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Remember the Alamo THE DOCTOR AND THE PRIEST
THE DOCTOR AND THE PRIEST
"I tell thee, priest, if the world were wise
Your Saviour came not with a gaudy show,
The exalted state of mind which the victorious men had brought home with them did not vanish with sleep. The same heroic atmosphere was in the house in the morning. Antonia's face had a brightness upon it that never yet was the result of mere flesh and blood. When she came into the usual sitting-room, Dare was already there; indeed, he had risen purposely for this hour. Their smiles and glances met each other with an instantaneous understanding. It was the old Greek greeting "REJOICE!" without the audible expression.
Never again, perhaps, in all their lives would moments so full of sweetness and splendor come to them. They were all the sweeter because blended with the homely duties that fell to Antonia's hands. As she went about ordering the breakfast, and giving to the table a festal air, Dare thought of the old Homeric heroes, and the daughters of the kings who ministered to their wants. The bravest of them had done no greater deeds of personal valor than had been done by the little band of American pioneers and hunters with whom he had fought the last four days. The princes among them had been welcomed by no sweeter and fairer women than had welcomed his companions and himself.
And, though his clothing was black with the smoke of the battle and torn with the fray, never had Dare himself looked so handsome. There was an unspeakable radiance in his fair face. The close, brown curls of his hair; his tall figure, supple and strong; his air of youth, and valor, and victory; the love-light in his eyes; the hopes in his heart, made him for the time really more than a mere mortal man. He walked like the demi-gods he was thinking of. The most glorious ideal of life, the brightest dream of love that he had ever had, found in this hour their complete realization.
The Senora did not come down; but Isabel and Luis and the doctor joined the breakfast party. Luis had evidently been to see Lopez Navarro before he did so; for he wore a new suit of dark blue velvet and silver, a sash of crimson silk, the neatest of patent leather shoes, and the most beautifully embroidered linen. Dare gave him a little smile and nod of approbation. He had not thought of fine clothing for himself; but then for the handsome, elegant, Mexican youth it seemed precisely the right thing. And Isabel, in her scarlet satin petticoat, and white embroideries and satin slippers, looked his proper mate. Dare and Antonia, and even the doctor, watched their almost childlike devotion to each other with sympathetic delight.
Oh, if such moments could only last! No, no; as a rule they last long enough. Joy wearies as well as sorrow. An abiding rapture would make itself a sorrow out of our very weakness to bear it. We should become exhausted and exacting, and be irritated by the limitations of our nature, and our inability to create and to endure an increasing rapture. It is because joy is fugitive that it leaves us a delightsome memory. It is far better, then, not to hold the rose until it withers in our fevered hand.
The three women watched their heroes go back to the city. The doctor looked very little older than his companions. He sat his horse superbly, and he lifted his hat to the proud Senora with a loving grace which neither of the young men could excel. In that far back year, when he had wooed her with the sweet words she taught him, he had not looked more manly and attractive. There is a perverse disposition in women to love personal prowess, and to adore the heroes of the battle-field; and never had the Senora loved her husband as she did at that hour.
In his capacity of physician he had done unnoticed deeds of far greater bravery--gone into a Comanche camp that was being devastated by smallpox--or galloped fifty miles; alone in the night, through woods haunted by savage men and beasts, to succor some little child struggling with croup, or some frontiersman pierced with an arrow. The Senora had always fretted and scolded a little when he thus exposed his life. But the storming of the Alamo! That was a bravery she could understand. Her Roberto was indeed a hero! Though she could not bring herself to approve the cause for which he fought, she was as sensitive as men and women always are to victorious valor and a successful cause.
Rachela was in a state of rebellion. Nothing but the express orders of Fray Ignatius, to remain where she was, prevented her leaving the Worths; for the freedom so suddenly given to Isabel had filled her with indignation. She was longing to be in some house where she could give adequate expression to the diabolical temper she felt it right to indulge.
In the afternoon it was some relief to see the confessor coming up the garden. He had resumed his usual deliberate pace. His hands were folded upon his breast. He looked as the mournful Jeremiah may have looked, when he had the burden of a heavy prophecy to deliver.
The Senora sat down with a doggedly sullen air, which Antonia understood very well. It meant, "I am not to be forced to take any way but my own, to-day"; and the wise priest understood her mood as soon as he entered the room. He put behind him the reproof he had been meditating. He stimulated her curiosity; he asked her sympathy. No man knew better than Fray Ignatius, when to assume sacerdotal authority and when to lay it aside.
