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Ramona

437

interior of mission, with stucco crumbling away from bricks

XXV.

Effectually misled by the faithful Carmena, Felipe had begun his search for Alessandro by going direct to Monterey. He found few Indians in the place, and not one had ever heard Alessandro’s name. Six miles from the town was a little settlement of them, in hiding, in the bottoms of the San Carlos River, near the old Mission. The Catholic priest advised him to search there; sometimes, he said, fugitives of one sort and another took refuge in this settlement, lived there for a few months, then disappeared as noiselessly as they had come. Felipe searched there also; equally in vain.

He questioned all the sailors in port; all the shippers. No one had heard of an Indian shipping on board any vessel; in fact, a captain would have to be in straits before he would take an Indian in his crew.

“But this was an exceptionally good worker, this Indian; he could turn his hand to anything; he might have gone as ship’s carpenter.”

“That might be,” they said; “nobody had ever heard of any such thing, however;” and very much they all wondered what it was that made the handsome, sad Mexican gentleman so anxious to find this Indian.

Felipe wasted weeks in Monterey. Long after he had ceased to hope, he lingered. He felt as if he would like to stay till every ship that had sailed out of Monterey in the last three years had returned. Whenever he heard of one coming into harbor, he hastened to the shore, and closely watched the disembarking. His 438 melancholy countenance, with its eager, searching look, became a familiar sight to every one; even the children knew that the pale gentleman was looking for some one he could not find. Women pitied him, and gazed at him tenderly, wondering if a man could look like that for anything save the loss of a sweetheart. Felipe made no confidences. He simply asked, day after day, of every one he met, for an Indian named Alessandro Assis.

Finally he shook himself free from the dreamy spell of the place, and turned his face southward again. He went by the route which the Franciscan Fathers used to take, when the only road on the California coast was the one leading from Mission to Mission. Felipe had heard Father Salvierderra say that there were in the neighborhood of each of the old Missions Indian villages, or families still living. He thought it not improbable that, from Alessandro’s father’s long connection with the San Luis Rey Mission, Alessandro might be known to some of these Indians. He would leave no stone unturned; no Indian village unsearched; no Indian unquestioned.

San Juan Bautista came first; then Soledad, San Antonio, San Miguel, San Luis Obispo, Santa Inez; and that brought him to Santa Barbara. He had spent two months on the journey. At each of these places he found Indians; miserable, half-starved creatures, most of them. Felipe’s heart ached, and he was hot with shame, at their condition. The ruins of the old Mission buildings were sad to see, but the human ruins were sadder. Now Felipe understood why Father Salvierderra’s heart had broken, and why his mother had been full of such fierce indignation against the heretic usurpers and despoilers of the estates which the Franciscans once held. He could not understand why the Church had submitted, without fighting, to such indignities and robberies. At 439 every one of the Missions he heard harrowing tales of the sufferings of those Fathers who had clung to their congregations to the last, and died at their posts. At Soledad an old Indian, weeping, showed him the grave of Father Sarria, who had died there of starvation. “He gave us all he had, to the last,” said the old man. “He lay on a raw-hide on the ground, as we did; and one morning, before he had finished the mass, he fell forward at the altar and was dead. And when we put him in the grave, his body was only bones, and no flesh; he had gone so long without food, to give it to us.”

At all these Missions Felipe asked in vain for Alessandro. They knew very little, these northern Indians, about those in the south, they said. It was seldom one from the southern tribes came northward. They did not understand each other’s speech. The more Felipe inquired, and the longer he reflected, the more he doubted Alessandro’s having ever gone to Monterey. At Santa Barbara he made a long stay. The Brothers at the College welcomed him hospitably. They had heard from Father Salvierderra the sad story of Ramona, and were distressed, with Felipe, that no traces had been found of her. It grieved Father Salvierderra to the last, they said; he prayed for her daily, but said he could not get any certainty in his spirit of his prayers being heard. Only the day before he died, he had said this to Father Francis, a young Brazilian monk, to whom he was greatly attached.

In Felipe’s overwrought frame of mind this seemed to him a terrible omen; and he set out on his journey with a still heavier heart than before. He believed Ramona was dead, buried in some unknown, unconsecrated spot, never to be found; yet he would not give up the search. As he journeyed southward, he began to find persons who had known of Alessandro; 440 and still more, those who had known his father, old Pablo. But no one had heard anything of Alessandro’s whereabouts since the driving out of his people from Temecula; there was no knowing where any of those Temecula people were now. They had scattered “like a flock of ducks,” one Indian said,—“like a flock of ducks after they are fired into. You’d never see all those ducks in any one place again. The Temecula people were here, there, and everywhere, all through San Diego County. There was one Temecula man at San Juan Capistrano, however. The Señor would better see him. He no doubt knew about Alessandro. He was living in a room in the old Mission building. The priest had given it to him for taking care of the chapel and the priest’s room, and a little rent besides. He was a hard man, the San Juan Capistrano priest; he would take the last dollar from a poor man.”

