THE GOOD ALMONER'S HAT
 BEING a letter to Maria Lopez, in the hamlet of Cinco Cantonadas, from her son, at the
Archiepiscopal Palace in Valencia.
The 14th day of December, in the year of our Lord 1545
MI MADRE QUERIDA,
As soon as Sebastian, who tells me that he is to pass through our village on his way to
Valladolid, shall give thee this letter from thy nino, I know well that thou wilt
hasten with it held close to thy heart to the house of Padre Emilio, that he may read it
to thee. I here, therefore, express my thanks to the reverend Padre and my greetings and
all good wishes for his welfare—and desire him to be assured that for him as well as
for thee this letter is destined.
And thou, little mother, how is it with thee? Hast thou wondered why thou didst not for so
long have word of thy son?
Ah—didst thou but know how full and how engrossing is the life in this great city!
And how many the tasks that fill my days in the service of my beloved master, thou wouldst
not marvel that the time has been long before leisure permits me to write thee. Add to
this the difficulty in finding a messenger, and thou wilt forgive. But now the opportunity
offers, and I take the hour even from my duties.
Madre mia—what grandeur and what festivities when we first arrived in this
city! I was still bewildered with the surprise of the honour done me by our adored friend
 and patron, the Senorito Thomas (for so I know thou dost in thy heart ever think of
him—even as I do—though he has become a personage so high in honours and of so
wide renown), that in the first days I could scarce take account of what was passing round
me. That he should have chosen me among all to serve and follow him thither! But now all
things have become customary and I can see them as they are.
I will not tell thee of the magnificent ceremony by which my master was ordained
Archbishop in the great Cathedral. I will reserve all that until we meet. But mighty
personages were there—none less than our Emperor Carlos IV, and Don Felipe his son,
and many noble dignitaries of the Church. And I will say with pride that my master is dear
to the heart of our Emperor, whose will it was that he be made Archbishop, even though he
himself would far rather have remained Prior in Salamanca to the end.
He is still the same as he was of yore, modest and humble in mind and deportment. Not all
the heaped honours and fortunes of the world could change him. He is still the same as
when, but a little lad, he parted his garments on that cold day in January between the
four of us ragged urchins who shivered in the Square, Jose and Manuel, Carlos and I. And
his cloak and cap he gave to me—thou dost remember—and the next day thou didst
bid me take back the cloak, and for that his mother, Donna Lucia Martinez of blessed
memory, did us all those great benefits, the results of which are that I am here at this
moment, and writing to thee with my own hand, when I might otherwise have remained ragged
And the cap he gave me on that day I know thou dost still treasure. The cap which shaded
and protected the most dear and beloved head that earth has ever seen!
 Padre Emilio must forgive me if this is idolatry—it is my love that speaks.
But I was telling thee of the humility which in this great good man is so boundless that
there are times when I—a sinner—am almost driven to impatience by it. By it
and by the generosity which knows no limit, and which results in
want—yea—Mother, actual need for him—my saintly master. Still—what
should one look for in the son of such parents? When father and mother vie with each other
in good deeds, distributing food among the poor in times of want, giving them seed for
their fields in time of plenty, lending money to the needy out of their none too plentiful
store and without thought of usury. . . . And yet—I believe that had his parents
been the last among creatures, this most charitable of men must still have been the
benefactor of all.
When we left Salamanca to come here, I could have wished that he had thought well of
purchasing some fresh raiment wherewith to make a good appearance when he arrived to take
on his new honours, fine apparel to set off the dignity of his pale and delicate features,
to enhance the lustre of his dark eyes—(What do I say! I babble like a foolish
girl!) But no . . . he would not hear of it. He came clad in his old cassock. Of small
avail was it to brush and clean it as best I might, it still was worn and discoloured. Yet
he felt it sufficient for his wants.
And then his hat! Oh, Madre mia! It was his hat especially which gave me
sharp distress. It was the same, the very same, that Don Alphonso Garcia, his father, gave
him when the Senorito Thomas left home to go take the habit and vows of the Hermits of St
Austin in Salamanca.
Alas—that hat! In vain I remonstrated with him. With all of us who knew him it
mattered not at all what he should choose to set upon his venerated head.
