THERE was once a certain parish priest named Don Toribio, who presided over the spiritual wants of Zarzalejo, to the parochial benefice of which place he had been presented. What we have to relate of him does not reflect much credit upon the man, but it in no way dishonours the sacerdotal office; it is the man only, and not the priest or his class, that is brought into contempt.
Don Toribio was very stout, probably resulting from the fact that he had little to do, as Zarzalejo was a very little place, containing only twenty-four inhabitants, all poor agricultural labourers who did not much wish for his ministrations. Occasionally he attended the conferences which the clergy of the district held in Cabezuela, which was a neighbouring town, and he was always enjoined by the president to study something or the other; but Don Toribio, instead of spending his unoccupied time in study, passed it in riding hither and thither on Moro, a very fine ass, that had been brought up from infancy in the priest’s house, where it had been taught a number of tricks that delighted its master and often made him laugh heartily.
The parish church of Zarzalejo was as bright as a silver plate, and everything in it was as “neat as a new pin;” this, however, was. not due to the priest, but to Pedro, who was both sacristan and acolyte (monaguillo), and a very shrewd fellow into the bargain.
One day Pedro had a very interesting conversation with his father, Robustiano.
“Father,” said Pedro, “I am getting too old for an acolyte. The other day, when the bishop passed through this place, and I went from Don Toribio with Moro, in order to carry his Grace’s portmanteau to Cabezuela, we had some conversation together. Whilst his Grace rode along on his mule, I went on foot leading Moro.”
“‘In what condition is the church of Zarzalejo?’ inquired the bishop of me.
“‘Very good,’ I replied; ‘but has your Grace not seen it?’
“‘No; I have never yet had time to stop in Zarzalejo; but next year, D.V., I will pay it a pastoral visit, and shall then see the church.’
“‘Then I am certain your Grace will be pleased with it; for, although it is not my place to say so, you will be able to see your face in any part of it. Every day I give all the saints such a shaking, to free them from dust, that the very church trembles/
“‘Are you the sacristan, then?’
“‘Sacristan and acolyte, at your Grace’s service.’
“‘Sacristan, man, is all very well; but you are too old for an acolyte.’
“‘But who is to be it?”
“‘Not you, man. Acolytes should be boys, whose innocent and infantile faces remind one of the angels; and nothing can be more improper than for the post to be filled by a shepherd with a beard as long as a goat’s.’
“Thus said the bishop; and if he said so a few days ago, what would he say if he found me in the same position in a twelvemonth’s time?”
“You are right, son, and so is his Grace,” replied Robustiano.
“And what do you think I had better do?”
“Tell the priest that you must resign your post, and come and work in the fields with me.
“But, father——I am so fond of the church.”
“We are all fond of the Church, son, because in it God gives the poor and afflicted that hope and comfort which is denied by man.”
“Yes; but that is not exactly what I meant to imply.”
“Then, if not, what the dickens did you mean?”
“That I wish to become parish priest of Zarzalejo.”
“Do you jest with me, lad? You know that I have a heavy fist.”
“But, father, there is no harm in my wish.”
“But there is plenty of impossibility. To be ordained curate, you would have to be very good and wise in everything; besides, where the dickens are you going to get the wherewithal to follow such a profession?”
“If you would only make some sacrifice in order to help me, I would make such progress that in a few years no one in Zarzalejo would dare to call you old Robustiano.”
“Who the dickens does call me that?”
“We shall see; that fellow is capable of anything…..But, lad, who has promised you the benefice of Zarzalejo?”
“There would be no difficulty about that, father, because the curacy of Zarzalejo is parochial, and there is no fear that any one would dispute it with me.”
“Well, lad, we won’t talk any more of the subject now; but I would part with the clothes off my back to see you become priest. Tomorrow we will go to see the schoolmaster of Cabezuela, and you shall stay there to study Latin, which is the first and foremost thing to be learnt in order to say mass. But, woe betide you if you do not study diligently; because if you don’t, I’ll let you taste the stick about your back, and you know my hand is not a light one.”
Pedro jumped for joy on hearing this, and ran off to place the resignation of his duties in the priest’s hands.
