Summary and Analysis
The Gadsden Purchase expands Latour's diocese into Western New Mexico and Arizona, prompting Rome to send Vaillant to a conference of Mexican Bishops of Chihuahua, a journey of 4,000 miles on horseback. It is 1858, and Vaillant is gone for nearly a year. He contracts malaria and is not able to travel past Arizona. Latour and Jacinto travel to Arizona to bring him back.
Latour's illness allows him to spend the month of May in Santa Fe. The Bishop's fruit trees are in bloom. Latour's garden is his only recreation, and it is the perfect place for Vaillant to recuperate. Vaillant selects the month of May as his personal holy month because it is the month of Mary, and this is the first year he can spend the entire month in contemplation of the Blessed Mother. Vaillant believes all the significant moments of his life happened in May. He remembers how difficult it was for him to leave his family and home in France, how Latour helped him, and how he, in turn, has been able to help Latour in his work in the new diocese.
Latour confesses he wishes Vaillant will stay in Santa Fe because he misses his company. Vaillant replies that his vocation is to save lost Catholics. Vaillant commends the Mexicans for being like little children who need encouragement. Vaillant tells Latour about a Pima Indian, who took Vaillant to a cave where his tribe has hidden artifacts for celebrating the Mass. The Pimas have hidden the articles to protect them from hostile Apaches. Vaillant wants to uncover the hidden treasures of faith in the Mexican people. Latour responds that he needs Vaillant, too, but he relinquishes his desire because duty requires it.
Magdalena appears to feed the doves and pick flowers. She has recovered her beauty and vitality. Latour says he thinks she might marry again, but Vaillant says she has had enough trouble.
Whereas Fray Baltazar grew fruit trees for his own enjoyment and at the expense of the Indian women who tended his orchard with hard labor, Latour grows fruit for the nutritional value it has for all who wish to partake of it. Also, Baltazar used the Catholic faith to enslave the superstitious Indians, while Latour bestows Catholicism on his diocese to liberate them.
Although both priests are depicted as being strong in faith, Cather goes to some lengths to depict their humanity. Vaillant is physically unattractive and emotional. Latour, on the other hand, is handsome and stoic. Despite his stoicism, Latour is lonely during his friend's extended absences. He would like nothing more than to deny Vaillant his vocation to save lost souls in Arizona in return for his friend's companionship. The two priests balance each other.
The appearance of Magdalena contrasts with the devotion to Mary. Whereas Mary was virginal and pure, Magdalena has been defiled and witness to the sinful acts of Buck Scales. But in the month of Mary, Magdalena appears as devout and innocent. The intercession of Latour and Vaillant has ensured her mortal and eternal salvation.