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Ramona

205

street scene including mission buildings

XIII.

The Señora Moreno had never before been so discomfited as in this matter of Ramona and Alessandro. It chafed her to think over her conversation with Felipe; to recall how far the thing she finally attained was from the thing she had in view when she began. To have Ramona sent to the convent, Alessandro kept as overseer of the place, and the Ortegna jewels turned into the treasury of the Church,—this was the plan she had determined on in her own mind. Instead of this, Alessandro was not to be overseer on the place; Ramona would not go to the convent: she would be married to Alessandro, and they would go away together; and the Ortegna jewels,—well, that was a thing to be decided in the future; that should be left to Father Salvierderra to decide. Bold as the Señora was, she had not quite the courage requisite to take that question wholly into her own hands.

One thing was clear, Felipe must not be consulted in regard to them. He had never known of them, and need not now. Felipe was far too much in sympathy with Ramona to take a just view of the situation. He would be sure to have a quixotic idea of Ramona’s right of ownership. It was not impossible that Father Salvierderra might have the same feeling. If so, she must yield; but that would go harder with her than all the rest. Almost the Señora would have been ready to keep the whole thing a secret from the Father, if he had not been at the time of the Señora Ortegna’s death fully informed of all the particulars 206 of her bequest to her adopted child. At any rate, it would be nearly a year before the Father came again, and in the mean time she would not risk writing about it. The treasure was as safe in Saint Catharine’s keeping as it had been all these fourteen years; it should still lie hidden there. When Ramona went away with Alessandro, she would write to Father Salvierderra, simply stating the facts in her own way, and telling him that all further questions must wait for decision until they met.

And so she plotted and planned, and mapped out the future in her tireless weaving brain, till she was somewhat soothed for the partial failure of her plans.

There is nothing so skilful in its own defence as imperious pride. It has an ingenious system of its own, of reprisals,—a system so ingenious that the defeat must be sore indeed, after which it cannot still find some booty to bring off! And even greater than this ingenuity at reprisals is its capacity for self-deception. In this regard, it outdoes vanity a thousand-fold. Wounded vanity knows when it is mortally hurt; and limps off the field, piteous, all disguises thrown away. But pride carries its banner to the last; and fast as it is driven from one field unfurls it in another, never admitting that there is a shade less honor in the second field than in the first, or in the third than in the second; and so on till death. It is impossible not to have a certain sort of admiration for this kind of pride. Cruel, those who have it, are to all who come in their way; but they are equally cruel to themselves, when pride demands the sacrifice. Such pride as this has led many a forlorn hope, on the earth, when all other motives have died out of men’s breasts; has won many a crown, which has not been called by its true name.

Before the afternoon was over, the Señora had her 207 plan, her chart of the future, as it were, all reconstructed; the sting of her discomfiture soothed; the placid quiet of her manner restored; her habitual occupations also, and little ways, all resumed. She was going to do “nothing” in regard to Ramona. Only she herself knew how much that meant; how bitterly much! She wished she were sure that Felipe also would do “nothing;” but her mind still misgave her about Felipe. Unpityingly she had led him on, and entangled him in his own words, step by step, till she had brought him to the position she wished him to take. Ostensibly, his position and hers were one, their action a unit; all the same, she did not deceive herself as to his real feeling about the affair. He loved Ramona. He liked Alessandro. Barring the question of family pride, which he had hardly thought of till she suggested it, and which he would not dwell on apart from her continuing to press it,—barring this, he would have liked to have Alessandro marry Ramona and remain on the place. All this would come uppermost in Felipe’s mind again when he was removed from the pressure of her influence. Nevertheless, she did not intend to speak with him on the subject again, or to permit him to speak to her. Her ends would be best attained by taking and keeping the ground that the question of their non-interference having been settled once for all, the painful topic should never be renewed between them. In patient silence they must await Ramona’s action; must bear whatever of disgrace and pain she chose to inflict on the family which had sheltered her from her infancy till now.

