In mid-March, Father Vaillant was on the road, returning from a missionary journey to Albuquerque. He was to stop at the rancho of a rich Mexican, Manuel Lujon, to marry his men and maid servants who were living in concubinage, and to baptize the children. There he would spend the night. To-morrow or the day after he would go on to Santa Fé, halting by the way at the Indian pueblo of Santo Domingo to hold service. There was a fine old mission church at Santo Domingo, but the Indians were of a haughty and suspicious disposition. He had said Mass there on his way to Albuquerque, nearly a week ago. By dint of canvassing from house to house, and offering medals and religious colour prints to all who came to church, he had got together a considerable congregation. It was a large and prosperous pueblo, set among clean sand-hills, with its rich irrigated farm lands lying just below, in the valley of the Rio Grande. His congregation was quiet, dignified, attentive. They sat on the earth floor, wrapped in their best blankets, repose in every line of their strong, stubborn backs. He harangued them in such Spanish as he could command, and they listened with respect. But bring their children to be baptized, they would not. The Spaniards had treated them very badly long ago, and they had been meditating upon their grievance for many generations. Father Vaillant had not baptized one infant there, but he meant to stop tomorrow and try again. Then back to his Bishop, provided he could get his horse up La Bajada Hill.
He had bought his horse from a Yankee trader and had been woefully deceived. One week’s journey of from twenty to thirty miles a day had shown the beast up for a wind-broken wreck. Father Vaillant’s mind was full of material cares as he approached Manuel Lujon’s place beyond Bernalillo. The rancho was like a little town, with all its stables, corrals, and stake fences. The casa grande was long and low, with glass windows and bright blue doors, a portale running its full length, supported by blue posts. Under this portale the adobe wall was hung with bridles, saddles, great boots and spurs, guns and saddle blankets, strings of red peppers, fox skins, and the skins of two great rattlesnakes.
When Father Vaillant rode in through the gateway, children came running from every direction, some with no clothing but a little shirt, and women with no shawls over their black hair came running after the children. They all disappeared when Manuel Lujon walked out of the great house, hat in hand, smiling and hospitable. He was a man of thirty-five, settled in figure and somewhat full under the chin. He greeted the priest in the name of God and put out a hand to help him alight, but Father Vaillant sprang quickly to the ground.
“God be with you, Manuel, and with your house. But where are those who are to be married?”
“The men are all in the field, Padre. There is no hurry. A little wine, a little bread, coffee, repose — and then the ceremonies.”
“A little wine, very willingly, and bread, too. But not until afterward. I meant to catch you all at dinner, but I am two hours late because my horse is bad. Have someone bring in my saddle-bags, and I will put on my vestments. Send out to the fields for your men, Señor Lujon. A man can stop work to be married.”
The swarthy host was dazed by this dispatch. “But one moment, Padre. There are all the children to baptize; why not begin with them, if I cannot persuade you to wash the dust from your sainted brow and repose a little.”
“Take me to a place where I can wash and change my clothes, and I will be ready before you can get them here. No, I tell you, Lujon, the marriages first, the baptisms afterward; that order is but Christian. I will baptize the children tomorrow morning, and their parents will at least have been married over night.”
Father Joseph was conducted to his chamber, and the older boys were sent running off across the fields to fetch the men. Lujon and his two daughters began constructing an altar at one end of the sala. Two old women came to scrub the floor, and another brought chairs and stools.
“My God, but he is ugly, the Padre!” whispered one of these to the others. “He must be very holy. And did you see the great wart he has on his chin? My grandmother could take that away for him if she were alive, poor soul! Somebody ought to tell him about the holy mud at Chimayo. That mud might dry it up. But there is nobody left now who can take warts away.”
“No, the times are not so good any more,” the other agreed. “And I doubt if all this marrying will make them any better. Of what use is it to marry people after they have lived together and had children? and the man is maybe thinking about another woman, like Pablo. I saw him coming out of the brush with that oldest girl of Trinidad’s, only Sunday night.”
The reappearance of the priest upon the scene cut short further scandal. He knelt down before the improvised altar and began his private devotions. The women tiptoed away. Señor Lujon himself went out toward the servants’ quarters to hurry the candidates for the marriage sacrament. The women were giggling and snatching up their best shawls. Some of the men had even gashed their hands. The household crowded into the sala, and Father Vaillant married couples with great dispatch.
