Where the reader meets Father Paul-Michel Lamy, parish priest of Castroville, and with his sacristan Frasquito d’Assis.
Texas, now part of the Confederation of the United States of the North, to which it freely gave itself after having, in 1845, separated from Mexico, is still, at the time of writing these pages , one of the least known countries of America.
His name is Indian; it means, in the Aztec language, an abundant place of game . Let us hasten to see that this name is deserved; few countries have such rich hunts.
Texas has about 160,000 square kilometers. Its population is far from responding to its extent, though; after its annexation to Mexico and the various events which, in recent years, have focused attention on this country, the number of its inhabitants, not to mention, of course, the Comanche, Apache and other independent Indians, who have not never allowed to be counted by anyone, does not amount to more than 600,000 souls, even if it reaches this figure.
Here is the exact position of Texas: it is bounded on the south by the Gulf of Mexico; on the east by the Sabina River, which separates it from Louisiana; to the north by the Red River, Arkansas and Indian Territory; to the northwest by New Mexico and to the west by the Rio Grande, otherwise known as Río Bravo Del Norte.
If we refer to the innumerable names that embellish the geographical maps with pleasure, this country would possess a considerable number of rich and grazing cities. Unfortunately, fiction, when visiting this country, does not take long to make room for a sad reality, and we quickly realize that, apart from five or six cities really worthy of the name, and called in the near future to take a great development, all the others are only wretched agglomerations of rickety cottages, built without order, without taste, in positions often very badly chosen, without communications between them, and which, in France, would not even pass for big towns.
In short, and in any case, this country is one of the most beautiful in America. The fertility of its soil is extraordinary, its vegetation of incredible power; it is covered with admirable forests, composed of the most remarkable species, and when this country is cleared by the clearings and a well-understood canalization, one will enjoy an excessively healthy and almost temperate climate on the coasts, because of the breezes of sea.
On September 5, 1846, that is, about a year after the annexation of Texas to the United States, all day the heat had been stifling, the atmosphere heavy and charged with electricity. Towards evening, the sky had taken a coppery hue, and although there was not a breath in the air, the trees and plants seemed agitated with chills incomprehensible to anyone other than a man born in the country. Everything foreshadowed one of those sudden hurricanes named Cordazos , who suddenly jump out of the Rocky Mountains and, in a few hours, completely overthrow the area on which they spread their ravages.
It was eight o’clock in the evening. In a miserable hut built in mud, disjointed and open to all winds, composed of two rooms and surmounted by an attic, a man was sitting on a stool in front of a lame table, one of whose feet, the shortest, was wedged by a stone, and ate a meager pittance composed of a haunch of dried deer and wild salad, for lack of oil, seasoned with milk.
This hovel, which was, however, the most beautiful in the city of Castroville, was the presbytery; the man who ate, the priest.
The city of Castroville, since this is its title, is a miserable village composed of sixty houses more dilapidated and poorly maintained than each other, and about a hundred jacals and Indian ranchos .
For many years now, the French Foreign Missions, with a devotion and modesty that are unknown and can not be over-honored, maintain in this country and in many others a considerable number of priests who with selflessness, patience, and unswerving charity, strive to teach the poor and disinherited inhabitants of these countries the principles of our holy religion and to develop their intelligence by teaching them to read, write, and even sew , weave, plow, etc., etc.
The house in which we introduced the reader was built with great difficulty by two French priests who, for this occasion, improvised architects, pioneers, masons, locksmiths, carpenters and even painters, all almost without tools or using those they themselves had made.
One of these two priests, too weak for such hard labor, was dead to grief; he had been buried by his companion, almost as ill as he was, in the little garden adjoining the little house, where his tomb, surmounted by a modest wooden cross, was almost entirely disappeared under a jumble of roses, jasmine, Spain and fragrant resedas. The survivor had been transported dying to Galveston, where he had returned two months after the last sigh.
Of these priests, one was twenty-five, the other barely twenty-three.
We will abstain from any comment. The history of the French missions teems with these painful episodes.
The cure of Castroville, whom we have left to eat his meager supper, and who for the past two months had succeeded the two dead missionaries, who, so unfortunately, was a young man of only twenty-five years of age, but who could have been give more than thirty. His height was high, his shoulders broad, his appearance vigorous; his face had a great purity of lines; his forehead was vast, indented at the temples; her blue eyes, wide open, looked in the face, with an expression of ineffable sweetness mingled with indomitable energy. His straight nose with movable wings, his cheekbones a little prominent, his mouth lined with magnificent teeth and half-opened by a smile full of kindness; his chin, separated by a dimple, but square, made him one of the most sympathetic physiognomies that could be imagined,
His costume consisted only of a cassock in black serge, gleaming with dilapidation, patched up in a thousand places, which undoubtedly covered much more miserable clothes. A flap of muslin, slightly starched, and of a brilliant whiteness, completed this costume of a primitive, truly apostolic simplicity.
