Read CHAPTER V of Padre Ignacio / The Song of Temptation, free online book, by Owen Wister, on

Temptation had arrived with Gaston, but was destined to make a longer stay at Santa Ysabel del Mar.  Yet it was perhaps a week before the priest knew this guest was come to abide with him.  The guest could be discreet, could withdraw, was not at first importunate.

Sail away on the barkentine?  A wild notion, to be sure! although fit enough to enter the brain of such a young scape-grace.  The Padre shook his head and smiled affectionately when he thought of Gaston Villere.  The youth’s handsome, reckless countenance would shine out, smiling, in his memory, and he repeated Auber’s old remark, “Is it the good Lord, or is it merely the devil, that always makes me have a weakness for rascals?”

Sail away on the barkentine!  Imagine taking leave of the people here ­of Felipe!  In what words should he tell the boy to go on industriously with his music?  No, this was not imaginable!  The mere parting alone would make it for ever impossible to think of such a thing.  “And then,” he said to himself each new morning, when he looked out at the ocean, “I have given to them my life.  One does not take back a gift.”

Pictures of his departure began to shine and melt in his drifting fancy.  He saw himself explaining to Felipe that now his presence was wanted elsewhere; that than would come a successor to take care of Santa Ysabel ­a younger man, more useful, and able to visit sick people at a distance.

“For I am old now.  I should not be long has in any case.”  He stopped and pressed his hands together; he had caught his Temptation in the very act.  Now he sat staring at his Temptation’s face, close to him, while then in the triangle two ships went sailing by.

One morning Felipe told him that the barkentine was here on its return voyage south.  “Indeed.” said the Padre, coldly.  “The things are ready to go, I think.”  For the vessel called for mail and certain boxes that the mission sent away.  Felipe left the room in wonder at the Padre’s manner.  But the priest was laughing secretly to see how little it was to him where the barkentine was, or whether it should be coming or going.  But in the afternoon, at his piano, he found himself saying, “Other ships call here, at any rate.”  And then for the first time he prayed to be delivered from his thoughts.  Yet presently he left his seat and looked out of the window for a sight of the barkentine; but it was gone.

The season of the wine-making passed, and the preserving of all the fruits that the mission fields grew.  Lotions and medicines was distilled from garden herbs.  Perfume was manufactured from the petals of flowers and certain spices, and presents of it despatched to San Fernando and Ventura, and to friends at other places; for the Padre had a special receipt.  As the time ran on, two or three visitors passed a night with him; and presently there was a word at various missions that Padre Ignacio had begun to show his years.  At Santa Ysabel del Mar they whispered, “The Padre is not well.”  Yet he rode a great deal over the hills by himself, and down the canyon very often, stopping where he had sat with Gaston, to sit alone and look up and down, now at the hills above, and now at the ocean below.  Among his parishioners he had certain troubles to soothe, certain wounds to heal; a home from which he was able to drive jealousy; a girl whom he bade her lover set right.  But all said, “The Padre is unwell.”  And Felipe told them that the music seemed nothing to him any more; he never asked for his Dixit Dominus nowadays.  Then for a short time he was really in bed, feverish with the two voices that spoke to him without ceasing.  “You have given your life,” said one voice.  “And, therefore,” said the other, “have earned the right to go home and die.”  “You are winning better rewards in the service of God,” said the first voice.  “God can be better served in other places,” answered the second.  As he lay listening he saw Seville again, and the trees of Aranhal, where he had been born.  The wind was blowing through them, and in their branches he could hear the nightingales.  “Empty!  Empty!” he said, aloud.  And he lay for two days and nights hearing the wind and the nightingales in the far trees of Aranhal.  But Felipe, watching, only heard the Padre crying through the hours, “Empty!  Empty!”

Then the wind in the trees died down, and the Padre could get out of bed, and soon be in the garden.  But the voices within him still talked all the while as he sat watching the sails when they passed between the headlands.  Their words, falling for ever the same way, beat his spirit sore, like blows upon flesh already bruised.  If he could only change what they said, he would rest.

“Has the Padre any mall for Santa Barbara?” asked Felipe.  “The ship bound southward should be here to-morrow.”

“I will attend to it,” said the priest, not moving.  And Felipe stole away.

At Felipe’s words the voices had stopped, as a clock finishes striking.  Silence, strained like expectation, filled the Padre’s soul.  But in place of the voices came old sights of home again, the waving trees at Aranhal; then it would be Rachel for a moment, declaiming tragedy while a houseful of faces that he knew by name watched her; and through all the panorama rang the pleasant laugh of Gaston.  For a while in the evening the Padre sat at his Erard playing Trovatore.  Later, in his sleepless bed he lay, saying now and then:  “To die at home!  Surely I may be granted at least this.”  And he listened for the inner voices.  But they were not speaking any more, and the black hole of silence grew more dreadful to him than their arguments.  Then the dawn came in at his window, and he lay watching its gray grow warm into color, until suddenly he sprang from his bed and looked at the sea.  Blue it lay, sapphire-hued and dancing with points of gold, lovely and luring as a charm; and over its triangle the south-bound ship was approaching.  People were on board who in a few weeks would be sailing the Atlantic, while he would stand here looking out of this same window.  “Merciful God!” he cried, sinking on his knees.  “Heavenly Father, Thou seest this evil in my heart!  Thou knowest that my weak hand cannot pluck it out!  My strength is breaking, and still Thou makest my burden heavier than I can bear.”  He stopped, breathless and trembling.  The same visions was flitting across his closed eyes; the same silence gaped like a dry crater in his soul.  “There is no help in earth or heaven,” he said, very quietly; and he dressed himself.