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Ramona

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towering mountain peak, with house and fields looking tiny in foreground

XXI.

The Señora Moreno was dying. It had been a sad two years in the Moreno house. After the first excitement following Ramona’s departure had died away, things had settled down in a surface similitude of their old routine. But nothing was really the same. No one was so happy as before. Juan Canito was heart-broken. There had been set over him the very Mexican whose coming to the place he had dreaded. The sheep had not done well; there had been a drought; many had died of hunger,—a thing for which the new Mexican overseer was not to blame, though it pleased Juan to hold him so, and to say from morning till night that if his leg had not been broken, or if the lad Alessandro had been there, the wool-crop would have been as big as ever. Not one of the servants liked this Mexican; he had a sorry time of it, poor fellow; each man and woman on the place had or fancied some reason for being set against him; some from sympathy with Juan Can, some from idleness and general impatience; Margarita, most of all, because he was not Alessandro. Margarita, between remorse about her young mistress and pique and disap­pointment about Alessandro, had become a very unhappy girl; and her mother, instead of comforting or soothing her, added to her misery by continually bemoaning Ramona’s fate. The void that Ramona had left in the whole household seemed an irreparable one; nothing came to fill it; there was no forgetting; every day her name was mentioned by some 360 one; mentioned with bated breath, fearful conjecture, compassion, and regret. Where had she vanished? Had she indeed gone to the convent, as she said, or had she fled with Alessandro?

Margarita would have given her right hand to know. Only Juan Can felt sure. Very well Juan Can knew that nobody but Alessandro had the wit and the power over Baba to lure him out of that corral, “and never a rail out of its place.” And the saddle, too! Ay, the smart lad! He had done the best he could for the Señorita; but, Holy Virgin! what had got into the Señorita to run off like that, with an Indian,—even Alessandro! The fiends had bewitched her. Tirelessly Juan Can questioned every traveller, every wandering herder he saw. No one knew anything of Alessandro, beyond the fact that all the Temecula Indians had been driven out of their village, and that there was now not an Indian in the valley. There was a rumor that Alessandro and his father had both died; but no one knew anything certainly. The Temecula Indians had disappeared, that was all there was of it,—disappeared, like any wild creatures, foxes or coyotes; hunted down, driven out; the valley was rid of them. But the Señorita! She was not with these fugitives. That could not be! Heaven forbid!

“If I’d my legs, I’d go and see for myself!” said Juan Can. “It would be some comfort to know even the worst. Perdition take the Señora, who drove her to it! Ay, drove her to it! That’s what I say, Luigo.” In some of his most venturesome wrathy moments he would say: “There’s none of you know the truth about the Señorita but me! It’s a hard hand the Señora’s reared her with, from the first. She’s a wonderful woman, our Señora! She gets power over one.”

But the Señora’s power was shaken now. More 361 changed than all else in the changed Moreno household, was the relation between the Señora Moreno and her son Felipe. On the morning after Ramona’s disappearance, words had been spoken by each which neither would ever forget. In fact, the Señora believed that it was of them she was dying, and perhaps that was not far from the truth; the reason that forces could no longer rally in her to repel disease, lying no doubt largely in the fact that to live seemed no longer to her desirable.

Felipe had found the note Ramona had laid on his bed. Before it was yet dawn he had waked, and tossing uneasily under the light covering had heard the rustle of the paper, and knowing instinctively that it was from Ramona, had risen instantly to make sure of it. Before his mother opened her window, he had read it. He felt like one bereft of his senses as he read. Gone! Gone with Alessandro! Stolen away like a thief in the night, his dear, sweet little sister! Ah, what a cruel shame! Scales seemed to drop from Felipe’s eyes as he lay motionless, thinking of it. A shame! a cruel shame! And he and his mother were the ones who had brought it on Ramona’s head, and on the house of Moreno. Felipe felt as if he had been under a spell all along, not to have realized this. “That’s what I told my mother!” he groaned,—“that it drove her to running away! Oh, my sweet Ramona! what will become of her? I will go after them, and bring them back;” and Felipe rose, and hastily dressing himself, ran down the veranda steps, to gain a little more time to think. He returned shortly, to meet his mother standing in the doorway, with pale, affrighted face.

