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Ramona

319

low Mission building with bell to the left, distant mountain to the right

XIX.

After leaving Father Gaspara’s door, Alessandro and Ramona rode slowly through the now deserted plaza, and turned northward, on the river road, leaving the old Presidio walls on their right. The river was low, and they forded it without difficulty.

“I have seen this river so high that there was no fording it for many days,” said Alessandro; “but that was in spring.”

“Then it is well we came not at that time,” said Ramona. “All the times have fallen out well for us, Alessandro,—the dark nights, and the streams low; but look! as I say it, there comes the moon!” and she pointed to the fine threadlike arc of the new moon, just visible in the sky. “Not big enough to do us any harm, however,” she added. “But, dear Alessandro, do you not think we are safe now?”

“I know not, Majella, if ever we may be safe; but I hope so. I have been all day thinking I had gone foolish last night, when I told Mrs. Hartsel that I was on my way to San Pasquale. But if men should come there asking for us, she would understand, I think, and keep a still tongue. She would keep harm from us if she could.”

Their way from San Diego to San Pasquale lay at first along a high mesa, or table-land, covered with low shrub growths; after some ten or twelve miles of this, they descended among winding ridges, into a narrow valley,—the Poway valley. It was here that the Mexicans made one of their few abortive efforts to repel the American forces.

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“Here were some Americans killed, in a fight with the Mexicans, Majella,” said Alessandro. “I myself have a dozen bullets which I picked up in the ground about here. Many a time I have looked at them and thought if there should come another war against the Americans, I would fire them again, if I could. Does Señor Felipe think there is any likelihood that his people will rise against them any more? If they would, they would have all the Indians to help them, now. It would be a mercy if they might be driven out of the land, Majella.”

“Yes,” sighed Majella. “But there is no hope. I have heard the Señora speak of it with Felipe. There is no hope. They have power, and great riches, she said. Money is all that they think of. To get money, they will commit any crime, even murder. Every day there comes the news of their murdering each other for gold. Mexicans kill each other only for hate, Alessandro,—for hate, or in anger; never for gold.”

“Indians, also,” replied Alessandro. “Never one Indian killed another, yet, for money. It is for vengeance, always. For money! Bah! Majella, they are dogs!”

Rarely did Alessandro speak with such vehemence; but this last outrage on his people had kindled in his veins a fire of scorn and hatred which would never die out. Trust in an American was henceforth to him impossible. The name was a synonym for fraud and cruelty.

“They cannot all be so bad, I think, Alessandro,” said Ramona. “There must be some that are honest; do you not think so?”

“Where are they, then,” he cried fiercely,—“the ones who are good? Among my people there are always some that are bad; but they are in disgrace. My father punished them, the whole people punished 321 them. If there are Americans who are good, who will not cheat and kill, why do they not send after these robbers and punish them? And how is it that they make laws which cheat? It was the American law which took Temecula away from us, and gave it to those men! The law was on the side of the thieves. No, Majella, it is a people that steals! That is their name,—a people that steals, and that kills for money. Is not that a good name for a great people to bear, when they are like the sands in the sea, they are so many?”

“That is what the Señora says,” answered Ramona. “She says they are all thieves; that she knows not, each day, but that on the next will come more of them, with new laws, to take away more of her land. She had once more than twice what she has now, Alessandro.”

“Yes,” he replied; “I know it. My father has told me. He was with Father Peyri at the place, when General Moreno was alive. Then all was his to the sea,—all that land we rode over the second night, Majella.”

“Yes,” she said, “all to the sea! That is what the Señora is ever saying: ‘To the sea!’ Oh, the beautiful sea! Can we behold it from San Pasquale, Alessandro?”

“No, my Majella, it is too far. San Pasquale is in the valley; it has hills all around it like walls. But it is good. Majella will love it; and I will build a house, Majella. All the people will help me. That is the way with our people. In two days it will be done. But it will be a poor place for my Majella,” he said sadly. Alessandro’s heart was ill at ease. Truly a strange bride’s journey was this; but Ramona felt no fear.

