But the stranger made his own beginning. As the priest came from the church, the rebellious young figure was waiting. "Your organist tells me," he said, impetuously, "that it is you who—"
"May I ask with whom I have the great pleasure of speaking?" said the Padre, putting formality to the front and his pleasure out of sight.
The stranger's face reddened beneath its sun-beaten bronze, and he became aware of the Padre's pale features, molded by refinement and the world. "I beg your lenience," said he, with a graceful and confident utterance, as of equal to equal. "My name is Gaston Villere, and it was time I should be reminded of my manners."
The Padre's hand waved a polite negative.
"Indeed, yes, Padre. But your music has amazed me. If you carried such associations as—Ah! the days and the nights!"—he broke off. "To come down a California mountain and find Paris at the bottom! The Huguenots, Rossini, Herold—I was waiting for Il Trovatore."
"Is that something new?" inquired the Padre, eagerly.
The young man gave an exclamation. "The whole world is ringing with it!" he cried.
"But Santa Ysabel del Mar is a long way from the whole world," murmured Padre Ignacio.
"Indeed, it would not appear to be so," returned young Gaston. "I think the Comedie Francaise must be round the corner."
A thrill went through the priest at the theater's name. "And have you been long in America?" he asked.
"Why, always—except two years of foreign travel after college."
"An American!" exclaimed the surprised Padre, with perhaps a tone of disappointment in his voice. "But no Americans who are yet come this way have been—have been"—he veiled the too-blunt expression of his thought—"have been familiar with The Huguenots," he finished, making a slight bow.
Villere took his under-meaning. "I come from New Orleans," he returned, "and in New Orleans there live many of us who can recognize a—who can recognize good music wherever we hear it." And he made a slight bow in his turn.
The Padre laughed outright with pleasure and laid his hand upon the young man's arm. "You have no intention of going away to-morrow, I trust?"
"With your leave," answered Gaston, "I will have such an intention no longer."
It was with the air and gait of mutual understanding that the two now walked on together toward the Padre's door. The guest was twenty-five, the host sixty.
"And have you been in America long?" inquired Gaston.
"And at Santa Ysabel how long?"
"I should have thought," said Gaston, looking lightly at the desert and unpeopled mountains, "that now and again you might have wished to travel."
"Were I your age," murmured Padre Ignacio, "it might be so."
The evening had now ripened to the long after-glow of sunset. The sea was the purple of grapes, and wine-colored hues flowed among the high shoulders of the mountains.
"I have seen a sight like this," said Gaston, "between Granada and Malaga."
"So you know Spain!" said the Padre.
Often he had thought of this resemblance, but never till now met any one to share his thought. The courtly proprietor of San Fernando and the other patriarchal rancheros with whom he occasionally exchanged visits across the wilderness knew hospitality and inherited gentle manners, sending to Europe for silks and laces to give their daughters; but their eyes had not looked upon Granada, and their ears had never listened to William Tell.
"It is quite singular," pursued Gaston, "how one nook in the world will suddenly remind you of another nook that may be thousands of miles away. One morning, behind the Quai Voltaire, an old, yellow house with rusty balconies made me almost homesick for New Orleans."
"The Quai Voltaire!" said the Padre.
"I heard Rachel in Valerie that night," the young man went on. "Did you know that she could sing, too. She sang several verses by an astonishing little Jew violin-cellist that is come up over there."
The Padre gazed down at his blithe guest. "To see somebody, somebody, once again, is very pleasant to a hermit!"
"It cannot be more pleasant than arriving at an oasis," returned Gaston.
They had delayed on the threshold to look at the beauty of the evening, and now the priest watched his parishioners come and go. "How can one make companions—" he began; then, checking himself, he said: "Their souls are as sacred and immortal as mine, and God helps me to help them. But in this world it is not immortal souls that we choose for companions; it is kindred tastes, intelligences, and—and so I and my books are growing old together, you see," he added, more lightly. "You will find my volumes as behind the times as myself."
