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Ramona

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snow-covered cottage with a wisp of smoke from the chimney

XXII.

During the first day of Ramona’s and Alessandro’s sad journey they scarcely spoke. Alessandro walked at the horses’ heads, his face sunk on his breast, his eyes fixed on the ground. Ramona watched him in anxious fear. Even the baby’s voice and cooing laugh won from him no response. After they were camped for the night, she said, “Dear Alessandro, will you not tell me where we are going?”

In spite of her gentleness, there was a shade of wounded feeling in her tone. Alessandro flung himself on his knees before her, and cried: “My Majella! my Majella! it seems to me I am going mad! I cannot tell what to do. I do not know what I think; all my thoughts seem whirling round as leaves do in brooks in the time of the spring rains. Do you think I can be going mad? It was enough to make me!”

Ramona, her own heart wrung with fear, soothed him as best she could. “Dear Alessandro,” she said, “let us go to Los Angeles, and not live with the Indians any more. You could get work there. You could play at dances sometimes; there must be plenty of work. I could get more sewing to do, too. It would be better, I think.”

He looked horror-stricken at the thought. “Go live among the white people!” he cried. “What does Majella think would become of one Indian, or two, alone among whites? If they will come to our villages and drive us out a hundred at a time, what would they do to one man alone? Oh, Majella is foolish!”

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“But there are many of your people at work for whites at San Bernardino and other places,” she persisted. “Why could not we do as they do?”

“Yes,” he said bitterly, “at work for whites; so they are! Majella has not seen. No man will pay an Indian but half wages; even long ago, when the Fathers were not all gone, and tried to help the Indians, my father has told me that it was the way only to pay an Indian one-half that a white man or a Mexican had. It was the Mexicans, too, did that, Majella. And now they pay the Indians in money sometimes, half wages; sometimes in bad flour, or things he does not want; sometimes in whiskey; and if he will not take it, and asks for his money, they laugh, and tell him to go, then. One man in San Bernardino last year, when an Indian would not take a bottle of sour wine for pay for a day’s work, shot him in the cheek with his pistol, and told him to mind how he was insolent any more! Oh, Majella, do not ask me to go work in the towns! I should kill some man, Majella, if I saw things like that.”

Ramona shuddered, and was silent. Alessandro continued: “If Majella would not be afraid, I know a place, high up on the mountain, where no white man has ever been, or ever will be. I found it when I was following a bear. The beast led me up. It was his home; and I said then, it was a fit hiding-place for a man. There is water, and a little green valley. We could live there; but it would be no more than to live; it is very small, the valley. Majella would be afraid?”

“Yes, Alessandro, I would be afraid, all alone on a high mountain. Oh, do not let us go there! Try something else first, Alessandro. Is there no other Indian village you know?”

“There is Saboba,” he said, “at foot of the San 378 Jacinto Mountain; I had thought of that. Some of my people went there from Temecula; but it is a poor little village, Majella. Majella would not like to live in it. Neither do I believe it will long be any safer than San Pasquale. There was a kind, good old man who owned all that valley,—Señor Ravallo; he found the village of Saboba there when he came to the country. It is one of the very oldest of all; he was good to all Indians, and he said they should never be disturbed, never. He is dead; but his three sons have the estate yet, and I think they would keep their father’s promise to the Indians. But you see, to-morrow, Majella, they may die, or go back to Mexico, as Señor Valdez did, and then the Americans will get it, as they did Temecula. And there are already white men living in the valley. We will go that way, Majella. Majella shall see. If she says stay, we will stay.”

It was in the early afternoon that they entered the broad valley of San Jacinto. They entered it from the west. As they came in, though the sky over their heads was overcast and gray, the eastern and northeastern part of the valley was flooded with a strange light, at once ruddy and golden. It was a glorious sight. The jagged top and spurs of San Jacinto Mountain shone like the turrets and posterns of a citadel built of rubies. The glow seemed preternatural.

“Behold San Jacinto!” cried Alessandro.

Ramona exclaimed in delight. “It is an omen!” she said. “We are going into the sunlight, out of the shadow;” and she glanced back at the west, which was of a slaty blackness.

“I like it not!” said Alessandro. “The shadow follows too fast!”

Indeed it did. Even as he spoke, a fierce wind blew from the north, and tearing off fleeces from the black cloud, sent them in scurrying masses across 379 the sky. In a moment more, snow-flakes began to fall.

“Holy Virgin!” cried Alessandro. Too well he knew what it meant. He urged the horses, running fast beside them. It was of no use. Too much even for Baba and Benito to make any haste, with the heavily loaded wagon.

“There is an old sheep-corral and a hut not over a mile farther, if we could but reach it!” groaned Alessandro. “Majella, you and the child will freeze.”

“She is warm on my breast,” said Ramona; “but, Alessandro, what ice in this wind! It is like a knife at my back!”

Alessandro uttered another ejaculation of dismay. The snow was fast thickening; already the track was covered. The wind lessened.

“Thank God, that wind no longer cuts as it did,” said Ramona, her teeth chattering, clasping the baby closer and closer.

