When James Hurlstone reached the shelter
of the shrubbery he leaned exhaustedly against the
adobe wall, and looked back upon the garden he had
just traversed. At its lower extremity a tall
hedge of cactus reinforced the crumbling wall with
a cheval de frise of bristling thorns;
it was through a gap in this green barrier that he
had found his way a few hours before, as his torn
clothes still testified. At one side ran the
low wall of the Alcalde’s casa, a mere line of
dark shadow in that strange diaphanous mist that seemed
to suffuse all objects. The gnarled and twisted
branches of pear-trees, gouty with old age, bent so
low as to impede any progress under their formal avenues;
out of a tangled labyrinth of figtrees, here and there
a single plume of feathery palm swam in a drowsy upper
radiance. The shrubbery around him, of some unknown
variety, exhaled a faint perfume; he put out his hand
to grasp what appeared to be a young catalpa, and
found it the trunk of an enormous passion vine, that,
creeping softly upward, had at last invaded the very
belfry of the dim tower above him; and touching it,
his soul seemed to be lifted with it out of the shadow.
The great hush and quiet that had
fallen like a benediction on every sleeping thing
around him; the deep and passionless repose that seemed
to drop from the bending boughs of the venerable trees;
the cool, restful, earthy breath of the shadowed mold
beneath him, touched only by a faint jessamine-like
perfume as of a dead passion, lulled the hurried beatings
of his heart and calmed the feverish tremor of his
limbs. He allowed himself to sink back against
the wall, his hands tightly clasped before him.
Gradually, the set, abstracted look of his eyes faded
and became suffused, as if moistened by that celestial
mist. Then he rose quickly, drew his sleeve hurriedly
across his lashes, and began slowly to creep along
the wall again.
Either the obscurity of the shrubbery
became greater or he was growing preoccupied; but
in steadying himself by the wall he had, without perceiving
it, put his hand upon a rude door that, yielding to
his pressure, opened noiselessly into a dark passage.
Without apparent reflection he entered, followed the
passage a few steps until it turned abruptly; turning
with it, he found himself in the body of the Mission
Church of Todos Santos. A swinging-lamp, that
burned perpetually before an effigy of the Virgin
Mother, threw a faint light on the single rose-window
behind the high altar; another, suspended in a low
archway, apparently lit the open door of the passage
towards the refectory. By the stronger light
of the latter Hurlstone could see the barbaric red
and tarnished gold of the rafters that formed the straight
roof. The walls were striped with equally bizarre
coloring, half Moorish and half Indian. A few
hangings of dyed and painted cloths with heavy fringes
were disposed on either side of the chancel, like the
flaps of a wigwam; and the aboriginal suggestion was
further repeated in a quantity of colored beads and
sea-shells that decked the communion-rails. The
Stations of the Cross, along the walls, were commemorated
by paintings, evidently by a native artist to
suit the same barbaric taste; while a larger picture
of San Francisco d’Assisis, under the choir,
seemed to belong to an older and more artistic civilization.
But the sombre half-light of the two lamps mellowed
and softened the harsh contrast of these details until
the whole body of the church appeared filled with a
vague harmonious shadow. The air, heavy with the
odors of past incense, seemed to be a part of that
expression, as if the solemn and sympathetic twilight
became palpable in each deep, long-drawn inspiration.
Again overcome by the feeling of repose
and peacefulness, Hurlstone sank upon a rude settle,
and bent his head and folded arms over a low railing
before him. How long he sat there, allowing the
subtle influence to transfuse and possess his entire
being, he did not know. The faint twitter of
birds suddenly awoke him. Looking up, he perceived
that it came from the vacant square of the tower above
him, open to the night and suffused with its mysterious
radiance. In another moment the roof of the church
was swiftly crossed and recrossed with tiny and adventurous
wings. The mysterious light had taken an opaline
color. Morning was breaking.
The slow rustling of a garment, accompanied
by a soft but heavy tread, sounded from the passage.
He started to his feet as the priest, whom he had
seen on the deck of the Excelsior, entered the church
from the refectory. The Padre was alone.
