CHARLES FRANCIS STOCKING, E. M.
Author of THE DIARY OF JEAN EVARTS, THE MAYOR OF FILBERT, Etc.
THE MAESTRO CO.
CHARLES FRANCIS STOCKING
ISSUED JANUARY 1916
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
PRINTED IN U. S. A.
Doth this offend you?—the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
The tropical sun mounted the rim of the golden Caribbean, quivered for a moment like a fledgeling preening its wings for flight, then launched forth boldly into the vault of heaven, shattering the lowering vapors of night into a myriad fleecy clouds of every form and color, and driving them before it into the abysmal blue above. Leaping the sullen walls of old Cartagena, the morning beams began to glow in roseate hues on the red-tiled roofs of this ancient metropolis of New Granada, and glance in shafts of fire from her glittering domes and towers. Swiftly they climbed the moss-grown sides of church and convent, and glided over the dull white walls of prison and monastery alike. Pouring through half-turned shutters, they plashed upon floors in floods of gold. Tapping noiselessly on closed portals, they seemed to bid tardy sleepers arise, lest the hurrying midday siesta overtake them with tasks unfinished. The dormitory of the ecclesiastical college, just within the east wall of the city, glowed brilliantly in the clear light which it was reflecting to the mirror of waters without. Its huge bulk had caught the first rays of the rising sun, most of which had rebounded from its drab, incrusted walls and sped out again over the dancing sea. A few, however, escaped reflection by stealing through the slanting shutters of a window close under the roof of the building. Within, they fell upon a man kneeling on the tiled floor beside a rude cot bed.
In appearance the man was not more than twenty-five years of age. His black, close-curling hair, oval face, and skin of deep olive tint indicated a Latin origin. His clerical garb proclaimed him a son of the Church. The room was a small, whitewashed cell of stone, musty with the dampness which had swept in from the sea during the night. It was furnished with Spartan simplicity. Neither image, crucifix, nor painting adorned its walls—the occupant's dress alone suggested his calling. A hanging shelf held a few books, all evidently used as texts in the adjoining college. A table, much littered; a wooden dressing stand, with a small mirror; and an old-fashioned, haircloth trunk, bearing numerous foreign labels, eked out the paucity of furnishings.
If the man prayed, there was only his reverent attitude to indicate it, for no words escaped his lips. But the frequent straining of his tense body, and the fierce clenching of his thin hands, as he threw his arms out over the unopened bed, were abundant evidence of a soul tugging violently at its moorings. His was the attitude of one who has ceased to inveigh against fate, who kneels dumbly before the cup of Destiny, knowing that it must be drained.
With the break of day the bells awoke in the church towers throughout the old city, and began to peal forth their noisy reminder of the virility of the Holy Catholic faith. Then the man raised his head, seemingly startled into awareness of his material environment. For a few moments he listened confusedly to the insistent clatter—but he made no sign of the cross, nor did his head bend with the weight of a hollow Ave on his bloodless lips while the clamoring muezzins filled the warm, tropical air with their jangling appeal. Rising with an air of weary indifference, he slowly crossed the room and threw wide the shutters of the solitary window, admitting a torrent of sunlight. As he did this, the door of the cell softly opened, and a young novitiate entered.
"With your permission, Padre," said the boy, bowing low. "His Grace summons you to the Cathedral."
The man made a languid gesture of dismissal, and turned from the lad to the rare view which greeted him through the open window. The dusty road below was beginning to manifest the city's awakening. Barefooted, brown-skinned women, scantily clad in cheap calico gowns, were swinging along with shallow baskets under their arms to the plaza for the day's marketing. Some carried naked babes astride their hips; some smoked long, slender cigars of their own rolling. Half-clad children of all ages, mixtures of mestizo, Spaniard, and Jamaican negro, trotted along beside them; and at intervals a blustering cochero rattled around the corner in a rickety, obsolete type of trap behind a brace of emaciated horses.
The lively gossip of the passing groups preluded the noisy chaffering to follow their arrival at the market place.
"Caramba, little pig!" shrilled a buxom matron, snatching her naked offspring away from a passing vehicle. "Think you I have money to waste on Masses for your naughty soul?"
"Na, senora," bantered another, "it will cost less now than later to get him out of purgatory."
"But, comadre, do you stop at the Cathedral to say a Pater-noster?"
"To be sure, amiga, and an Ave, too. And let us return by way of the Hotel Espana, for, quien sabe? we may catch a glimpse of the famous matador."
"Yes. He arrived from Barranquilla last night—so my Pedro tells me—and will fight in the arena this Sunday. I have saved fifty pesos to see him. Madre de Dios! but I would sell my soul to see him slay but a single bull. And do you go?"
The soft air, tempered by the languid ocean breeze, bore aloft the laughter and friendly bantering of the marketers, mingled with the awakening street sounds and the morning greetings which issued from opening doors and windows. The scent of roses and the heavier sweetness of orchids and tropical blooms drifted over the ancient city from its innumerable patios and public gardens. The age-incrusted buildings fused in the mounting sun into squares of dazzling white, over which the tiled roofs flowed in cinctures of crimson. Far off at sea the smoke of an approaching vessel wove fantastic designs against the tinted sky. Behind the city the convent of Santa Candelaria, crowning the hill of La Popa, glowed like a diamond; and stretching far to the south, and merging at the foot of the Cordilleras into the gloom-shrouded, menacing jungle, the steaming llanos offered fleeting glimpses of their rich emerald color as the morning breeze stirred the heavy clouds of vapor which hung sullenly above them.
To all this the man, looking vacantly out across the city walls to where the sea birds dipped on the rippling waves, was apparently oblivious. Nor did he manifest the slightest interest in the animated scene before him until a tall, heavy-set young priest emerged from the entrance of the dormitory below and stopped for a moment in the middle of the road to bask in the brilliant sunlight and fill his lungs with the invigorating ocean breeze. Turning his eyes suddenly upward, the latter caught sight of the man at the window.
"Ah, amigo Jose!" he called in friendly greeting, his handsome face aglow with a cordial smile. "Our good Saint Claver has not lobbied for us in vain! We shall yet have a good day for the bulls, no?"
"An excellent one, I think, Wenceslas," quickly replied the man addressed, who then turned abruptly away as if he wished to avoid further conversation. The priest below regarded the empty window for a moment. Then, with a short, dry laugh and a cynical shrug of his broad shoulders, he passed on.
As the man above turned back into the room his face, wearing the look of one far gone in despair, was contorted with passion. Fear, confusion, and undefined soul-longing seemed to move rapidly across it, each leaving its momentary impression, and all mingling at times in a surging flood that swelled the veins of his temples to the point of rupture. Mechanically he paced his narrow cell, throwing frequent furtive glances at the closed door, as if he suspected himself watched. Often he stopped abruptly, and with head bowed and brows furrowed, seemed to surrender his soul to the forces with which it was wrestling. Often he clasped his head wildly in his hands and turned his beseeching eyes upward, as if he would call upon an invisible power above to aid him, yet restrained by the deadening conviction of experience that such appeal would meet with no response, and that he must stand in his own strength, however feeble.
Hours passed thus. The sun gained the zenith and the streets were ablaze. Belated marketers, with laden baskets atop their heads, were hurrying homeward, hugging the scanty shade of the glaring buildings. Shopkeepers were drawing their shutters and closing their heavy doors, leaving the hot noon hour asleep on the scorching portals. The midday Angelus called from the Cathedral tower. Then, as if shaken into remembrance of the message which the boy had brought him at daybreak, the man hurriedly took his black felt hat from the table, and without further preparation left the room.
The stone pavements and narrow brick walks, above which the intense heat hung in tremulous waves, were almost deserted as he hastened toward the Cathedral. The business of the morning was finished; trade was suspended until the sun, now dropping its fiery shafts straight as plummets, should have sunk behind La Popa. As he turned into the Calle Lozano an elderly woman, descending the winding brick stairway visible through the open door of one of the numerous old colonial houses in the lower end of this thoroughfare, called timidly to him.
"Marcelena," the priest returned, stopping. "The girl—is she—?"
"She is dying," interrupted the woman in a voice broken with sobs.
"Dying! Then the child—?"
"Yes, Padre, born an hour ago—a boy. It lives. Ah, Santa Virgen, such suffering! Pray for us, Mother of God!" murmured the weeping woman, bending her head and repeatedly making the sign of the cross.
"Who is with her now?" the priest continued hurriedly.
"Only Catalina. The doctor said he would return. He is good to the blessed child. And Padre Lorenzo came—but he would not shrive her little white soul—"
"And the father—?"
"He does not know," the woman sobbed. "Who would dare to tell him! Think you he would come? That he would own the babe? He would not give one blessed candle to set beside the little mother's poor sweet body! Ah, Santa Maria! who will buy Masses for her little soul? Who—?"
