“My son, in the sanctuary which you have claimed there is no divorce. The woman who has ruined your life could not be your wife. As long as her first husband lives, she is forever his wife, bound by a tie which no human law can sever!”
An open-air prison.
An hour after mass Father Esteban had quietly installed Hurlstone in a small cell-like apartment off the refectory. The household of the priest consisted of an old Indian woman of fabulous age and miraculous propriety, two Indian boys who served at mass, a gardener, and a muleteer. The first three, who were immediately in attendance upon the priest, were cognizant of a stranger’s presence, but, under instructions from the reverend Padre, were loyally and superstitiously silent; the vocations of the gardener and muleteer made any intrusion from them impossible. A breakfast of fruit, tortillas, chocolate, and red wine, of which Hurlstone partook sparingly and only to please his entertainer, nevertheless seemed to restore his strength, as it did the Padre’s equanimity. For the old man had been somewhat agitated during mass, and, except that his early morning congregation was mainly composed of Indians, muleteers, and small venders, his abstraction would have been noticed. With ready tact he had not attempted, by further questioning, to break the taciturnity into which Hurlstone had relapsed after his emotional confession and the priest’s abrupt half-absolution. Was it possible he regretted his confidence, or was it possible that his first free and untrammeled expression of his wrongs had left him with a haunting doubt of their real magnitude?
“Lie down here, my son,” said the old ecclesiastic, pointing to a small pallet in the corner, “and try to restore in the morning what you have taken from the night. Manuela will bring your clothes when they are dried and mended; meantime, shift for yourself in Pepito’s serape and calzas. I will betake me to the Comandante and the Alcalde, to learn the dispositions of your party, when the ship will sail, and if your absence is suspected. Peace be with you, son! Manuela, attend to the caballero, and see you chatter not.”
Without doubting the substantial truth of his guest’s story, the good Padre Esteban was not unwilling to have it corroborated by such details as he thought he could collect among the Excelsior’s passengers. His own experience in the confessional had taught him the unreliability of human evidence, and the vagaries of both conscientious and unconscious suppression. That a young, good-looking, and accomplished caballero should have been the victim of not one, but even many, erotic episodes, did not strike the holy father as being peculiar; but that he should have been brought by a solitary unfortunate attachment to despair and renunciation of the world appeared to him marvelous. He was not unfamiliar with the remorse of certain