At the apparition of a stranger, torn and disheveled,
he stopped involuntarily and cast a hasty look towards
the heavy silver ornaments on the altar. Hurlstone
noticed it, and smiled bitterly.
“Don’t alarm yourself.
I only sought this place for shelter.”
He spoke in French the
language he had heard Padre Esteban address to Mrs.
Brimmer. But the priest’s quick eye had
already detected his own mistake. He lifted his
hand with a sublime gesture towards the altar, and
“You are right! Where should you seek shelter
The reply was so unexpected that Hurlstone
was silent. His lips quivered slightly.
“And if it were sanctuary I was seeking?”
“You would first tell me why you sought it,”
said Padre Esteban gently.
Hurlstone looked at him irresolutely
for a moment and then said, with the hopeless desperation
of a man anxious to anticipate his fate,
“I am a passenger on the ship
you boarded yesterday. I came ashore with the
intention of concealing myself somewhere here until
she had sailed. When I tell you that I am not
a fugitive from justice, that I have committed no
offense against the ship or her passengers, nor have
I any intention of doing so, but that I only wish
concealment from their knowledge for twenty-four hours,
you will know enough to understand that you run no
risk in giving me assistance. I can tell you no
“I did not see you with the
other passengers, either on the ship or ashore,”
said the priest. “How did you come here?”
“I swam ashore before they left.
I did not know they had any idea of landing here;
I expected to be the only one, and there would have
been no need for concealment then. But I am not
lucky,” he added, with a bitter laugh.
The priest glanced at his garments,
which bore the traces of the sea, but remained silent.
“Do you think I am lying?”
The old priest lifted his head with a gesture.
“Not to me but to God!”
The young man followed the gesture,
and glanced around the barbaric church with a slight
look of scorn. But the profound isolation, the
mystic seclusion, and, above all, the complete obliteration
of that world and civilization he shrank from and
despised, again subdued and overcame his rebellious
spirit. He lifted his eyes to the priest.
“Nor to God,” he said gravely.
“Then why withhold anything from Him here?”
said the priest gently.
“I am not a Catholic I
do not believe in confession,” said Hurlstone
doggedly, turning aside.
But Padre Esteban laid his large brown
hand on the young man’s shoulder. Touched
by some occult suggestion in its soft contact, he sank
again into his seat.
“Yet you ask for the sanctuary
of His house a sanctuary bought by that
contrition whose first expression is the bared and
open soul! To the first worldly shelter you sought the
peon’s hut or the Alcalde’s casa you
would have thought it necessary to bring a story.
You would not conceal from the physician whom you
asked for balsam either the wound, the symptoms, or
the cause? Enough,” he said kindly, as Hurlstone
was about to reply. “You shall have your
request. You shall stay here. I will be
your physician, and will salve your wounds; if any
poison I know not of rankle there, you will not blame
me, son, but perhaps you will assist me to find it.
I will give you a secluded cell in the dormitory until
the ship has sailed. And then”
He dropped quietly on the settle,
took the young man’s hand paternally in his
own, and gazed into his eyes as if he read his soul.
And then . . . Ah, yes . . .
What then? Hurlstone glanced once more around
him. He thought of the quiet night; of the great
peace that had fallen upon him since he had entered
the garden, and the promise of a greater peace that
seemed to breathe with the incense from those venerable
walls. He thought of that crumbling barrier, that
even in its ruin seemed to shut out, more completely
than anything he had conceived, his bitter past, and
the bitter world that recalled it. He thought
of the long days to come, when, forgetting and forgotten,
he might find a new life among these simple aliens,
themselves forgotten by the world. He had thought
of this once before in the garden; it occurred to him
again in this Lethe-like oblivion of the little church,
in the kindly pressure of the priest’s hand.
The ornaments no longer looked uncouth and barbaric rather
they seemed full of some new spiritual significance.
He suddenly lifted his eyes to Padre Esteban, and,
half rising to his feet, said,
“Are we alone?”
“We are; it is a half-hour yet before mass,”
said the priest.
“My story will not last so long,”
said the young man hurriedly, as if fearing to change
his mind. “Hear me, then it is
no crime nor offense to any one; more than that, it
concerns no one but myself it is of”
“A woman,” said the priest softly.