“No place can be so poor that I do not choose it, if you are there, rather than the most beautiful place 322 in the world where you are not, Alessandro,” she said.

“But my Majella loves things that are beautiful,” said Alessandro. “She has lived like a queen.”

“Oh, Alessandro,” merrily laughed Ramona, “how little you know of the way queens live! Nothing was fine at the Señora Moreno’s, only comfortable; and any house you will build, I can make as comfortable as that was; it is nothing but trouble to have one so large as the Señora’s. Margarita used to be tired to death, sweeping all those rooms in which nobody lived except the blessed old San Luis Rey saints. Alessandro, if we could have had just one statue, either Saint Francis or the Madonna, to bring luck to our house! That is what I would like better than all other things in the world. It is beautiful to sleep with the Madonna close to your bed. She speaks often to you in dreams.”

Alessandro fixed serious, questioning eyes on Ramona as she uttered these words. When she spoke like this, he felt indeed as if a being of some other sphere had come to dwell by his side. “I cannot find how to feel towards the saints as you do, my Majella,” he said. “I am afraid of them. It must be because they love you, and do not love us. That is what I believe, Majella. I believe they are displeased with us, and no longer make mention of us in heaven. That is what the Fathers taught that the saints were ever doing,—praying to God for us, and to the Virgin and Jesus. It is not possible, you see, that they could have been praying for us, and yet such things have happened, as happened in Temecula. I do not know how it is my people have displeased them.”

“I think Father Salvierderra would say that it is a sin to be afraid of the saints, Alessandro,” replied Ramona, earnestly. “He has often told me that it 323 was a sin to be unhappy; and that withheld me many times from being wretched because the Señora would not love me. And, Alessandro,” she went on, growing more and more fervent in tone, “even if nothing but misfortune comes to people, that does not prove that the saints do not love them; for when the saints were on earth themselves, look what they suffered: martyrs they were, almost all of them. Look at what holy Saint Catharine endured, and the blessed Saint Agnes. It is not by what happens to us here in this world that we can tell if the saints love us, or if we will see the Blessed Virgin.”

“How can we tell, then?” he asked.

“By what we feel in our hearts, Alessandro,” she replied; “just as I knew all the time, when you did not come,—I knew that you loved me. I knew that in my heart; and I shall always know it, no matter what happens. If you are dead, I shall know that you love me. And you,—you will know that I love you, the same.”

“Yes,” said Alessandro, reflectively, “that is true. But, Majella, it is not possible to have the same thoughts about a saint as about a person that one has seen, and heard the voice, and touched the hand.”

“No, not quite,” said Ramona; “not quite, about a saint; but one can for the Blessed Virgin, Alessandro! I am sure of that. Her statue, in my room at the Señora’s, has been always my mother. Ever since I was little I have told her all I did. It was she helped me to plan what I should bring away with us. She reminded me of many things I had forgotten, except for her.”

“Did you hear her speak?” said Alessandro, awestricken.

“Not exactly in words; but just the same as in words,” replied Ramona, confidently. “You see when you sleep in the room with her, it is very different 324 from what it is if you only see her in a chapel. Oh, I could never be very unhappy with her in my room!”

“I would almost go and steal it for you, Majella,” cried Alessandro, with sacrilegious warmth.

“Holy Virgin!” cried Ramona, “never speak such a word. You would be struck dead if you laid your hand on her! I fear even the thought was a sin.”

“There was a small figure of her in the wall of our house,” said Alessandro. “It was from San Luis Rey. I do not know what became of it,—if it were left behind, or if they took it with my father’s things to Pachanga. I did not see it there. When I go again, I will look.”

“Again!” cried Ramona. “What say you? You go again to Pachanga? You will not leave me, Alessandro?”

At the bare mention of Alessandro’s leaving her, Ramona’s courage always vanished. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, she was transformed from the dauntless, confident, sunny woman, who bore him up as it were on wings of hope and faith, to a timid, shrinking, despondent child, crying out in alarm, and clinging to the hand.