"But he shall know!" cried the priest, his face livid. "And he shall acknowledge his child and care for it! Dios—! But wait, Marcelena. I can do nothing now. But I will return." Leaving the woman sobbing prayers to the Virgin Mother, the priest hurried on.
Within the Cathedral the cool atmosphere met him with a sweet calm, which flowed over his perturbed soul like a benediction. He drew a chair from a pile in a corner and sat down for a moment near one of the little side chapels, to recover from the stifling heat without and prepare his thought for the impending interview with the Bishop. A dim twilight enveloped the interior of the building, affording a grateful relief from the blinding glare of the streets. It brought him a transient sense of peace—the peace which his wearied soul had never fully known. Peace brooded over the great nave, and hovered in the soft air that drifted slowly through the deserted aisle up to the High Altar, where lay the Sacred Host. A few votive candles were struggling to send their feeble glow through the darkness. The great images of the suffering Christ, of the Saints and the Virgin Mother had merged their outlines into the heavy shadows which lay upon them.
The haunting memory of years of soul-struggle with doubt and fear, of passionate longing for the light of truth in the gloom of superstition and man-made creeds, for guidance among the devious paths of human conjecture which lead nowhither—or to madness—seemed to fade into the darkness which wrapped him in that holy calm. After all, what had he won in his lifelong warfare with human beliefs? What had he gained by his mad opposition to Holy Church? There she stood, calm, majestic, undisturbed. Had not the Christ himself declared that the gates of hell should not prevail against her? Was not the unfoldment of truth a matter, not of years, but of ages? And were the minds of men to-day prepared for higher verities than those she offered? Did not the Church plant the seed as rapidly as the barren soil of the human mind was tilled and made fallow? True, her sons, whom he had so obstinately opposed, were blindly zealous. But were they wholly without wisdom? Had not his own zeal been as unreasoningly directed to the forcing of events? And still, through it all, she had held her indulgent arms extended to him, as to all erring mankind. Why not now, like a tired child, weary of futile resistance, yield to her motherly embrace and be at last at peace? Again the temptation which he had stubbornly resisted for a lifetime urged upon him with all its mesmeric insistence.
He looked up, and his glance fell upon a small, glass-covered case, dimly visible in the uncertain light at one side of the little altar. The case was filled with tiny images of gold—milagros. Each had received priestly blessing, and each was believed to have worked a miraculous cure. The relaxed lines of the priest's care-worn face instantly drew into an expression of hard austerity. Like the ebb of the ocean, his recalcitrant thought surged back again in a towering flood.
"What a spectacle!" he murmured. "Holy Church, assuming spiritual leadership of the world, sunken in idolatry, and publicly parading her fetishism in these lingering echoes of primitive demon-worship!"
Ah, the Master taught the omnipotence of God, whose ways he declared as high above the blind grovelings of man as the dome of heaven swings above earth. But how long, gentle Master, shall such as this be declared thy Father's ways? How long shall superstition and idolatry retain the power to fetter the souls of men? Is there no end to the black curse of ignorance of Truth, which, after untold centuries, still makes men sink with vain toil and consume with disease? And—are those who sit about Peter's gorgeous tomb and approve these things unerring guides to a right knowledge of God, to know whom, the Christ has said, is life eternal?
A step behind him broke the flow of his dark revery.
"Our good Jose dreams below, while His Grace bites his nails above," said a soft, mellifluous voice. "Que chiste! It is—"
The priest sprang to his feet and faced the speaker. For a moment the men regarded each other, the one uncertain as to the impending event, but supremely confident of his ability to meet it; the other sick in soul and torn with mental struggle, but for the moment fired anew with the righteous wrath which his recent brief interview with the woman, Marcelena, had kindled.
"Wenceslas—" The priest spoke in a strained, uncertain tone, striving to hold his emotions in leash. "I have learned to-day—The girl, Maria—"
"Caro amigo," interrupted Wenceslas smoothly, "what you have learned to-day, or any other day, of the girl, Maria, is a lie."
"Hombre!" The priest turned livid. Stepping closer to Wenceslas—
"Do you think, inhuman! that I have not long known of your relations with this girl? Who has not! And, further, I know—and Cartagena shall know—that to-day she lies dying beside your child!"
Wenceslas recoiled. His face flushed, and the veins of his forehead swelled with a purple flood. Then a pallor spread over his features, and beads of perspiration started from his pores.
It was but momentary. Recovering himself, he laid a large hand on the priest's shoulder, and, his face assuming its wonted smile, said in his usual low tone, "Amigo, it seems that you have a penchant for spreading gossip. Think you I am ignorant of the fact that because of it Rome spewed you out for a meddlesome pest? Do you deceive yourself that Cartagena will open her ears to your garbled reports? The hag, Marcelena, lies! She has long hoped to gain some advantage from me, I have told you— But go now above and learn from His Grace, whom you have had the impudence to keep waiting all morning, how tongues that wag too freely can be silenced." He checked himself suddenly, as if he feared he had said too much. Then, turning on his heel, he quickly left the Cathedral.
The priest's head sank upon his breast, and he stood, infirm of purpose and choking with words which he could not voice. The whirl in which his confused brain had revolved for months—nay, years—had made the determination of conduct with him a matter of hours, of days, of weeks. Spontaneity of action had long since ceased within his fettered mind, where doubt had laid its detaining hand upon his judgment. Uncertainty of his steps, fear of their consequence, and dread lest he precipitate the calamity which he felt hung always just above him, had sapped the courage and strength of will which his soul needed for a determined stand, and left him incapable of decisive action, even in the face of grossest evil. The mordant reply of Wenceslas only strengthened his conviction of the futility of massing his own feeble forces against those of one so thoroughly entrenched as this man, who had the ear of the Bishop—nay, whose resourceful mind was now said to be actually directing the policies of the feeble old ecclesiastic who held the bishopric of Cartagena.
As if groping through the blackness of midnight, he moved slowly down the deserted nave of the Cathedral and mounted the winding stairs to the ambulatory above. Pausing at the door of the sanctum for a moment to gather up his remnant of moral strength, he entered and stood hesitant before the waiting Bishop.
The long War of Independence which destroyed the last vestige of Spanish control over the Peruvian colonies of South America was virtually brought to a close by the terrific battle of Ayacucho, fought on the plains between Pizarro's city of Lima and the ancient Inca seat of Cuzco in the fall of 1824. The result of this battle had been eagerly awaited in the city of Cartagena, capital of the newly formed federation of Colombia. It was known there that the Royalist army was concentrating for a final stand. It was known, too, that its veterans greatly outnumbered the nondescript band of patriots, many of whom were provided only with the arma blanca, the indispensable machete of tropical America. This fact lent a shred of encouragement to the few proud Tory families still remaining in the city and clinging forlornly to their broken fortunes, while vainly hoping for a reestablishment of the imperial regimen, as they pinned their fate to this last desperate conflict. Among these, none had been prouder, none more loyal to the Spanish Sovereign, and none more liberal in dispensing its great wealth to bolster up a hopeless cause than the ancient and aristocratic family at whose head stood Don Ignacio Jose Marquez de Rincon, distinguished member of the Cabildo, and most loyal subject of his imperial majesty, King Ferdinand VII. of Spain.
The house of Rincon traced its lineage back to the ferocious adventurer, Juan de Rincon, favorite lieutenant of the renowned Conquistador, Pedro de Heredia. When the latter, in the year 1533, obtained from Charles V. the concession of New Andalusia, the whole territory comprised between the mouths of the Magdalena and Atrato rivers in what is now the Republic of Colombia, and undertook the conquest of this enormously rich district, the fire-eating Juan, whom the chroniclers of that romantic period quaintly described as "causing the same effects as lightning and quicksilver," was his most dependable support. Together they landed at the Indian village of Calamari, and, after putting the pacific inhabitants to the sword—a manner of disposal most satisfactory to the practical Juan—laid the foundations of the present city of Cartagena, later destined to become the "Queen of the Indies," the pride, as it was the despair, of the haughty monarchs of Spain.
For his eminent services in this exploit Juan received a large tract of land in the most fertile part of the Magdalena valley—which he immediately staked and lost at the gaming-table. As a measure of consolation, and doubtless with the view of checking Juan's gambling propensities, Pedro de Heredia then bestowed upon him a strip of bleak and unexplored mountain country adjacent to the river Atrato. Stung by his sense of loss, as well as by the taunts of his boisterous companions, and harassed by the practical conclusion that life's brevity would not permit of wiping out their innumerable insults singly by the sword, the raging Juan gathered together a few blood-drinking companions of that ilk and set out to find diversion of mind on his possessions.
