Strife in the Sacristy (Homage to Horace Walpole) – by Chuck Teixeira

Brother William and Brother Santos were too much occupied with their own reflections, and too little content with each other, for further converse that night. They separated each to his cell, with more expressions of ceremony and fewer of affection than had passed between them since first days in seminary. Having parted with small cordiality, they met with greater impatience at dawn. Turmoil had excluded sleep, each recollecting questions he should have put to the other.

William ruminated that Santos had been delivered to safety by Father Heinrich, the visiting Bohemian missionary. Heinrich’s eyes, it was true, had fixed on William during Examination of Conscience the previous evening. But that might have disguised his passion for Santos.  Best to clear doubts at the start Advent, concluded William, merely wishing to know the truth, lest he do wrong by entertaining a passion for Santos’s lover. Thus, jealousy prompted and, at the same time, borrowed an excuse from friendship to justify its curiosity.

Santos, not less restless, had better foundation for his suspicions. Both tongue and eyes had betrayed that Heinrich’s heart was engaged elsewhere — perhaps with William. “Be it William or no,” Santos mulled in tortured thought, “can I stoop to seek the affection of a Heinrich, a man who, while saving my virtue and assuring me of his own, rudely and unnecessarily acquainted me with his indifference? And that at the very moment in which common courtesy demanded expressions of civility in abetting my escape from William’s uncle, Cardinal Sterling.

“Even if William prepossessed Heinrich’s heart,” Santos clung to hope, “perhaps William did not correspond in passion. William had ever appeared insensible to desire: all his thoughts were set on heaven. Why did I dissuade him from chastity?” Santos lashed himself. “I am punished for my generosity. It may be some other demon obstructs Heinrich from me. As consorts, all clergy are false, I will advise William, while urging him to take final vows.  He will rejoice to find me in this disposition; and I will acquaint him that I no longer oppose his inclination to renounce a university vocation in favor of a cloister far removed from Coimbra and its snares.” 

So inclined, Santos went to William’s cell.  He found his friend – more friend than rival he prayed – already cassocked and kneeling in blissful contemplation at his ornate, bejeweled prie-dieu. This attitude and display of wealth revived Santos’s suspicions.  Both blushed at meeting, and were too much novices to disguise their sensations with address. After some unmeaning questions and replies, William demanded the cause of Santos’s flight during confession of sins to Cardinal Sterling.  William also probed into Santos’s encounter with Heinrich.

“Your uncle imposed a penance I would rather die than perform,” Santos said.

“Unfortunate friend,” William said, “but not so unfortunate. Heaven has granted reprieve from the affection my uncle proposed to inflict.” 

“Yes,” Santos whispered devoutly, “Father Heinrich intervened in that moment, ostensibly at great risk.”

“So, in evading rape by a Cardinal, you have captured a lowly missionary’s heart.”

“Lowly you would not say had you attended last evening’s service,” Santos averred.  “Storming the pulpit, Heinrich shouldered his way through the heresy of consubstantiation and other Anglo errors. Then reaching the tabernacle, he showed how a real man consecrates a chalice and host.  Champion of transubstantiation, by the time Heinrich had finished at the altar, there was not a molecule left of bread or wine. It was all and only the body and blood of Christ.”

“Transubstantiation!” William scoffed, “a doctrine that denies the senses God gave us, grates on learned clergy and their worships broadly. Dynastic ties require my submission to the Cardinal, while base-born believers may wander in Papal wilderness.”

Base-born! Santos recoiled from the sting.  Yielding to William first in faith, then in love, whither would such submission conduct in matters of true import?  But painful humility and cognizance of station – or dissembling such virtues – might yet smooth William’s flinty heart. 

William continued, “I know not how your Heinrich presumed to thwart my uncle, but as the Cardinal’s injuries are slight and as Heinrich has served you, my family inclines to pardon him.”

“Served me?” replied Santos. “Do you term it service that Heinrich saved me only to blandish the Cardinal by suggesting to the entire community how, prompted by poverty, my desire to please my betters had provoked the confessional attack? No, William, my heart abhors both the man who pursued and the man who rescued me. And if you retain the friendship pledged from our first acquaintance, you will detest both agents of my misery.”

William bowed and replied, “Dearest Santos, doubt not the only love this heart will ever harbor or the vows engendered by that love.  Heinrich saw you first, and I am far from vain enough to think my little charms could lure him from you.  May you forgive his rough missionary ways, and eventually my uncle’s too. May you be happy, Santos, whatever William’s fate!”

“Noble William,” cried Santos, his heart battered too often to resist any kind expression, “it is you that Heinrich admires; I am persuaded of it. Nor shall a thought of my own happiness interfere with yours.”

This frankness drew tears from William. Rank and jealousy, which for a moment had frosted the young companions, gave way to the natural candor of their souls. Each cooed to the other the desires that Heinrich had aroused. This confidence provoked a struggle of generosity, each yielding his claim to the other. At length, the habit of low expectations and even lower self-esteem reminded Santos of Heinrich’s declining to return his grateful, careless caress and the preference seemingly declared for another.  He determined to abandon his own hopes for happiness; and concluding this contest of amity, ceded the beloved to his lofty Anglican friend.

Chuck Teixeira

Chuck Teixeira practiced law for many years in California. Now, he teaches English in Colombia.

His most recent collection of stories, Bad News from Bogota, is available at

One of Chuck’s longer stories, Westminster Academy, is being serialized on Kindle Vella