“So! we will sit down, my son.”
He lifted his hand with a soothing
gesture the movement of a physician who
has just arrived at an easy diagnosis of certain uneasy
symptoms. There was also a slight suggestion
of an habitual toleration, as if even the seclusion
of Todos Santos had not been entirely free from the
invasion of the primal passion.
Hurlstone waited for an instant, but then went on
“It is of a woman, who has cursed
my life, blasted my prospects, and ruined my youth;
a woman who gained my early affection only to blight
and wither it; a woman who should be nearer to me and
dearer than all else, and yet who is further than
the uttermost depths of hell from me in sympathy or
feeling; a woman that I should cleave to, but from
whom I have been flying, ready to face shame, disgrace,
oblivion, even that death which alone can part us:
for that woman is my wife.”
He stopped, out of breath, with fixed
eyes and a rigid mouth. Father Esteban drew a
snuff-box from his pocket, and a large handkerchief.
After blowing his nose violently, he took a pinch of
snuff, wiped his lip, and replaced the box.
“A bad habit, my son,”
he said apologetically, “but an old man’s
weakness. Go on.”
“I met her first five years
ago the wife of another man. Don’t
misjudge me, it was no lawless passion; it was a friendship,
I believed, due to her intellectual qualities as much
as to her womanly fascinations; for I was a young
student, lodging in the same house with her, in an
academic town. Before I ever spoke to her of
love, she had confided to me her own unhappiness the
uncongeniality of her married life, the harshness,
and even brutality, of her husband. Even a man
less in love than I was could have seen the truth
of this the contrast of the coarse, sensual,
and vulgar man with an apparently refined and intelligent
woman; but any one else except myself would have suspected
that such a union was not merely a sacrifice of the
woman. I believed her. It was not until long
afterwards that I learned that her marriage had been
a condonation of her youthful errors by a complaisant
bridegroom; that her character had been saved by a
union that was a mutual concession. But I loved
her madly; and when she finally got a divorce from
her uncongenial husband, I believed it less an expression
of her love for me than an act of justice. I
did not know at the time that they had arranged the
divorce together, as they had arranged their marriage,
by equal concessions.
“I was the only son of a widowed
mother, whose instincts were from the first opposed
to my friendship with this woman, and what she prophetically
felt would be its result. Unfortunately, both
she and my friends were foolish enough to avow their
belief that the divorce was obtained solely with a
view of securing me as a successor; and it was this
argument more than any other that convinced me of my
duty to protect her. Enough, I married, not only
in spite of all opposition but because
“My mother would have reconciled
herself to the marriage, but my wife never forgave
the opposition, and, by some hellish instinct divining
that her power over me might be weakened by maternal
influence, precipitated a quarrel which forever separated
us. With the little capital left by my father,
divided between my mother and myself, I took my wife
to a western city. Our small income speedily dwindled
under the debts of her former husband, which she had
assumed to purchase her freedom. I endeavored
to utilize a good education and some accomplishments
in music and the languages by giving lessons and by
contributing to the press. In this my wife first
made a show of assisting me, but I was not long in
discovering that her intelligence was superficial
and shallow, and that the audacity of expression,
which I had believed to be originality of conviction,
was simply shamelessness, and a desire for notoriety.
She had a facility in writing sentimental poetry,
which had been efficacious in her matrimonial confidences,
but which editors of magazines and newspapers found
to be shallow and insincere. To my astonishment,
she remained unaffected by this, as she was equally
impervious to the slights and sneers that continually
met us in society. At last the inability to pay
one of her former husband’s claims brought to
me a threat and an anonymous letter. I laid them
before her, when a scene ensued which revealed the
blindness of my folly in all its hideous hopelessness:
she accused me of complicity in her divorce, and deception
in regard to my own fortune. In a speech, whose
language was a horrible revelation of her early habits,
she offered to arrange a divorce from me as she had
from her former husband. She gave as a reason
her preference for another, and her belief that the
scandal of a suit would lend her a certain advertisement
and prestige. It was a combination of Messalina
and Mrs. Jarley”
“Pardon! I remember not
a Madame Jarley,” said the priest.