And the Senora was never proof against the compliment of his personal friendship. The fight, as it affected himself and his brotherhood and the convent, was full of interest to her. She smiled at Brother Servando's childish alarm; she was angry at an insult offered to the venerable abbot; she condoled with the Sisters, wept at the danger that the famous statue of the Virgin de Los Reinedias had been exposed to; and was altogether as sympathetic as he could desire, until her own affairs were mentioned.
"And you also, my daughter? The sword has pierced your heart too, I am sure! To know that your husband and sons were fighting against your God and your country! Holy Mother! How great must have been your grief. But, for your comfort, I tell you that the saints who have suffered a fiery martyrdom stand at the feet of those who, like you, endure the continual crucifixion of their affections."
The Senora was silent, but not displeased and the priest then ventured a little further:
"But there is an end to all trials, daughter and I now absolve you from the further struggle. Decide this day for your God and your country. Make an offering to Almighty God and the Holy Mother of your earthly love. Give yourself and your daughters and all that you have to the benign and merciful Church. Show these rebels and heretics--these ungrateful recipients of Mexican bounty--what a true Catholic is capable of. His Divine Majesty and the Holy Mary demand this supreme sacrifice from you."
"Father, I have my husband, and my sons; to them, also, I owe some duties."
"The Church will absolve you from them."
"It would break my heart."
"Listen then: If it is your right hand, or your right eye-- that is, if it is your husband, or your child--you are commanded to give them up; or--it is God's word--there is only hell fire."
"Mother of Sorrows, pity me! What shall I do?"
She looked with the terror of a child into the dark, cruel face of the priest. It was as immovably stern as if carved out of stone. Then her eyes sought those of Antonia, who sat at a distant window with her embroidery in her hand. She let it fall when her mother's pitiful, uncertain glance asked from her strength and counsel. She rose and went to her. Never had the tall, fair girl looked so noble. A sorrowful majesty, that had something in it of pity and something of anger, gave to her countenance, her movements, and even her speech, a kind of authority.
"Dear mother, do as the beloved and kindhearted Ruth did. Like you, she married one not of her race and not of her religion. Even when God had taken him from her, she chose to remain with his people--to leave her own people and abide with his mother. For this act God blessed her, and all nations in all ages have honored her."
"Ruth! Ruth! Ruth! What has Ruth to do with the question? Presumptuous one! Ruth was a heathen woman--a Moabite--a race ten times accursed."
"Pardon, father. Ruth was the ancestress of our blessed Saviour, and of the Virgin Mary."
"Believe not the wicked one, Senora? She is blinded with false knowledge. She is a heretic. I have long suspected it. She has not been to confession for nine months."
"You wrong me, father. Every day, twice a day, I confess my sins humbly."
"Chito! You are in outrageous sin. But, then, what else? I hear, indeed, that you read wicked books--even upon your knees you read them."
"I read my Bible, father."
"Bring it to me. How could a child like you read the Bible? It is a book for bishops and archbishops, and the Immaculate Father himself. What an arrogance? What an insolence of self-conceit must possess so young a heart? Saints of God! It confounds me."
The girl stood with burning cheeks gazing at the proud, passionate man, but she did not obey his order.
"Senora, my daughter! See you with your own eyes the fruit of your sin. Will you dare to become a partner in such wickedness?"
"Antonia! Antonia! Go at once and bring here this wicked book. Oh, how can you make so miserable a mother who loves you so much?"
In a few moments Antonia returned with the objectionable book. "My dear grandmother gave it to me," she said. "Look, mi madre, here is my name in her writing. Is it conceivable that she would give to your Antonia a book that she ought not to read?"
The Senora took it in her hands and turned the leaves very much as a child might turn those of a book in an unknown tongue, in which there were no illustrations nor anything that looked the least interesting. It was a pretty volume of moderate size, bound in purple morocco, and fastened with gilt clasps.
"I see the word GOD in it very often, Fray Ignatius. Perhaps, indeed, it is not bad."
"It is a heretic Bible, I am sure. Could anything be more sinful, more disrespectful to God, more dangerous for a young girl?" and as he said the words he took it from the Senora's listless hands, glanced at the obnoxious title-page, and then, stepping hastily to the hearth, flung the book upon the burning logs.
With a cry of horror, pain, amazement, all blended, Antonia sprang towards the fire, but Fray Ignatius stood with outstretched arms, before it.