“I would rather it blew than not,” said Alessandro; “it will carry the snow before it. A little more of this, and we cannot see, any more than in the night.”

Still thicker and faster fell the snow; the air was dense; it was, as Alessandro had said, worse than the darkness of night,—this strange opaque whiteness, thick, choking, freezing one’s breath. Presently the rough jolting of the wagon showed that they were off the road. The horses stopped; refused to go on.

“We are lost, if we stay here!” cried Alessandro. “Come, my Benito, come!” and he took him by the head, and pulled him by main force back into the road, and led him along. It was terrible. Ramona’s heart sank within her. She felt her arms growing numb; how much longer could she hold the baby safe? She called to Alessandro. He did not hear her; the wind had risen again; the snow was being 380 blown in masses; it was like making headway among whirling snow-drifts.

“We will die,” thought Ramona. “Perhaps it is as well!” And that was the last she knew, till she heard a shouting, and found herself being shaken and beaten, and heard a strange voice saying, “Sorry ter handle yer so rough, ma’am, but we’ve got ter git yer out ter the fire!”

“Fire!” Were there such things as fire and warmth? Mechanically she put the baby into the unknown arms that were reaching up to her, and tried to rise from her seat; but she could not move.

“Set still! set still!” said the strange voice. “I’ll jest carry the baby ter my wife, an’ come back fur you. I allowed yer couldn’t git up on yer feet;” and the tall form disappeared. The baby, thus vigorously disturbed from her warm sleep, began to cry.

“Thank God!” said Alessandro, at the plunging horses’ heads. “The child is alive! Majella!” he called.

“Yes, Alessandro,” she answered faintly, the gusts sweeping her voice like a distant echo past him.

It was a marvellous rescue. They had been nearer the old sheep-corral than Alessandro had thought; but except that other storm-beaten travellers had reached it before them, Alessandro had never found it. Just as he felt his strength failing him, and had thought to himself, in almost the same despairing words as Ramona, “This will end all our troubles,” he saw a faint light to the left. Instantly he had turned the horses’ heads towards it. The ground was rough and broken, and more than once he had been in danger of overturning the wagon; but he had pressed on, shouting at intervals for help. At last his call was answered, and another light appeared; this time a swinging one, coming slowly towards him,—a lantern, in the hand of a man, whose first words, 381 “Wall, stranger, I allow yer inter trouble,” were as intelligible to Alessandro as if they had been spoken in the purest San Luiseno dialect.

Not so, to the stranger, Alessandro’s grateful reply in Spanish.

“Another o’ these no-’count Mexicans, by thunder!” thought Jeff Hyer to himself. “Blamed ef I’d lived in a country all my life, ef I wouldn’t know better ’n to git caught out in such weather’s this!” And as he put the crying babe into his wife’s arms, he said half impatiently, “Ef I’d knowed ’t wuz Mexicans, Ri, I wouldn’t ev’ gone out ter ’um. They’re more ter hum ’n I am, ’n these yer tropicks.”

“Naow, Jeff, yer know yer wouldn’t let ennythin’ in shape ev a human creetur go perishin’ past aour fire sech weather’s this,” replied the woman, as she took the baby, which recognized the motherly hand at its first touch, and ceased crying.

“Why, yer pooty, blue-eyed little thing!” she exclaimed, as she looked into the baby’s face. “I declar, Jos, think o’ sech a mite’s this bein’ aout ’n this weather. I’ll jest warm up some milk for it this minnit.”

“Better see ’t th’ mother fust, Ri,” said Jeff, leading, half carrying, Ramona into the hut. “She’s nigh abaout froze stiff!”

But the sight of her baby safe and smiling was a better restorative for Ramona than anything else, and in a few moments she had fully recovered. It was in a strange group she found herself. On a mattress, in the corner of the hut, lay a young man apparently about twenty-five, whose bright eyes and flushed cheeks told but too plainly the story of his disease. The woman, tall, ungainly, her face gaunt, her hands hardened and wrinkled, gown ragged, shoes ragged, her dry and broken light hair wound in a careless, straggling knot in her neck, wisps of it 382 flying over her forehead, was certainly not a prepossessing figure. Yet spite of her careless, unkempt condition, there was a certain gentle dignity in her bearing, and a kindliness in her glance, which won trust and warmed hearts at once. Her pale blue eyes were still keen-sighted; and as she fixed them on Ramona, she thought to herself, “This ain’t no common Mexican, no how.” “Be ye movers?” she said.

Ramona stared. In the little English she knew, that word was not included. “Ah, Señora,” she said regretfully, “I cannot talk in the English speech; only in Spanish.”

“Spanish, eh? Yer mean Mexican? Jos, hyar, he kin talk thet. He can’t talk much, though; ’t ain ’t good fur him; his lungs is out er kilter. Thet’s what we’re bringin’ him hyar fur,—fur warm climate! ’pears like it, don’t it?” and she chuckled grimly, but with a side glance of ineffable tenderness at the sick man. “Ask her who they be, Jos,” she added.

Jos lifted himself on his elbow, and fixing his shining eyes on Ramona, said in Spanish, “My mother asks if you are travellers?”