It was late at night when Felipe reached San Juan Capistrano; but he could not sleep till he had seen this man. Here was the first clew he had gained. He found the man, with his wife and children, in a large corner room opening on the inner court of the Mission quadrangle. The room was dark and damp as a cellar; a fire smouldered in the enormous fireplace; a few skins and rags were piled near the hearth, and on these lay the woman, evidently ill. The sunken tile floor was icy cold to the feet; the wind swept in at a dozen broken places in the corridor side of the wall; there was not an article of furniture. “Heavens!” thought Felipe, as he entered, “a priest of our Church take rent for such a hole as this!”

There was no light in the place, except the little which came from the fire. “I am sorry I have no candle, Señor,” said the man, as he came forward. “My wife is sick, and we are very poor.”

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“No matter,” said Felipe, his hand already at his purse. “I only want to ask you a few questions. You are from Temecula, they tell me.”

“Yes, Señor,” the man replied in a dogged tone,—no man of Temecula could yet hear the word without a pang,—“I was of Temecula.”

“I want to find one Alessandro Assis who lived there. You knew him, I suppose,” said Felipe, eagerly.

At this moment a brand broke in the smouldering fire, and for one second a bright blaze shot up; only for a second, then all was dark again. But the swift blaze had fallen on Felipe’s face, and with a start which he could not control, but which Felipe did not see, the Indian had recognized him. “Ha, ha!” he thought to himself. “Señor Felipe Moreno, you come to the wrong house asking for news of Alessandro Assis!”

It was Antonio,—Antonio, who had been at the Moreno sheep-shearing; Antonio, who knew even more than Carmena had known, for he knew what a marvel and miracle it seemed that the beautiful Señorita from the Moreno house should have loved Alessandro, and wedded him; and he knew that on the night she went away with him, Alessandro had lured out of the corral a beautiful horse for her to ride. Alessandro had told him all about it,—Baba, fiery, splendid Baba, black as night, with a white star in his forehead. Saints! but it was a bold thing to do, to steal such a horse as that, with a star for a mark; and no wonder that even now, though near three years afterwards, Señor Felipe was in search of him. Of course it could be only the horse he wanted. Ha! much help might he get from Antonio!

“Yes, Señor, I knew him,” he replied.

“Do you know where he is now?”

“No, Señor.”

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“Do you know where he went, from Temecula?”

“No, Señor.”

“A woman told me he went to Monterey. I have been there looking for him.”

“I heard, too, he had gone to Monterey.”

“Where did you see him last?”

“In Temecula.”

“Was he alone?”

“Yes, Señor.”

“Did you ever hear of his being married?”

“No, Señor.”

“Where are the greater part of the Temecula people now?”

“Like this, Señor,” with a bitter gesture, pointing to his wife. “Most of us are beggars. A few here, a few there. Some have gone to Capitan Grande, some way down into Lower California.”

Wearily Felipe continued his bootless questioning. No suspicion that the man was deceiving him crossed his mind. At last, with a sigh, he said, “I hoped to have found Alessandro by your means. I am greatly disappointed.”

“I doubt not that, Señor Felipe Moreno,” thought Antonio. “I am sorry, Señor,” he said.

It smote his conscience when Felipe laid in his hand a generous gold-piece, and said, “Here is a bit of money for you. I am sorry to see you so poorly off.”

The thanks which he spoke sounded hesitating and gruff, so remorseful did he feel. Señor Felipe had always been kind to them. How well they had fared always in his house! It was a shame to lie to him; yet the first duty was to Alessandro. It could not be avoided. And thus a second time help drifted away from Ramona.

At Temecula, from Mrs. Hartsel, Felipe got the first true intelligence of Alessandro’s movements; 443 but at first it only confirmed his worst forebodings. Alessandro had been at Mrs. Hartsel’s house; he had been alone, and on foot; he was going to walk all the way to San Pasquale, where he had the promise of work.

How sure the kindly woman was that she was telling the exact truth. After long ransacking of her memory and comparing of events, she fixed the time so nearly to the true date, that it was to Felipe’s mind a terrible corroboration of his fears. It was, he thought, about a week after Ramona’s flight from home that Alessandro had appeared thus, alone, on foot, at Mrs. Hartsel’s. In great destitution, she said; and she had lent him money on the expectation of selling his violin; but they had never sold it; there it was yet. And that Alessandro was dead, she had no more doubt than that she herself was alive; for else, he would have come back to pay her what he owed. The honestest fellow that ever lived, was Alessandro. Did not the Señor Moreno think so? Had he not found him so always? There were not many such Indians as Alessandro and his father. If there had been, it would have been better for their people. “If they’d all been like Alessandro, I tell you,” she said, “it would have taken more than any San Diego sheriff to have put them out of their homes here.”

“But what could they do to help themselves, Mrs. Hartsel?” asked Felipe. “The law was against them. We can’t any of us go against that. I myself have lost half my estate in the same way.”