“To-morrow morning, the baptisms,” he announced. “And the mothers see to it that the children are clean, and that there are sponsors for all.”
After he had resumed his travelling-clothes, Father Joseph asked his host at what hour he dined, remarking that he had been fasting since an early breakfast.
“We eat when it is ready — a little after sunset, usually. I have had a young lamb killed for your Reverence.”
Father Joseph kindled with interest. “Ah, and how will it be cooked?”
Señor Lujon shrugged. “Cooked? Why, they put it in a pot with chili, and some onions, I suppose.”
“Ah, that is the point. I have had too much stewed mutton. Will you permit me to go into the kitchen and cook my portion in my own way?”
Lujon waved his hand. “My house is yours, Padre. Into the kitchen I never go — too many women. But there it is, and the woman in charge is named Rosa.”
When the Father entered the kitchen he found a crowd of women discussing the marriages. They quickly dispersed, leaving old Rosa by her fire-place, where hung a kettle from which issued the savour of cooking mutton fat, all too familiar to Father Joseph. He found a half sheep hanging outside the door, covered with a bloody sack, and asked Rosa to heat the oven for him, announcing that he meant to roast the hind leg.
“But Padre, I baked before the marriages. The oven is almost cold. It will take an hour to heat it, and it is only two hours till supper.”
“Very well. I can cook my roast in an hour.”
“Cook a roast in an hour!” cried the old woman. “Mother of God, Padre, the blood will not be dried in it!”
“Not if I can help it!” said Father Joseph fiercely. “Now hurry with the fire, my good woman.”
When the Padre carved his roast at the supper-table, the serving-girls stood behind his chair and looked with horror at the delicate stream of pink juice that followed the knife. Manuel Lujon took a slice for politeness, but he did not eat it. Father Vaillant had his gigot to himself.
All the men and boys sat down at the long table with the host, the women and children would eat later. Father Joseph and Lujon, at one end, had a bottle of white Bordeaux between them. It had been brought from Mexico City on mule-back, Lujon said. They were discussing the road back to Santa Fé, and when the missionary remarked that he would stop at Santo Domingo, the host asked him why he did not get a horse there. “I am afraid you will hardly get back to Santa Fé on your own. The pueblo is famous for breeding good horses. You might make a trade.”
“No,” said Father Vaillant. “Those Indians are of a sullen disposition. If I were to have dealings with them, they would suspect my motives. If we are to save their souls we must make it clear that we want no profit for ourselves, as I told Father Gallegos in Albuquerque.”
Manuel Lujon laughed and glanced down the table at his men, who were all showing their white teeth. “You said that to the Padre at Albuquerque? You have courage. He is a rich man, Padre Gallegos. All the same, I respect him. I have played poker with him. He is a great gambler and takes his losses like a man. He stops at nothing, plays like an American.”
“And I,” retorted Father Joseph, “I have not much respect for a priest who either plays cards or manages to get rich.”
“Then you do not play?” asked Lujon. “I am disappointed. I had hoped we could have a game after supper. The evenings are dull enough here. You do not even play dominoes?”
“Ah, that is another matter!” Father Joseph declared. “A game of dominoes, there by the fire, with coffee, or some of that excellent grape brandy you allowed me to taste, that I would find refreshing. And tell me, Manuelito, where do you get that brandy? It is like a French liqueur.”
“It is well seasoned. It was made at Bernalillo in my grandfather’s time. They make it there still, but it is not so good now.”
The next morning, after coffee, while the children were being got ready for baptism, the host took Father Vaillant through his corrals and stables to show him his stock. He exhibited with peculiar pride two cream-coloured mules, stalled side by side. With his own hand he led them out of the stable, in order to display to advantage their handsome coats, — not bluish white, as with white horses, but a rich, deep ivory, that in shadow changed to fawn-colour. Their tails were clipped at the end into the shape of bells.
“Their names,” said Lujon, “are Contento and Angelica, and they are as good as their names. It seems that God has given them intelligence. When I talk to them, they look up at me like Christians; they are very companionable. They are always ridden together and have a great affection for each other.”