“After a time, dear Majella, when you are wonted to the place, I must go, to fetch the wagon and the few things that were ours. There is the raw-hide bed which was Father Peyri’s, and he gave to my father. Majella will like to lie on that. My father believed it had great virtue.”

“Like that you made for Felipe?” she asked.

“Yes; but it is not so large. In those days the cattle were not so large as they are now: this is not so broad as Señor Felipe’s. There are chairs, too, from the Mission, three of them, one almost as fine as those on your veranda at home. They were given to my father. And music-books,—beautiful parchment 325 books! Oh, I hope those are not lost, Majella! If José had lived, he would have looked after it all. But in the confusion, all the things belonging to the village were thrown into wagons together, and no one knew where anything was. But all the people knew my father’s chairs and the books of the music. If the Americans did not steal them, everything will be safe. My people do not steal. There was never but one thief in our village, and my father had him so whipped, he ran away and never came back. I heard he was living in San Jacinto, and was a thief yet, spite of all that whipping he had. I think if it is in the blood to be a thief, not even whipping will take it out, Majella.”

“Like the Americans,” she said, half laughing, but with tears in the voice. “Whipping would not cure them.”

It wanted yet more than an hour of dawn when they reached the crest of the hill from which they looked down on the San Pasquale valley. Two such crests and valleys they had passed; this was the broadest of the three valleys, and the hills walling it were softer and rounder of contour than any they had yet seen. To the east and northeast lay ranges of high mountains, their tops lost in the clouds. The whole sky was overcast and gray.

“If it were spring, this would mean rain,” said Alessandro; “but it cannot rain, I think, now.”

“No!” laughed Ramona, “not till we get our house done. Will it be of adobe, Alessandro?”

“Dearest Majella, not yet! At first it must be of the tule. They are very comfortable while it is warm, and before winter I will build one of adobe.”

“Two houses! Wasteful Alessandro! If the tule house is good, I shall not let you, Alessandro, build another.”

Ramona’s mirthful moments bewildered Alessandro. 326 To his slower temperament and saddened nature they seemed preternatural; as if she were all of a sudden changed into a bird, or some gay creature outside the pale of human life,—outside and above it.

“You speak as the birds sing, my Majella,” he said slowly. “It was well to name you Majel; only the wood-dove has not joy in her voice, as you have. She says only that she loves and waits.”

“I say that, too, Alessandro!” replied Ramona, reaching out both her arms towards him.

The horses were walking slowly, and very close side by side. Baba and Benito were now such friends they liked to pace closely side by side; and Baba and Benito were by no means without instinctive recognitions of the sympathy between their riders. Already Benito knew Ramona’s voice, and answered it with pleasure; and Baba had long ago learned to stop when his mistress laid her hand on Alessandro’s shoulder. He stopped now, and it was long minutes before he had the signal to go on again.

“Majella! Majella!” cried Alessandro, as, grasping both her hands in his, he held them to his cheeks, to his neck, to his mouth, “if the saints would ask Alessandro to be a martyr for Majella’s sake, like those she was telling of, then she would know if Alessandro loved her! But what can Alessandro do now? What, oh, what? Majella gives all; Alessandro gives nothing!” and he bowed his forehead on her hands, before he put them back gently on Baba’s neck.

Tears filled Ramona’s eyes. How should she win this saddened man, this distrusting lover, to the joy which was his desert? “Alessandro can do one thing,” she said, insensibly falling into his mode of speaking,—“one thing for his Majella: never, never, never say that he has nothing to give her. When he says that, he makes Majella a liar; for she has said 327 that he is all the world to her,—he himself all the world which she desires. Is Majella a liar?”

But it was even now with an ecstasy only half joy, the other half anguish, that Alessandro replied: “Majella cannot lie. Majella is like the saints. Alessandro is hers.”