“Well, at any rate they wouldn’t have gone without fighting!” she said. “‘If Alessandro had been here!’ they all said.”

Felipe asked to see the violin. “But that is not Alessandro’s,” he exclaimed. “I have seen his.”

“No!” she said. “Did I say it was his? It was 444 his father’s. One of the Indians brought it in here to hide it with us at the time they were driven out. It is very old, they say, and worth a great deal of money, if you could find the right man to buy it. But he has not come along yet. He will, though. I am not a bit afraid but that we’ll get our money back on it. If Alessandro was alive, he’d have been here long before this.”

Finding Mrs. Hartsel thus friendly, Felipe suddenly decided to tell her the whole story. Surprise and incredulity almost overpowered her at first. She sat buried in thought for some minutes; then she sprang to her feet, and cried: “If he’s got that girl with him, he’s hiding somewhere. There’s nothing like an Indian to hide; and if he is hiding, every other Indian knows it, and you just waste your breath asking any questions of any of them. They will die before they will tell you one thing. They are as secret as the grave. And they, every one of them, worshipped Alessandro. You see they thought he would be over them, after Pablo, and they were all proud of him because he could read and write, and knew more than most of them. If I were in your place,” she continued, “I would not give it up yet. I should go to San Pasquale. Now it might just be that she was along with him that night he stopped here, hid somewhere, while he came in to get the money. I know I urged him to stay all night, and he said he could not do it. I don’t know, though, where he could possibly have left her while he came here.”

Never in all her life had Mrs. Hartsel been so puzzled and so astonished as now. But her sympathy, and her confident belief that Alessandro might yet be found, gave unspeakable cheer to Felipe.

“If I find them, I shall take them home with me, Mrs. Hartsel,” he said as he rode away; “and we will come by this road and stop to see you.” And the very 445 speaking of the words cheered him all the way to San Pasquale.

But before he had been in San Pasquale an hour, he was plunged into a perplexity and disap­pointment deeper than he had yet felt. He found the village in disorder, the fields neglected, many houses deserted, the remainder of the people preparing to move away. In the house of Ysidro, Alessandro’s kinsman, was living a white family,—the family of a man who had pre-empted the greater part of the land on which the village stood. Ysidro, profiting by Alessandro’s example, when he found that there was no help, that the American had his papers from the land-office, in all due form, certifying that the land was his, had given the man his option of paying for the house or having it burned down. The man had bought the house; and it was only the week before Felipe arrived, that Ysidro had set off, with all his goods and chattels, for Mesa Grande. He might possibly have told the Señor more, the people said, than any one now in the village could; but even Ysidro did not know where Alessandro intended to settle. He told no one. He went to the north. That was all they knew.

To the north! That north which Felipe thought he had thoroughly searched. He sighed at the word. The Señor could, if he liked, see the house in which Alessandro had lived. There it was, on the south side of the valley, just in the edge of the foot-hills; some Americans lived in it now. Such a good ranch Alessandro had; the best wheat in the valley. The American had paid Alessandro something for it,—they did not know how much; but Alessandro was very lucky to get anything. If only they had listened to him. He was always telling them this would come. Now it was too late for most of them to get anything for their farms. One man had taken 446 the whole of the village lands, and he had bought Ysidro’s house because it was the best; and so they would not get anything. They were utterly disheartened, broken-spirited.

In his sympathy for them, Felipe almost forgot his own distresses. “Where are you going?” he asked of several.

“Who knows, Señor?” was their reply. “Where can we go? There is no place.”

When, in reply to his questions in regard to Alessandro’s wife, Felipe heard her spoken of as “Majella,” his perplexity deepened. Finally he asked if no one had ever heard the name Ramona.

“Never.”

What could it mean? Could it be possible that this was another Alessandro than the one of whom he was in search? Felipe bethought himself of a possible marriage-record. Did they know where Alessandro had married this wife of his, of whom every word they spoke seemed both like and unlike Ramona?

Yes. It was in San Diego they had been married, by Father Gaspara.

Hoping against hope, the baffled Felipe rode on to San Diego; and here, as ill-luck would have it, he found, not Father Gaspara, who would at his first word have understood all, but a young Irish priest, who had only just come to be Father Gaspara’s assistant. Father Gaspara was away in the mountains, at Santa Ysabel. But the young assistant would do equally well, to examine the records. He was courteous and kind; brought out the tattered old book, and, looking over his shoulder, his breath coming fast with excitement and fear, there Felipe read, in Father Gaspara’s hasty and blotted characters, the fatal entry of the names, “Alessandro Assis and Majella Fa—”

Heart-sick, Felipe went away. Most certainly Ramona would never have been married under any but 447 her own name. Who, then, was this woman whom Alessandro Assis had married in less than ten days from the night on which Ramona had left her home? Some Indian woman for whom he felt compassion, or to whom he was bound by previous ties? And where, in what lonely, forever hidden spot, was the grave of Ramona?