This young priest was known at Castroville, of which all the inhabitants adored him, under the name of the abbot Paul-Michel Lamy; the Spaniards named him indifferently Don Pablo or el señor Cura Miguel.
At that moment, the Abbe Michel was quietly supping while reading his breviary, which was open on the table beside him, without thinking of the storm which was rapidly approaching; the wind was beginning to push its mournful complaints through the badly joined doors; At intervals the muffled rumblings of distant thunder were heard.
The door of the room in which the priest was sitting opened slowly and as if thrust by a timid hand. A man appeared, hesitantly passing his head through the opening of the door. This man looked around furtively, then entered the room.
He held in his hand one of those smoking lamps called candles , which are used exclusively by the poor in this country. He placed this candle on the table, beside the priest, and remained motionless, silent, arms folded on his chest and eyes down, probably waiting for the orders of his superior.
This individual, dressed in a miserable cloth mop, stained with fat and patched in many places, short hair, bare feet in alpargatasworn and too large, obviously belonged to the Indian race. He had one of those gentle, timid faces, to whom the habit of a long subjection has removed all expression, except that of passive obedience and almost unconscious devotion, if we are permitted to make use of this expression, a little risky perhaps, but which perfectly renders our thought; and yet, in the radiance of that dead eye, which awoke at certain hours, in the commissures of those discolored and pinched lips, there was that feeling of native cunning and sly trickiness that one almost always encounters on the masking masks of slaves, courtiers or jesters.
Small and counterfeit, almost hunchbacked, his arms were much too long for his size; yet he was light, ingambe, seemed endowed with an almost Herculean force, and, by a strange oddity of nature, which only likes in contrasts, his voice was soft, musical and covered all the tones of the chromatic scale with sounds of strange and striking harmony; resembling a bird’s song rather than a human voice. It was a poor child found, collected by pity and brought up by the French archbishop of Galveston; his name was Francis of Assisi and he was the sacristan of Father Michel. The people who knew him never called him anything but Frasquito.
The young priest raised his head, thanked his servant with a smile and said to him by closing his breviary:
-It is nothing new in the city, Frasquito?
“Forgive me, father,” replied the sacristan; there is a lot of new, on the contrary.
-Really! Take a chair, Frasquito; sit down beside me, and open your bag for news.
-My father … whispered the sacristan with humility.
“Sit down, I will,” said the priest, with gentle insistence.
“I sat down to obey you, father.
He took a chair, drew it to the table and humbly rested on the edge.
“Poor and excellent creature,” said the Abbe Michel, speaking rather to himself than addressing his interlocutor, in this almost savage country where both of us are called to live and perhaps to die, must not- we do not consider ourselves two friends, like two brothers? Is everything, joy, misery and pain not common between us? Are not we alone in understanding each other? Does not Christian humility require equality when there is equality of feelings, community of devotion? Leave, then, my poor child, that servile respect with which you have been so long made a law; see in me only a brother, that is to say, an equal, since we are both associated to accomplish the same task; say the graces with me, my child.
-Do you want to know the true truth, my father?
“Yes, because I do not know any other.
Yesterday’s visit to the new German settlers, my father, and the one you made today to the Irish battalion soldiers who arrived for two days from San Antonio, and camped out of the city, have seems, very seriously indisposed against you the commander Edward’s Strum. You are not ignorant, my father, “he added, with a cunning accent of delicacy,” that it is not for nothing that Commander Edward’s has been nicknamed the Storm ; it is as bright as powder, and if I were allowed to say all my thoughts, I would add …
“Speak without fear, my child,” said the priest placidly.
“Well, father, since you allow me to, I’ll add that he’s mean as a red donkey.” It is a Yankee in all the strength of the term; a fierce, intolerant, vain Protestant; you can not imagine, my father, the annoyances and humiliations with which he has crushed the reverend fathers Didier and Urbain, your predecessors.
“I know everything that happened, my child,” said Father Michel sadly.
-If they died, it is he alone who killed them; he is terrible, especially after his dinner, when he has absorbed three or four measures of whiskey, and he has been fed with rare meat. The commander swore by blasphemy like a pagan, according to his custom, that he would come in person to order you to cease your Catholic propaganda, that he would be able to force you to obey him, as he has forced all those who came before you to Castroville.
-Is that all you have to say to me, my child?
“Yes, father, but I tremble at the thought of danger threatening you.
“You are wrong, Frasquito; the master whom I serve will protect me and defend me; I do not know what will be the result of Commander Edward’s Strum’s visit, but I can tell you in advance that he will not kill me, as he has done to our unfortunate brethren, and that he will compel me not to obey him. So, rest assured, my child.
At this moment the rapid galloping of several horses was heard outside, and several hurried blows were struck against the door of the house.
– To open, Frasquito. Hurry, there is no doubt some unfortunate man who is asking for help; you must not make him wait, said the priest.
The sacristan rose and went out.