The details of the “nothing” she proposed to do, slowly arranged themselves in her mind. There should be no apparent change in Ramona’s position in the house. She should come and go as freely as ever; no watch on her movements; she should eat, 208 sleep, rise up and sit down with them, as before; there should be not a word, or act, that Felipe’s sympathetic sensitiveness could construe into any provocation to Ramona to run away. Nevertheless, Ramona should be made to feel, every moment of every hour, that she was in disgrace; that she was with them, but not of them; that she had chosen an alien’s position, and must abide by it. How this was to be done, the Señora did not put in words to herself, but she knew very well. If anything would bring the girl to her senses, this would. There might still be a hope, the Señora believed, so little did she know Ramona’s nature, or the depth of her affection for Alessandro, that she might be in this manner brought to see the enormity of the offence she would commit if she persisted in her purpose. And if she did perceive this, confess her wrong, and give up the marriage,—the Señora grew almost generous and tolerant in her thoughts as she contemplated this contingency,—if she did thus humble herself and return to her rightful allegiance to the Moreno house, the Señora would forgive her, and would do more for her than she had ever hitherto done. She would take her to Los Angeles and to Monterey; would show her a little more of the world; and it was by no means unlikely that there might thus come about for her a satisfactory and honorable marriage. Felipe should see that she was not disposed to deal unfairly by Ramona in any way, if Ramona herself would behave properly.

Ramona’s surprise, when the Señora entered her room just before supper, and, in her ordinary tone, asked a question about the chili which was drying on the veranda, was so great, that she could not avoid showing it both in her voice and look.

The Señora recognized this immediately, but gave no sign of having done so, continuing what she had 209 to say about the chili, the hot sun, the turning of the grapes, etc., precisely as she would have spoken to Ramona a week previous. At least, this was what Ramona at first thought; but before the sentences were finished, she had detected in the Señora’s eye and tone the weapons which were to be employed against her. The emotion of half-grateful wonder with which she had heard the first words changed quickly to heart-sick misery before they were concluded; and she said to herself: “That’s the way she is going to break me down, she thinks! But she can’t do it. I can bear anything for four days; and the minute Alessandro comes, I will go away with him.” This train of thought in Ramona’s mind was reflected in her face. The Señora saw it, and hardened herself still more. It was to be war, then. No hope of surrender. Very well. The girl had made her choice.

Margarita was now the most puzzled person in the household. She had overheard snatches of the conversation between Felipe and his mother and Ramona, having let her curiosity get so far the better of her discretion as to creep to the door and listen. In fact, she narrowly escaped being caught, having had barely time to begin her feint of sweeping the passage-way, when Ramona, flinging the door wide open, came out, after her final reply to the Señora, the words of which Margarita had distinctly heard: “God will punish you.”

“Holy Virgin! how dare she say that to the Señora?” ejaculated Margarita, under her breath; and the next second Ramona rushed by, not even seeing her. But the Señora’s vigilant eyes, following Ramona, saw her; and the Señora’s voice had a ring of suspicion in it, as she called, “How comes it you are sweeping the passage-way at this hour of the day, Margarita?”

It was surely the devil himself that put into Margarita’s 210 head the quick lie which she instan­taneously told. “There was early breakfast, Señora, to be cooked for Alessandro, who was setting off in haste, and my mother was not up, so I had it to cook.”

As Margarita said this, Felipe fixed his eyes steadily upon her. She changed color. Felipe knew this was a lie. He had seen Margarita peering about among the willows while he was talking with Alessandro at the sheepfold; he had seen Alessandro halt for a moment and speak to her as he rode past,—only for a moment; then, pricking his horse sharply, he had galloped off down the valley road. No breakfast had Alessandro had at Margarita’s hands, or any other’s, that morning. What could have been Margarita’s motive for telling this lie?