 But in Valencia, where he was about to appear among the proud and the mighty, would he not
be misjudged, appearing in such headgear? And he pensively examined the hat I dared to
deride to him, and then with a smile so seraphic that when one sees it one thinks only of
heaven, he said: "What ails the hat? It is good—I see in it no holes. Must I cast it
off when it has been my friend for so many seasons, shielded my head from sun and wind and
rain so faithfully? Nay—I will wear this hat!"
But, Madre, this was not all.
His poverty when we arrived was so visible that I saw, when I attended him in public and
at gatherings, that many remarked upon it—prelates clad in silks and velvets,
covered with furs and with gems. Not only were their eyes and their countenances
expressive of their thoughts, but some behind their hands and behind my master's back
spoke their surprise—and I fear in derision—which made the blood rush to my
As a result, however, the Canons of the Cathedral collected and presented him with a
purse, an ample purse of 4000 crowns wherewith to purchase an outfit becoming to one of
his exalted station.
I smile awry when I remember my joy at that event. A joy doomed to short life, for my
master had no sooner received and thanked its donors for the gift than he called to me:
"Quick, be off to the hospital where we went to visit the sick on Friday. Quickly
go—and give this sum to the almoner."
"Alas, my Father!" I cried, "and your equipment I"
"I need none," he replied.
"A cassock and a warm cloak," I pleaded.
"The old ones will do."
"But the hat! A new hat, I conjure you!"
To that he made no answer. He only smiled like the angels, and with a gesture dismissed
 And that is the way it is, Madre mia. So it is with the good—they are also
the strong. And they carry their resolutions to the end, when you and I falter and halt by
the way. My master is mild and gentle as the lamb, but when I am tried by his obduracy in
denying himself not alone the commodities but the very necessities of life, Satan tempts
me to call his resistance to my entreaties by the name of the stubbornness of the mule.
God forgive me—this is blasphemy! For if ever there lived one who deserved to be
canonized a Saint on earth and in heaven it is my master, and, hear my prophecy, the world
of men will yet know him as St Thomas de Villanueva, or perhaps—the Good Almoner, as
he is already lovingly named by many.
Wonderful are the things he has so soon achieved since his accession to the rule of this
see, for he immediately determined to devote two thirds of the great revenues to acts of
charity. These he has planned and classified in a manner all his own, as you shall see:
the poor, whom he loves as his own soul, nay, more, he has divided into six groups. First
among these he places those whom he defines as the bashful poor, those who have seen
better times, and with the self-respecting pride of their former station are ashamed to
beg. His tenderness of the wounds dealt to these by ill fortune it were impossible to
Next in order are the maidens whose need may force them into the path of temptation and
Third come the poor debtors.
Fourth, the orphans and foundlings.
Fifth, the sick, the diseased, and infirm.
Thou seest, good Mother, how he has almost reversed the customary order of attention, and
thou mayest divine the reason: are not the lame, the halt, and blind the care of all men?
And do not orphans touch the heart of all good people? But who, before this, has
 had eyes to search out the claims of the shy and ashamed, of the helpless maidens and
Lastly, he has set apart a sum for the strangers who come within Valencia's gates. The
travellers who arrive from a distance and are unknown, who have no place wherein to lay
their heads, nor the means to procure for themselves food. For them he has opened a
kitchen, where travellers may come at all hours of the night or day; where all may be fed,
and all claim a lodging for the night. Furthermore: on their departure, if so be their
purses are empty, a gratuity is allowed to each, either to carry him farther on his
journey, or to aid him in finding occupation if he remain.
Madre querida, I ask—is it not well done? And has not the Great God been good
to me, thy son, that He has caused me to pass my days by the side and in the service of
one so holy, that my heart which might otherwise have been hard and self-seeking is kept
tender and warm by association with this beneficent man?
And now I have written at great length, concerning that which is near to my heart and
present in every hour of my life, and have made no inquiries as to thee and all those at
But good Padre Emilio will perhaps write what thou shalt tell him, and that letter
Sebastian will bring back to me in the spring, on his return from his long journey.
God have thee in His care.
THY SON WHO LOVES THEE.
I would add one little word: the hat of which I speak is even now upon the Archbishop's
head. He has this morning gone to the prison, where through the gaoler he finds ways of
relieving much pain and sorrow. The hat has now begun its twenty-seventh year of service.
Were it not cause for tears if it were not so droll?
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