ebooks

Ramona

422

range of rounded mountains

XXIV.

There was no real healing for Alessandro. His hurts had gone too deep. His passionate heart, ever secretly brooding on the wrongs he had borne, the hopeless outlook for his people in the future, and most of all on the probable destitution and suffering in store for Ramona, consumed itself as by hidden fires. Speech, complaint, active antagonism, might have saved him; but all these were foreign to his self-contained, reticent, repressed nature. Slowly, so slowly that Ramona could not tell on what hour or what day her terrible fears first changed to an even more terrible certainty, his brain gave way, and the thing, in dread of which he had cried out the morning they left San Pasquale, came upon him. Strangely enough, and mercifully, now that it had really come, he did not know it. He knew that he suddenly came to his consciousness sometimes, and discovered himself in strange and unexplained situations; had no recollection of what had happened for an interval of time, longer or shorter. But he thought it was only a sort of sickness; he did not know that during those intervals his acts were the acts of a madman; never violent, aggressive, or harmful to any one; never destructive. It was piteous to see how in these intervals his delusions were always shaped by the bitterest experiences of his life. Sometimes he fancied that the Americans were pursuing him, or that they were carrying off Ramona, and he was pursuing them. At such times he would run with maniac swiftness for hours, till he fell exhausted on the 423 ground, and slowly regained true consciousness by exhaustion. At other times he believed he owned vast flocks and herds; would enter any enclosure he saw, where there were sheep or cattle, go about among them, speak of them to passers-by as his own. Sometimes he would try to drive them away; but on being remonstrated with, would bewilderedly give up the attempt. Once he suddenly found himself in the road driving a small flock of goats, whose he knew not, nor whence he got them. Sitting down by the roadside, he buried his head in his hands. “What has happened to my memory?” he said. “I must be ill of a fever!” As he sat there, the goats, of their own accord, turned and trotted back into a corral near by, the owner of which stood, laughing, on his door-sill; and when Alessandro came up, said good-naturedly, “All right, Alessandro! I saw you driving off my goats, but I thought you’d bring ’em back.”

Everybody in the valley knew him, and knew his condition. It did not interfere with his capacity as a worker, for the greater part of the time. He was one of the best shearers in the region, the best horse-breaker; and his services were always in demand, spite of the risk there was of his having at any time one of these attacks of wandering. His absences were a great grief to Ramona, not only from the loneliness in which it left her, but from the anxiety she felt lest his mental disorder might at any time take a more violent and dangerous shape. This anxiety was all the more harrowing because she must keep it locked in her own breast, her wise and loving instinct telling her that nothing could be more fatal to him than the knowledge of his real condition. More than once he reached home, breathless, panting, the sweat rolling off his face, crying aloud, “The Americans have found us out, Majella! They were on the trail! I baffled them. I came up another way.” At such 424 times she would soothe him like a child; persuade him to lie down and rest; and when he waked and wondered why he was so tired, she would say, “You were all out of breath when you came in, dear. You must not climb so fast; it is foolish to tire one’s self so.”

In these days Ramona began to think earnestly of Felipe. She believed Alessandro might be cured. A wise doctor could surely do something for him. If Felipe knew what sore straits she was in, Felipe would help her. But how could she reach Felipe without the Señora’s knowing it? And, still more, how could she send a letter to Felipe without Alessandro’s knowing what she had written? Ramona was as helpless in her freedom on this mountain eyrie as if she had been chained hand and foot.

And so the winter wore away, and the spring. What wheat grew in their fields in this upper air! Wild oats, too, in every nook and corner. The goats frisked and fattened, and their hair grew long and silky; the sheep were already heavy again with wool, and it was not yet midsummer. The spring rains had been good; the stream was full, and flowers grew along its edges thick as in beds.

The baby had thrived; as placid, laughing a little thing as if its mother had never known sorrow. “One would think she had suckled pain,” thought Ramona, “so constantly have I grieved this year; but the Virgin has kept her well.”

If prayers could compass it, that would surely have been so; for night and day the devout, trusting, and contrite Ramona had knelt before the Madonna and told her golden beads, till they were wellnigh worn smooth of all their delicate chasing.

At midsummer was to be a fête in the Saboba village, and the San Bernardino priest would come there. This would be the time to take the baby 425 down to be christened; this also would be the time to send the letter to Felipe, enclosed in one to Aunt Ri, who would send it for her from San Bernardino. Ramona felt half guilty as she sat plotting what she should say and how she should send it,—she, who had never had in her loyal, transparent breast one thought secret from Alessandro since they were wedded. But it was all for his sake. When he was well, he would thank her.