But Felipe had too many serious cares on his mind to busy himself long with any thought of Margarita or her fibs. She had said the first thing which came into her head, most likely, to shelter herself from the Señora’s displeasure; which was indeed very near the truth, only there was added a spice of malice against Alessandro. A slight undercurrent of jealous antagonism towards him had begun to grow up among the servants of late; fostered, if not originated, by Margarita’s sharp sayings as to his being admitted to such strange intimacy with the family.

While Felipe continued ill, and was so soothed to rest by his music, there was no room for cavil. It was natural that Alessandro came and went as a physician might. But after Felipe had recovered, why should this freedom and intimacy continue? More than once there had been sullen mutterings of this kind on the north veranda, when all the laborers and servants were gathered there of an evening, Alessandro alone being absent from the group, and the sounds of his voice or his violin coming from the south veranda, where the family sat.

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“It would be a good thing if we too had a bit of music now and then,” Juan Canito would grumble; “but the lad’s chary enough of his bow on this side the house.”

“Ho! we’re not good enough for him to play to!” Margarita would reply; “‘Like master, like servant,’ is a good proverb sometimes, but not always. But there’s a deal going on, on the veranda yonder, besides fiddling!” and Margarita’s lips would purse themselves up in an expression of concentrated mystery and secret knowledge, well fitted to draw from everybody a fire of questions, none of which, however, would she answer. She knew better than to slander the Señorita Ramona, or to say a word even reflecting upon her unfavorably. Not a man or a woman there would have borne it. They all had loved Ramona ever since she came among them as a toddling baby. They petted her then, and idolized her now. Not one of them whom she had not done good offices for,—nursed them, cheered them, remembered their birthdays and their saints’-days. To no one but her mother had Margarita unbosomed what she knew, and what she suspected; and old Marda, frightened at the bare pronouncing of such words, had terrified Margarita into the solemnest of promises never, under any circumstances whatever, to say such things to any other member of the family. Marda did not believe them. She could not. She believed that Margarita’s jealousy had imagined all.

“And the Señora; she’d send you packing off this place in an hour, and me too, long’s I’ve lived here, if ever she was to know of you blackening the Señorita. An Indian, too! You must be mad, Margarita!”

When Margarita, in triumph, had flown to tell her that the Señora had just dragged the Señorita Ramona up the garden-walk, and shoved her into her 212 room and locked the door, and that it was because she had caught her with Alessandro at the washing-stones, Marda first crossed herself in sheer mechanical fashion at the shock of the story, and then cuffed Margarita’s ears for telling her.

“I’ll take the head off your neck, if you say that aloud again! Whatever’s come to the Señora! Forty years I’ve lived under this roof, and I never saw her lift a hand to a living creature yet. You’re out of your senses, child!” she said, all the time gazing fearfully towards the room.

“You’ll see whether I am out of my senses or not,” retorted Margarita, and ran back to the dining-room. And after the dining-room door was shut, and the unhappy pretence of a supper had begun, old Marda had herself crept softly to the Señorita’s door and listened, and heard Ramona sobbing as if her heart would break. Then she knew that what Margarita had said must be true, and her faithful soul was in sore straits what to think. The Señorita misdemean herself! Never! Whatever happened, it was not that! There was some horrible mistake somewhere. Kneeling at the keyhole, she had called cautiously to Ramona, “Oh, my lamb, what is it?” But Ramona had not heard her, and the danger was too great of remaining; so scrambling up with difficulty from her rheumatic knees, the old woman had hobbled back to the kitchen as much in the dark as before, and, by a curiously illogical consequence, crosser than ever to her daughter. All the next day she watched for herself, and could not but see that all appearances bore out Margarita’s statements. Alessandro’s sudden departure had been a tremendous corroboration of the story. Not one of the men had had an inkling of it; Juan Canito, Luigo, both alike astonished; no word left, no message sent; only Señor Felipe had said carelessly to Juan Can, 213 after breakfast: “You’ll have to look after things yourself for a few days, Juan. Alessandro has gone to Temecula.”