He had fallen into talk more intimate than he wished; and while the guest was uttering something polite about the nobility of missionary work, he placed him in an easy-chair and sought aguardiente for his immediate refreshment. Since the year's beginning there had been no guest for him to bring into his rooms, or to sit beside him in the high seats at table, set apart for the gente fina.
Such another library was not then in California; and though Gaston Villere, in leaving Harvard College, had shut Horace and Sophocles for ever at the earliest instant possible under academic requirements, he knew the Greek and Latin names that he now saw as well as he knew those of Shakspere, Dante, Moliere, and Cervantes. These were here also; but it could not be precisely said of them, either, that they made a part of the young man's daily reading. As he surveyed the Padre's august shelves, it was with a touch of the histrionic Southern gravity which his Northern education had not wholly schooled out of him that he said:
"I fear I am no scholar, sir. But I know what writers every gentleman ought to respect."
The polished Padre bowed gravely to this compliment.
It was when his eyes caught sight of the music that the young man felt again at ease, and his vivacity returned to him. Leaving his chair, he began enthusiastically to examine the tall piles that filled one side of the room. The volumes lay piled and scattered everywhere, making a pleasant disorder; and, as perfume comes from a flower, memories of singers and chandeliers rose bright from the printed names. Norma, Tancredi, Don Pasquale, La Vestale, dim lights in the fashions of to-day, sparkled upon the exploring Gaston, conjuring the radiant halls of Europe before him. "The Barber of Seville!" he presently exclaimed. "And I happened to hear it in Seville."
But Seville's name brought over the Padre a new rush of home thoughts. "Is not Andalusia beautiful?" he said. "Did you see it in April, when the flowers come?"
"Yes," said Gaston, among the music. "I was at Cordova then."
"Ah, Cordova!" murmured the Padre.
"Semiramide!" cried Gaston, lighting upon that opera. "That was a week! I should like to live it over, every day and night of it!"
"Did you reach Malaga from Marseilles or Gibraltar?" asked the Padre, wistfully.
"From Marseilles. Down from Paris through the Rhone Valley, you know."
"Then you saw Provence! And did you go, perhaps, from Avignon to Nismes by the Pont du Gard? There is a place I have made here—a little, little place—with olive-trees. And now they have grown, and it looks something like that country, if you stand in a particular position. I will take you there to-morrow. I think you will understand what I mean."
"Another resemblance!" said the volatile and happy Gaston. "We both seem to have an eye for them. But, believe me, Padre, I could never stay here planting olives. I should go back and see the original ones—and then I'd hasten on to Paris."
And, with a volume of Meyerbeer open in his hand, Gaston hummed: "'Robert, Robert, toi que j'aime.' Why, Padre, I think that your library contains none of the masses and all of the operas in the world!"
"I will make you a little confession," said Padre Ignacio, "and then you shall give me a little absolution."
"For a penance," said Gaston, "you must play over some of these things to me."
"I suppose I could not permit myself this luxury," began the Padre, pointing to his operas, "and teach these to my choir, if the people had any worldly associations with the music. But I have reasoned that the music cannot do them harm—"
The ringing of a bell here interrupted him. "In fifteen minutes," he said, "our poor meal will be ready for you." The good Padre was not quite sincere when he spoke of a "poor meal." While getting the aguardiente for his guest he had given orders, and he knew how well such orders would be carried out. He lived alone, and generally supped simply enough, but not even the ample table at San Fernando could surpass his own on occasions. And this was for him indeed an occasion!
"Your half-breeds will think I am one of themselves," said Gaston, showing his dusty clothes. "I am not fit to be seated with you." But he did not mean this any more than his host had meant his remark about the food. In his pack, which an Indian had brought from his horse, he carried some garments of civilization. And presently, after fresh water and not a little painstaking with brush and scarf, there came back to the Padre a young guest whose elegance and bearing and ease of the great world were to the exiled priest as sweet as was his traveled conversation.
They repaired to the hall and took their seats at the head of the long table. For the Spanish centuries of stately custom lived at Santa Ysabel del Mar, inviolate, feudal, remote.