Don Toribio became very melancholy when he heard that Pedro was studying for a curacy; even his favourite avocations of jaunting about on Moro, and teaching the animal tricks, grew tedious and wearied him. And that the distraction of the unfortunate priest was not without reason this soliloquy proves:—
“That Pedro,” said he to himself, “is as cunning as a fox; he will soon become a priest, and obtain this benefice, dispossessing me, and I shall again have to go through all the troubles of getting a new appointment. It will be impossible for me to oppose him, for I do not know an iota of Latin; and frankly, to study does not suit me. It is a fatality that I should have a horror of books, but what can I do? Every one has his forte. That rascal of a Pedro, who so longs to be a priest, as if to be it one had nothing to do but to tumble into the surplice and spend one’s life in luxury. Well, well, my lad, if you become parish priest 'of Zarzalejo, there is no cunning left in this roguish Spain!”
Every day Don Toribio soliloquized in a similar fashion, trying by all the few ideas he possessed to discover some means of inducing | Pedro to abandon the ecclesiastical career. One day, whilst he was worrying over his troubles, Robustiano presented himself and said that he wished to have a few words with him.
“You know already, sir,” said the farmer to Don Toribio, “that Pedro has been upwards of six months in Cabezuela, learning Latin, with the view of becoming a priest, because, as it appears, he has taken a fancy to enter the Church.”
“Yes, I know it, and I am much afraid the lad is losing his time, because there is so much to be learnt before one can be ordained.”
“That is what I am also afraid of, Senor Cura; I came, therefore, to ask you if, when the lad comes home for the vacation, you will kindly examine him, without letting him know what you are about, and tell me the result privately. If he is not really making any progress I will give him a thorough flogging, and set him to work in the fields with me; it is no good wasting any more time if the lad is not diligent, or is a dolt by nature.”
“You are right, man,” responded Don Toribio, “and reason like a good father. I will take an opportunity of examining Pedro without letting him know what I am about, and will tell you frankly how he acquits himself/'
After this conversation Robustiano took leave of the priest, satisfied that so clever a gentleman would be able to thoroughly test his son's progress.
Directly Pedro arrived at Zarzalejo he went to visit the priest; and as he saw Moro in the court before the house, he went to stroke him. Owing to his master’s bad temper, Moro had not received any caresses for some time past; so, when Pedro approached, he misunderstood his motives, and kicked at him with such force that, but for the lad’s agility, he would have come off sorely. Astonished at such a reception from an animal he had done many a good turn to, Pedro went on his way, murmuring:—
“I well deserve such treatment for forgetting that from asses one can expect nothing but kicks.”
The priest received him with much apparent affection, saying to him:—
“I thought, Pedro, you were going to salute me in Latin.”
“After a style, sir, I could have done so,” replied the youth modestly, “for I have worked as hard as possible; but I feared it would look arrogant.”
“Nonsense, man, there is no arrogance in knowing anything. Tell me in Latin how you have employed your time.”
The youth began, and frightened the priest with the volubility with which he explained himself. We say the “volubility,” and not the correctness, because Don Toribio only comprehended that he spoke fluently.
“And is that the Latin which you have learnt during the last half,” inquired the priest with a gesture of disapproval.
“Then it is a pity, my lad, that you have wasted your time.”
The lad, who justly believed that he had employed his time very well,—and, indeed, his tutor had told him so,—was sadly cut up by the priest’s sally, and returned home almost in tears.
Robustiano was not long in seeking the priest’s house, in order to learn what progress Pedro had made in Latin.
“Robustiano,” said the priest to him, as soon as he saw him, “I have bad news for you. The lad has returned more ignorant than he went away, because he does not know an iota of Latin, and has even forgotten the little he had learnt formerly by being so much with me.” “You have broken my heart with this news, sir,” exclaimed the poor man, putting his hand to his head to wipe away the perspiration that began to gather on his forehead.
“I feel for you greatly; but it was my duty to undeceive you, because it would not be doing you any good to let you go on sacrificing yourself for the lad.”
“By my life, when I get home, I, will not leave a whole bone in the rascal’s body.”
“Man, do not commit any barbarities!”
“Ah, you don’t know, Mr. Priest, what a fist I have got.”
“Let your fist rest, and follow my advice.”
“A thousand demons! Forgive my want of respect, sir; but I don’t know what I say. What would you have me do?”
“What I would have you do is, not to touch the lad, but instead of dedicating him to a profession for which he is not suited, dedicate him to agriculture, in which he will be able to become a man as skilled and respected as yourself.”
“I will try to follow your advice, sir; but——”
“There is no need of any but, Robustiano. You fancy that one can become a priest without any labour. Yet in order to become a priest one must learn a great deal. Now, only look at me! I am not one of the dullest, although it is scarcely right for me to say so; and yet there are priests who know more than I do.”