Father Joseph took one by the halter and led it about. “Ah, but they are rare creatures! I have never seen a mule or horse coloured like a young fawn before.” To his host’s astonishment, the wiry little priest sprang upon Contento’s back with the agility of a grasshopper. The mule, too, was astonished. He shook himself violently, bolted toward the gate of the barnyard, and at the gate stopped suddenly. Since this did not throw his rider, he seemed satisfied, trotted back, and stood placidly beside Angelica.
“But you are a caballero, Father Vaillant!” Lujon exclaimed. “I doubt if Father Gallegos would have kept his seat — though he is something of a hunter.”
“The saddle is to be my home in your country, Lujon. What an easy gait this mule has, and what a narrow back! I notice that especially. For a man with short legs, like me, it is a punishment to ride eight hours a day on a wide horse. And this I must do day after day. From here I go to Santa Fé, and, after a day in conference with the Bishop, I start for Mora.”
“For Mora?” exclaimed Lujon. “Yes, that is far, and the roads are very bad. On your mare you will never do it. She will drop dead under you.” While he talked, the Father remained upon the mule’s back, stroking him with his hand.
“Well, I have no other. God grant that she does not drop somewhere far from food and water. I can carry very little with me except my vestments and the sacred vessels.”
The Mexican had been growing more and more thoughtful, as if he were considering something profound and not altogether cheerful. Suddenly his brow cleared, and he turned to the priest with a radiant smile, quite boyish in its simplicity. “Father Vaillant,” he burst out in a slightly oratorical manner, “you have made my house right with Heaven, and you charge me very little. I will do something very nice for you; I will give you Contento for a present, and I hope to be particularly remembered in your prayers.”
Springing to the ground, Father Vaillant threw his arms about his host. “Manuelito!” he cried, “for this darling mule I think I could almost pray you into Heaven!”
The Mexican laughed, too, and warmly returned the embrace. Arm-inarm they went in to begin the baptisms.
The next morning, when Lujon went to call Father Vaillant for breakfast, he found him in the barnyard, leading the two mules about and smoothing their fawn-coloured flanks, but his face was not the cheerful countenance of yesterday.
“Manuel,” he said at once, “I cannot accept your present. I have thought upon it over night, and I see that I cannot. The Bishop works as hard as I do, and his horse is little better than mine. You know he lost everything on his way out here, in a shipwreck at Galveston — among the rest a fine wagon he had had built for travel on these plains. I could not go about on a mule like this when my Bishop rides a common hack. It would be inappropriate. I must ride away on my old mare.”
“Yes, Padre?” Manuel looked troubled and somewhat aggrieved. Why should the Padre spoil everything? It had all been very pleasant yesterday, and he had felt like a prince of generosity. “I doubt if she will make La Bajada Hill,” he said slowly, shaking his head. “Look my horses over and take the one that suits you. They are all better than yours.”
“No, no,” said Father Vaillant decidedly. “Having seen these mules, I want nothing else. They are the colour of pearls, really! I will raise the price of marriages until I can buy this pair from you. A missionary must depend upon his mount for companionship in his lonely life. I want a mule that can look at me like a Christian, as you said of these.”
Señor Lujon sighed and looked about his barnyard as if he were trying to find some escape from this situation.
Father Joseph turned to him with vehemence. “If I were a rich ranchero, like you, Manuel, I would do a splendid thing; I would furnish the two mounts that are to carry the word of God about this heathen country, and then I would say to myself: There go my Bishop and my Vicario, on my beautiful cream-coloured mules.”
“So be it, Padre,” said Lujon with a mournful smile. “But I ought to get a good many prayers. On my whole estate there is nothing I prize like those two. True, they might pine if they were parted for long. They have never been separated, and they have a great affection for each other. Mules, as you know, have strong affections. It is hard for me to give them up.”
“You will be all the happier for that, Manuelito,” Father Joseph cried heartily. “Every time you think of these mules, you will feel pride in your good deed.”