“For a few days!” exclaimed Margarita, sarcastically, when this was repeated to her. “That’s easy said! If Alessandro Assis is seen here again, I’ll eat my head! He’s played his last tune on the south veranda, I wager you.”

But when at supper-time of this same eventful day the Señora was heard, as she passed the Señorita’s door, to say in her ordinary voice, “Are you ready for supper, Ramona?” and Ramona was seen to come out and walk by the Señora’s side to the dining-room; silent, to be sure,—but then that was no strange thing, the Señorita always was more silent in the Señora’s presence,—when Marda, standing in the court-yard, feigning to be feeding her chickens, but keeping a close eye on the passage-ways, saw this, she was relieved, and thought: “It’s only a dispute there has been. There will be disputes in families sometimes. It is none of our affair. All is settled now.”

And Margarita, standing in the dining-room, when she saw them all coming in as usual,—the Señora, Felipe, Ramona,—no change, even to her scrutinizing eye, in anybody’s face, was more surprised than she had been for many a day; and began to think again, as she had more than once since this tragedy began, that she must have dreamed much that she remembered.

But surfaces are deceitful, and eyes see little. Considering its complexity, the fineness and delicacy of its mechanism, the results attainable by the human eye seem far from adequate to the expenditure put upon it. We have flattered ourselves by inventing proverbs of comparison in matter of blindness,—“blind as a bat,” for instance. It would be 214 safe to say that there cannot be found in the animal kingdom a bat, or any other creature, so blind in its own range of circumstance and connection, as the greater majority of human beings are in the bosoms of their families. Tempers strain and recover, hearts break and heal, strength falters, fails, and comes near to giving way altogether, every day, without being noted by the closest lookers-on.

Before night of this second day since the trouble had burst like a storm-cloud on the peaceful Moreno household, everything had so resumed the ordinary expression and routine, that a shrewder observer and reasoner than Margarita might well be excused for doubting if any serious disaster could have occurred to any one. Señor Felipe sauntered about in his usual fashion, smoking his cigarettes, or lay on his bed in the veranda, dozing. The Señora went her usual rounds of inspection, fed her birds, spoke to every one in her usual tone, sat in her carved chair with her hands folded, gazing out on the southern sky. Ramona busied herself with her usual duties, dusted the chapel, put fresh flowers before all the Madonnas, and then sat down at her embroidery. Ramona had been for a long time at work on a beautiful altar-cloth for the chapel. It was to have been a present to the Señora. It was nearly done. As she held up the frame in which it was stretched, and looked at the delicate tracery of the pattern, she sighed. It had been with a mingled feeling of interest and hopelessness that she had for months been at work on it, often saying to herself, “She won’t care much for it, beautiful as it is, just because I did it; but Father Salvierderra will be pleased when he sees it.”

Now, as she wove the fine threads in and out, she thought: “She will never let it be used on the altar. I wonder if I could any way get it to Father Salvierderra, at Santa Barbara. I would like to give it to 215 him. I will ask Alessandro. I’m sure the Señora would never use it, and it would be a shame to leave it here. I shall take it with me.” But as she thought these things, her face was unruffled. A strange composure had settled on Ramona. “Only four days; only four days; I can bear anything for four days!” these words were coming and going in her mind like refrains of songs which haunt one’s memory and will not be still. She saw that Felipe looked anxiously at her, but she answered his inquiring looks always with a gentle smile. It was evident that the Señora did not intend that she and Felipe should have any private conversation; but that did not so much matter. After all, there was not so much to be said. Felipe knew all. She could tell him nothing; Felipe had acted for the best, as he thought, in sending Alessandro away till the heat of the Señora’s anger should have spent itself.

