“How do I know,” said the priest harshly, without turning his head, “that you did not make away with this child?”
“That you did not complete your revenge by—by—killing it, as your comrade suspected you? Ah! Holy Trinity,” continued Father Pedro, throwing out his hands with an impatient gesture, as if to take the place of unutterable thought.
“How do you know?” echoed the stranger coldly.
The stranger linked his fingers together and threw them over his knee, drew it up to his chest caressingly, and said quietly, “Because you do know.”
The Padre rose to his feet.
“What mean you?” he said, sternly fixing his eyes upon the speaker. Their eyes met. The stranger’s were gray and persistent, with hanging corner lids that might have concealed even more purpose than they showed. The Padre’s were hollow, open, and the whites slightly brown, as if with tobacco stains. Yet they were the first to turn away.
“I mean,” returned the stranger, with the same practical gravity, “that you know it wouldn’t pay me to come here, if I’d killed the baby, unless I wanted you to fix things right with me up there,” pointing skywards, “and get absolution; and I’ve told you that wasn’t in my line.”
“Why do you seek me, then?” demanded the Padre, suspiciously.
“Because I reckon I thought a man might be allowed to confess something short of a murder. If you’re going to draw the line below that—”
“This is but sacrilegious levity,” interrupted Father Pedro, turning as if to go. But the stranger did not make any movement to detain him.
“Have you implored forgiveness of the father—the man you wronged—before you came here?” asked the priest, lingering.
“Not much. It wouldn’t pay if he was living, and he died four years ago.”
“You are sure of that?”
“There are other relations, perhaps?”
Father Pedro was silent. When he spoke again, it was with a changed voice. “What is your purpose, then?” he asked, with the first indication of priestly sympathy in his manner. “You cannot ask forgiveness of the earthly father you have injured, you refuse the intercession of holy Church with the Heavenly Father you have disobeyed. Speak, wretched man! What is it you want?”
“I want to find the child.”
“But if it were possible, if she were still living, are you fit to seek her, to even make yourself known to her, to appear before her?”
“Well, if I made it profitable to her, perhaps.”
“Perhaps,” echoed the priest, scornfully. “So be it. But why come here?”
“To ask your advice. To know how to begin my search. You know this country. You were here when that boat drifted ashore beyond that mountain.”
“Ah, indeed. I have much to do with it. It is an affair of the alcalde—the authorities—of your—your police.”