Soon after breakfast Father Vaillant departed, riding Contento, with Angelica trotting submissively behind, and from his gate Señor Lujon watched them disconsolately until they disappeared. He felt he had been worried out of his mules, and yet he bore no resentment. He did not doubt Father Joseph’s devotedness, nor his singleness of purpose. After all, a Bishop was a Bishop, and a Vicar was a Vicar, and it was not to their discredit that they worked like a pair of common parish priests. He believed he would be proud of the fact that they rode Contento and Angelica. Father Vaillant had forced his hand, but he was rather glad of it.
The Bishop and his Vicar were riding through the rain in the Truchas mountains. The heavy, lead-coloured drops were driven slantingly through the air by an icy wind from the peak. These raindrops, Father Latour kept thinking, were the shape of tadpoles, and they broke against his nose and cheeks, exploding with a splash, as if they were hollow and full of air. The priests were riding across high mountain meadows, which in a few weeks would be green, though just now they were slate-coloured. On every side lay ridges covered with blue-green fir trees; above them rose the horny backbones of mountains. The sky was very low; purplish lead-coloured clouds let down curtains of mist into the valleys between the pine ridges. There was not a glimmer of white light in the dark vapours working overhead — rather, they took on the cold green of the evergreens. Even the white mules, their coats wet and matted into tufts, had turned a slaty hue, and the faces of the two priests were purple and spotted in that singular light.
Father Latour rode first, sitting straight upon his mule, with his chin lowered just enough to keep the drive of rain out of his eyes. Father Vaillant followed, unable to see much, — in weather like this his glasses were of no use and he had taken them off. He crouched down in the saddle, his shoulders well over Contento’s neck. Father Joseph’s sister, Philomène, who was Mother Superior of a convent in her native town in the Puy-deDome, often tried to picture her brother and Bishop Latour on these long missionary journeys of which he wrote her; she imagined the scene and saw the two priests moving through it in their cassocks, bareheaded, like the pictures of St. Francis Xavier with which she was familiar. The reality was less picturesque, — but for all that, no one could have mistaken these two men for hunters or traders. They wore clerical collars about their necks instead of neckerchiefs, and on the breast of his buckskin jacket the Bishop’s silver cross hung by a silver chain.
They were on their way to Mora, the third day out, and they did not know just how far they had still to go. Since morning they had not met a traveller or seen a human habitation. They believed they were on the right trail, for they had seen no other. The first night of their journey they had spent at Santa Cruz, lying in the warm, wide valley of the Rio Grande, where the fields and gardens were already softly coloured with early spring. But since they had left the Española country behind them, they had contended first with wind and sand-storms, and now with cold. The Bishop was going to Mora to assist the Padre there in disposing of a crowd of refugees who filled his house. A new settlement in the Conejos valley had lately been raided by Indians; many of the inhabitants were killed, and the survivors, who were originally from Mora, had managed to get back there, utterly destitute.
Before the travellers had crossed the mountain meadows, the rain turned to sleet. Their wet buckskins quickly froze, and the rattle of icy flakes struck them and bounded off. The prospect of a night in the open was not cheering. It was too wet to kindle a fire, their blankets would become soaked on the ground. As they were descending the mountain on the Mora side, the grey daylight seemed already beginning to fail, though it was only four o’clock. Father Latour turned in his saddle and spoke over his shoulder.
“The mules are certainly very tired, Joseph. They ought to be fed.”
“Push on,” said Father Vaillant. “We will come to shelter of some kind before night sets in.” The Vicar had been praying steadfastly while they crossed the meadows, and he felt confident that St. Joseph would not turn a deaf ear. Before the hour was done they did indeed come upon a wretched adobe house, so poor and mean that they might not have seen it had it not lain close beside the trail, on the edge of a steep ravine. The stable looked more habitable than the house, and the priests thought perhaps they could spend the night in it.
As they rode up to the door, a man came out, bareheaded, and they saw to their surprise that he was not a Mexican, but an American, of a very unprepossessing type. He spoke to them in some drawling dialect they could scarcely understand and asked if they wanted to stay the night. During the few words they exchanged with him Father Latour felt a growing reluctance to remain even for a few hours under the roof of this ugly, evil-looking fellow. He was tall, gaunt and ill-formed, with a snake-like neck, terminating in a small, bony head. Under his close-clipped hair this repellent head showed a number of thick ridges, as if the skull joinings were overgrown by layers of superfluous bone. With its small, rudimentary ears, this head had a positively malignant look. The man seemed not more than half human, but he was the only householder on the lonely road to Mora.