Now at last Felipe felt sure that she was dead. It was useless searching farther. Yet, after he reached home, his restless conjectures took one more turn, and he sat down and wrote a letter to every priest between San Diego and Monterey, asking if there were on his books a record of the marriage of one Alessandro Assis and Ramona Ortegna.

It was not impossible that there might be, after all, another Alessandro Assis. The old Fathers, in baptizing their tens of thousands of Indian converts, were sore put to it to make out names enough. There might have been another Assis besides old Pablo, and of Alessandros there were dozens everywhere.

This last faint hope also failed. No record anywhere of an Alessandro Assis, except in Father Gaspara’s book.

As Felipe was riding out of San Pasquale, he had seen an Indian man and woman walking by the side of mules heavily laden. Two little children, too young or too feeble to walk, were so packed in among the bundles that their faces were the only part of them in sight. The woman was crying bitterly. “More of these exiles. God help the poor creatures!” thought Felipe; and he pulled out his purse, and gave the woman a piece of gold. She looked up in as great astonishment as if the money had fallen from the skies. “Thanks! Thanks, Señor!” she exclaimed; and the man coming up to Felipe said also, “God reward you, Señor! That is more money than I 448 had in the world! Does the Señor know of any place where I could get work?”

Felipe longed to say, “Yes, come to my estate; there you shall have work!” In the olden time he would have done it without a second thought, for both the man and the woman had good faces,—were young and strong. But the pay-roll of the Moreno estate was even now too long for its dwindled fortunes. “No, my man, I am sorry to say I do not,” he answered. “I live a long way from here. Where were you thinking of going?”

“Somewhere in San Jacinto,” said the man. “They say the Americans have not come in there much yet. I have a brother living there. Thanks, Señor; may the saints reward you!”

“San Jacinto!” After Felipe returned home, the name haunted his thoughts. The grand mountain-top bearing that name he had known well in many a distant horizon. “Juan Can,” he said one day, “are there many Indians in San Jacinto?”

“The mountain?” said Juan Can.

“Ay, I suppose, the mountain,” said Felipe. “What else is there?”

“The valley, too,” replied Juan. “The San Jacinto Valley is a fine, broad valley, though the river is not much to be counted on. It is mostly dry sand a good part of the year. But there is good grazing. There is one village of Indians I know in the valley; some of the San Luis Rey Indians came from there; and up on the mountain is a big village; the wildest Indians in all the country live there. Oh, they are fierce, Señor!”

The next morning Felipe set out for San Jacinto. Why had no one mentioned, why had he not himself known, of these villages? Perhaps there were yet others he had not heard of. Hope sprang in Felipe’s impres­sionable nature as easily as it died. 449 An hour, a moment, might see him both lifted up and cast down. When he rode into the sleepy little village street of San Bernardino, and saw, in the near horizon, against the southern sky, a superb mountain-peak, changing in the sunset lights from turquoise to ruby, and from ruby to turquoise again, he said to himself, “She is there! I have found her!”

The sight of the mountain affected him, as it had always affected Aunt Ri, with an indefinable, solemn sense of something revealed, yet hidden. “San Jacinto?” he said to a bystander, pointing to it with his whip.

“Yes, Señor,” replied the man. As he spoke, a pair of black horses came whirling round the corner, and he sprang to one side, narrowly escaping being knocked down. “That Tennessee fellow’ll run over somebody yet, with those black devils of his, if he don’t look out,” he muttered, as he recovered his balance.

Felipe glanced at the horses, then driving his spurs deep into his horse’s sides, galloped after them. “Baba! by God!” he cried aloud in his excitement; and forgetful of everything, he urged his horse faster, shouting as he rode, “Stop that man! Stop that man with the black horses!”

Jos, hearing his name called on all sides, reined in Benito and Baba as soon as he could, and looked around in bewilderment to see what had happened. Before he had time to ask any questions, Felipe had overtaken him, and riding straight to Baba’s head, had flung himself from his own horse and taken Baba by the rein, crying, “Baba! Baba!” Baba knew his voice, and began to whinny and plunge. Felipe was nearly unmanned. For the second, he forgot everything. A crowd was gathering around them. It had never been quite clear to the San Bernardino mind that Jos’s title to Benito and Baba 450 would bear looking into; and it was no surprise, therefore, to some of the on-lookers, to hear Felipe cry in a loud voice, looking suspiciously at Jos, “How did you get him?”

Jos was a wag, and Jos was never hurried. The man did not live, nor could the occasion arrive, which would quicken his consti­tutional drawl. Before even beginning his answer he crossed one leg over the other and took a long, observant look at Felipe; then in a pleasant voice he said: “Wall, Señor,—I allow yer air a Señor by yer color,—it would take right smart uv time tew tell yeow haow I cum by thet hoss, ’n’ by the other one tew. They ain’t mine, neither one on ’em.”

Jos’s speech was as unintelligible to Felipe as it had been to Ramona. Jos saw it, and chuckled.