“Felipe!” she cried, “Ramona is not here.”

“I know it,” he replied in an angry tone. “That is what I told you we should do, drive her to running away with Alessandro!”

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“With Alessandro!” interrupted the Señora.

“Yes,” continued Felipe,—“with Alessandro, the Indian! Perhaps you think it is less disgrace to the names of Ortegna and Moreno to have her run away with him, than to be married to him here under our roof! I do not! Curse the day, I say, when I ever lent myself to breaking the girl’s heart! I am going after them, to fetch them back!”

If the skies had opened and rained fire, the Señora had hardly less quailed and wondered than she did at these words; but even for fire from the skies she would not surrender till she must.

“How know you that it is with Alessandro?” she said.

“Because she has written it here!” cried Felipe, defiantly holding up his little note. “She left this, her good-by to me. Bless her! She writes like a saint, to thank me for all my goodness to her,—I, who drove her to steal out of my house like a thief!”

The phrase, “my house,” smote the Señora’s ear like a note from some other sphere, which indeed it was,—from the new world into which Felipe had been in an hour born. Her cheeks flushed, and she opened her lips to reply; but before she had uttered a word, Luigo came running round the corner, Juan Can hobbling after him at a miraculous pace on his crutches. “Señor Felipe! Señor Felipe! Oh, Señora!” they cried. “Thieves have been here in the night! Baba is gone,—Baba, and the Señorita’s saddle.”

A malicious smile broke over the Señora’s countenance, and turning to Felipe, she said in a tone—what a tone it was! Felipe felt as if he must put his hands to his ears to shut it out; Felipe would never forget,—“As you were saying, like a thief in the night”!

With a swifter and more energetic movement than 363 any had ever before seen Señor Felipe make, he stepped forward, saying in an undertone to his mother, “For God’s sake, mother, not a word before the men!—What is that you say, Luigo? Baba gone? We must see to our corral. I will come down, after breakfast, and look at it;” and turning his back on them, he drew his mother by a firm grasp, she could not resist, into the house.

She gazed at him in sheer, dumb wonder.

“Ay, mother,” he said, “you may well look thus in wonder; I have been no man, to let my foster-sister, I care not what blood were in her veins, be driven to this pass! I will set out this day, and bring her back.”

“The day you do that, then, I lie in this house dead!” retorted the Señora, at white heat. “You may rear as many Indian families as you please under the Moreno roof, I will at least have my grave!” In spite of her anger, grief convulsed her; and in another second she had burst into tears, and sunk helpless and trembling into a chair. No counter­feiting now. No pretences. The Señora Moreno’s heart broke within her, when those words passed her lips to her adored Felipe. At the sight, Felipe flung himself on his knees before her; he kissed the aged hands as they lay trembling in her lap. “Mother mia,” he cried, “you will break my heart if you speak like that! Oh, why, why do you command me to do what a man may not? I would die for you, my mother; but how can I see my sister a homeless wanderer in the wilderness?”

“I suppose the man Alessandro has something he calls a home,” said the Señora, regaining herself a little. “Had they no plans? Spoke she not in her letter of what they would do?”

“Only that they would go to Father Salvierderra first,” he replied.

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“Ah!” The Señora reflected. At first startled, her second thought was that this would be the best possible thing which could happen. “Father Salvierderra will counsel them what to do,” she said. “He could no doubt establish them in Santa Barbara in some way. My son, when you reflect, you will see the impossibility of bringing them here. Help them in any way you like, but do not bring them here.” She paused. “Not until I am dead, Felipe! It will not be long.”

Felipe bowed his head in his mother’s lap. She laid her hands on his hair, and stroked it with passionate tenderness. “My Felipe!” she said. “It was a cruel fate to rob me of you at the last!”