The priests dismounted and asked him whether he could put their mules under shelter and give them grain feed.
“As soon as I git my coat on I will. You kin come in.”
They followed him into a room where a piñon fire blazed in the corner, and went toward it to warm their stiffened hands. Their host made an angry, snarling sound in the direction of the partition, and a woman came out of the next room. She was a Mexican.
Father Latour and Father Vaillant addressed her courteously in Spanish, greeting her in the name of the Holy Mother, as was customary. She did not open her lips, but stared at them blankly for a moment, then dropped her eyes and cowered as if she were terribly frightened. The priests looked at each other; it struck them both that this man had been abusing her in some way. Suddenly he turned on her.
“Clear off them cheers fur the strangers. They won’t eat ye, if they air priests.”
She began distractedly snatching rags and wet socks and dirty clothes from the chairs. Her hands were shaking so that she dropped things. She was not old, she might have been very young, but she was probably half-witted. There was nothing in her face but blankness and fear.
Her husband put on his coat and boots, went to the door, and stopped with his hand on the latch, throwing over his shoulder a crafty, hateful glance at the bewildered woman.
“Here, you! Come right along, I’ll need ye!”
She took her black shawl from a peg and followed him. Just at the door she turned and caught the eyes of the visitors, who were looking after her in compassion and perplexity. Instantly that stupid face became intense, prophetic, full of awful meaning. With her finger she pointed them away, away! — two quick thrusts into the air. Then, with a look of horror beyond anything language could convey, she threw back her head and drew the edge of her palm quickly across her distended throat — and vanished. The doorway was empty; the two priests stood staring at it, speechless. That flash of electric passion had been so swift, the warning it communicated so vivid and definite, that they were struck dumb.
Father Joseph was the first to find his tongue. “There is no doubt of her meaning. Your pistol is loaded, Jean?”
“Yes, but I neglected to keep it dry. No matter.”
They hurried out of the house. It was still light enough to see the stable through the grey drive of rain, and they went toward it.
“Señor American,” the Bishop called, “will you be good enough to bring out our mules?”
The man came out of the stable. “What do you want?”
“Our mules. We have changed our mind. We will push on to Mora. And here is a dollar for your trouble.”
The man took a threatening attitude. As he looked from one to the other his head played from side to side exactly like a snake’s. “What’s the matter? My house ain’t good enough for ye?”
“No explanation is necessary. Go into the barn and get the mules, Father Joseph.”
“You dare go into my stable, you ——— priest!”
The Bishop drew his pistol. “No profanity, Señor. We want nothing from you but to get away from your uncivil tongue. Stand where you are.”
The man was unarmed. Father Joseph came out with the mules, which had not been unsaddled. The poor things were each munching a mouthful, but they needed no urging to be gone; they did not like this place. The moment they felt their riders on their backs they trotted quickly along the road, which dropped immediately into the arroyo. While they were descending, Father Joseph remarked that the man would certainly have a gun in the house, and that he had no wish to be shot in the back.
“Nor I. But it is growing too dark for that, unless he should follow us on horseback,” said the Bishop. “Were there horses in the stable?”
“Only a burro.” Father Vaillant was relying upon the protection of St. Joseph, whose office he had fervently said that morning. The warning given them by that poor woman, with such scant opportunity, seemed evidence that some protecting power was mindful of them.
By the time they had ascended the far side of the arroyo, night had closed down and the rain was pouring harder than ever.
“I am by no means sure that we can keep in the road,” said the Bishop. “But at least I am sure we are not being followed. We must trust to these intelligent beasts. Poor woman! He will suspect her and abuse her, I am afraid.” He kept seeing her in the darkness as he rode on, her face in the fire-light, and her terrible pantomime.
They reached the town of Mora a little after midnight. The Padre’s house was full of refugees, and two of them were put out of a bed in order that the Bishop and his Vicar could get into it.
