Summary and Analysis
Latour and Jacinto set out at four in the morning. By afternoon, the travelers are in the midst of a blizzard. Jacinto leads Latour to a cave. Jacinto tells the bishop that the cave is a secret ceremonial place and that the bishop is to forget about it after they leave. Latour promises to do so. Beneath the cave is an underground river that makes a tremendous noise.
The next morning, the mules are gone. The pair walk through the snow to a cabin, where they rent mules. They arrive that evening to find Vaillant in better health. Vaillant tells them that Kit Carson had stopped to help him. Latour takes Vaillant back to Santa Fe.
Latour keeps his promise to never speak about the cave, but he remembers it with a sense of revulsion. Latour makes a point of meeting the white trader Zeb Orchard to ask about the customs of the Pecos Indians. Orchard tells Latour that the Indians keep a fire perpetually burning in a clay oven located within the Pueblo. He also tells Latour that he believes the Indians keep a "varmint" of no known species in the mountain. The varmint is taken out for religious ceremonies. Orchard tells Latour, "The things they value most are worth nothing to us. They've got their own superstitions, and their minds will go round and round in the same old ruts till Judgement Day." Latour responds that he respects the customs and traditions of the Indians, because he represents a religion (Catholicism) that also respects customs and traditions.
Orchard tells Latour of a memory from the trader's childhood. A young Indian woman brought her baby for Orchard's mother to hide. Her fear was that the Pecos Indians would feed the baby to the snake. Orchard emphasizes to Latour that it made no difference if it was true or not; what mattered was that the girl believed it.
Water symbolizes both passion and death in Cather's writing. In the first chapter, "Hidden Springs," the underground river rises to the surface to give life to the thirsty priest. In the cave, the power, passion, and life-giving force remains unseen and, thus, secret and terrible.
Latour's admiration for the Indian's love of tradition reflects Cather's personal feeling both for the Indians and the Catholic religion. Orchard sums up religious faith when he comments on the Indian religion: "Their priests have their own kind of mysteries. I don't know how much of it is real and how much is made up." What matters, he emphasizes, is that they believe in the mysteries.
cacique in Spanish America, an Indian chief or a local political boss.
kiva in a Pueblo Indian dwelling, a large room used for religious and other purposes.