When they rode down into the valley, the whole village was astir. The vintage-time had nearly passed; everywhere were to be seen large, flat baskets of grapes drying in the sun. Old women and children were turning these, or pounding acorns in the deep stone bowls; others were beating the yucca-stalks, and putting them to soak in water; the oldest women were sitting on the ground, weaving baskets. There were not many men in the village now; two large bands were away at work,—one at the autumn sheep-shearing, and one working on a large irrigating ditch at San Bernardino.

In different directions from the village slow-moving herds of goats or of cattle could be seen, being driven to pasture on the hills; some men were ploughing; several groups were at work building houses of bundles of the tule reeds.

“These are some of the Temecula people,” said Alessandro; “they are building themselves new houses here. See those piles of bundles darker-colored than the rest. Those are their old roofs they brought from Temecula. There, there comes Ysidro!” he cried joyfully, as a man, well-mounted, who had been riding from point to point in the village, came galloping towards them. As soon as Ysidro recognized Alessandro, he flung himself from his horse. Alessandro did the same, and both running swiftly towards each other till they met, they embraced silently. Ramona, riding up, held out her hand, saying, as she did so, “Ysidro?”

Pleased, yet surprised, at this confident and assured 328 greeting, Ysidro saluted her, and turning to Alessandro, said in their own tongue, “Who is this woman whom you bring, that has heard my name?”

“My wife!” answered Alessandro, in the same tongue. “We were married last night by Father Gaspara. She comes from the house of the Señora Moreno. We will live in San Pasquale, if you have land for me, as you have said.”

Whatever astonishment Ysidro felt, he showed none. Only a grave and courteous welcome was in his face and in his words as he said, “It is well. There is room. You are welcome.” But when he heard the soft Spanish syllables in which Ramona spoke to Alessandro, and Alessandro, translating her words to him, said, “Majel speaks only in the Spanish tongue, but she will learn ours,” a look of disquiet passed over his countenance. His heart feared for Alessandro, and he said, “Is she, then, not Indian? Whence got she the name of Majel?”

A look of swift intelligence from Alessandro reassured him. “Indian on the mother’s side!” said Alessandro, “and she belongs in heart to our people. She is alone, save for me. She is one blessed of the Virgin, Ysidro. She will help us. The name Majel I have given her, for she is like the wood-dove; and she is glad to lay her old name down forever, to bear this new name in our tongue.”

And this was Ramona’s introduction to the Indian village,—this and her smile; perhaps the smile did most. Even the little children were not afraid of her. The women, though shy, in the beginning, at sight of her noble bearing, and her clothes of a kind and quality they associated only with superiors, soon felt her friendliness, and, what was more, saw by her every word, tone, look, that she was Alessandro’s. If Alessandro’s, theirs. She was one of them. Ramona would have been profoundly impressed and touched, 329 could she have heard them speaking among themselves about her; wondering how it had come about that she, so beautiful, and nurtured in the Moreno house, of which they all knew, should be Alessandro’s loving wife. It must be, they thought in their simplicity, that the saints had sent it as an omen of good to the Indian people. Toward night they came, bringing in a hand-barrow the most aged woman in the village to look at her. She wished to see the beautiful stranger before the sun went down, they said, because she was now so old she believed each night that before morning her time would come to die. They also wished to hear the old woman’s verdict on her. When Alessandro saw them coming, he understood, and made haste to explain it to Ramona. While he was yet speaking, the procession arrived, and the aged woman in her strange litter was placed silently on the ground in front of Ramona, who was sitting under Ysidro’s great fig-tree. Those who had borne her withdrew, and seated themselves a few paces off. Alessandro spoke first. In a few words he told the old woman of Ramona’s birth, of their marriage, and of her new name of adoption; then he said, “Take her hand, dear Majella, if you feel no fear.”

There was something scarcely human in the shrivelled arm and hand outstretched in greeting; but Ramona took it in hers with tender reverence: “Say to her for me, Alessandro,” she said, “that I bow down to her great age with reverence, and that I hope, if it is the will of God that I live on the earth so long as she has, I may be worthy of such reverence as these people all feel for her.”