In the morning a boy came from the stable and reported that he had found a crazy woman lying in the straw, and that she begged to see the two Padres who owned the white mules. She was brought in, her clothing cut to rags, her legs and face and even her hair so plastered with mud that the priests could scarcely recognize the woman who had saved their lives the night before.
She said she had never gone back to the house at all. When the two priests rode away her husband had run to the house to get his gun, and she had plunged down a washout behind the stable into the arroyo, and had been on the way to Mora all night. She had supposed he would overtake her and kill her, but he had not. She reached the settlement before day-break, and crept into the stable to warm herself among the animals and wait until the household was awake. Kneeling before the Bishop she began to relate such horrible things that he stopped her and turned to the native priest.
“This is a case for the civil authorities. Is there a magistrate here?”
There was no magistrate, but there was a retired fur trapper who acted as notary and could take evidence. He was sent for, and in the interval Father Latour instructed the refugee women from Conejos to bathe this poor creature and put decent clothes on her, and to care for the cuts and scratches on her legs.
An hour later the woman, whose name was Magdalena, calmed by food and kindness, was ready to tell her story. The notary had brought along his friend, St. Vrain, a Canadian trapper who understood Spanish better than he. The woman was known to St. Vrain, moreover, who confirmed her statement that she was born Magdalena Valdez, at Los Ranchos de Taos, and that she was twenty-four years old. Her husband, Buck Scales, had drifted into Taos with a party of hunters from somewhere in Wyoming. All white men knew him for a dog and a degenerate — but to Mexican girls, marriage with an American meant coming up in the world. She had married him six years ago, and had been living with him ever since in that wretched house on the Mora trail. During that time he had robbed and murdered four travellers who had stopped there for the night. They were all strangers, not known in the country. She had forgot their names, but one was a German boy who spoke very little Spanish and little English; a nice boy with blue eyes, and she had grieved for him more than for the others. They were all buried in the sandy soil behind the stable. She was always afraid their bodies might wash out in a storm. Their horses Buck had ridden off by night and sold to Indians somewhere in the north. Magdalena had borne three children since her marriage, and her husband had killed each of them a few days after birth, by ways so horrible that she could not relate it. After he killed the first baby, she ran away from him, back to her parents at Ranchos. He came after her and made her go home with him by threatening harm to the old people. She was afraid to go anywhere for help, but twice before she had managed to warn travellers away, when her husband happened to be out of the house. This time she had found courage because, when she looked into the faces of these two Padres, she knew they were good men, and she thought if she ran after them they could save her. She could not bear any more killing. She asked nothing better than to die herself, if only she could hide near a church and a priest for a while, to make her soul right with God.
St. Vrain and his friend got together a search-party at once. They rode out to Scales’s place and found the remains of four men buried under the corral behind the stable, as the woman had said. Scales himself they captured on the road from Taos, where he had gone to look for his wife. They brought him back to Mora, but St. Vrain rode on to Taos to fetch a magistrate.
There was no calabozo in Mora, so Scales was put into an empty stable, under guard. This stable was soon surrounded by a crowd of people, who loitered to hear the blood-curdling threats the prisoner shouted against his wife. Magdalena was kept in the Padre’s house, where she lay on a mat in the corner, begging Father Latour to take her back to Santa Fé, so that her husband could not get at her. Though Scales was bound, the Bishop felt alarmed for her safety. He and the American notary, who had a pistol of the new revolver model, sat in the sala and kept watch over her all night.
In the morning the magistrate and his party arrived from Taos. The notary told him the facts of the case in the plaza, where everyone could hear. The Bishop inquired whether there was any place for Magdalena in Taos, as she could not stay on here in such a state of terror.
A man dressed in buckskin hunting-clothes stepped out of the crowd and asked to see Magdalena. Father Latour conducted him into the room where she lay on her mat. The stranger went up to her, removing his hat. He bent down and put his hand on her shoulder. Though he was clearly an American, he spoke Spanish in the native manner.
“Magdalena, don’t you remember me?”
She looked up at him as out of a dark well; something became alive in her deep, haunted eyes. She caught with both hands at his fringed buckskin knees.
“Christóbal!” she wailed. “Oh, Christóbal!”