“Of viciousness and commercial
calculation,” continued Hurlstone hurriedly.
“I don’t remember what happened; she swore
that I struck her! Perhaps God knows!
But she failed, even before a western jury, to convict
me of cruelty. The judge that thought me half
insane would not believe me brutal, and her application
for divorce was lost.
“I need not tell you that the
same friends who had opposed my marriage now came
forward to implore me to allow her to break our chains.
I refused. I swear to you it was from no lingering
love for her, for her presence drove me mad; it was
from no instinct of revenge or jealousy, for I should
have welcomed the man who would have taken her out
of my life and memory. But I could not bear the
idea of taking her first husband’s place in
her hideous comedy; I could not purchase my freedom
at that price at any price. I was told
that I could get a divorce against her, and stand
forth before the world untrammeled and unstained.
But I could not stand before myself in such an
attitude. I knew that the shackles I had deliberately
forged could not be loosened except by death.
I knew that the stains of her would cling to me and
become a part of my own sin, even as the sea I plunged
into yesterday to escape her, though it has dried
upon me, has left its bitter salt behind.
“When she knew my resolve, she
took her revenge by dragging my name through the successive
levels to which she descended. Under the plea
that the hardly-earned sum I gave to her maintenance
apart from me was not sufficient, she utilized her
undoubted beauty and more doubtful talent in amateur
entertainments and, finally, on the stage.
She was openly accompanied by her lover, who acted
as her agent, in the hope of goading me to a divorce.
Suddenly she disappeared. I thought she had forgotten
me. I obtained an honorable position in New York.
One night I entered a theater devoted to burlesque
opera and the exhibition of a popular actress, known
as the Western Thalia, whose beautiful and audaciously
draped figure was the talk of the town. I recognized
my wife in this star of nudity; more than that, she
recognized me. The next day, in addition to the
usual notice, the real name of the actress was given
in the morning papers, with a sympathizing account
of her romantic and unfortunate marriage. I renounced
my position, and, taking advantage of an offer from
an old friend in California, resolved to join him secretly
there. My mother had died broken-hearted; I was
alone in the world. But my wife discovered my
intention; and when I reached Callao, I heard that
she had followed me, by way of the Isthmus of Panama,
and that probably she would anticipate me in Mazatlan,
where we were to stop. The thought of suicide
haunted me during the rest of that horrible voyage;
only my belief that she would make it appear as a
tacit confession of my guilt saved me from that last
act of weakness.”
He stopped and shuddered. Padre
Esteban again laid his hand softly upon him.
“It was God who spared you that
sacrifice of soul and body,” he said gently.
“I thought it was God that suggested
to me to take the simulation of that act the
means of separating myself from her forever. When
we neared Mazatlan, I conceived the idea of hiding
myself in the hold of the Excelsior until she had
left that port, in the hope that it would be believed
that I had fallen overboard. I succeeded in secreting
myself, but was discovered at the same time that the
unexpected change in the ship’s destination
rendered concealment unnecessary. As we did not
put in at Mazatlan, nobody suspected my discovery
in the hold to be anything but the accident that I
gave it out to be. I felt myself saved the confrontation
of the woman at Mazatlan; but I knew she would pursue
me to San Francisco.
“The strange dispensation of
Providence that brought us into this unknown port
gave me another hope of escape and oblivion. While
you and the Commander were boarding the Excelsior,
I slipped from the cabin-window into the water; I
was a good swimmer, and reached the shore in safety.
I concealed myself in the ditch of the Presidio until
I saw the passengers’ boats returning with them,
when I sought the safer shelter of this Mission.
I made my way through a gap in the hedge and lay under
your olive-trees, hearing the voices of my companions,
beyond the walls, till past midnight. I then
groped my way along the avenue of pear-trees till
I came to another wall, and a door that opened to my
accidental touch. I entered, and found myself
here. You know the rest.”
He had spoken with the rapid and unpent
fluency of a man who cared more to relieve himself
of an oppressive burden than to impress his auditor;
yet the restriction of a foreign tongue had checked
repetition or verbosity. Without imagination
he had been eloquent; without hopefulness he had been
convincing. Father Esteban rose, holding both
“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!”