“Sir, that seems impossible!”
“There is nothing impossible. However, you see that your boy would not do for the clerical profession; so, instead of making a bad priest, make a good farmer of him.”
“Well, sir, frankly, I cannot answer for myself, because, as I have told you, I have a heavy fist——”
“No more of fists! Do not be so savage! In this world we are what God has made us, and not what we wish to be. To some He has given talent, and to others——"
“Very well, sir, we won’t say any more about that. I will do what you wish, because a poor stupid like I am does not know what to say to a gentleman so learned as you are. Many thanks for everything.”
“Don’t speak of it, Robustiano.”
And poor Robustiano went away from the priest’s house even more miserable than poor Pedro had from his visit. All his hopes of having a priest in his family had flown.
Robustiano had promised not to thrash the lad; but when Pedro, attempting to defend himself from the accusation that he did not know an iota of Latin, maintained that he knew at least as much as Don Toribio, and attempted to cast doubt upon the veracity and good faith of the priest whose words caused his father to make him abandon the ecclesiastical career and devote himself to agriculture, old Robustiano nearly lost all control over his temper, and scarcely restrained himself from breaking his stick over poor Pedro’s shoulders.
Several months passed by, and Pedro worked diligently in the fields by his father’s side; but he devoted all his leisure moments and not a few of his nights to the study of Latin, using for this purpose the books he had brought with him from Cabezuela.
One day Don Toribio received a letter from the bishop, announcing that his Grace intended to pay a pastoral visit to Zarzalejo, and naming the day when he would arrive. The bishop wished to pass the night at the priest’s residence, adding,—
“Pray do not put yourself out of the way to make any unusual preparations on my account. As regards meals, all that I have to tell you is, oirexis more parve” (i.e., my appetite for meat is small).
This was a most irritating letter for the priest. He could manage to spell out the Spanish words, but was completely fogged over the Latin.
“What the dickens does his Grace mean?” he exclaimed, as he wiped off the perspiration that came out on his brow as he tried to make out the meaning of those words, which I should have translated by, “I am very moderate in my appetite.” “And this cursed Latin,” he continued, “contains the most important part of the letter, because it explains what dish his Grace would like prepared for him. Orexis more parve——A thousand demons seize me if I can understand that! Orexis more——one would think he was speaking of Moro’s ears (orexas del Moro), but that is not possible! And who is there in this place knows any more of Latin than I do, save Pedro? And how can I ask him? He will certainly know; but how can I have the face to ask him? However, there is no help for it but to apply to him, though I must do it so skilfully that he will not be able to discover my object.”
So saying, he put the bishop’s letter into his pocket and went to the field where Pedro and his father were working.
“What is going on abroad, sir?” said Robustiano to him.
“I don’t know what is taking place abroad, but I have great news for Zarzalejo.”
Indeed! And what, may I ask, is that?” “That on the 24th, we shall have a visit from the bishop!”
“Ah, that is, indeed, news! But how do you know that?”
“Because I have received a letter from his Grace, announcing his visit, and informing me that he will stay at my house. Here is the bishop’s letter, which I would read to your scholar, but I have left my spectacles at home.” And the priest handed the letter to Pedro, who read it through rapidly. When he came to the Latin words, Don Toribio said to him with a gracious smile:—
“That is Greek for you, my lad.”
Pedro was no fool, and instantly divined what the priest was after, so he answered:—
“Thanks, sir, for the favour you have done me.”
“It is just, my son, that if I do not translate it, you should translate it, so that your father may understand it.”
“You are right, sir,” said Robustiano. “What do you say to that, fool?”
“His Grace says here, that he will be contented if Don Toribio will have the pair of Moro’s ears cooked for him.”
Robustiano was about to let Pedro feel his fist, when the priest stopped him, and said to the youth:—
“Are you certain of what you say?”
“As certain as you are that I do not know an iota of Latin. The thing could not possibly be clearer: orexis the ears (orexas); more, of Moro; parve, the pair (par)!”
“Well, friend Robustiano,” said the priest, “the lad has guessed the truth this time, despite his ignorance of Latin and the singularity of the bishop’s commission.”
“But is it possible that his Grace can have such a taste?”
“Friend, the letter speaks for itself.”
“And how does his Grace know that your ass is called Moro?'
“I can explain that,” said Pedro. “He must have heard me several times call it by name when I went with his Grace to Cabezuela.”
“One can see that these grandees,” said Robustiano, “don’t know what to eat, if they tickle their palates with such filth.”