Years passed. One day Juan again appeared on the streets of Cartagena, and this time with gold enough to buy the city. The discovery of rich auriferous sands on his estates adjoining the Atrato, which were worked extensively for him by the natives whom he and his companions had forced into subjection, had yielded him enormous wealth. He settled in Cartagena, determined to make it his future home, and at once set about buying great blocks of houses and erecting a palace for himself. He began to acquire lands and mines in all directions. He erected a sumptuous summer residence in what is now the suburb of Turbaco. He built an arena, and bred bulls for it from famous stock which he imported from the mother-country. He gave fetes and public entertainments on the most lavish scale imaginable. In short, he quickly became Cartagena's most influential and distinguished citizen, as he was easily her richest.
But far more important to mention than all these dry details was the undoubted change of character which had come over the man himself. Perhaps it was the awful heat of the steaming Atrato valley that drew the fire from his livid soul. Perhaps it was a dawning appreciation of the opportunities made possible by his rapid acquisition of wealth that had softened his character. Some said he had seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. Others laid it to a terrible fever, in which for days he had lain delirious in the shadow of death. Be that as it may, the bloodthirsty Conquistador, who a few years before angrily shook the dust of Cartagena from his feet, had now returned a changed man.
At once Juan began to manifest in an ever increasing degree an interest in matters religious. In this respect his former character suffered a complete reversal. He assiduously cultivated the clergy, and gave large sums for the support of the Cathedral and the religious orders of the city. The Bishop became a frequent guest at his sumptuous table; and as often he in turn sought the Bishop for consultation anent his benefactions and, in particular, for consolation when haunted by sad memories of his devilish exploits in early life. When the great-hearted Padre Bartolome de las Casas, infirm but still indefatigable in his work for the protection and uplift of the Indians, arrived one memorable day in his little canoe which his devoted native servants had paddled through the dique from the great river beyond, Juan was the first to greet him and insist that he make his home with him while in the city. And on the night of the Padre's arrival it is said that Juan, with tears streaming down his scarred and wrinkled face, begged to be allowed to confess to him the awful atrocities which he had committed upon the innocent and harmless aborigines when, as was his wont, his breath hot with the lust of blood, he had fallen upon them without provocation and hewed them limb from limb.
In his old age the now gentle Juan, his former self almost obliterated, expressed a desire to renounce the world, bestow his great wealth upon the Church, and enter a monastery to pass his remaining years. Despite the protestations of his numerous family, for whom his religious zeal would permit him to leave but scanty provision, he was already formulating plans toward this end when death overtook him, and his vast estates descended intact to the family which he had founded.
So complete had been the transformation of Juan de Rincon during the many years that he lived after his return to Cartagena that the characteristics which he transmitted to his posterity were, in general, quite the reverse of those which he himself had manifested so abundantly in early life. Whereas, he had formerly been atrociously cruel, boastingly impious, and a scoffer at matters religious, his later descendants were generally tender of heart, soft of manner, and of great piety. Whereas, in early manhood he had been fiery and impulsive, quick of decision and immovable of opinion, his progeny were increasingly inclined to be deliberate in judgment and vacillating of purpose. So many of his descendants entered the priesthood that the family was threatened with extinction, for in the course of time it had become a sacred custom in the Rincon family to consecrate the first-born son to the Church. This custom at length became fixed, and was rigidly observed, even to the point of bigotry, despite the obliteration of those branches where there was but a single son.
The family, so auspiciously launched, waxed increasingly rich and influential; and when the smoldering fires of revolution burst into flame among the oppressed South American colonies, late in the year 1812, the house of Rincon, under royal and papal patronage, was found occupying the first position of eminence and prestige in the proud old city of Cartagena. Its wealth had become proverbial. Its sons, educated by preceptors brought from Paris and Madrid, were prominent at home and abroad. Its honor was unimpeachable. Its fair name was one of the most resplendent jewels in the Spanish crown. And Don Ignacio epitomized loyalty to Sovereign and Pope.
With the inauguration of hostilities no fears were felt by the Rincon family for the ultimate success of the royalist arms, and Don Ignacio immediately despatched word to his Sovereign in Madrid that the wealth and services of his house were at the royal disposal. Of this offer Ferdinand quickly availed himself. The Rincon funds were drawn upon immediately and without stint to furnish men and muniments for the long and disastrous struggle. Of the family resources there was no lack while its members held their vast possessions of lands and mines. But when, after the first successes of the patriots, reprisals began to be visited upon the Tories of Cartagena, and their possessions fell, one after another, into the hands of the successful revolutionists, or were seized by former slaves, Don Ignacio found it difficult to meet his royal master's demands. The fickle King, already childish to the verge of imbecility, gave scant thanks in return for the Rincon loyalty, and when at last, stripped of his fortune, deserted by all but the few Tory families who had the courage to remain in Cartagena until the close of the war, Don Ignacio received with sinking heart the news of the battle of Ayacucho, he knew full well that any future appeal to Ferdinand for recognition of his great sacrifices would fall upon unhearing ears.
But to remain in republican Cartagena after the final success of the revolutionists was to the royalist Don Ignacio quite impossible. Even if permitted the attempt, he was so attached to the ancient order of things that he could not adjust himself to the radically changed conditions. So, gathering about him the sorrowing remnant of his family, and converting into a pitifully small sum his few remaining possessions, he took passage on an English trader and sailed for the mother-country, to begin life anew among those whose speech and customs were most familiar to him.
He settled in Seville, where the elder of his two sons, Rafael de Rincon, a lad of fifteen, was studying for the priesthood, under the patronage of the Archbishop. There he established himself in the wine business, associating with him his second son, Carlos, only a year the junior of his brother. But, broken in spirit as well as in fortune, he made little headway, and two years later died pitiably in poverty and obscurity.
Through the influence of the Archbishop, the business, which Carlos was far too young and immature to conduct, was absorbed by larger interests, and the young lad retained as an employe. As the years passed the boy developed sufficient commercial ability to enable him to retain his position and to extract from it enough to provide for the needs of himself and his dependents. He married, late in life, a woman whose family had fled from Cartagena with his own and settled in Seville. She was but a babe in arms at the time of the exodus, and many years his junior. A year after the marriage a child was born to them, a son. The babe's birth was premature, following a fright which the mother received when attacked by a beggar. But the child lived. And, according to the honored family custom, which the father insisted on observing as rigidly in Spain as it had been formerly in Cartagena, this son, Jose Francisco Enrique de Rincon, was at birth consecrated to the service of God in the Holy Catholic Church.
If, as Thoreau said, "God is on the side of the most sensitive," then He should have been very close to the timid, irresolute lad in Seville, in whom the softer traits of character, so unexpectedly developed in the adventurous founder of the Rincon family, now stood forth so prominently. Somber, moody, and retiring; delicately sensitive and shrinking; acutely honest, even to the point of morbidity; deeply religious and passionately studious, with a consuming zeal for knowledge, and an unsatisfied yearning for truth, the little Jose early in life presented a strange medley of characteristics, which bespoke a need of the utmost care and wisdom on the part of those who should have the directing of his career. Forced into the world before his time, and strongly marked by his mother's fear; afflicted with precarious health, and subjected to long and desperate illnesses in childhood, his little soul early took on a gloom and asceticism wholly unnatural to youth. Fear was constantly instilled into his acutely receptive mind by his solicitous, doting parents; and his life was thereby stunted, warped, and starved. He was reared under the constant reminder of the baleful effects of food, of air, of conduct, of this and that invisible force inimical to health; and terror and anxiety followed him like a ghost and turned about all his boyish memories. Under these repressing influences his mind could not but develop with a lack of stamina for self-support. Hesitancy and vacillation became pronounced. In time, the weight of any important decision gave him acute, unendurable agony of mind. Called upon to decide for himself a matter of import, his thought would become confused, his brain torpid, and in tears and perplexity the tormented lad would throw himself into the arms of his anxious parents and beg to be told what course to pursue.
Thus his nature grew to depend upon something stronger than itself to twine about. He sought it in his schoolmates; but they misread him. The little acts which were due to his keen sensitiveness or to his exaggerated reticence of disposition were frequently interpreted by them as affronts, and he was generally left out of their games, or avoided entirely. His playmates consequently became fewer and more transient as the years gained upon him, until at length, trodden upon, but unable to turn, he withdrew his love from the world and bestowed it all upon his anxious mother. She became his only intimate, and from her alone he sought the affection for which he yearned with an intensity that he could not express. Shunning the boisterous, frolicking children at the close of the school day, he would seek her, and, nestling at her side, her hand clasped in his, would beg her to talk to him of the things with which his childish thought was struggling. These were many, but they revolved about a common center—religion.