“Mother! mother!” he cried in anguish. “I am yours,—wholly, devotedly yours! Why do you torture me thus?”

“I will not torture you more,” she said wearily, in a feeble tone. “I ask only one thing of you; let me never hear again the name of that wretched girl, who has brought all this woe on our house; let her name never be spoken on this place by man, woman, or child. Like a thief in the night! Ay, a horse-thief!”

Felipe sprang to his feet.

“Mother!” he said, “Baba was Ramona’s own; I myself gave him to her as soon as he was born!”

The Señora made no reply. She had fainted. Calling the maids, in terror and sorrow Felipe bore her to her bed, and she did not leave it for many days. She seemed hovering between life and death. Felipe watched over her as a lover might; her great mournful eyes followed his every motion. She spoke little, partly because of physical weakness, partly from despair. The Señora had got her death-blow. She would die hard. It would take long. Yet she was dying, and she knew it.

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Felipe did not know it. When he saw her going about again, with a step only a little slower than before, and with a countenance not so much changed as he had feared, he thought she would be well again, after a time. And now he would go in search of Ramona. How he hoped he should find them in Santa Barbara! He must leave them there, or wherever he should find them; never again would he for a moment contemplate the possibility of bringing them home with him. But he would see them; help them, if need be. Ramona should not feel herself an outcast, so long as he lived.

When he said, agitatedly, to his mother, one night, “You are so strong now, mother, I think I will take a journey; I will not be away long,—not over a week,” she understood, and with a deep sigh replied: “I am not strong; but I am as strong as I shall ever be. If the journey must be taken, it is as well done now.”

How was the Señora changed!

“It must be, mother,” said Felipe, “or I would not leave you. I will set off before sunrise, so I will say farewell to-night.”

But in the morning, at his first step, his mother’s window opened, and there she stood, wan, speechless, looking at him. “You must go, my son?” she asked at last.

“I must, mother!” and Felipe threw his arms around her, and kissed her again and again. “Dearest mother! Do smile! Can you not?”

“No, my son, I cannot. Farewell. The saints keep you. Farewell.” And she turned, that she might not see him go.

Felipe rode away with a sad heart, but his purpose did not falter. Following straight down the river road to the sea, he then kept up along the coast, asking here and there, cautiously, if persons answering to the 366 description of Alessandro and Ramona had been seen. No one had seen any such persons.

When, on the night of the second day, he rode up to the Santa Barbara Mission, the first figure he saw was the venerable Father Salvierderra sitting in the corridor. As Felipe approached, the old man’s face beamed with pleasure, and he came forward totteringly, leaning on a staff in each hand. “Welcome, my son!” he said. “Are all well? You find me very feeble just now; my legs are failing me sorely this autumn.”

Dismay seized on Felipe at the Father’s first words. He would not have spoken thus, had he seen Ramona. Barely replying to the greeting, Felipe exclaimed: “Father, I come seeking Ramona. Has she not been with you?”

Father Salvierderra’s face was reply to the question. “Ramona!” he cried. “Seeking Ramona! What has befallen the blessed child?”

It was a bitter story for Felipe to tell; but he told it, sparing himself no shame. He would have suffered less in the telling, had he known how well Father Salvierderra understood his mother’s character, and her almost unlimited power over all persons around her. Father Salvierderra was not shocked at the news of Ramona’s attachment for Alessandro. He regretted it, but he did not think it shame, as the Señora had done. As Felipe talked with him, he perceived even more clearly how bitter and unjust his mother had been to Alessandro.

“He is a noble young man,” said Father Salvierderra. “His father was one of the most trusted of Father Peyri’s assistants. You must find them, Felipe. I wonder much they did not come to me. Perhaps they may yet come. When you find them, bear them my blessing, and say that I wish they would come hither. I would like to give them my blessing before 367 I die. Felipe, I shall never leave Santa Barbara again. My time draws near.”

Felipe was so full of impatience to continue his search, that he hardly listened to the Father’s words. “I will not tarry,” he said. “I cannot rest till I find her. I will ride back as far as Ventura to-night.”