Alessandro turned a grateful look on Ramona as he translated this speech, so in unison with Indian modes of thought and feeling. A murmur of pleasure rose from the group of women sitting by. The aged 330 woman made no reply; her eyes still studied Ramona’s face, and she still held her hand.

“Tell her,” continued Ramona, “that I ask if there is anything I can do for her. Say I will be her daughter if she will let me.”

“It must be the Virgin herself that is teaching Majella what to say,” thought Alessandro, as he repeated this in the San Luiseno tongue.

Again the women murmured pleasure, but the old woman spoke not. “And say that you will be her son,” added Ramona.

Alessandro said it. It was perhaps for this that the old woman had waited. Lifting up her arm, like a sibyl, she said: “It is well; I am your mother. The winds of the valley shall love you, and the grass shall dance when you come. The daughter looks on her mother’s face each day. I will go;” and making a sign to her bearers, she was lifted, and carried to her house.

The scene affected Ramona deeply. The simplest acts of these people seemed to her marvellously profound in their meanings. She was not herself sufficiently educated or versed in life to know why she was so moved,—to know that such utterances, such symbolisms as these, among primitive peoples, are thus impressive because they are truly and grandly dramatic; but she was none the less stirred by them, because she could not analyze or explain them.

“I will go and see her every day,” she said; “she shall be like my mother, whom I never saw.”

“We must both go each day,” said Alessandro. “What we have said is a solemn promise among my people; it would not be possible to break it.”

Ysidro’s home was in the centre of the village, on a slightly rising ground; it was a picturesque group of four small houses, three of tule reeds and 331 one of adobe,—the latter a comfortable little house of two rooms, with a floor and a shingled roof, both luxuries in San Pasquale. The great fig-tree, whose luxuriance and size were noted far and near throughout the country, stood half-way down the slope; but its boughs shaded all three of the tule houses. On one of its lower branches was fastened a dove-cote, ingeniously made of willow wands, plastered with adobe, and containing so many rooms that the whole tree seemed sometimes a-flutter with doves and dovelings. Here and there, between the houses, were huge baskets, larger than barrels, woven of twigs, as the eagle weaves its nest, only tighter and thicker. These were the outdoor granaries; in these were kept acorns, barley, wheat, and corn. Ramona thought them, as well she might, the prettiest things she ever saw.

“Are they hard to make?” she asked. “Can you make them, Alessandro? I shall want many.”

“All you want, my Majella,” replied Alessandro. “We will go together to get the twigs; I can, I dare say, buy some in the village. It is only two days to make a large one.”

“No. Do not buy one,” she exclaimed. “I wish everything in our house to be made by ourselves.” In which, again, Ramona was unconsciously striking one of the keynotes of pleasure in the primitive harmonies of existence.

The tule house which stood nearest to the dove-cote was, by a lucky chance, now empty, Ysidro’s brother Ramon, who had occupied it, having gone with his wife and baby to San Bernardino, for the winter, to work; this house Ysidro was but too happy to give to Alessandro till his own should be done. It was a tiny place, though it was really two houses joined together by a roofed passage-way. In this passage-way the tidy Juana, Ramon’s wife, kept her 332 few pots and pans, and a small stove. It looked to Ramona like a baby-house. Timidly Alessandro said: “Can Majella live in this small place for a time? It will not be very long; there are adobes already made.”

His countenance cleared as Ramona replied gleefully, “I think it will be very comfortable, and I shall feel as if we were all doves together in the dove-cote!”

“Majel!” exclaimed Alessandro; and that was all he said.

Only a few rods off stood the little chapel; in front of it swung on a cross-bar from two slanting posts an old bronze bell which had once belonged to the San Diego Mission. When Ramona read the date, “1790,” on its side, and heard that it was from the San Diego Mission church it had come, she felt a sense of protection in its presence.

“Think, Alessandro,” she said; “this bell, no doubt, has rung many times for the mass for the holy Father Junipero himself. It is a blessing to the village. I want to live where I can see it all the time. It will be like a saint’s statue in the house.”