The salient characteristics already mentioned were associated with others, equally prominent, and no less influential in the shaping of his subsequent career. With the development of his deep, inward earnestness there had appeared indications of latent powers of mind that were more than ordinary. These took the form of childish precocity in his studies, clearness of spiritual vision, and maturity in his conduct and mode of life. The stunting of his physical nature threw into greater prominence his exaggerated soul-qualities, his tenderness, his morbid conscientiousness, and a profound emotionalism which, at the sight of a great painting, or the roll of the Cathedral organ, would flood his eyes and fill his throat with sobs. When the reckless founder of the family experienced a reversal of his own dark traits of soul, nearly three centuries before, it was as if the pendulum had swung too far in the opposite direction, and at the extreme point of its arc had left the little Jose, with the sterner qualities of the old Conquistador wholly neutralized by self-condemnation, fear, infirmity of purpose, a high degree of intellectuality, and a soul-permeating religious fervor.
At the mention of religion the timid lad at once became passionate, engrossed—nay, obsessed. In his boyhood years, before the pall of somber reticence had settled over him, he had been impressed with the majesty of the Church and the gorgeousness of her material fabric. The religious ideals taught him by his good mother took deep root. But the day arrived when the expansion of his intellect reached such a point as to enable him to detect a flaw in her reasoning. It was but a little rift, yet the sharp edge of doubt slipped in. Alas! from that hour he ceased to drift with the current of popular theological belief; his frail bark turned, and launched out upon the storm-tossed sea, where only the outstretched hand of the Master, treading the heaving billows through the thick gloom, saved it at length from destruction.
The hungry lad began to question his parents incessantly regarding the things of the spirit. His teachers in the parochial school he plied with queries which they could not meet. Day after day, while other boys of his tender age romped in the street, he would steal into the great Cathedral and stand, pathetically solitary, before the statues of the Christ and the Virgin Mary, yearning over the problems with which his childish thought was struggling, and the questions to which no one could return satisfying replies.
Here again the boy seemed to manifest in exaggerated form the reversed characteristics of the old Conquistador. But, unlike that of the pious Juan, the mind of the little Jose was not so simple as to permit it to accept without remonstrance the tenets of his family's faith. Blind acceptance of any teaching, religious or secular, early became quite impossible to him. This entailed many an hour of suffering to the lad, and brought down upon his little head severe punishments from his preceptors and parents. But in vain they admonished and threatened. The child demanded proofs; and if proofs were not at hand, his acceptance of the mooted teaching was but tentative, generally only an outward yielding to his beloved mother's inexorable insistence. Many the test papers he returned to his teachers whereon he had written in answer to the questions set, "I am taught to reply thus; but in my heart I do not believe it." Vainly the teachers appealed to his parents. Futilely the latter pleaded and punished. The placid receptiveness of the Rincon mind, which for more than three hundred years had normally performed its absorptive functions and imbibed the doctrines of its accepted and established human authorities, without a trace of the heresy of suspecting their genuineness, had at last experienced a reversal. True, the boy had been born in the early hours of nineteenth century doubt and religious skepticism. The so-called scientific spirit, buried for ages beneath the debris of human conjecture, was painfully emerging and preening its wings for flight. The "higher criticism" was nascent, and ancient traditions were already beginning to totter on the foundations which the Fathers had set. But Spain, close wrapped in mediaeval dreams, had suffered no taint of "modernism." The portals of her mind were well guarded against the entrance of radical thought, and her dreamers were yet lulled into lethargic adherence to outworn beliefs and musty creeds by the mesmerism of priestly tradition. The peculiar cast of mind of the boy Jose was not the product of influences from without, but was rather an exemplification of the human mind's reversion to type, wherein the narrow and bigoted mentality of many generations had expanded once more into the breadth of scope and untrammeled freedom of an ancient progenitor.
As the boy grew older his ability to absorb learning increased astonishingly. His power of analysis, his keen perception and retentive memory soon advanced him beyond the youths of his own age, and forced him to seek outside the pale of the schoolroom for the means to satisfy his hunger for knowledge. He early began to haunt the bookstalls of Seville, and day after day would stand for hours searching the treasures which he found there, and mulling over books which all too frequently were anathema to the orthodox. Often the owner of one of these shops, who knew the lad's parents, and whose interest had been stirred by his passion for reading, would let him take one or more of the coveted volumes home over night, for the slender family purse would not permit him to purchase what his heart craved. Then came feasts for his famished little soul which often lasted until daybreak.
It happened one evening that, when he crept off to his little room to peer into one of these borrowed treasures, his father followed him. Pushing the chamber door softly open the parent found the boy propped against his pillow in bed, absorbed in a much-thumbed volume which he was reading by the pale light of the single candle.
"Is it thus that you deceive your poor parents?" the fond father began, in a tone of mock severity.
The startled lad stifled a cry and hastily thrust the book beneath his pillow. The father's interest now became genuine. Leaning over the terrified boy he drew forth the volume.
The doting father stood petrified. Voltaire, Antichrist, Archfiend of impiety—and in the hands of his beloved son!
Sleep fled the little household that night. In his father's arms, while the distressed mother hung over them, the boy sobbed out his confession. He had not intended to deceive. He had picked up this book in the stall without knowing its nature. He had become so interested in what it said about the Virgin Mary that he forgot all else. The shopkeeper had found him reading it, and had laughed and winked at his clerk when he bade the boy take it home for the night. The book had fascinated him. He himself—did not his father know?—had so often asked how the Virgin could be the mother of God, and why men prayed to her. Yes, he knew it mocked their faith—and the sacred Scriptures. He knew, too, that his father would not approve of it. That was why he had tried to hide it beneath his pillow. He had been wicked, desperately wicked, to deceive his dear parents—But the book—It made him forget—It said so many things that seemed to be true—And—and—
"Oh, padre mio, forgive me, forgive me! I want to know the truth about God and the world!" The delicate frame of the young lad shook in paroxysms of grief.
Alas! it was but the anguished soul-cry which has echoed through the halls of space since time began. What a mockery to meet it with empty creed and human dogma! Alas! what a crime against innocence to stifle the honest questionings of a budding mind with the musty cloak of undemonstrable beliefs.
"But, my son, have I not often told you? The Holy Church gives us the truth," replied the father, frightened by the storm which raged within the childish soul, yet more alarmed at the turn which the mind of his cherished son was apparently taking—his only son, dedicated to the service of God from the cradle, and in whom the shattered hopes of this once proud family were now centered.
"But this book laughs at us because we pray to a woman!" sobbed the boy.
"True. But does not its author need the prayers of so pure a woman as the Virgin? Do we not all need them? And is it not likely that one so good as she would have great influence with God—much greater than we ourselves, or even the best of men, could have?"
"But how can she be the mother of God? The Bible does not teach that!"
"How do you know that the Bible does not teach it, my son?"
"I—I—have read—the Bible," faltered the lad.
"You have read the Bible!" cried the astonished father. "And where have you done that, you wicked boy?"
"At the bookstore of Mariano," confessed the trembling child.
"Madre de Dios!" burst from the father, as he started to his feet. "Mariano is a wicked infidel! The Bishop shall hear of this! Ah, well may the Holy Father in Rome grieve to see his innocent babes led astray by these servants of hell! But, my son," returning to the boy and clasping him again in his arms, "it is not too late. The Virgin Mother has protected you. You meant no harm. Satan covets your pure little soul—But he shall not have it!" The father's tremulous voice mounted high, "No, by the Saints in heaven, he shall not have it!"
The boy's assurance slowly returned under the influence of his father's tender solicitude, even though he remained dimly conscious of the rift widening little by little between his parents' settled convictions and his own groping thought. With the assuaging of his grief came again those insistent questions which throughout his life had tormented his peace and driven him even to the doors of infidels in search of truth.
"Father," he began timidly, "why was I wicked to read the Bible?"
"Because, my son, in doing so you yielded to the temptations of Satan. The Bible is a great and mysterious book, written by God himself. He meant it to be explained to us by the Holy Father, who is the head of the Church which the good Saint Peter founded. We are not great enough nor good enough to understand it. The Holy Father, who cares for God's Church on earth, he is good enough, and he alone can interpret it to us. Satan tries to do with all men just what he did with you, my child. He seeks to make them read the Bible so that he can confuse them and rob them of their faith. Then when he gets possession of their souls he drags them down with him to hell, where they are lost forever."
"And does the Holy Father really believe that Mary is the mother of God?" persisted the boy, raising his tear-stained face.