“Mebbe ’t would holp yer tew understand me ef I wuz tew talk Mexican,” he said, and proceeded to repeat in tolerably good Spanish the sum and substance of what he had just said, adding: “They belong to an Indian over on San Jacinto; at least, the off one does; the nigh one’s his wife’s; he wouldn’t ever call thet one anything but hers. It had been hers ever sence she was a girl, they said. I never saw people think so much of horses as they did.”

Before Jos had finished speaking, Felipe had bounded into the wagon, throwing his horse’s reins to a boy in the crowd, and crying, “Follow along with my horse, will you? I must speak to this man.”

Found! Found,—the saints be praised,—at last! How should he tell this man fast enough? How should he thank him enough?

Laying his hand on Jos’s knee, he cried: “I can’t explain to you; I can’t tell you. Bless you forever,—forever! It must be the saints led you here!”

“Oh, Lawd!” thought Jos; “another o’ them ‘saint’ 451 fellers! I allow not, Señor,” he said, relapsing into Tennesseean. “It wur Tom Wurmsee led me; I wuz gwine ter move his truck fur him this arternoon.”

“Take me home with you to your house,” said Felipe, still trembling with excitement; “we cannot talk here in the street. I want to hear all you can tell me about them. I have been searching for them all over California.”

Jos’s face lighted up. This meant good fortune for that gentle, sweet Ramona, he was sure. “I’ll take you straight there,” he said; “but first I must stop at Tom’s. He will be waiting for me.”

The crowd dispersed, disappointed; cheated out of their anticipated scene of an arrest for horse-stealing. “Good for you, Tennessee!” and, “Fork over that black horse, Jos!” echoed from the departing groups. Sensations were not so common in San Bernardino that they could afford to slight so notable an occasion as this.

As Jos turned the corner into the street where he lived, he saw his mother coming at a rapid run towards them, her sun-bonnet half off her head, her spectacles pushed up in her hair.

“Why, thar’s mammy!” he exclaimed. “What ever hez gone wrong naow?”

Before he finished speaking, she saw the black horses, and snatching her bonnet from her head waved it wildly, crying, “Yeow Jos! Jos, hyar! Stop! I wuz er comin’ ter hunt yer!”

Breathlessly she continued talking, her words half lost in the sound of the wheels. Apparently she did not see the stranger sitting by Jos’s side. “Oh, Jos, thar’s the terriblest news come! Thet Injun Alessandro ’s got killed; murdered; jest murdered, I say; ’t ain’t no less. Thar wuz an Injun come down from ther mounting with a letter to the Agent.”

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“Good God! Alessandro killed!” burst from Felipe’s lips in a heart-rending voice.

Jos looked bewilderedly from his mother to Felipe; the complication was almost beyond him. “Oh, Lawd!” he gasped. Turning to Felipe, “Thet’s mammy,” he said. “She wuz real fond o’ both on ’em.” Turning to his mother, “This hyar’s her brother,” he said. “He jest knowed me by Baba, hyar on ther street. He’s been huntin’ ’em everywhar.”

Aunt Ri grasped the situation instantly. Wiping her streaming eyes, she sobbed out: “Wall, I’ll allow, arter this, thar is sech a thing ez a Providence, ez they call it. ’Pears like ther couldn’t ennythin’ less brung yer hyar jest naow. I know who yer be; ye’re her brother Feeleepy, ain’t yer? Menny’s ther time she’s tolt me about yer! Oh, Lawd! How air we ever goin’ to git ter her? I allow she’s dead! I allow she’d never live arter seein’ him shot down dead! He tolt me thar couldn’t nobody git up thar whar they’d gone; no white folks, I mean. Oh, Lawd, Lawd!”

Felipe stood paralyzed, horror-stricken. He turned in despair to Jos. “Tell me in Spanish,” he said. “I cannot understand.”

As Jos gradually drew out the whole story from his mother’s excited and incoherent speech, and translated it, Felipe groaned aloud, “Too late! Too late!” He too felt, as Aunt Ri had, that Ramona never could have survived the shock of seeing her husband murdered. “Too late! Too late!” he cried, as he staggered into the house. “She has surely died of the sight.”

“I allow she didn’t die, nuther,” said Jos; “not ser long ez she hed thet young un to look arter!”

“Yer air right, Jos!” said Aunt Ri. “I allow yer air right. Thar couldn’t nothin’ kill her, short er 453 wild beasts, ef she hed ther baby ’n her arms! She ain’t dead, not ef the baby ez erlive, I allow. Thet’s some comfort.”

Felipe sat with his face buried in his hands. Suddenly looking up, he said, “How far is it?”

“Thirty miles ’n’ more inter the valley, where we wuz,” said Jos; “’n’ the Lawd knows how fur ’t is up on ter the mounting, where they wuz livin’. It’s like goin’ up the wall uv a house, goin’ up San Jacinto Mounting, daddy sez. He wuz thar huntin’ all summer with Alessandro.”