“You will send me word by a messenger, when you find them,” said the Father. “God grant no harm has befallen them. I will pray for them, Felipe;” and he tottered into the church.

Felipe’s thoughts, as he retraced his road, were full of bewilderment and pain. He was wholly at loss to conjecture what course Alessandro and Ramona had taken, or what could have led them to abandon their intention of going to Father Salvierderra. Temecula seemed the only place, now, to look for them; and yet from Temecula Felipe had heard, only a few days before leaving home, that there was not an Indian left in the valley. But he could at least learn there where the Indians had gone. Poor as the clew seemed, it was all he had. Cruelly Felipe urged his horse on his return journey. He grudged an hour’s rest to himself or to the beast; and before he reached the head of the Temecula cañon the creature was near spent. At the steepest part he jumped off and walked, to save her strength. As he was toiling slowly up a narrow, rocky pass, he suddenly saw an Indian’s head peering oven the ledge. He made signs to him to come down. The Indian turned his head, and spoke to some one behind; one after another a score of figures rose. They made signs to Felipe to come up. “Poor things!” he thought; “they are afraid.” He shouted to them that his horse was too tired to climb that wall; but if they would come down, he would give them money, holding up a gold-piece. They consulted among themselves; 368 presently they began slowly descending, still halting at intervals, and looking suspiciously at him. He held up the gold again, and beckoned. As soon as they could see his face distinctly, they broke into a run. That was no enemy’s face.

Only one of the number could speak Spanish. On hearing this man’s reply to Felipe’s first question, a woman, who had listened sharply and caught the word Alessandro, came forward, and spoke rapidly in the Indian tongue.

“This woman has seen Alessandro,” said the man.

“Where?” said Felipe, breathlessly.

“In Temecula, two weeks ago,” he said.

“Ask her if he had any one with him,” said Felipe.

“No,” said the woman. “He was alone.”

A convulsion passed over Felipe’s face. “Alone!” What did this mean! He reflected. The woman watched him. “Is she sure he was alone; there was no one with him?”

“Yes.”

“Was he riding a big black horse?”

“No, a white horse,” answered the woman, promptly. “A small white horse.”

It was Carmena, every nerve of her loyal nature on the alert to baffle this pursuer of Alessandro and Ramona. Again Felipe reflected. “Ask her if she saw him for any length of time; how long she saw him.”

“All night,” he answered. “He spent the night where she did.”

Felipe despaired. “Does she know where he is now?” he asked.

“He was going to San Luis Obispo, to go in a ship to Monterey.”

“What to do?”

“She does not know.”

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“Did he say when he would come back?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Never! He said he would never set foot in Temecula again.”

“Does she know him well?”

“As well as her own brother.”

What more could Felipe ask? With a groan, wrung from the very depths of his heart, he tossed the man a gold-piece; another to the woman. “I am sorry,” he said. “Alessandro was my friend. I wanted to see him;” and he rode away, Carmena’s eyes following him with a covert gleam of triumph.

When these last words of his were interpreted to her, she started, made as if she would run after him, but checked herself. “No,” she thought. “It may be a lie. He may be an enemy, for all that. I will not tell. Alessandro wished not to be found. I will not tell.”

And thus vanished the last chance of succor for Ramona; vanished in a moment; blown like a thistle-down on a chance breath,—the breath of a loyal, loving friend, speaking a lie to save her.

Distraught with grief, Felipe returned home. Ramona had been very ill when she left home. Had she died, and been buried by the lonely, sorrowing Alessandro? And was that the reason Alessandro was going away to the North, never to return? Fool that he was, to have shrunk from speaking Ramona’s name to the Indians! He would return, and ask again. As soon as he had seen his mother, he would set off again, and never cease searching till he had found either Ramona or her grave. But when Felipe entered his mother’s presence, his first look in her face told him that he would not leave her side again until he had laid her at rest in the tomb.