“Yes,” said Ramona. “We have come all the way from San Diego. We are Indians.”

“Injuns!” ejaculated Jos’s mother. “Lord save us, Jos! Hev we reelly took in Injuns? What on airth— Well, well, she’s fond uv her baby ’s enny white woman! I kin see thet; an’, Injun or no Injun, they’ve got to stay naow. Yer couldn’t turn a dog out ’n sech weather’s this. I bet thet baby’s father wuz white, then. Look at them blue eyes.”

Ramona listened and looked intently, but could understand nothing. Almost she doubted if the woman were really speaking English. She had never before heard so many English sentences without being able to understand one word. The Tennessee 383 drawl so altered even the commonest words, that she did not recognize them. Turning to Jos, she said gently, “I know very little English. I am so sorry I cannot understand. Will it tire you to interpret to me what your mother said?”

Jos was as full of humor as his mother. “She wants me to tell her what you wuz sayin’,” he said. “I allow, I’ll only tell her the part on ’t she’ll like best.—My mother says you can stay here with us till the storm is over,” he said to Ramona.

Swifter than lightning, Ramona had seized the woman’s hand and carried it to her heart, with an expressive gesture of gratitude and emotion. “Thanks! thanks! Señora!” she cried.

“What is it she calls me, Jos?” asked his mother.

“Señora,” he replied. “It only means the same as lady.”

“Shaw, Jos! You tell her I ain’t any lady. Tell her everybody round where we live calls me ‘Aunt Ri,’ or ‘Mis Hyer;’ she kin call me whichever she’s a mind to. She’s reel sweet-spoken.”

With some difficulty Jos explained his mother’s disclaimer of the title of Señora, and the choice of names she offered to Ramona.

Ramona, with smiles which won both mother and son, repeated after him both names, getting neither exactly right at first trial, and finally said, “I like ‘Aunt Ri’ best; she is so kind, like aunt, to every one.”

“Naow, ain’t thet queer, Jos,” said Aunt Ri, “aout here ’n thes wilderness to ketch sumbody sayin’ thet,—jest what they all say ter hum? I donno ’s I’m enny kinder ’n ennybody else. I don’t want ter see ennybody put upon, nor noways sufferin’, ef so be ’s I kin help; but thet ain’t ennythin’ stronary, ez I know. I donno how ennybody could feel enny different.”

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“There’s lots doos, mammy,” replied Jos, affectionately. “Yer’d find out fast enuf, ef yer went raound more. There’s mighty few ’s good ’s you air ter everybody.”

Ramona was crouching in the corner by the fire, her baby held close to her breast. The place which at first had seemed a haven of warmth, she now saw was indeed but a poor shelter against the fearful storm which raged outside. It was only a hut of rough boards, carelessly knocked together for a shepherd’s temporary home. It had been long unused, and many of the boards were loose and broken. Through these crevices, at every blast of the wind, the fine snow swirled. On the hearth were burning a few sticks of wood, dead cottonwood branches, which Jeff Hyer had hastily collected before the storm reached its height. A few more sticks lay by the hearth. Aunt Ri glanced at them anxiously. A poor provision for a night in the snow. “Be ye warm, Jos?” she asked.

“Not very, mammy,” he said; “but I ain’t cold, nuther; an’ thet’s somethin’.”

It was the way in the Hyer family to make the best of things; they had always possessed this virtue to such an extent, that they suffered from it as from a vice. There was hardly to be found in all Southern Tennessee a more contented, shiftless, ill-bestead family than theirs. But there was no grumbling. Whatever went wrong, whatever was lacking, it was “jest like aour luck,” they said, and did nothing, or next to nothing, about it. Good-natured, affectionate, humorous people; after all, they got more comfort out of life than many a family whose surface conditions were incomparably better than theirs. When Jos, their oldest child and only son, broke down, had hemorrhage after hemorrhage, and the doctor said the only thing that could save him was to go across 385 the plains in a wagon to California, they said, “What good luck ’Lizy was married last year! Now there ain’t nuthin’ ter hinder sellin’ the farm ’n goin’ right off.” And they sold their little place for half it was worth, traded cattle for a pair of horses and a covered wagon, and set off, half beggared, with their sick boy on a bed in the bottom of the wagon, as cheery as if they were rich people on a pleasure-trip. A pair of steers “to spell” the horses, and a cow to give milk for Jos, they drove before them; and so they had come by slow stages, sometimes camping for a week at a time, all the way from Tennessee to the San Jacinto Valley. They were rewarded. Jos was getting well. Another six months, they thought, would see him cured; and it would have gone hard with any one who had tried to persuade either Jefferson or Maria Hyer that they were not as lucky a couple as could be found. Had they not saved Joshua, their son?

Nicknames among this class of poor whites in the South seem singularly like those in vogue in New England. From totally opposite motives, the lazy, easy-going Tennesseean and the hurry-driven Vermonter cut down all their family names to the shortest. To speak three syllables where one will answer, seems to the Vermonter a waste of time; to the Tennesseean, quite too much trouble. Mrs. Hyer could hardly recollect ever having heard her name, “Maria,” in full; as a child, and until she was married, she was simply “Ri;” and as soon as she had a house of her own, to become a centre of hospitality and help, she was adopted by common consent of the neighborhood, in a sort of titular and universal aunt-hood, which really was a much greater tribute and honor than she dreamed. Not a man, woman, or child, within her reach, that did not call her or know of her as “Aunt Ri.”