How strange, how incredible it seemed, to hear Alessandro’s name thus familiarly spoken,—spoken by persons who had known him so recently, and who were grieving, grieving as friends, to hear of his terrible death! Felipe felt as if he were in a trance. Rousing himself, he said, “We must go. We must start at once. You will let me have the horses?”

“Wall, I allow yer ’ve got more right ter ’em ’n—” began Jos, energetically, forgetting himself; then, dropping Tennesseean, he completed in Spanish his cordial assurances that the horses were at Felipe’s command.

“Jos! He’s got ter take me!” cried Aunt Ri. “I allow I ain’t never gwine ter set still hyar, ’n’ thet girl inter sech trouble; ’n’ if so be ez she is reely dead, thar’s the baby. He hedn’t orter go alone by hisself.”

Felipe was thankful, indeed, for Aunt Ri’s companionship, and expressed himself in phrases so warm, that she was embarrassed.

“Yeow tell him, Jos,” she said, “I can’t never git used ter bein’ called Señory. Yeow tell him his sister allers called me Aunt Ri, ’n’ I jest wish he would. I allow me ’n’ him’ll git along all right. ’Pears like I’d known him all my days, jest ez ’t did with her, 454 arter the fust. I’m free to confess I take more ter these Mexicans than I do ter these low-down, driven Yankees, enuyhow,—a heap more; but I can’t stand bein’ Señory’d! Yeow tell him, Jos. I s’pose thar’s a word for ‘aunt’ in Mexican, ain’t there? ’Pears like thar couldn’t be no langwedge ’thout sech a word! He’ll know what it means! I’d go off with him a heap easier ef he’d call me jest plain Aunt Ri, ez I’m used ter, or Mis Hyer, either un on ’em; but Aunt Ri’s the nateralest.”

Jos had some anxiety about his mother’s memory of the way to San Jacinto. She laughed.

“Don’t yeow be a mite oneasy,” she said. “I bet yeow I’d go clean back ter the States ther way we cum. I allow I’ve got every mile on ’t ’n my hed plain’s a turnpike. Yeow nor yer dad, neiry one on yer, couldn’t begin to do ’t. But what we air gwine ter do, fur gittin’ up the mounting, thet’s another thing. Thet’s more ’n I dew know. But thar’ll be a way pervided, Jos, sure ’s yeow’re bawn. The Lawd ain’t gwine to git hisself hindered er holpin’ Ramony this time; I ain’t a mite afeerd.”

Felipe could not have found a better ally. The comparative silence enforced between them by reason of lack of a common vehicle for their thoughts was on the whole less of a disadvantage than would have at first appeared. They understood each other well enough for practical purposes, and their unity in aim, and in affection for Ramona, made a bond so strong, it could not have been enhanced by words.

It was past sundown when they left San Bernardino, but a full moon made the night as good as day for their journey. When it first shone out, Aunt Ri, pointing to it, said curtly, “Thet’s lucky.”

“Yes,” replied Felipe, who did not know either of the words she had spoken, “it is good. It shows to us the way.”

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“Thar, naow, say he can’t understand English!” thought Aunt Ri.

Benito and Baba travelled as if they knew the errand on which they were hurrying. Good forty miles they had gone without flagging once, when Aunt Ri, pointing to a house on the right hand of the road, the only one they had seen for many miles, said: “We’ll hev to sleep hyar. I donno the road beyant this. I allow they’re gone ter bed; but they’ll hev to git up ’n’ take us in. They’re used ter doin’ it. They dew consid’able business keepin’ movers. I know ’em. They’re reel friendly fur the kind o’ people they air. They’re druv to death. It can’t be far frum their time to git up, ennyhow. They’re up every mornin’ uv thar lives long afore daylight, a feedin’ their stock, an’ gittin’ ready fur the day’s work. I used ter hear ’em ’n’ see ’em, when we wuz campin’ here. The fust I saw uv it, I thought somebody wuz sick in the house, to git ’em up thet time o’ night; but arterwards we found out ’t wan’t nothin’ but thar reggerlar way. When I told dad, sez I, ‘Dad, did ever yer hear sech a thing uz gittin’ up afore light to feed stock?’ ’n’ ter feed theirselves tew. They’d their own breakfast all clared away, ’n’ dishes washed, too, afore light; ’n’ prayers said beside; they’re Methodys, terrible pious. I used ter tell dad they talked a heap about believin’ in God; I don’t allow but what they dew believe in God, tew, but they don’t worship Him so much’s they worship work; not nigh so much. Believin’ ’n’ worshippin’ ’s tew things. Yeow wouldn’t see no sech doin’s in Tennessee. I allow the Lawd meant some time fur sleepin’; ’n’ I’m satisfied with his times o’ lightin’ up. But these Merrills air reel nice folks, fur all this I’ve ben tellin’ yer!—Lawd! I don’t believe he’s understood a word I’ve said, naow!” thought Aunt Ri to herself, suddenly becoming aware of the hopeless 456 bewilderment on Felipe’s face. “’T ain’t much use sayin’ anything more ’n plain yes ’n’ no, between folks thet can’t understand each other’s langwedge; ’n’ s’ fur’s thet goes, I allow thar ain’t any gret use ’n the biggest part o’ what’s sed between folks thet doos!”