"Yes—is she not? The blessed Saviour said that he and God were one. And, as Mary is the mother of Christ, she is also the mother of God—is she not? Let us read what the good Saint John Chrysostom says." He rose and went into another room, returning in a few minutes with a little volume. Taking the boy again on his knee, he continued, "The blessed Saint tells us that the Virgin Mary was made the mother of God in order that she might obtain salvation for many who, on account of their wicked lives, could not be saved, because they had so offended divine justice, but yet, by the help of her sweet mercy and mighty intercession, might be cleansed and rendered fit for heaven. My little son, you have always been taught that Mary is heaven's Queen. And so she is ours, and reigns in heaven for us. Jesus loves to have her close to him, and he can never refuse her requests. He always grants what she asks. And that is the reason why we pray to her. She never forgets us—never!"
A troubled look crossed the boy's face. Then he began anew. "Father dear, God made everything, did He not? The Bible says that, anyway."
"Did He make Satan?"
The father hesitated. The child hurried on under the lash of his holy inquisitiveness. "Father, how did evil come into the world? Is God both good and bad? And how can a good God punish us forever for sins committed here in only a few short years?"
"Ah, queridito!" cried the harassed father. "Such questions should not have entered your little head for years to come! Why can you not run and play as do other children? Why are you not happy as they are? Why must you spend your days thinking of things that are far too deep for you? Can you not wait? Some day you shall know all. Some day, when you have entered the service of God, perhaps you may even learn these things from the Holy Father himself. Then you will understand how the good God lets evil tempt us in order that our faith in Him may be exercised and grow strong—"
"And He lets Satan harm us purposely?" The boy's innocent dark eyes looked up appealingly into his father's face.
"It is only for a short time, little son. And only those who are never fit for heaven go down with Satan. But you are not one of those," he hastily added, straining the boy to him. "And the Masses which the good priests say for us will lift us out of purgatory and into heaven, where the streets are pure gold and the gates are pearl. And there we will all live together for—"
"Father," interrupted the boy, "I have thought of these things for a long, long time. I do not believe them. And I do not wish to become a priest."
The father fell silent. It was one of those tense moments which every man experiences when he sees a withering frost slowly gathering over the fondest hopes of a lifetime. The family of Rincon, aristocratic, intensely loyal to Church and State, had willingly laid itself upon the sacrificial altar in deference to its honored traditions. Custom had become law. Obedience of son to parent and parent to Sovereign, spiritual or temporal, had been the guiding star of the family's destinies. To think was lawful; but to hold opinions at variance with tradition was unspeakable heresy. Spontaneity of action was commendable; but conduct not prescribed by King or Pope was unpardonable crime. Loss of fortune, of worldly power and prestige, were as nothing; deviation from the narrow path trodden by the illustrious scions of the great Juan was everything. That this lad, to whom had descended the undying memories of a long line of glorious defenders of kingly and papal power, should presume to shatter the sacred Rincon traditions, was unbelievable. It was none other than the work of Satan. The boy had fallen an innocent victim to the devil's wiles.
But the house of Rincon had withstood the assaults of the son of perdition for more than three centuries. It would not yield now! The all-powerful Church of Rome stood behind it—and the gates of hell could not prevail against her! The Church would save her own. Yes, the father silently argued, through his brother's influence the case should be laid before His Eminence, the Archbishop. And, if need be, the Holy Father himself should be called upon to cast the devil out of this tormented child. To argue with the boy now were futile, even dangerous. The lad had grown up with full knowledge of his parents' fond hopes for his future. He had never openly opposed them, although at times the worried mother would voice her fears to the father when her little son brought his perplexing questions to her and failed to find satisfaction. But until this night the father had felt no alarm. Indeed, he had looked upon the child's inquisitiveness as but a logical consequence of his precocity and unusual mental powers, in which he himself felt a father's swelling pride. To his thought it augured rapid promotion in the Church; it meant in time a Cardinal's hat. Ah, what glorious possibilities! How the prestige of the now sunken family would soar! Happily he had been aroused to an appreciation of the boy's really desperate state in time. The case should go before the Archbishop to-morrow, and the Church should hear his call to hasten to the rescue of this wandering lamb.
Seville is called the heart of Spain. In a deeper sense it is her soul. Within it, extremes touch, but only to blend into a harmonious unit which manifests the Spanish temperament and character more truly there than in any other part of the world. In its Andalusian atmosphere the religious instinct of the Spaniard reaches its fullest embodiment. True, its bull-fights are gory spectacles; but they are also gorgeous and solemn ceremonies. Its ferias are tremendously worldly; but they are none the less stupendous religious fetes. Its picturesque Easter processions, when colossal images of the Virgin are carried among bareheaded and kneeling crowds, smack of paganism; but we cannot question the genuineness of the religious fervor thus displayed. Its Cathedral touches the arena; and its Archbishop washes the feet of its old men. Its religion is still the living force which unites and levels, exalts and debases. And its religion is Rome.
On the fragrant spring morning following the discovery of the execrated Voltaire, the little Jose, tightly clutching his father's hand, threaded the narrow Sierpes and crossed the Prado de San Sebastian, once the Quemador, where the Holy Inquisition was wont to purge heresy from human souls with fire. The father shuddered, and his stern face grew dark, as he thought of the revolting scenes once enacted in that place in the name of Christ; and he inwardly voiced a prayer of gratitude that the Holy Office had ceased to exist. Yet he knew that, had he lived in that day, he would have handed his beloved son over to that awful institution without demurral, rather than see him develop those heretical views which were already rising from the soil of his fertile, inquisitive mind.
The tinkling of a bell sounded down the street. Father and son quickly doffed their hats and knelt on the pavement, while a priest, mounted on a mule, rode swiftly past on his way to the bedside of a dying communicant, the flickering lights and jingling bell announcing the fact that he bore with him the Sacred Host.
"Please God, you will do the same some day, my son," murmured the father. But the little Jose kept his eyes to the pavement, and would make no reply.
Meanwhile, at a splendidly carved table in the library of his palatial residence, surrounded by every luxury that wealth and ecclesiastical influence could command, the Archbishop, pious shepherd of a restless flock, sat with clouded brow and heavy heart. The festive ceremonials of Easter were at hand, and the Church was again preparing to display her chief splendors. But on the preceding Easter disturbances had interrupted the processions of the Virgin; and already rumors had reached the ears of the Archbishop of further trouble to be incited during the approaching Holy Week by the growing body of skeptics and anticlericals. To what extent these liberals had assumed the proportions of a propaganda, and how active they would now show themselves, were questions causing the holy man deep concern. Heavy sighs escaped him as he voiced his fears to his sympathetic secretary and associate, Rafael de Rincon, the gaunt, ascetic uncle of the little Jose.
"Alas!" he murmured gloomily. "Since the day that our Isabella yielded to her heretic ministers and thrust aside the good Sister Patrocinio, Spain has been in a perilous state. After that unholy act the dethronement and exile of the Queen were inevitable."
"True, Your Eminence," replied the secretary. "But is there no cause for hope in the elevation of her son, Alfonso, to the throne?"
"He is but seventeen—and absent from Spain six years. He lacks the force of his talented mother. And there is no longer a Sister Patrocinio to command the royal ear."
"Unfortunate, I admit, Your Eminence. She bore the stigmata, the very marks of our Saviour's wounds, imprinted on her flesh, and worked his miracles. But, in Alfonso—"
"No, no," interrupted the Archbishop impatiently; "he has styled himself the first Republican in Europe. He will make Catholicism the state religion; but he will extend religious toleration to all. He is consumptive in mind as well as in body. And the army—alas! what may we look for from it when soldiers like this Polo Hernandez refuse to kneel during the Mass?"
"The man has been arrested, Your Eminence," the secretary offered in consolation.
"But the court-martial acquitted him!"
"True. Yet he has now been summoned before the supreme court in Madrid."
The Archbishop's face brightened somewhat. "And the result—what think you?"
The secretary shrugged his drooping shoulders. "They will condemn him."
Yes, doubtless he would be condemned, for mediaevalism dies hard in Spain. But the incident was portentous, and the Archbishop and his keen secretary heard in it an ominous echo.
A servant appeared at the heavy portieres, and at a sign from the secretary ushered Jose and his father into the august presence awaiting them.
An hour later the pair emerged from the palace and started homeward. His Eminence, rousing himself from the profound revery in which he had been sunk for some moments, turned to his expectant secretary.
"A Luther in embryo!" he ejaculated.
"I feared as much, Your Eminence," returned the austere secretary.
"And yet, a remarkable intellect! Astonishing mental power! But all tainted with the damnable so-called scientific spirit!"
"True, Your Eminence."
"But marked you not his deep reverence for God? And his sturdy honesty? And how, despite his embarrassment, the religious zeal of his soul shown forth?"
"He is morbidly honest, Your Grace."
"A trait I wish we might employ to our own advantage," mused the churchman. Then, continuing, "He is learned far beyond his years. Indeed, his questions put me to some stress—but only for the difficulty of framing replies intelligible to a mind so immature," he added hastily. "Either he feared my presence, or he is naturally shrinking."