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“I donno whether I’d best make enny more fire naow or not,” she said reflectively; “ef this storm’s goin’ to last till mornin’, we’ll come short o’ wood, thet’s clear.” As she spoke, the door of the hut burst open, and her husband staggered in, followed by Alessandro, both covered with snow, their arms full of wood. Alessandro, luckily, knew of a little clump of young cottonwood-trees in a ravine, only a few rods from the house; and the first thing he had thought of, after tethering the horses in shelter between the hut and the wagons, was to get wood. Jeff, seeing him take a hatchet from the wagon, had understood, got his own, and followed; and now there lay on the ground enough to keep them warm for hours. As soon as Alessandro had thrown down his load, he darted to Ramona, and kneeling down, looked anxiously into the baby’s face, then into hers; then he said devoutly, “The saints be praised, my Majella! It is a miracle!”

Jos listened in dismay to this ejaculation. “Ef they ain’t Catholics!” he thought. “What kind o’ Injuns be they, I wonder. I won’t tell mammy they’re Catholics; she’d feel wuss ’n ever. I don’t care what they be. Thet gal’s got the sweetest eyes ’n her head ever I saw sence I wuz born.”

By help of Jos’s interpreting, the two families soon became well acquainted with each other’s condition and plans; and a feeling of friendliness, surprising under the circumstances, grew up between them.

“Jeff,” said Aunt Ri,—“Jeff, they can’t understand a word we say, so ’t’s no harm done, I s’pose, to speak afore ’em, though ’t don’t seem hardly fair to take advantage o’ their not knowin’ any language but their own; but I jest tell you thet I’ve got a lesson ’n the subjeck uv Injuns. I’ve always hed a reel mean feelin’ about ’em; I didn’t want ter come nigh ’em, nor ter hev ’em come nigh me. This woman, here, 387 she’s ez sweet a creetur’s ever I see; ’n’ ez bound up ’n thet baby’s yer could ask enny woman to be; ’n’ ’s fur thet man, can’t yer see, Jeff, he jest worships the ground she walks on? Thet’s a fact, Jeff. I donno’s ever I see a white man think so much uv a woman; come, naow, Jeff, d’ yer think yer ever did yerself?”

Aunt Ri was excited. The experience was, to her, almost incredible. Her ideas of Indians had been drawn from newspapers, and from a book or two of narratives of massacres, and from an occasional sight of vagabond bands or families they had encountered in their journey across the plains. Here she found herself sitting side by side in friendly intercourse with an Indian man and Indian woman, whose appearance and behavior were attractive; towards whom she felt herself singularly drawn.

“I’m free to confess, Jos,” she said, “I wouldn’t ha’ bleeved it. I hain’t seen nobody, black, white, or gray, sence we left hum, I’ve took to like these yere folks. An’ they’re real dark; ’s dark’s any nigger in Tennessee; ’n’ he’s pewer Injun; her father wuz white, she sez, but she don’t call herself nothin’ but an Injun, the same’s he is. D’ yer notice the way she looks at him, Jos? Don’t she jest set a store by thet feller? ’N’ I don’t blame her.”

Indeed, Jos had noticed. No man was likely to see Ramona with Alessandro without perceiving the rare quality of her devotion to him. And now there was added to this devotion an element of indefinable anxiety which made its vigilance unceasing. Ramona feared for Alessandro’s reason. She had hardly put it into words to herself, but the terrible fear dwelt with her. She felt that another blow would be more than he could bear.

The storm lasted only a few hours. When it cleared, the valley was a solid expanse of white, and the stars shone out as if in an Arctic sky.

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“It will be all gone by noon to-morrow,” said Alessandro to Jos, who was dreading the next day.

“Not really!” he said.

“You will see,” said Alessandro. “I have often known it thus. It is like death while it lasts; but it is never long.”

The Hyers were on their way to some hot springs on the north side of the valley. Here they proposed to camp for three months, to try the waters for Jos. They had a tent, and all that was necessary for living in their primitive fashion. Aunt Ri was looking forward to the rest with great anticipation; she was heartily tired of being on the move. Her husband’s anticipations were of a more stirring nature. He had heard that there was good hunting on San Jacinto Mountain. When he found that Alessandro knew the region thoroughly, and had been thinking of settling there, he was rejoiced, and proposed to him to become his companion and guide in hunting expeditions. Ramona grasped eagerly at the suggestion; companionship, she was sure, would do Alessandro good, companionship, the outdoor life, and the excitement of hunting, of which he was fond. This hot-spring cañon was only a short distance from the Saboba village, of which they had spoken as a possible home; which she had from the first desired to try. She no longer had repugnance to the thought of an Indian village; she already felt a sense of kinship and shelter with any Indian people. She had become, as Carmena had said, “one of them.”