They were the only persons of quality present; and between themselves and the gente de razon a space intervened. Behind the Padre's chair stood an Indian to waft upon him, and another stood behind the chair of Gaston Villere. Each of these servants wore one single white garment, and offered the many dishes to the gente fina and refilled their glasses. At the lower end of the table a general attendant wafted upon mesclados—the half-breeds. There was meat with spices, and roasted quail, with various cakes and other preparations of grain; also the brown fresh olives and grapes, with several sorts of figs and plums, and preserved fruits, and white and red wine—the white fifty years old. Beneath the quiet shining of candles, fresh-cut flowers leaned from vessels of old Mexican and Spanish make.
There at one end of this feast sat the wild, pastoral, gaudy company, speaking little over their food; and there at the other the pale Padre, questioning his visitor about Rachel. The mere name of a street would bring memories crowding to his lips; and when his guest told him of a new play he was ready with old quotations from the same author. Alfred de Vigny they spoke of, and Victor Hugo, whom the Padre disliked. Long after the dulce, or sweet dish, when it was the custom for the vaqueros and the rest of the retainers to rise and leave the gente fina to themselves, the host sat on in the empty hail, fondly talking to his guest of his bygone Paris and fondly learning of the later Paris that the guest had seen. And thus the two lingered, exchanging their enthusiasms, while the candles waned, and the long-haired Indians stood silent behind the chairs.
"But we must go to my piano," the host exclaimed. For at length they had come to a lusty difference of opinion. The Padre, with ears critically deaf, and with smiling, unconvinced eyes, was shaking his head, while young Gaston sang Trovatore at him, and beat upon the table with a fork.
"Come and convert me, then," said Padre Ignacio, and he led the way. "Donizetti I have always admitted. There, at least, is refinement. If the world has taken to this Verdi, with his street-band music—But there, now! Sit down and convert me. Only don't crush my poor little Erard with Verdi's hoofs. I brought it when I came. It is behind the times, too. And, oh, my dear boy, our organ is still worse. So old, so old! To get a proper one I would sacrifice even this piano of mine in a moment—only the tinkling thing is not worth a sou to anybody except its master. But there! Are you quite comfortable?" And having seen to his guest's needs, and placed spirits and cigars and an ash-tray within his reach, the Padre sat himself comfortably in his chair to hear and expose the false doctrine of Il Trovatore.
By midnight all of the opera that Gaston could recall had been played and sung twice. The convert sat in his chair no longer, but stood singing by the piano. The potent swing and flow of rhythms, the torrid, copious inspiration of the South, mastered him. "Verdi has grown," he cried. "Verdi is become a giant." And he swayed to the beat of the melodies, and waved an enthusiastic arm. He demanded every note. Why did not Gaston remember it all? But if the barkentine would arrive and bring the whole music, then they would have it right! And he made Gaston teach him what words he knew. "'Non ti scorder,'" he sang—"'non ti scordar di me.' That is genius. But one sees how the world moves when one is out of it. 'A nostri monti ritorneremo'; home to our mountains. Ah, yes, there is genius again." And the exile sighed and his spirit voyaged to distant places, while Gaston continued brilliantly with the music of the final scene.
Then the host remembered his guest. "I am ashamed of my selfishness," he said. "It is already to-morrow."
"I have sat later in less good company," answered the pleasant Gaston. "And I shall sleep all the sounder for making a convert."
"You have dispensed roadside alms," said the Padre, smiling, "and that should win excellent dreams."
Thus, with courtesies more elaborate than the world has time for at the present day, they bade each other good-night and parted, bearing their late candles along the quiet halls of the mission. To young Gaston in his bed easy sleep came without waiting, and no dreams at all. Outside his open window was the quiet, serene darkness, where the stars shone clear, and tranquil perfumes hung in the cloisters. But while the guest lay sleeping all night in unchanged position like a child, up and down between the oleanders went Padre Ignacio, walking until dawn. Temptation indeed had come over the hill and entered the cloisters.