She wrote the letter with much study and deliberation; her dread of its being read by the Señora was so great, that it almost paralyzed her pen as she wrote. More than once she destroyed pages, as being too sacred a confidence for unloving eyes to read. At last, the day before the fête, it was done, and safely hidden away. The baby’s white robe, finely wrought in open-work, was also done, and freshly washed and ironed. No baby would there be at the fête so daintily wrapped as hers; and Alessandro had at last given his consent that the name should be Majella. It was a reluctant consent, yielded finally only to please Ramona; and, contrary to her wont, she had been willing in this instance to have her own wish fulfilled rather than his. Her heart was set upon having the seal of baptism added to the name she so loved; and, “If I were to die,” she thought, “how glad Alessandro would be, to have still a Majella!”

All her preparations were completed, and it was yet not noon. She seated herself on the veranda to watch for Alessandro, who had been two days away, and was to have returned the previous evening, to make ready for the trip to Saboba. She was disquieted at his failure to return at the appointed time. As the hours crept on and he did not come, her anxiety increased. The sun had gone more than an hour past the mid-heavens before he came. He had ridden fast; she had heard the quick strokes of 426 the horse’s hoofs on the ground before she saw him. “Why comes he riding like that?” she thought, and ran to meet him. As he drew near, she saw to her surprise that he was riding a new horse. “Why, Alessandro!” she cried. “What horse is this?”

He looked at her bewilderedly, then at the horse. True; it was not his own horse! He struck his hand on his forehead, endeavoring to collect his thoughts. “Where is my horse, then?” he said.

“My God! Alessandro,” cried Ramona. “Take the horse back instantly. They will say you stole it.”

“But I left my pony there in the corral,” he said. “They will know I did not mean to steal it. How could I ever have made the mistake? I recollect nothing, Majella. I must have had one of the sicknesses.”

Ramona’s heart was cold with fear. Only too well she knew what summary punishment was dealt in that region to horse-thieves. “Oh, let me take it back, dear!” she cried. “Let me go down with it. They will believe me.”

“Majella!” he exclaimed, “think you I would send you into the fold of the wolf? My wood-dove! It is in Jim Farrar’s corral I left my pony. I was there last night, to see about his sheep-shearing in the autumn. And that is the last I know. I will ride back as soon as I have rested. I am heavy with sleep.”

Thinking it safer to let him sleep for an hour, as his brain was evidently still confused, Ramona assented to this, though a sense of danger oppressed her. Getting fresh hay from the corral, she with her own hands rubbed the horse down. It was a fine, powerful black horse; Alessandro had evidently urged him cruelly up the steep trail, for his sides were steaming, his nostrils white with foam. Tears stood in Ramona’s eyes as she did what she could for him. 427 He recognized her good-will, and put his nose to her face. “It must be because he was black like Benito, that Alessandro took him,” she thought. “Oh, Mary Mother, help us to get the creature safe back!” she said.

When she went into the house, Alessandro was asleep. Ramona glanced at the sun. It was already in the western sky. By no possibility could Alessandro go to Farrar’s and back before dark. She was on the point of waking him, when a furious barking from Capitan and the other dogs roused him instantly from his sleep, and springing to his feet, he ran out to see what it meant. In a moment more Ramona followed,—only a moment, hardly a moment; but when she reached the threshold, it was to hear a gun-shot, to see Alessandro fall to the ground, to see, in the same second, a ruffianly man leap from his horse, and standing over Alessandro’s body, fire his pistol again, once, twice, into the forehead, cheek. Then with a volley of oaths, each word of which seemed to Ramona’s reeling senses to fill the air with a sound like thunder, he untied the black horse from the post where Ramona had fastened him, and leaping into his saddle again, galloped away, leading the horse. As he rode away, he shook his fist at Ramona, who was kneeling on the ground, striving to lift Alessandro’s head, and to stanch the blood flowing from the ghastly wounds. “That’ll teach you damned Indians to leave off stealing our horses!” he cried, and with another volley of terrible oaths was out of sight.