A few days saw the two families settled,—the Hyers in their tent and wagon, at the hot springs, and Alessandro and Ramona, with the baby, in a little adobe house in the Saboba village. The house belonged to an old Indian woman who, her husband having died, had gone to live with a daughter, and was very glad to get a few dollars by renting her own 389 house. It was a wretched place: one small room, walled with poorly made adobe bricks, thatched with tule, no floor, and only one window. When Alessandro heard Ramona say cheerily, “Oh, this will do very well, when it is repaired a little,” his face was convulsed, and he turned away; but he said nothing. It was the only house to be had in the village, and there were few better. Two months later, no one would have known it. Alessandro had had good luck in hunting. Two fine deerskins covered the earth floor; a third was spread over the bedstead; and the horns, hung on the walls, served for hooks to hang clothes upon. The scarlet calico canopy was again set up over the bed, and the woven cradle, on its red manzanita frame, stood near. A small window in the door, and one more cut in the walls, let in light and air. On a shelf near one of these windows stood the little Madonna, again wreathed with vines as in San Pasquale.

When Aunt Ri first saw the room, after it was thus arranged, she put both arms akimbo, and stood in the doorway, her mouth wide open, her eyes full of wonder. Finally her wonder framed itself in an ejaculation: “Wall, I allow yer air fixed up!”

Aunt Ri, at her best estate, had never possessed a room which had the expression of this poor little mud hut of Ramona’s. She could not understand it. The more she studied the place, the less she understood it. On returning to the tent, she said to Jos: “It beats all ever I see, the way thet Injun woman’s got fixed up out er nothin’. It ain’t no more ’n a hovel, a mud hovel, Jos, not much bigger ’n this yer tent, fur all three on ’em, an’ the bed an’ the stove an’ everythin’; an’ I vow, Jos, she’s fixed it so ’t looks jest like a parlor! It beats me, it doos. I’d jest like you to see it.”

And when Jos saw it, and Jeff, they were as full 390 of wonder as Aunt Ri had been. Dimly they recognized the existence of a principle here which had never entered into their life. They did not know it by name, and it could not have been either taught, transferred, or explained to the good-hearted wife and mother who had been so many years the affectionate disorderly genius of their home. But they felt its charm; and when, one day, after the return of Alessandro and Jeff from a particularly successful hunt, the two families had sat down together to a supper of Ramona’s cooking,—stewed venison and artichokes, and frijoles with chili,—their wonder was still greater.

“Ask her if this is Injun style of cooking, Jos,” said Aunt Ri. “I never thought nothin’ o’ beans; but these air good, ’n’ no mistake!”

Ramona laughed. “No; it is Mexican,” she said. “I learned to cook from an old Mexican woman.”

“Wall, I’d like the receipt on ’t; but I allow I shouldn’t never git the time to fuss with it,” said Aunt Ri; “but I may’s well git the rule, naow I’m here.”

Alessandro began to lose some of his gloom. He had earned money. He had been lifted out of himself by kindly companionship; he saw Ramona cheerful, the little one sunny; the sense of home, the strongest passion Alessandro possessed, next to his love for Ramona, began again to awake in him. He began to talk about building a house. He had found things in the village better than he feared. It was but a poverty-stricken little handful, to be sure; still, they were unmolested; the valley was large; their stock ran free; the few white settlers, one at the upper end and two or three on the south side, had manifested no disposition to crowd the Indians; the Ravallo brothers were living on the estate still, and there was protection in that, Alessandro thought. 391 And Majella was content. Majella had found friends. Something, not quite hope, but akin to it, began to stir in Alessandro’s heart. He would build a house; Majella should no longer live in this mud hut. But to his surprise, when he spoke of it, Ramona said no; they had all they needed, now. Was not Alessandro comfortable? She was. It would be wise to wait longer before building.

Ramona knew many things that Alessandro did not. While he had been away on his hunts, she had had speech with many a one he never saw. She had gone to the store and post-office several times, to exchange baskets or lace for flour, and she had heard talk there which disquieted her. She did not believe that Saboba was safe. One day she had heard a man say, “If there is a drought we shall have the devil to pay with our stock before winter is over.” “Yes,” said another; “and look at those damned Indians over there in Saboba, with water running all the time in their village! It’s a shame they should have that spring!”

Not for worlds would Ramona have told this to Alessandro. She kept it locked in her own breast, but it rankled there like a ceaseless warning and prophecy. When she reached home that day she went down to the spring in the centre of the village, and stood a long time looking at the bubbling water. It was indeed a priceless treasure; a long irrigating ditch led from it down into the bottom, where lay the cultivated fields,—many acres in wheat, barley, and vegetables. Alessandro himself had fields there from which they would harvest all they needed for the horses and their cow all winter, in case pasturage failed. If the whites took away this water, Saboba would be ruined. However, as the spring began in the very heart of the village, they could not take it without destroying the village. “And the Ravallos 392 would surely never let that be done,” thought Ramona. “While they live, it will not happen.”

