Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton - The Isle of Skulls

The good priests of Santa Barbara sat in grave conference on the long corridor of their mission. It was a winter's day, and they basked in the sun. The hoods of their brown habits peaked above faces lean and ascetic, fat and good-tempered, stern, intelligent, weak, commanding. One face alone was young.
But for the subject under discussion they would have been at peace with themselves and with Nature. In the great square of the mission the Indians they had Christianized worked at many trades. The great aqueduct along the brow of one of the lower hills, the wheat and corn fields on the slopes, the trim orchards and vegetable gardens in the canons of the great bare mountains curving about the valley, were eloquent evidence of their cleverness and industry. From the open door of the church came the sound of lively and solemn tunes: the choir was practising for mass. The day was as peaceful as only those long drowsy shimmering days before the Americans came could be. And yet there was dissent among the padres.
Several had been speaking together, when one of the older men raised his hand with cold impatience.
"There is only one argument," he said. "We came here, came to the wilderness out of civilization, for one object only--to lead the heathen to God. We have met with a fair success. Shall we leave these miserable islanders to perish, when we have it in our power to save?"
"But no one knows exactly where this island is, Father Jimeno," replied the young priest. "And we know little of navigation, and may perish before we find it. Our lives are more precious than those of savages."
"In the sight of God one soul is of precisely the same value as another, Father Carillo."
The young priest scowled. "We can save. They cannot."
"If we refuse to save when the power is ours, then the savage in his extremest beastiality has more hope of heaven than we have."

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Image taken from here

Book Choice: The Californians

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