not? If not actually of Moorish make, copied from their design. The Spaniards knew nothing about working silver except as they learned it from the Moors.”

“What are you doing, Jean? Trying to make my bell out an infidel?” Father Joseph asked impatiently.

The Bishop smiled. “I am trying to account for the fact that when I heard it this morning it struck me at once as something oriental. A learned Scotch Jesuit in Montreal told me that our first bells, and the introduction of the bell in the service all over Europe, originally came from the East. He said the Templars brought the Angelus back from the Crusades, and it is really an adaptation of a Moslem custom.”

Father Vaillant sniffed. “I noticed that scholars always manage to dig out something belittling,” he complained.

“Belittling? I should say the reverse. I am glad to think there is Moorish silver in your bell. When we first came here, the one good workman we found in Santa Fé was a silversmith. The Spaniards handed on their skill to the Mexicans, and the Mexicans have taught the Navajos to work silver; but it all came from the Moors.”

“I am no scholar, as you know,” said Father Vaillant rising. “And this morning we have many practical affairs to occupy us. I have promised that you will give an audience to a good old man, a native priest from the Indian mission at Santa Clara, who is returning from Mexico. He has just been on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and has been much edified. He would like to tell you the story of his experience. It seems that ever since he was ordained he has desired to visit the shrine. During your absence I have found how particularly precious is that shrine to all Catholics in New Mexico. They regard it as the one absolutely authenticated appearance of the Blessed Virgin in the New World, and a witness of Her affection for Her Church on this continent.”

The Bishop went into his study, and Father Vaillant brought in Padre Escolastico Herrera, a man of nearly seventy, who had been forty years in the ministry, and had just accomplished the pious desire of a lifetime. His mind was still full of the sweetness of his late experience. He was so rapt that nothing else interested him. He asked anxiously whether perhaps the Bishop would have more leisure to attend to him later in the day. But Father Latour placed a chair for him and told him to proceed.

The old man thanked him for the privilege of being seated. Leaning forward, with his hands locked between his knees, he told the whole story of the miraculous appearance, both because it was so dear to his heart, and because he was sure that no “American” Bishop would have heard of the occurrence as it was, though at Rome all the details were well known and two Popes had sent gifts to the shrine.

On Saturday, December 9th, in the year 1531, a poor neophyte of the monastery of St. James was hurrying down Tapeyac hill to attend Mass in the City of Mexico. His name was Juan Diego and he was fifty-five years old. When he was half way down the hill a light shone in his path, and the Mother of God appeared to him as a young woman of great beauty, clad in blue and gold. She greeted him by name and said:

“Juan, seek out thy Bishop and bid him build a church in my honour on the spot where I now stand. Go then, and I will bide here and await thy return.”

Brother Juan ran into the City and straight to the Bishop’s palace, where he reported the matter. The Bishop was Zumarraga, a Spaniard. He questioned the monk severely and told him he should have required a sign of the Lady to assure him that she was indeed the Mother of God and not some evil spirit. He dismissed the poor brother harshly and set an attendant to watch his actions.

Juan went forth very downcast and repaired to the house of his uncle, Bernardino, who was sick of a fever. The two succeeding days he spent in caring for this aged man who seemed at the point of death. Because of the Bishop’s reproof he had fallen into doubt, and did not return to the spot where the Lady said She would await him. On Tuesday he left the City to go back to his monastery to fetch medicines for Bernardino, but he avoided the place where he had seen the vision and went by another way.

Again he saw a light in his path and the Virgin appeared to him as before, saying, “Juan, why goest thou by this way?”

Weeping, he told Her that the Bishop had distrusted his report, and that he had been employed in caring for his uncle, who was sick unto death. The Lady spoke to him with all comfort, telling him that his uncle would be healed within the hour, and that he should return to Bishop Zumarraga and bid him build a church where She had first appeared to him. It must be called the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, after Her dear shrine of that name in Spain. When Brother Juan replied to Her that the Bishop required a sign, She said: “Go up on the rocks yonder, and gather roses.”

Though it was December and not the season for roses, he ran up among the rocks and found such roses as he had never seen before. He gathered them until he had filled his tilma. The tilma was a mantle worn only by the very poor, — a wretched garment loosely woven of coarse vegetable fibre and sewn down the middle. When he returned to the apparition, She bent over the flowers and took pains to arrange them, then closed the ends of the tilma together and said to him:

“Go now, and do not open your mantle until you open it before your Bishop.”

Juan sped into the City and gained admission to the Bishop, who was in council with his Vicar.

“Your Grace,” he said, “the Blessed Lady who appeared to me has sent you these roses for a sign.”

At this he held up one end of his tilma and let the roses fall in profusion to the floor. To his astonishment, Bishop Zumarraga and his Vicar instantly fell upon their knees among the flowers. On the inside of his poor mantle was a painting of the Blessed Virgin, in robes of blue and rose and gold, exactly as She had appeared to him upon the hillside.

A shrine was built to contain this miraculous portrait, which since that day has been the goal of countless pilgrimages and has performed many miracles.

Of this picture Padre Escolastico had much to say: he affirmed that it was of marvellous beauty, rich with gold, and the colours as pure and delicate as the tints of early morning. Many painters had visited the shrine and marvelled that paint could be laid at all upon such poor and coarse material. In the ordinary way of nature, the flimsy mantle would have fallen to pieces long ago. The Padre modestly presented Bishop Latour and Father Joseph with little medals he had brought from the shrine; on one side a relief of the miraculous portrait, on the other an inscription: Non fecit taliter omni nationi. (She hath not dealt so with any nation.)

Father Vaillant was deeply stirred by the priest’s recital, and after the old man had gone he declared to the Bishop that he meant himself to make a pilgrimage to this shrine at the earliest opportunity.

“What a priceless thing for the poor converts of a savage country!” he exclaimed, wiping his glasses, which were clouded by his strong feeling. “All these poor Catholics who have been so long without instruction have at least the reassurance of that visitation. It is a household word with them that their Blessed Mother revealed Herself in their own country, to a poor convert. Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean; but the miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love.”

Father Vaillant began pacing restlessly up and down as he spoke, and the Bishop watched him, musing. It was just this in his friend that was dear to him. “Where there is great love there are always miracles,” he said at length. “One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52