The priest’s dry, tremulous hand grasped the volume without acknowledgment.
“But these proofs?” he said hastily; “these proofs, Senor?”
“Oh, well, you’ll testify to the baptism, you know.”
“But if I refuse; if I will have nothing to do with this thing! If I will not give my word that there is not some mistake,” said the priest, working himself into a feverish indignation. “That there are not slips of memory, eh? Of so many children baptized, is it possible for me to know which, eh? And if this Juanita is not your girl, eh?”
“Then you’ll help me to find who is,” said Cranch, coolly.
Father Pedro turned furiously on his tormentor. Overcome by his vigil and anxiety. He was oblivious of everything but the presence of the man who seemed to usurp the functions of his own conscience. “Who are you, who speak thus?” he said hoarsely, advancing upon Cranch with outstretched and anathematizing fingers. “Who are you, Senor Heathen, who dare to dictate to me, a Father of Holy Church? I tell you, I will have none of this. Never! I will not. From this moment, you understand—nothing. I will never . . .”
He stopped. The first stroke of the Angelus rang from the little tower. The first stroke of that bell before whose magic exorcism all human passions fled, the peaceful bell that had for fifty years lulled the little fold of San Carmel to prayer and rest, came to his throbbing ear. His trembling hands groped for the crucifix, carried it to his left breast; his lips moved in prayer. His eyes were turned to the cold, passionless sky, where a few faint, far-spaced stars had silently stolen to their places. The Angelus still rang, his trembling ceased, he remained motionless and rigid.
The American, who had uncovered in deference to the worshiper rather than the rite, waited patiently. The eyes of Father Pedro returned to the earth, moist as if with dew caught from above. He looked half absently at Cranch.
“Forgive me, my son,” he said, in a changed voice. “I am only a worn old man. I must talk with thee more of this—but not to-night—not to-night;—to-morrow—to-morrow—to-morrow.”
He turned slowly and appeared to glide rather than move under the trees, until the dark shadow of the Mission tower met and encompassed him. Cranch followed him with anxious eyes. Then he removed the quid of tobacco from his cheek.
“Just as I reckoned,” remarked he, quite audibly. “He’s clean gold on the bed rock after all!”
That night Father Pedro dreamed a strange dream. How much of it was reality, how long it lasted, or when he awoke from it, he could not tell. The morbid excitement of the previous day culminated in a febrile exaltation in which he lived and moved as in a separate existence.