When the Merrill family learned Felipe’s purpose of going up the mountain to the Cahuilla village, they attempted to dissuade him from taking his own horses. He would kill them both, high-spirited horses like those, they said, if he took them over that road. It was a cruel road. They pointed out to him the line where it wound, doubling and tacking on the sides of precipices, like a path for a goat or chamois. Aunt Ri shuddered at the sight, but said nothing.

“I’m gwine whar he goes,” she said grimly to herself. “I ain’t a gwine ter back daown naow; but I dew jest wish Jeff Hyer wuz along.”

Felipe himself disliked what he saw and heard of the grade. The road had been built for bringing down lumber, and for six miles it was at perilous angles. After this it wound along on ridges and in ravines till it reached the heart of a great pine forest, where stood a saw-mill. Passing this, it plunged into still darker, denser woods, some fifteen miles farther on, and then came out among vast opens, meadows, and grassy foot-hills, still on the majestic mountain’s northern or eastern slopes. From these, another steep road, little more than a trail, led south, and up to the Cahuilla village. A day and a half’s hard journey, at the shortest, it was from Merrill’s; and no one unfamiliar with the country could find the last part of the way without a guide. Finally it was arranged that one of the younger Merrills should go in this capacity, and should also take two of his strongest horses, accustomed to the road. By the help of these the terrible ascent was made without difficulty, though Baba at first snorted, plunged, and resented the 457 humiliation of being harnessed with his head at another horse’s tail.

Except for their sad errand, both Felipe and Aunt Ri would have experienced a keen delight in this ascent. With each fresh lift on the precipitous terraces, the view off to the south and west broadened, until the whole San Jacinto Valley lay unrolled at their feet. The pines were grand; standing, they seemed shapely columns; fallen, the upper curve of their huge yellow disks came above a man’s head, so massive was their size. On many of them the bark had been riddled from root to top, as by myriads of bullet-holes. In each hole had been cunningly stored away an acorn,—the woodpeckers’ granaries.

“Look at thet, naow!” exclaimed the observant Aunt Ri; “an’ thar’s folks thet sez dumb critters ain’t got brains. They ain’t noways dumb to each other, I notice; an’ we air dumb aourselves when we air ketched with furriners. I allow I’m next door to dumb myself with this hyar Mexican I’m er travellin’ with.”

“That’s so!” replied Sam Merrill. “When we fust got here, I thought I’d ha’ gone clean out o’ my head tryin’ to make these Mexicans sense my meanin’; my tongue was plaguy little use to me. But now I can talk their lingo fust-rate; but pa, he can’t talk to ’em nohow; he hain’t learned the fust word; ’n’ he’s ben here goin’ on two years longer ’n we have.”

The miles seemed leagues to Felipe. Aunt Ri’s drawling tones, as she chatted volubly with young Merrill, chafed him. How could she chatter! But when he thought this, it would chance that in a few moments more he would see her clandestinely wiping away tears, and his heart would warm to her again.

They slept at a miserable cabin in one of the clearings, and at early dawn pushed on, reaching the 458 Cahuilla village before noon. As their carriage came in sight, a great running to and fro of people was to be seen. Such an event as the arrival of a comfortable carriage drawn by four horses had never before taken place in the village. The agitation into which the people had been thrown by the murder of Alessandro had by no means subsided; they were all on the alert, suspicious of each new occurrence. The news had only just reached the village that Farrar had been set at liberty, and would not be punished for his crime, and the flames of indignation and desire for vengeance, which the aged Capitan had so much difficulty in allaying in the outset, were bursting forth again this morning. It was therefore a crowd of hostile and lowering faces which gathered around the carriage as it stopped in front of the Capitan’s house.

Aunt Ri’s face was a ludicrous study of mingled terror, defiance, and contempt. “Uv all ther low-down, no-’count, beggarly trash ever I laid eyes on,” she said in a low tone to Merrill, “I allow these yere air the wust! But I allow they’d flatten us all aout in jest abaout a minnit, ef they wuz to set aout tew! Ef she ain’t hyar, we air in a scrape, I allow.”

“Oh, they’re friendly enough,” laughed Merrill. “They’re all stirred up, now, about the killin’ o’ that Injun; that’s what makes ’em look so fierce. I don’t wonder! ’T was a derned mean thing Jim Farrar did, a firin’ into the man after he was dead. I don’t blame him for killin’ the cuss, not a bit; I’d have shot any man livin’ that ’ad taken a good horse o’ mine up that trail. That’s the only law we stock men ’ve got out in this country. We’ve got to protect ourselves. But it was a mean, low-lived trick to blow the feller’s face to pieces after he was dead; but Jim’s a rough feller, ’n’ I expect he was so mad, when he see his horse, that he didn’t know what he did.”