After her first dismay at suddenly learning that Alessandro had gone, had passed, she had reflected that it was just as well. He would come back prepared to take her with him. How, or where, she did not know; but she would go with no question. Perhaps she would not even bid the Señora good-by; she wondered how that would arrange itself, and how far Alessandro would have to take her, to find a priest to marry them. It was a terrible thing to have to do, to go out of a home in such a way: no wedding—no wedding clothes—no friends—to go unmarried, and journey to a priest’s house, to have the ceremony performed; “but it is not my fault,” said Ramona to herself; “it is hers. She drives me to do it. If it is wrong, the blame will be hers. Father Salvierderra would gladly come here and marry us, if she would send for him. I wish we could go to him, Alessandro and I; perhaps we can. I would not be afraid to ride so far; we could do it in two days.” 216 The more Ramona thought of this, the more it appeared to her the natural thing for them to do. “He will be on our side, I know he will,” she thought. “He always liked Alessandro, and he loves me.”

It was strange how little bitterness toward the Señora was in the girl’s mind; how comparatively little she thought of her. Her heart was too full of Alessandro and of their future; and it had never been Ramona’s habit to dwell on the Señora in her thoughts. As from her childhood up she had accepted the fact of the Señora’s coldness toward her, so now she accepted her injustice and opposition as part of the nature of things, and not to be altered.

During all these hours, during the coming and going of these crowds of fears, sorrows, memories, anticipations in Ramona’s heart, all that there was to be seen to the eye was simply a calm, quiet girl, sitting on the veranda, diligently working at her lace-frame. Even Felipe was deceived by her calmness, and wondered what it meant,—if it could be that she was undergoing the change that his mother had thought possible, and designated as coming “to her senses.” Even Felipe did not know the steadfast fibre of the girl’s nature; neither did he realize what a bond had grown between her and Alessandro. In fact, he sometimes wondered of what this bond had been made. He had himself seen the greater part of their intercourse with each other; nothing could have been farther removed from anything like love-making. There had been no crises of incident, or marked moments of experience such as in Felipe’s imaginations of love were essential to the fulness of its growth. This is a common mistake on the part of those who have never felt love’s true bonds. Once in those chains, one perceives that they are not of the sort full forged in a day. They are made as the great iron cables are made, on which bridges are 217 swung across the widest water-channels,—not of single huge rods, or bars, which would be stronger, perhaps, to look at; but of myriads of the finest wires, each one by itself so fine, so frail, it would barely hold a child’s kite in the wind: by hundreds, hundreds of thousands of such, twisted, re-twisted together, are made the mighty cables, which do not any more swerve from their place in the air, under the weight and jar of the ceaseless traffic and tread of two cities, than the solid earth swerves under the same ceaseless weight and jar. Such cables do not break.

Even Ramona herself would have found it hard to tell why she thus loved Alessandro; how it began, or by what it grew. It had not been a sudden adoration, like his passion for her; it was, in the beginning, simply a response; but now it was as strong a love as his,—as strong, and as unchangeable. The Señora’s harsh words had been like a forcing-house air to it, and the sudden knowledge of the fact of her own Indian descent seemed to her like a revelation, pointing out the path in which destiny called her to walk. She thrilled with pleasure at the thought of the joy with which Alessandro would hear this,—the joy and the surprise. She imagined to herself, in hundreds of ways, the time, place, and phrase in which she would tell him. She could not satisfy herself as to the best; as to which would give keenest pleasure to him and to her. She would tell him, as soon as she saw him; it should be her first word of greeting. No! There would be too much of trouble and embarrassment then. She would wait till they were far away, till they were alone, in the wilderness; and then she would turn to him, and say, “Alessandro, my people are your people!” Or she would wait, and keep her secret until she had reached Temecula, and they had begun their life there, and Alessandro had 218 been astonished to see how readily and kindly she took to all the ways of the Indian village; and then, when he expressed some such emotion, she would quietly say, “But I too am an Indian, Alessandro!”

Strange, sad bride’s dreams these; but they made Ramona’s heart beat with happiness as she dreamed them.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIII

beautiful as it is
text has ‘is with superfluous apostrophe


The little sheepfold, or corral, was beyond the artichoke-patch


The first day had gone, it was near night of the second, and not a word had passed between Felipe and Ramona

Ramona:
Introduction and Contents

 

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.