"He is so by nature, Your Eminence."
The Archbishop reflected. "Naive—pure—simple—mature, yet childish. Have we covered the ground?"
"Not fully, Your Eminence. We omitted to mention his absorbing filial devotion."
"True. And that, you tell me, is most pronounced."
"It is his strongest characteristic, Your Eminence. He has no will to oppose it."
"Would that his devotion were for Holy Church!" sighed the Archbishop.
"I think it may be so directed, Your Eminence," quickly returned the secretary.
"But—would he ever consent to enter the priesthood? And once in, would he not prove a most dangerous element?"
The secretary made a deprecating gesture. "If I may suggest, such a man as he promises to become is far more dangerous outside of the Church than within, Your Eminence."
The Archbishop studied the man's face for a few moments. "There is truth in your words, my friend. Yet how, think you, may he be secured?"
"Your Eminence," replied the secretary warmly, "pardon these suggestions in matters where you are far better fitted to pass sound judgment than a humble servant of the Church like myself. But in this case intimacy with my brother's family affords me data which may be serviceable in bringing this matter to a conclusion. If I may be permitted—"
The Archbishop nodded an unctuous and patronizing appreciation of his elderly secretary's position, and the latter continued—
"Your Eminence, Holy Week is approaching, and we are beset with fears lest the spirit of heresy which, alas! is abroad in our fair city, shall manifest itself in such disturbances as may force us to abandon these religious exercises in future. I need not point out the serious nature of these demonstrations. Nor need I suggest that their relative unimportance last year was due solely to lack of strong leadership. Already our soldiers begin to refuse to kneel during the Mass. The Holy Church is not yet called upon to display her weapons. But who shall say to what measures she may not be forced when an able and fearless leader shall arise among the heretics? To-day there has stood before Your Eminence a lad possessing, in my opinion, the latent qualifications for such leadership. I say, latent. I use the term advisedly, for I know that he appears to manifest the Rincon lack of decision. But so did I at his age. And who can say when the unfolding of his other powers, now so markedly indicated, may not force the development of those certain traits of character in which he now seems deficient, but which, developed, would make him a power in the world? Shall the Church permit this promising lad to stray from her, possibly later to join issue with her enemies and use his great gifts to propagate heresy and assault her foundations? Are we faithful to our beloved Mother if we do not employ every means, foul or fair, to destroy her enemies, even in the cradle? Remember, 'He who gains the youth, possesses the future,' as the saying goes."
"Loyally spoken, faithful son," replied the Archbishop, shifting into a more comfortable position. "And you suggest—?"
"This: that we wisely avail ourselves of his salient characteristics—his weaknesses, if you wish—and secure him now to the Church."
"And, more specifically—?" with increasing animation.
"Your Eminence is already aware of the custom in our family of consecrating the first-born son to the service of God. This boy has been so consecrated from birth. It is the dearest hope of his parents. At present their wishes are still his law. Their judgments yet formulate his conduct. His sense of honor is acute. Your Eminence can see that his word is sacred. His oath once taken would bind him eternally. It is for us to secure that oath!"
"And how?" The Archbishop leaned forward eagerly.
"We, cooeperating with his parents, will cater to his consuming passion for learning, and offer him the education which the limited resources of his family cannot provide. We save him from the drudgery of commercialism, and open to him the life of the scholar. We suggest to him a career consecrated to study and holy service. The Church educates him—he serves his fellow-men through her. Once ordained, his character is such, I believe, that he could never become an apostate. And, whatever his services to Holy Church may be thereafter, she at least will have effectually disposed of a possible opponent. She has all to gain, and nothing to lose by such procedure. Unless I greatly mistake the Rincon character, the lad will yield to our inducements and his mother's prayers, the charm of the Church and the bias of her tutelage, and ultimately take the oath of ordination. After that—"
"My faithful adviser," interrupted the Archbishop genially, as visions of the Cardinal's hat for eminent services hovered before him, "write immediately to Monsignor, Rector of the Seminario, in Rome. Say that he must at once receive, at our expense and on our recommendation, a lad of twelve, who greatly desires to be trained for the priesthood."
Thus did the Church open her arms to receive her wandering child. Thus did her infallible wisdom, as expressed through her zealous agents in Seville, essay to solve the perplexing problems of this agitated little mind, and whisper to its confused throbbing, "Peace, be still." The final disposition came to the boy not without some measure of relief, despite, his protest. The long days of argument and pleading, of assurance that within the Church he should find abundant and satisfactory answers to his questions, and of explanations which he was adjured to receive on faith until such time as he might be able to prove their soundness, had utterly exhausted his sensitive little soul, and left him without the combative energy or will for further remonstrance.
Nor was the conflict solely a matching of his convictions against the desires of his parents and the persuasions of the Archbishop and his loyal secretary. The boy's hunger for learning alone might have caused him to yield to the lure of a broad education. Moreover, his nature contained not one element of commercialism. The impossibility of entering the wine business with his father, or of spending his life in physical toil for a bare maintenance, was as patent to himself, even at that early age, as to his parents. His bent was wholly intellectual. But he knew that his father could not afford him an education. Yet this the Church now offered freely. Again, his nature was essentially religious. The Church now extended all her learning, all her vast resources, all her spiritual power, to develop and foster this instinct. Nay, more, to protect and guide its development into right channels.
The fact, too, that the little Jose was a child of extreme emotions must not be overlooked in an estimate of the influences which bore upon him during these trying days. His devotion to an object upon which he had set his affections amounted to obsession. He adored his parents—reverenced his father—worshiped his mother. The latter he was wont to compare to the flowers, to the bright-plumed birds, to the butterflies that hovered in the sunlight of their little patio. He indited childish poems to her, and likened her in purity and beauty to the angels and the Virgin Mary. Her slightest wish was his inflexible law. Not that he was never guilty of childish faults of conduct, of little whims of stubbornness and petulance; but his character rested on a foundation of honesty, sincerity, and filial love that was never shaken by the summer storms of naughtiness which at times made their little disturbances above.
The parents breathed a sigh of relief when the tired child at last bowed to their wishes and accepted the destiny thrust upon him. The coming of a son to these loyal royalists and zealous Catholics had meant the imposition of a sacred trust. That he was called to high service in the Church of God was evidenced by Satan's early and malicious attacks upon him. There was but one course for them to pursue, and they did not for a moment question its soundness. To their thought, this precocious child lacked the wisdom and balance which comes only with years. The infallible Church, their all-wise spiritual guide, supported their contentions. What they did was for her and for the eternal welfare of the boy. Likewise, for the maintenance of family pride and honor in a generation tainted with liberalism and distrust of the sacred traditions.
The Church, on the other hand, in the august person of the Archbishop, had accomplished a triumph. She had recognized the child's unusual gifts of mind, and had been alert to the dangers they threatened. If secured to herself, and their development carefully directed, they would mold him into her future champion. If, despite her careful weeding and pruning, they expanded beyond the limits which she set, they should be stifled! The peculiar and complex nature of the child offered her a tremendous advantage. For, if reactionary, his own highly developed sense of honor, together with his filial devotion and his intense family pride, should of themselves be forced to choke all activity in the direction of apostasy and liberalism. Heaven knew, the Church could not afford to neglect any action which promised to secure for her a loyal son; or, failing that, at least effectually check in its incipiency the development of a threatened opponent! Truly, as the astute secretary had said, this boy might prove troublesome within the fold; but he might also prove more dangerous without. Verily, it was a triumph for the cause of righteousness! And after the final disposition, the good Archbishop had sat far into the night in the comfort of his sanctum, drowsing over his pleasant meditations on the rewards which his unflagging devotion to the cause of Holy Church was sure some day to bring.
Time sped. The fragrant Sevillian spring melted into summer, and summer merged with fall. The Rincon family was adjusting itself to the turn in the career of its heir, the guardian and depository of its revived hopes. During the weeks which intervened between his first interview with the Archbishop and his final departure for Rome, Jose had been carefully prepared by his uncle, who spared no effort to stimulate in the boy a proper appreciation of his high calling. He was taught that as a priest of the Holy Catholic Church he would become a representative of the blessed Christ among men. His mission would be to carry on the Saviour's work for the salvation of souls, and, with the power of Christ and in His name, to instruct mankind in true beliefs and righteous conduct. He would forgive sins, impose penalties, and offer sacrificial atonement in the body of the Saviour—in a word, he was to become sacerdos alter Christus, another Christ. His training for this exalted work would cover a period of six or eight years, perhaps longer, and would fit him to become a power among men, a conserver of the sacred faith, and an ensample of the highest morality.