With every allusion that Ramona made to the saints’ statues, Alessandro’s desire to procure one for her deepened. He said nothing; but he revolved it in his mind continually. He had once gone with his shearers to San Fernando, and there he had seen in a room of the old Mission buildings a dozen statues of saints huddled in dusty confusion. The San Fernando church was in crumbled ruins, and such of the church properties as were left there were in the keeping of a Mexican not over-careful, and not in the least devout. It would not trouble him to part with a saint or two, Alessandro thought, and no irreverence to the saint either; on the contrary, the greatest of reverence, since the statue was to be taken from a place where no one cared for it, and brought 333 into one where it would be tenderly cherished, and worshipped every day. If only San Fernando were not so far away, and the wooden saints so heavy! However, it should come about yet. Majella should have a saint; nor distance nor difficulty should keep Alessandro from procuring for his Majel the few things that lay within his power. But he held his peace about it. It would be a sweeter gift, if she did not know it beforehand. He pleased himself as subtly and secretly as if he had come of civilized generations, thinking how her eyes would dilate, if she waked up some morning and saw the saint by her bedside; and how sure she would be to think, at first, it was a miracle,—his dear, devout Majella, who, with all her superior knowledge, was yet more credulous than he. All her education had not taught her to think, as he, untaught, had learned, in his solitude with nature.

Before Alessandro had been two days in San Pasquale, he had heard of a piece of good-fortune which almost passed his belief, and which startled him for once out of his usual impassive demeanor.

“You know I have a herd of cattle of your father’s, and near a hundred sheep?” said Ysidro.

“Holy Virgin!” cried Alessandro, “you do not mean that! How is that? They told me all our stock was taken by the Americans.”

“Yes, so it was, all that was in Temecula,” replied Ysidro; “but in the spring your father sent down to know if I would take a herd for him up into the mountains, with ours, as he feared the Temecula pasture would fall short, and the people there, who could not leave, must have their cattle near home; so he sent a herd over,—I think, near fifty head; and many of the cows have calved; and he sent, also, a little flock of sheep,—a hundred, Ramon said; he herded them with ours all summer, and he left a 334 man up there with them. They will be down next week. It is time they were sheared.”

Before he had finished speaking, Alessandro had vanished, bounding like a deer. Ysidro stared after him; but seeing him enter the doorway of the little tule hut, he understood, and a sad smile passed over his face. He was not yet persuaded that this marriage of Alessandro’s would turn out a blessing. “What are a handful of sheep to her!” he thought.

Breathless, panting, Alessandro burst into Ramona’s presence. “Majella! my Majella! There are cattle—and sheep,” he cried. “The saints be praised! We are not like the beggars, as I said.”

“I told you that God would give us food, dear Alessandro,” replied Ramona, gently.

“You do not wonder! You do not ask!” he cried, astonished at her calm. “Does Majella think that a sheep or a steer can come down from the skies?”

“Nay, not as our eyes would see,” she answered; “but the holy ones who live in the skies can do anything they like on the earth. Whence came these cattle, and how are they ours?”

When he told her, her face grew solemn. “Do you remember that night in the willows,” she said, “when I was like one dying, because you would not bring me with you? You had no faith that there would be food. And I told you then that the saints never forsook those who loved them, and that God would give food. And even at that moment, when you did not know it, there were your cattle and your sheep feeding in the mountains, in the keeping of God! Will my Alessandro believe after this?” and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

“It is true,” said Alessandro. “I will believe, after this, that the saints love my Majella.”

335

But as he walked at a slower pace back to Ysidro, he said to himself: “Majella did not see Temecula. What would she have said about the saints, if she had seen that, and seen the people dying for want of food? It is only for her that the saints pray. They are displeased with my people.”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIX

Can you make them, Alessandro? I shall want many.
[You goofed, Ramona. You were supposed to ask “Can I learn to make them?”]

I have a herd of cattle of your father’s, and near a hundred sheep
[Cinema Sins would call this a herd ex machina.]


Except for the reassuring help of Carmena’s presence by her side, Ramona would never have had courage to remain


One year, and a half of another year, had passed.

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.