“I’ll take you home with me, Magdalena, and you can stay with my wife. You wouldn’t be afraid in my house, would you?”
“No, no, Christóbal, I would not be afraid with you. I am not a wicked woman.”
He smoothed her hair. “You’re a good girl, Magdalena — always were. It will be all right. Just leave things to me.”
Then he turned to the Bishop. “Señor Vicario, she can come to me. I live near Taos. My wife is a native woman, and she’ll be good to her. That varmint won’t come about my place, even if he breaks jail. He knows me. My name is Carson.”
Father Latour had looked forward to meeting the scout. He had supposed him to be a very large man, of powerful body and commanding presence. This Carson was not so tall as the Bishop himself, was very slight in frame, modest in manner, and he spoke English with a soft Southern drawl. His face was both thoughtful and alert; anxiety had drawn a permanent ridge between his blue eyes. Under his blond moustache his mouth had a singular refinement. The lips were full and delicately modelled. There was something curiously unconscious about his mouth, reflective, a little melancholy, — and something that suggested a capacity for tenderness. The Bishop felt a quick glow of pleasure in looking at the man. As he stood there in his buckskin clothes one felt in him standards, loyalties, a code which is not easily put into words but which is instantly felt when two men who live by it come together by chance. He took the scout’s hand. “I have long wanted to meet Kit Carson,” he said, “even before I came to New Mexico. I have been hoping you would pay me a visit at Santa Fé.”
The other smiled. “I’m right shy, sir, and I’m always afraid of being disappointed. But I guess it will be all right from now on.”
This was the beginning of a long friendship.
On their ride back to Carson’s ranch, Magdalena was put in Father Vaillant’s care, and the Bishop and the scout rode together. Carson said he had become a Catholic merely as a matter of form, as Americans usually did when they married a Mexican girl. His wife was a good woman and very devout; but religion had seemed to him pretty much a woman’s affair until his last trip to California. He had been sick out there, and the Fathers at one of the missions took care of him. “I began to see things different, and thought I might some day be a Catholic in earnest. I was brought up to think priests were rascals, and that the nuns were bad women, — all the stuff they talk back in Missouri. A good many of the native priests here bear out that story. Our Padre Martínez at Taos is an old scapegrace, if ever there was one; he’s got children and grandchildren in almost every settlement around here. And Padre Lucero at Arroyo Hondo is a miser, takes everything a poor man’s got to give him a Christian burial.”
The Bishop discussed the needs of his people at length with Carson. He felt great confidence in his judgment. The two men were about the same age, both a little over forty, and both had been sobered and sharpened by wide experience. Carson had been guide in world-renowned explorations, but he was still almost as poor as in the days when he was a beaver trapper. He lived in a little adobe house with his Mexican wife. The great country of desert and mountain ranges between Santa Fé and the Pacific coast was not yet mapped or chartered; the most reliable map of it was in Kit Carson’s brain. This Missourian, whose eye was so quick to read a landscape or a human face, could not read a printed page. He could at that time barely write his own name. Yet one felt in him a quick and discriminating intelligence. That he was illiterate was an accident; he had got ahead of books, gone where the printing-press could not follow him. Out of the hardships of his boyhood — from fourteen to twenty picking up a bare living as cook or mule-driver for wagon trains, often in the service of brutal and desperate characters — he had preserved a clean sense of honour and a compassionate heart. In talking to the Bishop of poor Magdalena he said sadly: “I used to see her in Taos when she was such a pretty girl. Ain’t it a pity?”
The degenerate murderer, Buck Scales, was hanged after a short trial. Early in April the Bishop left Santa Fé on horseback and rode to St. Louis, on his way to attend the Provincial Council at Baltimore. When he returned in September, he brought back with him five courageous nuns, Sisters of Loretto, to found a school for girls in letterless Santa Fé. He sent at once for Magdalena and took her into the service of the Sisters. She became housekeeper and manager of the Sisters’ kitchen. She was devoted to the nuns, and so happy in the service of the Church that when the Bishop visited the school he used to enter by the kitchen-garden in order to see her serene and handsome face. For she became beautiful, as Carson said she had been as a girl. After the blight of her horrible youth was over, she seemed to bloom again in the household of God.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07