Clarence’s face beamed with relief and pleasure. His vague fears began to dissipate.
“And you translate even from dictation! Good! We have an hour to spare, and you shall give to me a specimen of your skill. Eh? Good! I will walk here and dictate to you in my poor English, and you shall sit there and render it to me in your good Spanish. Eh? So we shall amuse and instruct ourselves.”
Clarence smiled. These sporadic moments of instruction and admonition were not unusual to the good Father. He cheerfully seated himself at the Padre’s table before a blank sheet of paper, with a pen in his hand. Father Sobriente paced the apartment, with his usual heavy but noiseless tread. To his surprise, the good priest, after an exhaustive pinch of snuff, blew his nose, and began, in his most lugubrious style of pulpit exhortation:—
“It has been written that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children, and the unthinking and worldly have sought refuge from this law by declaring it harsh and cruel. Miserable and blind! For do we not see that the wicked man, who in the pride of his power and vainglory is willing to risk punishment to himself—and believes it to be courage—must pause before the awful mandate that condemns an equal suffering to those he loves, which he cannot withhold or suffer for? In the spectacle of these innocents struggling against disgrace, perhaps disease, poverty, or desertion, what avails his haughty, all-defying spirit? Let us imagine, Clarence.”
“Sir?” said the literal Clarence, pausing in his exercise.
“I mean,” continued the priest, with a slight cough, “let the thoughtful man picture a father: a desperate, self-willed man, who scorned the laws of God and society—keeping only faith with a miserable subterfuge he called ‘honor,’ and relying only on his own courage and his knowledge of human weakness. Imagine him cruel and bloody—a gambler by profession, an outlaw among men, an outcast from the Church; voluntarily abandoning friends and family,—the wife he should have cherished, the son he should have reared and educated—for the gratification of his deadly passions. Yet imagine that man suddenly confronted with the thought of that heritage of shame and disgust which he had brought upon his innocent offspring—to whom he cannot give even his own desperate recklessness to sustain its vicarious suffering. What must be the feelings of a parent—”
“Father Sobriente,” said Clarence softly.
To the boy’s surprise, scarcely had he spoken when the soft protecting palm of the priest was already upon his shoulder, and the snuffy but kindly upper lip, trembling with some strange emotion, close beside his cheek.
“What is it, Clarence?” he said hurriedly. “Speak, my son, without fear! You would ask—”
“I only wanted to know if ‘padre’ takes a masculine verb here,” replied Clarence naively.
Father Sobriente blew his nose violently. “Truly—though used for either gender, by the context masculine,” he responded gravely. “Ah,” he added, leaning over Clarence, and scanning his work hastily, “Good, very good! And now, possibly,” he continued, passing his hand like a damp sponge over his heated brow, “we shall reverse our exercise. I shall deliver to you in Spanish what you shall render back in English, eh? And—let us consider—we shall make something more familiar and narrative, eh?”
To this Clarence, somewhat bored by these present solemn abstractions, assented gladly, and took up his pen. Father Sobriente, resuming his noiseless pacing, began:
“On the fertile plains of Guadalajara lived a certain caballero, possessed of flocks and lands, and a wife and son. But, being also possessed of a fiery and roving nature, he did not value them as he did perilous adventure, feats of arms, and sanguinary encounters. To this may be added riotous excesses, gambling and drunkenness, which in time decreased his patrimony, even as his rebellious and quarrelsome spirit had alienated his family and neighbors. His wife, borne down by shame and sorrow, died while her son was still an infant. In a fit of equal remorse and recklessness the caballero married again within the year. But the new wife was of a temper and bearing as bitter as her consort. Violent quarrels ensued between them, ending in the husband abandoning his wife and son, and leaving St. Louis—I should say Guadalajara—for ever. Joining some adventurers in a foreign land, under an assumed name, he pursued his reckless course, until, by one or two acts of outlawry, he made his return to civilization impossible. The deserted wife and step-mother of his child coldly accepted the situation, forbidding his name to be spoken again in her presence, announced that he was dead, and kept the knowledge of his existence from his own son, whom she placed under the charge of her sister. But the sister managed to secretly communicate with the outlawed father, and, under a pretext, arranged between them, of sending the boy to another relation, actually dispatched the innocent child to his unworthy parent. Perhaps stirred by remorse, the infamous man—”
“Stop!” said Clarence suddenly.
He had thrown down his pen, and was standing erect and rigid before the Father.