It was a sad day for Ramona and Alessandro when the kindly Hyers pulled up their tent-stakes and left the valley. Their intended three months had stretched into six, they had so enjoyed the climate, and the waters had seemed to do such good to Jos. But, “We ain’t rich folks, yer know, not by a long ways, we ain’t,” said Aunt Ri; “an’ we’ve got pretty nigh down to where Jeff an’ me’s got to begin airnin’ suthin’. Ef we kin git settled ’n some o’ these towns where there’s carpenterin’ to be done. Jeff, he’s a master hand to thet kind o’ work, though yer mightn’t think it; ’n I kin airn right smart at weavin’; jest give me a good carpet-loom, ’n I won’t be beholden to nobody for vittles. I jest du love weavin’. I donno how I’ve contented myself this hull year, or nigh about a year, without a loom. Jeff, he sez to me once, sez he, ‘Ri, do yer think yer’d be contented in heaven without yer loom?’ an’ I was free to say I didn’t know’s I should.”

“Is it hard?” cried Ramona. “Could I learn to do it?” It was wonderful what progress in understanding and speaking English Ramona had made in these six months. She now understood nearly all that was said directly to her, though she could not follow general and confused conversation.

“Wall, ’t is, an’ ’t ain’t,” said Aunt Ri. “I don’t s’pose I’m much of a jedge; fur I can’t remember when I fust learned it. I know I set in the loom to weave when my feet couldn’t reach the floor; an’ I don’t remember nothin’ about fust learnin’ to spool ’n’ warp. I’ve tried to teach lots of folks; an’ sum learns quick, an’ some don’t never learn; it’s jest ’s ’t strikes ’em. I should think, naow, thet you wuz one o’ the kind could turn yer hand to any thin’. When we get settled in San Bernardino, if yer’ll come down thar, 393 I’ll teach yer all I know, ’n’ be glad ter. I donno ’s ’t’s goin’ to be much uv a place for carpet-weavin’ though, anywheres raound ’n this yer country; not but what thar’s plenty o’ rags, but folks seems to be wearin’ ’em; pooty gen’ral wear, I sh’d say. I’ve seen more cloes on folks’ backs hyar, thet wan’t no more ’n fit for carpet-rags, than any place ever I struck. They’re drefful sheftless lot, these yere Mexicans; ’n’ the Injuns is wuss. Naow when I say Injuns, I don’t never mean yeow, yer know thet. Yer ain’t ever seemed to me one mite like an Injun.”

“Most of our people haven’t had any chance,” said Ramona. “You wouldn’t believe if I were to tell you what things have been done to them; how they are robbed, and cheated, and turned out of their homes.”

Then she told the story of Temecula, and of San Pasquale, in Spanish, to Jos, who translated it with no loss in the telling. Aunt Ri was aghast; she found no words to express her indignation.

“I don’t bleeve the Guvvermunt knows anything about it!” she said. “Why, they take folks up, ’n’ peneten­tiarize ’em fur life, back ’n Tennessee, fur things thet ain ’t so bad’s thet! Somebody ought ter be sent ter tell ’em ’t Washington what’s goin’ on hyar.”

“I think it’s the people in Washington that have done it,” said Ramona, sadly. “Is it not in Washington all the laws are made?”

“I bleeve so!” said Aunt Ri. “Ain’t it, Jos? It’s Congress ain’t ’t, makes the laws?”

“I bleeve so!” said Jos. “They make some, at any rate. I donno’s they make ’em all.”

“It is all done by the American law,” said Ramona, “all these things; nobody can help himself; for if anybody goes against the law he has to be killed or put in prison; that was what the sheriff told Alessandro, at Temecula. He felt very sorry for the Temecula 394 people, the sheriff did; but he had to obey the law himself. Alessandro says there isn’t any help.”

Aunt Ri shook her head. She was not convinced. “I sh’ll make a business o’ findin’ out abaout this thing yit,” she said. “I think yer hain’t got the rights on ’t yit. There’s cheatin’ somewhere!”

“It’s all cheating!” said Ramona; “but there isn’t any help for it, Aunt Ri. The Americans think it is no shame to cheat for money.”

“I’m an Ummeriken!” cried Aunt Ri; “an’ Jeff Hyer, and Jos! We’re Ummerikens! ’n’ we wouldn’t cheat nobody, not ef we knowed it, not out er a doller. We’re pore, an’ I allus expect to be, but we’re above cheatin’; an’ I tell you, naow, the Ummeriken people don’t want any o’ this cheatin’ done, naow! I’m going to ask Jeff haow ’t is. Why, it’s a burnin’ shame to any country! So ’t is! I think something oughter be done abaout it! I wouldn’t mind goin’ myself, ef thar wan’t anybody else!”

A seed had been sown in Aunt Ri’s mind which was not destined to die for want of soil. She was hot with shame and anger, and full of impulse to do something. “I ain’t nobody,” she said; “I know thet well enough,—I ain’t nobody nor nothin’; but I allow I’ve got suthin’ to say abaout the country I live in, ’n’ the way things hed oughter be; or ’t least Jeff hez; ’n’ thet’s the same thing. I tell yer, Jos, I ain’t goin’ to rest, nor ter give yeou ’n’ yer father no rest nuther, till yeou find aout what all this yere means she’s been tellin’ us.”