"Ah, sobrinito," the sharp-visaged, gray-haired uncle had said, "truly a fortunate boy are you to hear this grandest of opportunities knocking at your door! A priest—a God! Nay, even more than God, for as priest God gives you power over Himself!"
The boy's wondering eyes widened, and a look of mingled confusion and astonishment came into his wan face. "I do not see, tio mio—I do not see," he murmured.
"But you shall, you shall! And you shall understand the awful responsibility which God thus reposes upon you, when He gives you power to do greater things than He did when He created the world. You shall command the Christ, and He shall come down at your bidding. Ah, chiquito, a fortunate boy!" But the lad turned wearily away, without sharing his uncle's enthusiasm.
The day before his departure Jose was again conducted before the Archbishop, and after listening to a lengthy resume of what the Church was about to do for him, and what she expected in return, two solemn vows were exacted from him—
"First," announced the uncle, in low, deliberate tones, "you will solemnly promise your mother and your God that, daily praying to be delivered from the baneful influences which now cause doubt and questioning in your mind, and refraining from voicing them to your teachers or fellow-students, you will strive to accept all that is taught you in Rome, deferring every endeavor to prove the teachings you are to receive until the end of your long course, when, by training and discipline, you shall have so developed in goodness, purity, and power, that you shall be found worthy to receive spiritual confirmation of the great tenets upon which the Holy Roman Catholic Church has been founded and reared."
He paused for a moment to catch his breath and let his portentous words sink into the quivering brain of the lad before him. Then he resumed—
"Second, keeping ever in mind your debt of gratitude to the Church, you promise faithfully to finish your course, and at the end offer yourself to the service of God in the holy priesthood."
The solemn hush that lay over the room when he finished was broken only by the muffled sobs of the mother.
Tender in years, plunged into grief at the impending separation from home and all that he held dear, the boy knelt before the secretary and gave his trembling word to observe these obligations. Then, after he had kissed the Bible and the Archbishop's extended hand, he threw himself upon the floor in a torrent of tears.
On the following morning, a bright, sparkling November day, the little Jose, spent with emotion, tore himself from his mother's clinging embrace and set out for Rome, accompanied by his solicitous uncle.
"And, queridito," were the mother's last words, "I have your promise that never will you voluntarily leave the Church?"
The appeal which his beseeching look carried back to her was not granted. He slowly bowed his acquiescence, and turned away. A week later he had entered upon the retreat with which the school year opens in the Seminario.
Rome, like a fallen gladiator, spent and prostrate on the Alban hills, still awaits the issue of the conflict between the forces of life and death within. Dead, where the blight of pagan and mediaeval superstition has eaten into the quivering tissues; it lives where the pulsing current of modernism expands its shrunken arteries and bears the nourishing truth. Though eternal in tradition and colossal in material achievement, the glory of the Imperial City nevertheless rests on a foundation of perishable human ambitions, creeds, and beliefs, manifested outwardly for a time in brilliant deeds, great edifices, and comprehensive codes, but always bearing within themselves the seeds of their own decay. No trophy brought to her gates in triumph by the Caesars ever approached in worth the simple truth with which Paul of Tarsus, chained to his jailer, illumined his gloomy dungeon. Had the religious principles which he and his devoted associates labored so unselfishly to impart to a benighted world for its own good been recognized by Rome as the "pearl without price," she would have built upon them as foundation stones a truer glory, and one which would have drawn the nations of the earth to worship within her walls. But Rome, in her master, Constantine, saw only the lure of a temporal advantage to be gained by fettering the totally misunderstood teachings of Jesus with the shackles of organized politics. From this unhallowed marriage of religion and statecraft was born that institution unlike either parent, yet exhibiting modified characteristics of each, the Holy Church. To this institution, now mighty in material riches and power, but still mediaeval in character, despite the assaults of centuries of progress, a combination of political maneuver, bigotry, and weakness committed the young Jose, tender, sensitive, receptive, and pure, to be trained as an agent to further its world-embracing policies.
The retreat upon which the boy at once entered on his arrival at the seminary extended over ten days. During this time there were periods of solitary meditation—hours when his lonely heart cried out in anguish for his beloved mother—visits to the blessed sacrament, recitations of the office, and consultations with his spiritual advisers, at which times his promises to his parents and the Archbishop, coupled with his natural reticence and the embarrassment occasioned by his strange environment, sealed his lips and prevented the voicing of his honest questions and doubts. It was sought through this retreat to so bring the lad under the influence of the great religious teachings as to most deeply impress his heart and mind with the importance of the seminary training upon which he had entered. His day began with the dreaded meditation at five in the morning, followed by hearing the Mass and receiving Communion. It closed, after study and class work, with another visit to the blessed sacrament, recital of the Rosary, spiritual reading, and prayer. On Sundays he assisted at solemn High Mass in the church of the Seminario Pio. One day a week was a holiday; but only in the sense that it was devoted to visiting hospitals and charitable institutions, in order to acquire practical experience and a foretaste of his future work among the sick and needy. Clad in his little violet cassock, low-crowned, three-cornered hat, and soprana, he might be seen on these holidays trotting along with his fellow-students in the wake of their superior, his brow generally contracted, and his childish face seldom lighted by a happy smile.
The first year passed without special incident. The boy, filled with that quenchless ambition to know, which characterizes the finest minds, entered eagerly upon his studies and faithfully observed his promises. If his tender soul warped and his fresh, receptive mind shriveled under the religious tutelage he received, no one but himself knew it, not even his fond mother, as she clasped him again in her arms when he returned home for the first summer vacation. With the second year there began studies of absorbing interest to the boy, and the youthful mind fed hungrily. This seemed to have the effect of expanding somewhat his self-contained little soul. He appeared to grow out of himself to a certain extent, to become less timid, less reticent, even more sociable; and when he returned to Seville again at the close of the year he had apparently lost much of the somberness of disposition which had previously characterized him. The Archbishop examined him closely; but the boy, speaking little, gave no hint of the inner working of his thought; and if his soul seethed and fermented within, the Rincon pride and honor covered it with a placid demeanor and a bearing of outward calm. When the interview ended and the lad had departed, the Archbishop descended to the indignity of roundly slapping his ascetic secretary on his emaciated back, as an indication of triumphant joy. The boy certainly was being charmed into deep devotion to the Church! He was fast being bound to her altars! Again the glorious spectacle of the Church triumphant in molding a wavering youth into a devoted son!
Four years passed thus, almost in silence on the boy's part. Yet his character suffered little change. At home he strove to avoid all mention of the career upon which he was entering, although he gave slight indication of dissatisfaction with it. He was punctilious in his attendance upon religious services; but to have been otherwise would have brought sorrow to his proud, happy parents. His days were spent in complete absorption in his books, or in writing in his journal. The latter he had begun shortly before entering the seminary, and it was destined to exert a profound influence upon his life. Often his parents would playfully urge him to read to them from it; but the boy, devotedly obedient and filial in every other respect steadfastly begged permission to refuse these requests. In that little whim the fond parents humored him, and he was left largely alone to his books and his meditations.
During Jose's fourth summer vacation a heavy sorrow suddenly fell upon him and plunged him into such an excess of grief that it was feared his mind would give way. His revered father, advanced in years, and weakened by overwork and business worries, succumbed to the malaria so prevalent in Seville during the hot months and passed away, after a brief illness. The blow descended with terrific force upon the morbidly disposed lad. It was his first intimate experience with death. For days after the solemn events of the mourning and funeral he sat as one stunned, holding his mother's hand and staring dumbly into space; or for hours paced to and fro in the little patio, his face rigidly set and his eyes fixed vacantly on the ground beneath. The work of four years in opening his mind, in expanding his thought, in drawing him out of his habitual reticence and developing within him the sense of companionship and easy tolerance, was at one stroke rendered null. Brought face to face with the grim destroyer, all the doubt and confusion of former years broke the bounds which had held them in abeyance and returned upon him with increased insistence. Never before had he felt so keenly the impotence of mortal man and the futility of worldly strivings. Never had he seen so clearly the fatal defects in the accepted interpretation of Christ's mission on earth. His earlier questionings returned in violent protests against the emptiness of the beliefs and formalities of the Church. In times past he had voiced vague and dimly outlined perceptions of her spiritual needs. But now to him these needs had suddenly taken definite form. Jesus had healed the sick of all manner of disease. He himself was being trained to represent the Christ on earth. Would he, too, be taught to heal the sick as the Master had done? The blessed Saviour said, "The works that I do, ye shall do also." But the priests, his representatives, clearly were not doing the works of the Master. And if he himself had been an ordained priest at the time of his father's death, could he have saved him? No, he well knew that he could not. And yet he would have been the Saviour's representative among men. Alas! how poor a one he well knew.
In his stress of mind he sought his uncle, and by him was again led before the Archbishop. His reticence and timidity dispersed by his great sorrow, the distraught boy faced the high ecclesiastic with questions terribly blunt.