"Stand back!" he cried. "To save your soul from eternal fires, I burn the book that has misled you!"
"Oh, my Bible! Oh, my Bible! Oh, mother! mother!" and sobbing and crying out in her fear and anger, she fled down stairs and called the peon Ortiz.
"Do you know where to find the Senor Doctor? If you do, Ortiz, take the swiftest horse and bring him here."
The man looked with anger into the girl's troubled face. For a moment he was something unlike himself. "I can find him; I will bring him in fifteen minutes. Corpus Christi it is here he should be."
The saddled horse in the stable was mounted as he muttered one adjuration and oath after another, and Antonia sat down at the window to watch for the result of her message. Fortunately, Rachela had been so interested in the proceedings, and so determined to know all about them, that she seized the opportunity of the outcry to fly to "her poor Senora," and thus was ignorant of the most unusual step taken by Antonia.
Indeed, no one was aware of it but herself and Ortiz; and the servants in the kitchen looked with a curious interest at the doctor riding into the stable yard as if his life depended upon his speed. Perhaps it did. All of them stopped their work to speculate upon the circumstance.
They saw him fling himself from the saddle they saw Antonia run to meet him; they heard her voice full of distress--they knew it was the voice of complaint. They were aware it was answered by a stamp on the flagged hall of the doctor's iron- heeled boot--which rang through the whole house, and which was but the accompaniment of the fierce exclamation that went with it.
They heard them mount the stairs together, and then they were left to their imaginations. As for Antonia, she was almost terrified at the storm she had raised. Never had she seen anger so terrible. Yet, though he had not said a word directly to her, she was aware of his full sympathy. He grasped her hand, and entered the Senora's room with her. His first order was to Rachela--
"Leave the house in five minutes; no, in three minutes. I will tell Ortiz to send your clothes after you. Go!"
"My Senora! Fray I--"
"Go!" he thundered. "Out of my house! Fly! I will not endure you another moment."
The impetus of his words was like a great wind. They drove the woman before him, and he shut the door behind her with a terrifying and amazing rage. Then he turned to the priest--
"Fray Ignatius, you have abused my hospitality, and my patience. You shall do so no longer. For twenty-six years I have suffered your interference-"
"The Senor is a prudent man. The wise bear what they cannot resist"; and with a gentle smile and lifted eyebrows Fray Ignatius crossed himself.
"I have respected your faith, though it was the faith of a bigot; and your opinions, though they were false and cruel, because you believed honestly in them. But you shall not again interfere with my wife, or my children, or my servants, or my house."
"The Senor Doctor is not prince, or pope. `Shall,' and `SHALL NOT,' no one but my own ecclesiastical superiors can say to me."
"I say, you shall not again terrify my wife and insult my daughter, and disorganize my whole household! And, as the God of my mother hears me, you shall not again burn up His Holy Word under my roof. Never, while I dwell beneath it, enter my gates, or cross my threshold, or address yourself to any that bear my name, or eat my bread." With the words, he walked to the door and held it open. It was impossible to mistake the unspoken order, and there was something in the concentrated yet controlled passion of Robert Worth which even the haughty priest did not care to irritate beyond its bounds.
He gathered his robe together, and with lifted eyes muttered an ejaculatory prayer. Then he said in slow, cold, precise tones:
"For the present, I go. Very good. I shall come back again. The saints will take care of that. Senora, I give you my blessing. Senor, you may yet find the curse of a poor priest an inconvenience."
He crossed himself at the door, and cast a last look at the Senora, who had thown herself upon her knees, and was crying out to Mary and the saints in a passion of excuses and reproaches. She was deaf to all her husband said. She would not suffer Antonia to approach her. She felt that now was the hour of her supreme trial. She had tolerated the rebellion of her husband, and her sons, and her daughter, and now she was justly punished. They had driven away from her the confessor, and the maid who had been her counsellor and her reliance from her girlhood.
Her grief and terror were genuine, and therefore pitiful; and, in spite of his annoyance, the doctor recognized the fact. In a moment, as soon as they were alone, he put aside his anger. He knelt beside her, he soothed her with tender words, he pleaded the justice of his indignation. And ere long she began to listen to his excuses, and to complain to him:
He had been born a heretic, and therefore might be excused a little, even by Almighty God. But Antonia! Her sin was beyond endurance. She herself, and the good Sisters, and Fray Ignatius, had all taught her in her infancy the true religion. And her Roberto must see that this was a holy war--a war for the Holy Catholic Church. No wonder Fray Ignatius was angry.