But sharper and closer anxieties than any connected with rights to lands and homes were pressing upon Alessandro and Ramona. All summer the baby had been slowly drooping; so slowly that it was each day possible for Ramona to deceive herself, thinking that there had been since yesterday no loss, perhaps a little gain; but looking back from the autumn to the 395 spring, and now from the winter to the autumn, there was no doubt that she had been steadily going down. From the day of that terrible chill in the snow-storm, she had never been quite well, Ramona thought. Before that, she was strong, always strong, always beautiful and merry. Now her pinched little face was sad to see, and sometimes for hours she made a feeble wailing cry without any apparent cause. All the simple remedies that Aunt Ri had known, had failed to touch her disease; in fact, Aunt Ri from the first had been baffled in her own mind by the child’s symptoms. Day after day Alessandro knelt by the cradle, his hands clasped, his face set. Hour after hour, night and day, indoors and out, he bore her in his arms, trying to give her relief. Prayer after prayer to the Virgin, to the saints, Ramona had said; and candles by the dozen, though money was now scant, she had burned before the Madonna; all in vain. At last she implored Alessandro to go to San Bernardino and see a doctor. “Find Aunt Ri,” she said; “she will go with you, with Jos, and talk to him; she can make him understand. Tell Aunt Ri she seems just as she did when they were here, only weaker and thinner.”

Alessandro found Aunt Ri in a sort of shanty on the outskirts of San Bernardino. “Not to rights yit,” she said,—as if she ever would be. Jeff had found work; and Jos, too, had been able to do a little on pleasant days. He had made a loom and put up a loom-house for his mother,—a floor just large enough to hold the loom; rough walls, and a roof; one small square window,—that was all; but if Aunt Ri had been presented with a palace, she would not have been so well pleased. Already she had woven a rag carpet for herself, was at work on one for a neighbor, and had promised as many more as she could do before spring; the news of the arrival of a rag-carpet weaver 396 having gone with despatch all through the lower walks of San Bernardino life. “I wouldn’t hev bleeved they hed so many rags besides what they’re wearin’,” said Aunt Ri, as sack after sack appeared at her door. Already, too, Aunt Ri had gathered up the threads of the village life; in her friendly, impres­sionable way she had come into relation with scores of people, and knew who was who, and what was what, and why, among them all, far better than many an old resident of the town.

When she saw Benito galloping up to her door, she sprang down from her high stool at the loom, and ran bareheaded to the gate, and before Alessandro had dismounted, cried: “Ye’re jest the man I wanted; I’ve been try in’ to ’range it so’s we could go down ’n’ see yer, but Jeff couldn’t leave the job he’s got; an’ I’m druv nigh abaout off my feet, ’n’ I donno when we’d hev fetched it. How’s all? Why didn’t yer come in ther wagon ’n’ fetch ’em ’long? I’ve got heaps ter tell yer. I allowed yer hadn’t got the rights o’ all them things. The Guvvermunt ain’t on the side o’ the thieves, as yer said. I knowed they couldn’t be; an’ they’ve jest sent out a man a purpose to look after things fur yer,—to take keer o’ the Injuns ’n’ nothin’ else. Thet’s what he’s here fur. He come last month; he’s a reel nice man. I seen him ’n’ talked with him a spell, last week; I’m gwine to make his wife a rag carpet. ’N’ there’s a doctor, too, to ’tend ter yer when ye’re sick, ’n’ the Guvvermuut pays him; yer don’t hev to pay nothin’; ’n’ I tell yeow, thet’s a heap o’ savin’, to git yer docterin’ fur nuthin’!”

Aunt Ri was out of breath. Alessandro had not understood half she said. He looked about helplessly for Jos. Jos was away. In his broken English he tried to explain what Ramona had wished her to do.

“Doctor! Thet’s jest what I’m tellin’ yer! There’s one here’s paid by the Guvvermunt to ’tend to all 397 Injuns thet’s sick. I’ll go ’n’ show yer ter his house. I kin tell him jest how the baby is. P’r’aps he’ll drive down ’n’ see her!”

Ah! if he would! What would Majella say, should she see him enter the door bringing a doctor!

Luckily Jos returned in time to go with them to the doctor’s house as interpreter. Alessandro was bewildered. He could not understand this new phase of affairs. Could it be true? As they walked along, he listened with trembling, half-incredulous hope to Jos’s interpre­tation of Aunt Ri’s voluble narrative.

The doctor was in his office. To Aunt Ri’s statement of Alessandro’s errand he listened indifferently, and then said, “Is he an Agency Indian?”

“A what?” exclaimed Aunt Ri.

“Does he belong to the Agency? Is his name on the Agency books?”

“No,” said she; “he never heern uv any Agency till I wuz tellin’ him, jest naow. We knoo him, him ’n’ her, over ’n San Jacinto. He lives in Saboba. He’s never been to San Bernardino sence the Agent come aout.”

“Well, is he going to put his name down on the books?” said the doctor, impatiently. “You ought to have taken him to the Agent first.”