Pedro was not badhearted, but he could not withstand the temptation of repaying the two blows he had received, the one from Moro, and the other from the priest.
Finally, the bishop arrived at Zarzalejo, and was welcomed gaily by the people of the village and its vicinity, headed by Don Toribio. Pedro and his father also went to receive his Grace.
It was usual for the priest to receive the bishop at the doors of the church; but as the people here were all very primitive, the priest thought that he ought first to go forth to receive his Grace at the outskirts of the village and then proceed to the church in order to don his vestments, and give his bishop a clerical reception.
Honest Robustiano was extremely disgusted at hearing the priest and the schoolmaster felicitating the bishop upon his arrival in Spanish, and whispered to his son:—
“If you had not been such a confounded fool, you would have been able to-day, before all the people, to have congratulated the bishop in Latin!”
These words suddenly revealed to Pedro,—what he had never yet known,—how much sympathy his father had had with the object of his aspirations. On hearing them, he advanced towards the bishop and, without the slightest hesitation, addressed him in Latin.
His Grace was much surprised at hearing the lad express himself so excellently in Latin; and being a good classical scholar, and greatly attached to Latinity, was not able to refrain from giving the signal for the applause in which all the people heartily joined, in a few eulogistic words congratulating Zarzalejo upon the possession of a youth so well versed in the Latin tongue.
Upon hearing this, poor Robustiano was so overcome with joy and pride, that, without knowing what he was about, he embraced his son, and, flinging his hat into the air, called for cheers for his Grace. As for Don Toribio, he could scarcely dissimulate his vexation.
His Grace desired that Pedro might accompany him, not only to church, but also to dinner at the priest’s house. This new honour conferred upon his son quite transported Robustiano with joy, whilst all his neighbours congratulated him.
Upon their return from church, the bishop, his secretary, the priest, and Pedro seated themselves at the dinner-table; the last with much emotion and modesty, but without clumsiness.
The priest had provided an excellent repast for his guests, as was proved by the appetite and complacency with which his Grace and the secretary partook of it. The principal courses had all been discussed, and finally appeared the singular dish which, the priest believed, had been desired by the bishop.
His Grace and his secretary were helped, and began to eat it. The taste of the food seemed strange to them; and as they noticed that the priest and Pedro both politely declined partaking of that dish, the bishop inquired:—
“Don Toribio, what meat is this?”
“That, my Lord,” responded the priest, “is the dish which you especially asked for in your letter.”
“What do you mean, sir? I did not specify any particular meat”
“I have your Grace’s letter here,” said the priest, as he drew the bishop’s letter from his pocket. “Your Grace will see that in it you desired me to have Moro’s pair of ears cooked for you.”
“Moro! And what is that, man?”
“Moro is my saddle-ass.”
“Don Toribio, are you mad?”
“No, my Lord! your letter most explicitly says, ‘Orexis more parve.’”
If the house had fallen down, it could not have startled the bishop more than hearing such a translation of his words; and immediately he and the secretary began to feel very ill, because they had already taken a mouthful or so of the donkey’s ears.
Pedro was even more astounded than the priest at the results of his trick. Deeply ashamed, and penitent, he flung himself at the feet of the venerable prelate:—
“My Lord,” he exclaimed, “forgive Don Toribio, who is quite innocent of this miserable jest; I only am to blame.”
The bishop begged for an explanation of what looked like an unseemly piece of impertinence; but after he had listened to the lad’s excuses he comprehended the whole affair, he being as shrewd as he was prudent and benignant.
Soon afterwards the bishop started for Cabezuela, intending to sleep there, and not at Zarzalejo, as he had at first proposed. Before he departed he summoned the priest and Pedro, and said to them:—
“Don Toribio, you know well that Latin is the proper idiom for the Catholic Church, and yet you, who are one of the ministers of the Church, have forgotten that language; therefore, it is indispensable that you return to the seminary of this diocese in order to study it. You, Pedro, who aspire to be ordained, and to obtain the benefice of Zarzalejo, for the sake of a wretched trick have wandered from the right path. After you have obtained the consent and blessing of your father, you shall go with me, and I will try to guide you in the ecclesiastical career, since it seems Heaven calls you to it.”
Some few years later, Pedro became parish priest of Zarzalejo; and Don Toribio, who was living in a neighbouring town, studied like a demon in order to try for a benefice at Cabezuela.
“Ah!” he sighed, “if I were only a bishop I should find something better to do than merely give benedictions!”