Carmen Ariza Part 3

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"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. "Nave--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 p.r.o.nounced."

"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 pa.s.s 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 leaders.h.i.+p.

Already our soldiers begin to refuse to kneel during the Ma.s.s. 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 leaders.h.i.+p. 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 a.s.sault 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, s.h.i.+fting 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 G.o.d. 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, cooperating with his parents, will cater to his consuming pa.s.sion 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."

CHAPTER 5

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 a.s.surance 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--wors.h.i.+ped his mother. The latter he was wont to compare to the flowers, to the bright-plumed birds, to the b.u.t.terflies 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 G.o.d 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 G.o.d! Nay, even more than G.o.d, for as priest G.o.d 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 G.o.d 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 G.o.d 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 grat.i.tude to the Church, you promise faithfully to finish your course, and at the end offer yourself to the service of G.o.d in the holy priesthood."

The solemn hush that lay over the room when he finished was broken only by the m.u.f.fled 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_.

CHAPTER 6

Carmen Ariza Part 3

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Carmen Ariza Part 3 summary

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