"Why, my Father, after four years in the Seminario, am I not being taught to do the works which our blessed Saviour did?"
The placid Archbishop stared at the boy in dumb astonishment. Again, after years of peace that had promised quiescence on these mooted points! Well, he must buckle on his armor—if indeed he had not outgrown it quite—and prepare to withstand anew the assaults of the devil!
"H'm!—to be specific, my son—you mean—?" The great man was sparring.
"Why do we not heal the sick as he did?" the boy explained tersely.
"Ah!" The peace-loving man of God breathed easier. How simple! The devil was firing a cracked blunderbuss.
"My son," he advanced with paternal unction, "you have been taught—or should have been, ere this—that the healing miracles of our blessed Saviour belong to a dispensation long past. They were special signs from God, given at the time of establishing His Church on earth, to convince an incredulous multitude. They are not needed now. We convince by logic and reason and by historical witnesses to the deeds of the Saints and our blessed Saviour." As he pronounced this sacred name the holy man devoutly crossed himself. "Men would believe no more readily to-day," he added easily, "even if they should see miracles of healing, for they would attribute them to the human mentality, to suggestion, hypnotism, hallucination, and the like. Even the mighty deeds of Christ were attributed to Beelzebub." The complacent Father settled back into his chair with an air of having disposed for all time of the mooted subject of miracles.
"That begs the question, my Father!" returned the boy quickly and excitedly. "And as I read church history it is thus that the question has been begged ever since the first century!"
"What!" The Archbishop was waxing hot. "Do you, a mere child of sixteen, dare to dispute the claims of Holy Church?"
"My Father," the boy spoke slowly and with awful earnestness, "I have been four years in the Seminario. I do not find the true Christ there; nor do I think I shall find him within the Church."
"Sanctissima Maria!" The Archbishop bounded to his feet "Have you sold yourself to the devil?" he exploded. "Have you fed these years at the warm breasts of the Holy Mother, only to turn now and rend her? Have you become a Protester? Apostate and forsworn!"
"My Father," the boy returned calmly, "did Jesus tell the truth—or did he lie? If he spoke truth, then I think he is not in the Church to-day. She has wholly misunderstood him—or else she—she deliberately falsifies."
The Archbishop sank gasping into his chair.
Jose went on. "You call me apostate and forsworn. I am neither. One cannot become apostate when he has never believed. As to being forsworn—I am a Rincon!"
The erect head and flashing eyes of the youth drew an involuntary exclamation of approval from the anxious secretary, who had stood striving to evolve from his befuddled wits some course adequate to the strained situation.
But the boy's proud bearing was only momentary. The wonted look of troubled wistfulness again settled over his face, and his shoulders bent to their accustomed stoop, as if his frail body were slowly crushing beneath a tremendous burden.
"My Father," he continued sadly, "do not the Gospels show that Jesus proved the truth of all he taught by doing the works which we call miracles? But does the Church to-day by any great works prove a single one of her teachings? You say that Christianity no longer needs the healing of the sick in order to prove its claims. I answer that, if so, it likewise no longer needs the preaching of the gospel, for I cannot find that Jesus made any distinction between the two. Always he coupled one with the other. His command was ever, 'Preach the gospel, heal the sick!' His works of healing were simply signs which showed that he understood what he taught. They were his proofs, and they followed naturally his great understanding of God. But what proofs do you offer when you ask mankind to accept your preaching? Jesus said, 'He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also.' If you do not do the works which he did, it shows plainly that you do not believe on him—that is, that you do not understand him. When I am an ordained priest, and undertake to preach the gospel to the world, must I confess to my people that I cannot prove what I am teaching? Must I confess that there is no proof within the Church? Is it not so, that true believers in Jesus Christ believe exactly in the proportion in which they obey him and do his works?"
The boy paused for breath. The Archbishop and his secretary sat spellbound before him. Then he resumed—
"How the consecrated wafer through the words of a priest becomes the real body of Christ, I am as yet unable to learn. I do not believe it does. How priests can grant absolution for sins when, to me, sins are forgiven only when they are forsaken, I have not been taught. I do not believe they can. The Church assumes to teach these things, but it cannot prove them. From the great works of Jesus and his apostles it has descended to the blessing of milagros and candles, to the worship of the Virgin and man-made Saints, to long processions, to show and glitter—while without her doors the poor, the sick and the dying stretch out their thin, white hands and beseech her to save them, not from hell or purgatory in a supposed life to come, but from misery, want and ignorance right here in this world, as Jesus told his followers they should do. If you can show forth the omnipotence of God by healing the sick and raising the dead, I could accept that as proof of your understanding of the teachings of Jesus—and what you really understand you can demonstrate and teach to others. Theological questions used to bother me, but they do so no longer. Holy oil, holy water, blessed candles, incense, images and display do not interest me as they did when a child, nor do they any longer seem part of an intelligent worship of God. But"—his voice rising in animation—"to touch the blind man's eyes and see them open; to bid the leper be clean, and see his skin flush with health—ah! that is to worship God in spirit and in truth—that is to prove that you understand what Jesus taught and are obeying, not part, but all of his commands. I am not apostate"—he concluded sadly—"I never did fully believe that the religion of Jesus is the religion which the Church to-day preaches and pretends to practice. I do not believe in her heaven, her purgatory or her hell, nor do I believe that her Masses move God to release souls from torment. I do not believe in her powers to pardon and curse. I do not believe in her claims of infallibility. But—"
He hesitated a moment, as if not quite sure of his ground. Then his face glowed with sudden eagerness, and he cried, "My Father, the Church needs the light—do you not see it?—do you not, my uncle?" turning appealingly to the hard-faced secretary. "Can we not work to help her, and through her reach the world? Should not the Church rightly be the greatest instrument for good? But how can she teach the truth when she herself is so filled with error? How can she preach the gospel when she knows not what the gospel is? But Jesus said that if we obeyed him we should know of the doctrine, should know the true meaning of the gospel. But we must first obey. We must not only preach, but we must become spiritually minded enough to heal the sick—"
"Dios nos guarde!" interrupted the Archbishop, attempting to rise, but prevented by his secretary, who laid a restraining hand on his arm. The latter then turned to the overwrought boy.
"My dear Jose," he said, smiling patronizingly upon the youth, although his cold eyes glittered like bits of polished steel, "His Eminence forgives your hasty words, for he recognizes your earnestness, and, moreover, is aware how deeply your heart is lacerated by your recent bereavement. But, further—and I say this in confidence to you—His Eminence and I have discussed these very matters to which you refer, and have long seen the need of certain changes within the Church which will redound to her glory and usefulness. And you must know that the Holy Father in Rome also recognizes these needs, and sees, too, the time when they will be met. However, his great wisdom prevents him from acting hastily. You must remember that our blessed Saviour suffered many things to be so for the time, although he knew they would be altered in due season. So it is with the Church. Her children are not all deep thinkers, like yourself, but are for the most part poor and ignorant people, who could not understand your high views. They must be led in ways with which they are familiar until they can be lifted gradually to higher planes of thought and conduct. Is it not so? You are one who will do much for them, my son—but you will accomplish nothing by attempting suddenly to overthrow the established traditions which they reverence, nor by publicly prating about the Church's defects. Your task will be to lead them gently, imperceptibly, up out of darkness into the light, which, despite your accusations, does shine in the Church, and is visible to all who rightly seek it. You have yet four years in the Seminario. You gave us your promise—the Rincon word—that you would lay aside these doubts and questionings until your course was completed. We do not hold you—but you hold yourself to your word! Our sincere advice is that you keep your counsel, and silently work with us for the Church and mankind. The Church will offer you unlimited opportunities for service. She is educating you. Indeed, has she not generously given you the very data wherewith you are enabled now to accuse her? You will find her always the same just, tolerant, wise Mother, leading her children upward as fast as they are able to journey. Her work is universal, and she is impervious to the shafts of envy, malice, and hatred which her enemies launch at her. She has resources of which you as yet know nothing. In the end she will triumph. You are offered an opportunity to contribute toward that triumph and to share in it. His Eminence knows that you will not permit Satan to make you reject that offer now."
The secretary's sharp, beady eyes looked straight into those of the youth, and held him. His small, round head, with its low brow and grizzled locks, waved snake-like on the man's long neck. His tall form, in its black cassock, bent over the lad like a spectre. His slender arms, of uncanny length, waved constantly before him; and the long, bony fingers seemed to reach into the boy's very soul and choke the springs of life at their origin. His reasoning took the form of suggestion, bearing the indisputable stamp of authority. Again, the boy, confused and uncertain, bowed before years and worldly experience, and returned to his solitude and the companionship of his books and his writing.