Death Comes for the Archbishop
The Bishop sat drinking his coffee slowly out of the tin cup, keeping the pot near the embers. The sun had set now, the yellow rocks were turning grey, down in the pueblo the light of the cook fires made red patches of the glassless windows, and the smell of pinon smoke came softly through the still air. The whole western sky was the colour of golden ashes, with here and there a flush of red on the lip of a little cloud. High above the horizon the evening-star flickered like a lamp just lit, and close beside it was another star of constant light, much smaller.
Jacinto threw away the end of his cornhust cigarette and again spoke without being addressed.
"The ev-en-ing-star," he said in English, slowly and somewhat sententiously, then relapsed into Spanish. "You see the little star beside, Padre? Indians call him the guide."
The two companions sat, each thinking his own thoughts as night closed in about them: a blue night set with stars, the bulk of the solitary mesas cutting into the firmament. The Bishop seldom questioned Jacinto about his thoughts or beliefs. He didn't think it polite, and he believed it to be useless. There was no way in which he could transfer his own memories of European civilization into the Indian mind, and he was quite willing to believe that behind Jacinto there was a long tradition, a story of experience, which no language could translate to him. A chill came with the darkness. Father Latour put on his old fur-lined cloak, and Jacinto, lossening the blanket tied about his loins, drew it up over his head and shoulders.
Death Comes for the Archbishop has been on my shelf for a really long time. I found it at the library book sale and put it out on the hallway stacks and forgot about it. One of the benefits of having no money in the book budget is that I have started noticing all the stories on my shelves that are waiting to be read. And this is a real gem.
From the book flap: "There is something epic - and almost mythic - about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert."
I've never been enamoured by the desert's beauty, but Cather's writing has changed that. Her elegant sentences are saturated with details of the southwestern landscape. She has you feeling the rain pelting down, smelling the warmth of a desert sunset, and seeing the vibrant reds and penetrating blues of the rocks and skies. The quiet of the surroundings are matched by the quiet life of this faithful Padre.
And the daily steps of that man, his relationships and work and musings, are set to a gentle cadence with nothing hurried.
Death does come for the Archbishop, but not before you have a chance to love him and the desert vistas where he ministers, and to admire his steadfast work and his consistent faith.