459

Aunt Ri was half paralyzed with astonishment at this speech. Felipe had leaped out of the carriage, and after a few words with the old Capitan, had hurried with him into his house. Felipe had evidently forgotten that she was still in the carriage. His going into the house looked as if Ramona were there. Aunt Ri, in all her indignation and astonishment, was conscious of this train of thought running through her mind; but not even the near prospect of seeing Ramona could bridle her tongue now, or make her defer replying to the extraordinary statements she had just heard. The words seemed to choke her as she began. “Young man,” she said, “I donno much abaout yeour raisin’. I’ve heered yeour folks wuz great on religion. Naow, we ain’t, Jeff ’n’ me; we warn’t raised thet way; but I allow ef I wuz ter hear my boy, Jos,—he’s jest abaout yeour age, ’n’ make tew, though he’s narrerer chested,—ef I should hear him say what yeou’ve jest said, I allow I sh’d expect to see him struck by lightnin’; ’n’ I sh’dn’t think he hed got more ’n his deserts, I allow I sh’dn’t!”

What more Aunt Ri would have said to the astounded Merrill was never known, for at that instant the old Capitan, returning to the door, beckoned to her; and springing from her seat to the ground, sternly rejecting Sam’s offered hand, she hastily entered the house. As she crossed the threshold, Felipe turned an anguished face towards her, and said, “Come, speak to her.” He was on his knees by a wretched pallet on the floor. Was that Ramona,—that prostrate form; hair dishevelled, eyes glittering, cheeks scarlet, hands playing meaninglessly, like the hands of one crazed, with a rosary of gold beads? Yes, it was Ramona; and it was like this she had lain there now ten days; and the people had exhausted all their simple skill for her in vain.

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Aunt Ri burst into tears. “Oh, Lawd!” she said. “Ef I had some ‘old man’ hyar, I’d bring her aout er thet fever! I dew bleeve I seed some on ’t growin’ not more ’n er mile back.” And without a second look, or another word, she ran out of the door, and springing into the carriage, said, speaking faster than she had been heard to speak for thirty years: “Yeow jest turn raound ’n’ drive me back a piece, the way we come. I allow I’ll git a weed thet’ll break thet fever. Faster, faster! Run yer hosses. ’T ain’t above er mile back, whar I seed it,” she cried, leaning out, eagerly scrutinizing each inch of the barren ground. “Stop! Here ’t is!” she cried. “I knowed I smelt the bitter on ’t somewhars along hyar;” and in a few minutes more she had a mass of the soft, shining, gray, feathery leaves in her hands, and was urging the horses fiercely on their way back. “This’ll cure her, ef ennything will,” she said, as she entered the room again; but her heart sank as she saw Ramona’s eyes roving restlessly over Felipe’s face, no sign of recognition in them. “She’s bad;” she said, her lips trembling; “but, ‘Never say die!’ ez allers our motto; ’t ain’t never tew late fur ennything but oncet, ’n’ yer can’t tell when thet time’s come till it’s past ’n’ gone.”

Steaming bowls of the bitterly odorous infusion she held at Ramona’s nostrils; with infinite patience she forced drop after drop of it between the unconscious lips; she bathed the hands and head, her own hands blistered by the heat. It was a fight with death; but love and life won. Before night Ramona was asleep.

Felipe and Aunt Ri sat by her, strange but not uncongenial watchers, each taking heart from the other’s devotion. All night long Ramona slept. As Felipe watched her, he remembered his own fever, and how she had knelt by his bed and prayed there. He 461 glanced around the room. In a niche in the mud wall was a cheap print of the Madonna, one candle just smouldering out before it. The village people had drawn heavily on their poverty-stricken stores, keeping candles burning for Alessandro and Ramona during the past ten days. The rosary had slipped from Ramona’s hold; taking it cautiously in his hand, Felipe went to the Madonna’s picture, and falling on his knees, began to pray as simply as if he were alone. The Indians, standing on the doorway, also fell on their knees, and a low-whispered murmur was heard.

For a moment Aunt Ri looked at the kneeling figures with contempt. “Oh, Lawd!” she thought, “the pore heathen, pray in’ ter a picter!” Then a sudden revulsion seized her. “I allow I ain’t gwine ter be the unly one out er the hull number thet don’t seem to hev nothin’ ter pray ter; I allow I’ll jine in prayer, tew, but I shan’t say mine ter no picter!” And Aunt Ri fell on her knees; and when a young Indian woman by her side slipped a rosary into her hand, Aunt Ri did not repulse it, but hid it in the folds of her gown till the prayers were done. It was a moment and a lesson Aunt Ri never forgot.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXV

You’d never see all those ducks in any one place again.
[I don’t think this is actually how ducks behave. Sheep, maybe.]

an’ thar’s folks thet sez dumb critters ain’t got brains
text has folk’s


There was no real healing for Alessandro.


The Capitan’s house faced the east. Just as day broke, and the light streamed in at the open door

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.