This novella is set in California in 1855. The protagonist is an aging Spanish priest who oversees one of the missions. The arrival of a young New Orleans aristocrat bound for the gold fields sets in motion a crisis of faith for the padre. In some ways it foreshadows Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. It is perhaps a quintessentially California work of fiction that deals with God, calling, and temptation.
Padre Ignacio has given his life to the missions in California, and he left behind all the good things of Parisan society to do it. After twenty years at the same place, serving the same people, he becomes restless and spends much of his freetime watching the ocean - hoping that he can spot the sails of the barkenine from Europe that annually brings him news, mail, and his beloved opera music. The struggle between his desire to return to Europe and his sense of religious calling to serve the people he has come to care for brings him to the brink of despair: "'There is no help in Earth or Heave,' [Father Ignacio said]." Then he receives word from a dying young man whom he had attempted to teach the virtue of contentment through renunciation - and finds it himself. The charming little story is an honest portrayal of the religious life.