“Thank God! you have come, Felipe,” she said in 370 a feeble voice. “I had begun to fear you would not come in time to say farewell to me. I am going to leave you, my son;” and the tears rolled down her cheeks.

Though she no longer wished to live, neither did she wish to die,—this poor, proud, passionate, defeated, bereft Señora. All the consolations of her religion seemed to fail her. She had prayed incessantly, but got no peace. She fixed her imploring eyes on the Virgin’s face and on the saints; but all seemed to her to wear a forbidding look. “If Father Salvierderra would only come!” she groaned. “He could give me peace. If only I can live till he comes again!”

When Felipe told her of the old man’s feeble state, and that he would never again make the journey, she turned her face to the wall and wept. Not only for her own soul’s help did she wish to see him: she wished to put into his hands the Ortegna jewels. What would become of them? To whom should she transfer the charge? Was there a secular priest within reach that she could trust? When her sister had said, in her instructions, “the Church,” she meant, as the Señora Moreno well knew, the Franciscans. The Señora dared not consult Felipe; yet she must. Day by day these fretting anxieties and perplexities wasted her strength, and her fever grew higher and higher. She asked no questions as to the result of Felipe’s journey, and he dared not mention Ramona’s name. At last he could bear it no longer, and one day said, “Mother, I found no trace of Ramona. I have not the least idea where she is. The Father had not seen her or heard of her. I fear she is dead.”

“Better so,” was the Señora’s sole reply; and she fell again into still deeper, more perplexed thought about the hidden treasure. Each day she resolved, 371 “To-morrow I will tell Felipe;” and when to-morrow came, she put it off again. Finally she decided not to do it till she found herself dying. Father Salvierderra might yet come once more, and then all would be well. With trembling hands she wrote him a letter, imploring him to be brought to her, and sent it by messenger, who was empowered to hire a litter and four men to bring the Father gently and carefully all the way. But when the messenger reached Santa Barbara, Father Salvierderra was too feeble to be moved; too feeble even to write. He could write only by amanuensis, and wrote, therefore, guardedly, sending her his blessing, and saying that he hoped her foster-child might yet be restored to the keeping of her friends. The Father had been in sore straits of mind, as month after month had passed without tidings of his “blessed child.”

Soon after this came the news that the Father was dead. This dealt the Señora a terrible blow. She never left her bed after it. And so the year had worn on; and Felipe, mourning over his sinking and failing mother, and haunted by terrible fears about the lost Ramona, had been tortured indeed.

But the end drew near, now. The Señora was plainly dying. The Ventura doctor had left off coming, saying that he could do no more; nothing remained but to give her what ease was possible; in a day or two more all would be over. Felipe hardly left her bedside. Rarely was mother so loved and nursed by son. No daughter could have shown more tenderness and devotion. In the close relation and affection of these last days, the sense of alienation and antagonism faded from both their hearts.

“My adorable Felipe!” she would murmur. “What a son hast thou been!” And, “My beloved mother! How shall I give you up?” Felipe would reply, bowing his head on her hands,—so wasted now, 372 so white, so weak; those hands which had been cruel and strong little more than one short year ago. Ah, no one could refuse to forgive the Señora now! The gentle Ramona, had she seen her, had wept tears of pity. Her eyes wore at times a look almost of terror. It was the secret. How should she speak it? What would Felipe say? At last the moment came. She had been with difficulty roused from a long fainting; one more such would be the last, she knew,—knew even better than those around her. As she regained consciousness, she gasped, “Felipe! Alone!”

He understood, and waved the rest away.

“Alone!” she said again, turning her eyes to the door.

“Leave the room,” said Felipe; “all—wait outside;” and he closed the door on them. Even then the Señora hesitated. Almost was she ready to go out of life leaving the hidden treasure to its chance of discovery, rather than with her own lips reveal to Felipe what she saw now, saw with the terrible, relentless clear-sightedness of death, would make him, even after she was in her grave, reproach her in his thoughts.

But she dared not withhold it. It must be said. Pointing to the statue of Saint Catharine, whose face seemed, she thought, to frown unforgiving upon her, she said, “Felipe—behind that statue—look!”

