Summary and Analysis
Book 1: Chapter 2
The Mexican village that Latour is led to by his horses is called Aqua Secreta, or Hidden Water. He is hosted by the kindly Benito and his family. Benito tells Latour that the Virgin Mary must have led the priest from his path in order for him to baptize the village children and sanctify the marriages. Many of the marriages in the village have not been blessed by Catholic clergy due to the expense charged by the priest in Albuquerque.
The people of the village are distrustful of the American government. They believe that their land will be taken from them. Benito's eldest grandson, Jose, tells Latour that he does not consider the people of the village to be American, and that he considers Americans to be infidels. Latour disputes this belief, telling Jose that many Americans in the north are devout Catholics. Jose says that Americans destroyed Catholic churches in the war with Mexico. Because they are simple folk and cannot grasp new or contrary ideas, Latour cannot reassure them that the American government will not take away their land or their religion.
The following day, Latour performs Catholic sacraments of confession, baptism, confirmation, and marriage. A celebration is held afterward, and Latour sets out on a solitary walk. He witnesses the release of the goats to the pasture. He meditates by the river, thinking of the trials he faces when he returns to Santa Fe. The priest who had challenged his authority, Father Martinez, must be dealt with upon Latour's return.
Latour retires for the evening, contemplating that Father Vaillant would call Latour's discovery of Hidden Water a miracle. Before Vaillant is introduced, the reader is given a glimpse into the priest's view of the world. Latour believes Vaillant "must always have the miracle very direct and spectacular, not with Nature, but against it.
Cather provides details of the natives of New Mexico. They are devout, but their religion has been corrupted by superstition because there have been no priests to instruct them on their faith. Even Josepha, the young woman confirmed by Latour, asks him if he elects to eat his mutton without chili because it is more pious. He assures her that is only because he is French, and that Frenchmen do not partake of spicy foods. The unavailability of a priest in the region has also caused the veneration of saints to be corrupted. Saint Santiago, for example, has become the patron saint of horses in the New World, despite the fact that the missionary never rode a horse in his life. Latour is told that Saint Santiago's blessing makes the mares more fertile. From the hidden waters, Latour derives strength. He sees Hidden Water as a miniature of his Vicarate and feels confident to tackle the troubles at Santa Fe and the rebellious Father Martinez at Taos.
Latour is developing a deep respect for the New Mexico natives. He admires their austerity, and their ability to remain devout despite the unavailability of a priest. He compares them to the Israelites.