With a calmness which was more dreadful than any wild outcry of grief, Ramona sat on the ground by Alessandro’s body, and held his hands in hers. There was nothing to be done for him. The first shot had been fatal, close to his heart, the murderer aimed well; the after-shots, with the pistol, were from mere 428 wanton brutality. After a few seconds Ramona rose, went into the house, brought out the white altar-cloth, and laid it over the mutilated face. As she did this, she recalled words she had heard Father Salvierderra quote as having been said by Father Junipero, when one of the Franciscan Fathers had been massacred by the Indians, at San Diego. “Thank God!” he said, “the ground is now watered by the blood of a martyr!”

“The blood of a martyr!” The words seemed to float in the air; to cleanse it from the foul blasphemies the murderer had spoken. “My Alessandro!” she said. “Gone to be with the saints; one of the blessed martyrs; they will listen to what a martyr says.” His hands were warm. She laid them in her bosom, kissed them again and again. Stretching herself on the ground by his side, she threw one arm over him, and whispered in his ear, “My love, my Alessandro! Oh, speak once to Majella! Why do I not grieve more? My Alessandro! Is he not blest already? And soon we will be with him! The burdens were too great. He could not bear them!” Then waves of grief broke over her, and she sobbed convulsively; but still she shed no tears. Suddenly she sprang to her feet, and looked wildly around. The sun was not many hours high. Whither should she go for help? The old Indian woman had gone away with the sheep, and would not be back till dark. Alessandro must not lie there on the ground. To whom should she go? To walk to Saboba was out of the question. There was another Indian village nearer,—the village of the Cahuillas, on one of the high plateaus of San Jacinto. She had once been there. Could she find that trail now? She must try. There was no human help nearer.

Taking the baby in her arms, she knelt by Alessandro, and kissing him, whispered, “Farewell, my 429 beloved. I will not be long gone. I go to bring friends.” As she set off, swiftly running, Capitan, who had been lying by Alessandro’s side, uttering heart-rending howls, bounded to his feet to follow her. “No, Capitan,” she said; and leading him back to the body, she took his head in her hands, looked into his eyes, and said, “Capitan, watch here.” With a whimpering cry, he licked her hands, and stretched himself on the ground. He understood, and would obey; but his eyes followed her wistfully till she disappeared from sight.

The trail was rough, and hard to find. More than once Ramona stopped, baffled, among the rocky ridges and precipices. Her clothes were torn, her face bleeding, from the thorny shrubs; her feet seemed leaden, she made her way so slowly. It was dark in the ravines; as she climbed spur after spur, and still saw nothing but pine forests or bleak opens, her heart sank within her. The way had not seemed so long before. Alessandro had been with her; it was a joyous, bright day, and they had lingered wherever they liked, and yet the way had seemed short. Fear seized her that she was lost. If that were so, before morning she would be with Alessandro; for fierce beasts roamed San Jacinto by night. But for the baby’s sake, she must not die. Feverishly she pressed on. At last, just as it had grown so dark she could see only a few hand-breadths before her, and was panting more from terror than from running, lights suddenly gleamed out, only a few rods ahead. It was the Cahuilla village. In a few moments she was there.

It is a poverty-stricken little place, the Cahuilla village,—a cluster of tule and adobe huts, on a narrow bit of bleak and broken ground, on San Jacinto Mountain; the people are very poor, but are proud and high-spirited,—veritable mountaineers in nature, fierce and independent.

430

Alessandro had warm friends among them, and the news that he had been murdered, and that his wife had run all the way down the mountain, with her baby in her arms, for help, went like wild-fire through the place. The people gathered in an excited group around the house where Ramona had taken refuge. She was lying, half unconscious, on a bed. As soon as she had gasped out her terrible story, she had fallen forward on the floor, fainting, and the baby had been snatched from her arms just in time to save it. She did not seem to miss the child; had not asked for it, or noticed it when it was brought to the bed. A merciful oblivion seemed to be fast stealing over her senses. But she had spoken words enough to set the village in a blaze of excitement. It ran higher and higher. Men were everywhere mounting their horses,—some to go up and bring Alessandro’s body down; some organizing a party to go at once to Jim Farrar’s house and shoot him: these were the younger men, friends of Alessandro. Earnestly the aged Capitan of the village implored them to refrain from such violence.

“Why should ten be dead instead of one, my sons?” he said. “Will you leave your wives and your children like his? The whites will kill us all if you lay hands on the man. Perhaps they themselves will punish him.”