Felipe thought her delirious, and said tenderly, “Nothing is there, dearest mother. Be calm. I am here.”

New terror seized the dying woman. Was she to be forced to carry the secret to the grave? to be denied this late avowal? “No! no! Felipe—there is a door there—secret door. Look! Open! I must tell you!”

Hastily Felipe moved the statue. There was indeed the door, as she had said.

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“Do not tell me now, mother dear. Wait till you are stronger,” he said. As he spoke, he turned, and saw, with alarm, his mother sitting upright in the bed, her right arm outstretched, her hand pointing to the door, her eyes in a glassy stare, her face convulsed. Before a cry could pass his lips, she had fallen back. The Señora Moreno was dead.

At Felipe’s cry, the women waiting in the hall hurried in, wailing aloud as their first glance showed them all was over. In the confusion, Felipe, with a pale, set face, pushed the statue back into its place. Even then a premonition of horror swept over him. What was he, the son, to find behind that secret door, at sight of which his mother had died with that look of anguished terror in her eyes? All through the sad duties of the next four days Felipe was conscious of the undercurrent of this premonition. The funeral ceremonies were impressive. The little chapel could not hold the quarter part of those who came, from far and near. Everybody wished to do honor to the Señora Moreno. A priest from Ventura and one from San Luis Obispo were there. When all was done, they bore the Señora to the little graveyard on the hillside, and laid her by the side of her husband and her children; silent and still at last, the restless, passionate, proud, sad heart! When, the night after the funeral, the servants saw Señor Felipe going into his mother’s room, they shuddered, and whispered, “Oh, he must not! He will break his heart, Señor Felipe! How he loved her!”

Old Marda ventured to follow him, and at the threshold said: “Dear Señor Felipe, do not! It is not good to go there! Come away!”

But he put her gently by, saying, “I would rather be here, good Marda;” and went in and locked the door.

It was past midnight when he came out. His face 374 was stern. He had buried his mother again. Well might the Señora have dreaded to tell to Felipe the tale of the Ortegna treasure. Until he reached the bottom of the jewel-box, and found the Señora Ortegna’s letter to his mother, he was in entire bewilderment at all he saw. After he had read this letter, he sat motionless for a long time, his head buried in his hands. His soul was wrung.

“And she thought that shame, and not this!” he said bitterly.

But one thing remained for Felipe now. If Ramona lived, he would find her, and restore to her this her rightful property. If she were dead, it must go to the Santa Barbara College.

“Surely my mother must have intended to give it to the Church,” he said. “But why keep it all this time? It is this that has killed her. Oh, shame! oh, disgrace!” From the grave in which Felipe had buried his mother now, was no resurrection.

Replacing everything as before in the safe hiding-place, he sat down and wrote a letter to the Superior of the Santa Barbara College, telling him of the existence of these valuables, which in certain contingencies would belong to the College. Early in the morning he gave this letter to Juan Canito, saying: “I am going away, Juan, on a journey. If anything happens to me, and I do not return, send this letter by trusty messenger to Santa Barbara.”

“Will you be long away, Señor Felipe?” asked the old man, piteously.

“I cannot tell, Juan,” replied Felipe. “It may be only a short time; it may be long. I leave everything in your care. You will do all according to your best judgment, I know. I will say to all that I have left you in charge.”

“Thanks, Señor Felipe! Thanks!” exclaimed Juan, happier than he had been for two years. “Indeed, 375 you may trust me! From the time you were a boy till now, I have had no thought except for your house.”

Even in heaven the Señora Moreno had felt woe as if in hell, had she known the thoughts with which her Felipe galloped this morning out of the gateway through which, only the day before, he had walked weeping behind her body borne to burial.

“And she thought this no shame to the house of Moreno!” he said. “My God!”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXI

“Where?” said Felipe, breathlessly.
final . missing


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


During the first day of Ramona’s and Alessandro’s sad journey they scarcely spoke.

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.