“You are trying to tell me something, Father Sobriente,” he said, with an effort. “Speak out, I implore you. I can stand anything but this mystery. I am no longer a child. I have a right to know all. This that you are telling me is no fable—I see it in your face, Father Sobriente; it is the story of—of—”
“Your father, Clarence!” said the priest, in a trembling voice.
The boy drew back, with a white face. “My father!” he repeated. “Living, or dead?”
“Living, when you first left your home,” said the old man hurriedly, seizing Clarence’s hand, “for it was he who in the name of your cousin sent for you. Living—yes, while you were here, for it was he who for the past three years stood in the shadow of this assumed cousin, Don Juan, and at last sent you to this school. Living, Clarence, yes; but living under a name and reputation that would have blasted you! And now dead—dead in Mexico, shot as an insurgent and in a still desperate career! May God have mercy on his soul!”
“Dead!” repeated Clarence, trembling, “only now?”
“The news of the insurrection and his fate came only an hour since,” continued the Padre quickly; “his complicity with it and his identity were known only to Don Juan. He would have spared you any knowledge of the truth, even as this dead man would; but I and my brothers thought otherwise. I have broken it to you badly, my son, but forgive me?”
An hysterical laugh broke from Clarence and the priest recoiled before him. “Forgive you! What was this man to me?” he said, with boyish vehemence. “He never loved me! He deserted me; he made my life a lie. He never sought me, came near me, or stretched a hand to me that I could take?”
“Hush! hush!” said the priest, with a horrified look, laying his huge hand upon the boy’s shoulder and bearing him down to his seat. “You know not what you say. Think—think, Clarence! Was there none of all those who have befriended you—who were kind to you in your wanderings—to whom your heart turned unconsciously? Think, Clarence! You yourself have spoken to me of such a one. Let your heart speak again, for his sake—for the sake of the dead.”
A gentler light suffused the boy’s eyes, and he started. Catching convulsively at his companion’s sleeve, he said in an eager, boyish whisper, “There was one, a wicked, desperate man, whom they all feared—Flynn, who brought me from the mines. Yes, I thought that he was my cousin’s loyal friend—more than all the rest; and I told him everything—all, that I never told the man I thought my cousin, or anyone, or even you; and I think, I think, Father, I liked him best of all. I thought since it was wrong,” he continued, with a trembling smile, “for I was foolishly fond even of the way the others feared him, he that I feared not, and who was so kind to me. Yet he, too, left me without a word, and when I would have followed him—” But the boy broke down, and buried his face in his hands.
“No, no,” said Father Sobriente, with eager persistence, “that was his foolish pride to spare you the knowledge of your kinship with one so feared, and part of the blind and mistaken penance he had laid upon himself. For even at that moment of your boyish indignation, he never was so fond of you as then. Yes, my poor boy, this man, to whom God led your wandering feet at Deadman’s Gulch; the man who brought you here, and by some secret hold—I know not what—on Don Juan’s past, persuaded him to assume to be your relation; this man Flynn, this Jackson Brant the gambler, this Hamilton Brant the outlaw—was your father! Ah, yes! Weep on, my son; each tear of love and forgiveness from thee hath vicarious power to wash away his sin.”
With a single sweep of his protecting hand he drew Clarence towards his breast, until the boy slowly sank upon his knees at his feet. Then, lifting his eyes towards the ceiling, he said softly in an older tongue, “And thou, too, unhappy and perturbed spirit, rest!”
It was nearly dawn when the good Padre wiped the last tears from Clarence’s clearer eyes. “And now, my son,” he said, with a gentle smile, as he rose to his feet, “let us not forget the living. Although your step-mother has, through her own act, no legal claim upon you, far be it from me to indicate your attitude towards her. Enough that you are independent.” He turned, and, opening a drawer in his secretaire, took out a bank-book, and placed it in the hands of the wondering boy.
“It was his wish, Clarence, that even after his death you should never have to prove your kinship to claim your rights. Taking advantage of the boyish deposit you had left with Mr. Carden at the bank, with his connivance and in your name he added to it, month by month and year by year; Mr. Carden cheerfully accepting the trust and management of the fund. The seed thus sown has produced a thousandfold, Clarence, beyond all expectations. You are not only free, my son, but of yourself and in whatever name you choose—your own master.”
“I shall keep my father’s name,” said the boy simply.
“Amen!” said Father Sobriente.
Here closes the chronicle of Clarence Brant’s boyhood. How he sustained his name and independence in after years, and who, of those already mentioned in these pages, helped him to make or mar it, may be a matter for future record.