A derisive laugh rose from the group. Never yet within their experience had a white man been punished for shooting an Indian. The Capitan knew that as well as they did. Why did he command them to sit still like women, and do nothing, when a friend was murdered?

“Because I am old, and you are young. I have seen that we fight in vain,” said the wise old man. “It is not sweet to me, any more than to you. It is a fire in my veins; but I am old. I have seen. I forbid you to go.”

431

The women added their entreaties to his, and the young men abandoned their project. But it was with sullen reluctance; and mutterings were to be heard, on all sides, that the time would come yet. There was more than one way of killing a man. Farrar would not be long seen in the valley. Alessandro should be avenged.

As Farrar rode slowly down the mountain, leading his recovered horse, he revolved in his thoughts what course to pursue. A few years before, he would have gone home, no more disquieted at having killed an Indian than if he had killed a fox or a wolf. But things were different now. This Agent, that the Government had taken it into its head to send out to look after the Indians, had made it hot, the other day, for some fellows in San Bernardino who had maltreated an Indian; he had even gone so far as to arrest several liquor-dealers for simply selling whiskey to Indians. If he were to take this case of Alessandro’s in hand, it might be troublesome. Farrar concluded that his wisest course would be to make a show of good conscience and fair-dealing by delivering himself up at once to the nearest justice of the peace, as having killed a man in self-defence. Accordingly he rode straight to the house of a Judge Wells, a few miles below Saboba, and said that he wished to surrender himself as having committed “justifiable homicide” on an Indian, or Mexican, he did not know which, who had stolen his horse. He told a plausible story. He professed not to know the man, or the place; but did not explain how it was, that, knowing neither, he had gone so direct to the spot.

He said: “I followed the trail for some time, but when I reached a turn, I came into a sort of blind trail, where I lost the track. I think the horse had been led up on hard sod, to mislead any one on the 432 track. I pushed on, crossed the creek, and soon found the tracks again in soft ground. This part of the mountain was perfectly unknown to me, and very wild. Finally I came to a ridge, from which I looked down on a little ranch. As I came near the house, the dogs began to bark, just as I discovered my horse tied to a tree. Hearing the dogs, an Indian, or Mexican, I could not tell which, came out of the house, flourishing a large knife. I called out to him, ‘Whose horse is that?’ He answered in Spanish, ‘It is mine.’ ‘Where did you get it?’ I asked. ‘In San Jacinto,’ was his reply. As he still came towards me, brandishing the knife, I drew my gun, and said, ‘Stop, or I’ll shoot!’ He did not stop, and I fired; still he did not stop, so I fired again; and as he did not fall, I knocked him down with the butt of my gun. After he was down, I shot him twice with my pistol.”

The duty of a justice in such a case as this was clear. Taking the prisoner into custody, he sent out messengers to summon a jury of six men to hold inquest on the body of said Indian, or Mexican; and early the next morning, led by Farrar, they set out for the mountain. When they reached the ranch, the body had been removed; the house was locked; no signs left of the tragedy of the day before, except a few blood-stains on the ground, where Alessandro had fallen. Farrar seemed greatly relieved at this unexpected phase of affairs. However, when he found that Judge Wells, instead of attempting to return to the valley that night, proposed to pass the night at a ranch only a few miles from the Cahuilla village, he became almost hysterical with fright. He declared that the Cahuillas would surely come and murder him in the night, and begged piteously that the men would all stay with him to guard him.

At midnight Judge Wells was roused by the 433 arrival of the Capitan and head men of the Cahuilla village. They had heard of his arrival with his jury, and they had come to lead them to their village, where the body of the murdered man lay. They were greatly distressed on learning that they ought not to have removed the body from the spot where the death had taken place, and that now no inquest could be held.

Judge Wells himself, however, went back with them, saw the body, and heard the full account of the murder as given by Ramona on her first arrival. Nothing more could now be learned from her, as she was in high fever and delirium; knew no one, not even her baby when they laid it on her breast. She lay restlessly tossing from side to side, talking incessantly, clasping her rosary in her hands, and constantly mingling snatches of prayers with cries for Alessandro and Felipe; the only token of consciousness she gave was to clutch the rosary wildly, and sometimes hide it in her bosom, if they attempted to take it from her.

Judge Wells was a frontiersman, and by no means sentimentally inclined; but the tears stood in his eyes as he looked at the unconscious Ramona.