"My dear Maria, every church thinks itself right; and all other churches wrong. God looks at the heart. If it is right, it makes all worship true. But when the Americans have won Texas, they will give to every one freedom to worship God as they wish."
"Saints in heaven, Roberto! That day comes not. One victory! Bah! That is an accident. The Mexicans are a very brave people,--the bravest in the world. Did they not drive the Spaniards out of their country; and it is not to be contradicted that the Spaniards have conquered all other nations. That I saw in a book. The insult the Americans have given to Mexico will be revenged. Her honor has been compromised before the world. Very well, it will be made bright again; yes, Fray Ignatius says with blood and fire it will be made bright."
"And in the mean time, Maria, we have taken from them the city they love best of all. An hour ago I saw, General Cos, with eleven hundred Mexican soldiers, pass before a little band of less than two hundred Americans and lay down their arms. These defenders of the Alamo had all been blessed by the priests. Their banners had been anointed with holy oil and holy water. They had all received absolution everyday before the fight began; they had been promised a free passage through purgatory and a triumphant entry into heaven."
"Well, I will tell you something; Fray Ignatius showed it to me--it was a paper printed. The rebels and their wives and children are to be sent from this earth--you may know where they will all go, Roberto--Congress says so. The States will give their treasures. The archbishops will give the episcopal treasures. The convents will give their gems and gold ornaments. Ten thousand men had left for San Antonio, and ten thousand more are to follow; the whole under our great President Santa Anna. Oh, yes! The rebels in Washington are to be punished also. It is well known that they sent soldiers to Nacogdoches. Mexicans are not blind moles, and they have their intelligence, you know. All the States who have helped these outrageous ingrates are to be devastated, and you will see that your famous Washington will be turned into a heap of stories. I have seen these words in print, Roberto. I assure you, that it is not just a little breath--what one or another says--it is the printed orders of the Mexican government. That is something these Americans will have to pay attention to."
The doctor sighed, and answered the sorrowful, credulous woman with a kiss. What was the use of reasoning with simplicity so ignorant and so confident? He turned the conversation to a subject that always roused her best and kindest feelings--her son Jack.
"I have just seen young Dewees, Maria. He and Jack left San Felipe together. Dewees brought instructions to General Burleson; and Jack carried others to Fannin, at Goliad."
She took her husband's hands and kissed them. "That indeed! Oh, Roberto! If I could only see my Jack once more! I have had a constant accusation to bear about him. Till I kiss my boy again, the world will be all dark before my face. If Our Lady will grant me this miraculous favor, I will always afterwards be exceedingly religious. I will give all my desires to the other world."
"Dearest Maria, God did not put us in this world to be always desiring another. There is no need, mi queridita, to give up this life as a bad affair. We shall be very happy again, soon.
"As you say. If I could only see Jack! For that, I would promise God Almighty and you Roberto to be happy. I would forgive the rebels and the heretics--for they are well acquainted with hell road, and will guide each other there without my wish."
"I am sure if Jack has one day he will come to you. And when he hears of the surrender of General Cos--"
"Well now, it was God's will that General Cos should surrender. What more can be said? It is sufficient."
"Let me call Antonia. She is miserable at your displeasure; and it is not Antonia's fault."
"Pardon me, Roberto. I have seen Antonia. She is not agreeable and obedient to Fray Ignatius."
"She has been very wickedly used by him; and I fear he intends to do her evil."
"It is not convenient to discuss the subject now. I will see Isabel; she is a good child--my only comfort. Paciencia! there is Luis Alveda singing; Isabel will now be deaf to all else"; and she rose with a sigh and walked towards the casement looking into the garden.
Luis was coming up the oleander walk. The pretty trees were thinner now, and had only a pink blossom here and there. But the bright winter sun shone through them, and fell upon Luis and Isabel. For she had also seen him coming, and had gone to meet him, with a little rainbow-tinted shawl over her head. She looked so piquant and so happy. She seemed such a proper mate for the handsome youth at her side that a word of dissent was not possible. The doctor said only, "She is so like you, Maria. I remember when you were still more lovely, and when from your balcony you made me with a smile the happiest man in the world."
Such words were never lost ones; for the Senora had a true and great love for her husband. She gave him again a smile, she put her hand in his, and then there were no further conciliations required. They stood in the sunshine of their own hearts, and listened a moment to the gay youth, singing, how at--
The strong old Alamo
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