“Ain’t you the Guvvermunt doctor for all Injuns?” asked Aunt Ri, wrathfully. “Thet’s what I heerd.”

“Well, my good woman, you hear a great deal, I expect, that isn’t true;” and the doctor laughed coarsely but not ill-naturedly, Alessandro all the time studying his face with the scrutiny of one awaiting life and death; “I am the Agency physician, and I suppose all the Indians will sooner or later come in and report themselves to the Agent; you’d better take this man over there. What does he want now?”

Aunt Ri began to explain the baby’s case. Cutting 398 her short, the doctor said, “Yes, yes, I understand. I’ll give him something that will help her;” and going into an inner room, he brought out a bottle of dark-colored liquid, wrote a few lines of prescription, and handed it to Alessandro, saying, “That will do her good, I guess.”

“Thanks, Señor, thanks,” said Alessandro.

The doctor stared. “That’s the first Indian’s said ‘Thank you’ in this office,” he said. “You tell the Agent you’ve brought him a rara avis.”

“What’s that, Jos?” said Aunt Ri, as they went out.

“Donno!” said Jos. “I don’t like thet man, anyhow, mammy. He’s no good.”

Alessandro looked at the bottle of medicine like one in a dream. Would it make the baby well? Had it indeed been given to him by that great Government in Washington? Was he to be protected now? Could this man, who had been sent out to take care of Indians, get back his San Pasquale farm for him? Alessandro’s brain was in a whirl.

From the doctor’s office they went to the Agent’s house. Here, Aunt Ri felt herself more at home.

“I’ve brought ye thet Injun I wuz tellin’ ye uv,” she said, with a wave of her hand toward Alessandro. “We’ve ben ter ther doctor’s to git some metcen fur his baby. She’s reel sick, I’m afeerd.”

The Agent sat down at his desk, opened a large ledger, saying as he did so, “The man’s never been here before, has he?”

“No,” said Aunt Ri.

“What is his name?”

Jos gave it, and the Agent began to write it in the book. “Stop him!” cried Alessandro, agitatedly, to Jos. “Don’t let him write, till I know what he puts my name in his book for!”

“Wait,” said Jos. “He doesn’t want you to write 399 his name in that book. He wants to know what it’s put there for.”

Wheeling his chair with a look of suppressed impatience, yet trying to speak kindly, the Agent said: “There’s no making these Indians understand anything. They seem to think if I have their names in my book, it gives me some power over them.”

“Wall, don’t it?” said the direct-minded Aunt Ri. “Hain’t yer got any power over ’em? If yer hain’t got it over them, who have yer got it over? What yer goin’ to do for ’em?”

The Agent laughed in spite of himself. “Well, Aunt Ri,”—she was already “Aunt Ri” to the Agent’s boys,—“that’s just the trouble with this Agency. It is very different from what it would be if I had all my Indians on a reservation.”

Alessandro understood the words “my Indians.” He had heard them before.

“What does he mean by his Indians, Jos?” he asked fiercely. “I will not have my name in his book if it makes me his.”

When Jos reluctantly interpreted this, the Agent lost his temper. “That’s all the use there is trying to do anything with them! Let him go, then, if he doesn’t want any help from the Government!”

“Oh, no, no!” cried Aunt Ri. “Yeow jest explain it to Jos, an’ he’ll make him understand.”

Alessandro’s face had darkened. All this seemed to him exceedingly suspicious. Could it be possible that Aunt Ri and Jos, the first whites except Mr. Hartsel he had ever trusted, were deceiving him? No; that was impossible. But they themselves might be deceived. That they were simple and ignorant, Alessandro well knew. “Let us go!” he said. “I do not wish to sign any paper.”

“Naow don’t be a fool, will yeow? Yeow ain’t signin’ a thing!” said Aunt Ri. “Jos, yeow tell him I say 400 there ain’t anythin’ a bindin’ him, hevin’ his name ’n thet book. It’s only so the Agent kin know what Injuns wants help, ’n’ where they air. Ain’t thet so?” she added, turning to the Agent. “Tell him he can’t hev the Agency doctor, ef he ain’t on the Agency books.”

Not have the doctor? Give up this precious medicine which might save his baby’s life? No! he could not do that. Majella would say, let the name be written, rather than that.

“Let him write the name, then,” said Alessandro, doggedly; but he went out of the room feeling as if he had put a chain around his neck.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXII

it was a fit hiding-place for a man
[. . . so long as you can overlook the bear already in residence]

I like ‘Aunt Ri’ best
[In Spanish it would have been “Tia Ria”, which has a very nice rhythm.]

“Yes, yes, I understand. I’ll give him something that will help her”
[I don’t know if licensed physicians in real life made a habit of prescribing for patients they had never seen. They certainly did so in books.]

Let him go, then, if he doesn’t want any help
[The speaker seems to have forgotten that Alessandro has already been given the medicine. Alessandro may be too honorable to accept aid under false pretences, but the Indian Agency officials don’t know that.]

hevin’ his name ’n thet book
text has ’n’ as if abbreviating “and”, not “in”


The Señora Moreno was dying.


The medicine did the baby no good.

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.