Farrar had pleaded that the preliminary hearing might take place immediately; but after this visit to the village, the judge refused his request, and appointed the trial a week from that day, to give time for Ramona to recover, and appear as a witness. He impressed upon the Indians as strongly as he could the importance of having her appear. It was evident that Farrar’s account of the affair was false from first to last. Alessandro had no knife. He had not had time to go many steps from the door; the volley of oaths, and the two shots almost simul­taneously, were what Ramona heard as she ran to the door. Alessandro could not have spoken many words.

434

The day for the hearing came. Farrar had been, during the interval, in a merely nominal custody; having been allowed to go about his business, on his own personal guarantee of appearing in time for the trial. It was with a strange mixture of regret and relief that Judge Wells saw the hour of the trial arrive, and not a witness on the ground except Farrar himself. That Farrar was a brutal ruffian, the whole country knew. This last outrage was only one of a long series; the judge would have been glad to have committed him for trial, and have seen him get his deserts. But San Jacinto Valley, wild, sparsely settled as it was, had yet as fixed standards and criterions of popularity as the most civilized of communities could show; and to betray sympathy with Indians was more than any man’s political head was worth. The word “justice” had lost its meaning, if indeed it ever had any, so far as they were concerned. The valley was a unit on that question, however divided it might be upon others. On the whole, the judge was relieved, though it was not without a bitter twinge, as of one accessory after the deed, and unfaithful to a friend; for he had known Alessandro well. Yet, on the whole, he was relieved when he was forced to accede to the motion made by Farrar’s counsel, that “the prisoner be discharged on ground of justifiable homicide, no witnesses having appeared against him.”

He comforted himself by thinking—what was no doubt true—that even if the case had been brought to a jury trial, the result would have been the same; for there would never have been found a San Diego County jury that would convict a white man of murder for killing an Indian, if there were no witnesses to the occurrence except the Indian wife. But he derived small comfort from this. Alessandro’s face haunted him, and also the memory of Ramona’s, as she lay 435 tossing and moaning in the wretched Cahuilla hovel. He knew that only her continued illness, or her death, could explain her not having come to the trial. The Indians would have brought her in their arms all the way, if she had been alive and in possession of her senses.

During the summer that she and Alessandro had lived in Saboba he had seen her many times, and had been impressed by her rare quality. His children knew her and loved her; had often been in her house; his wife had bought her embroidery. Alessandro also had worked for him; and no one knew better than Judge Wells that Alessandro in his senses was as incapable of stealing a horse as any white man in the valley. Farrar knew it; everybody knew it. Everybody knew, also, about his strange fits of wandering mind; and that when these half-crazed fits came on him, he was wholly irresponsible. Farrar knew this. The only explanation of Farrar’s deed was, that on seeing his horse spent and exhausted from having been forced up that terrible trail, he was seized by ungovernable rage, and fired on the second, without knowing what he did. “But he wouldn’t have done it, if it hadn’t been an Indian!” mused the judge. “He’d ha’ thought twice before he shot any white man down, that way.”

Day after day such thoughts as these pursued the judge, and he could not shake them off. An uneasy sense that he owed something to Ramona, or, if Ramona were dead, to the little child she had left, haunted him. There might in some such way be a sort of atonement made to the murdered, unavenged Alessandro. He might even take the child, and bring it up in his own house. That was by no means an uncommon thing in the valley. The longer he thought, the more he felt himself eased in his mind 436 by this purpose; and he decided that as soon as he could find leisure he would go to the Cahuilla village and see what could be done.

But it was not destined that stranger hands should bring succor to Ramona. Felipe had at last found trace of her. Felipe was on the way.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXIV

Everybody in the valley knew him
[I could swear the author just got through telling us they went to live in utterly uninhabited place. But she must have overlooked the Indians.]

till they were wellnigh worn smooth
“wellnigh” printed at midline without expected hyphen

one of the Franciscan Fathers had been massacred
[Quibble: can you call it a massacre if only one person is killed?]

gasped out her terrible story
[In what language? The Cahuillas were far enough inland to escape being missionized, so most wouldn’t speak Spanish. And the Cahuilla and Luiseño languages, though closely related, aren’t mutually intelligible.]

Never yet within their experience had a white man been punished for shooting an Indian.
[The first time was in Fall Creek, Indiana, in 1824. Sixty years later, there had not yet been a second time.]


The medicine did the baby no good.


Effectually misled by the faithful Carmena, Felipe had begun his search

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.