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Ramona

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ruins of San Carlos mission tower

III.

Juan Canito and Señor Felipe were not the only members of the Señora’s family who were impatient for the sheep-shearing. There was also Ramona. Ramona was, to the world at large, a far more important person than the Señora herself. The Señora was of the past; Ramona was of the present. For one eye that could see the significant, at times solemn, beauty of the Señora’s pale and shadowed countenance, there were a hundred that flashed with eager pleasure at the barest glimpse of Ramona’s face; the shepherds, the herdsmen, the maids, the babies, the dogs, the poultry, all loved the sight of Ramona; all loved her, except the Señora. The Señora loved her not; never had loved her, never could love her; and yet she had stood in the place of mother to the girl ever since her childhood, and never once during the whole sixteen years of her life had shown her any unkindness in act. She had promised to be a mother to her; and with all the inalienable stanchness of her nature she fulfilled the letter of her promise. More than the bond lay in the bond; but that was not the Señora’s fault.

The story of Ramona the Señora never told. To most of the Señora’s acquaintances now, Ramona was a mystery. They did not know—and no one ever asked a prying question of the Señora Moreno—who Ramona’s parents were, whether they were living or dead, or why Ramona, her name not being Moreno, lived always in the Señora’s house as a daughter, 33 tended and attended equally with the adored Felipe. A few gray-haired men and women here and there in the country could have told the strange story of Ramona; but its beginning was more than a half-century back, and much had happened since then. They seldom thought of the child. They knew she was in the Señora Moreno’s keeping, and that was enough. The affairs of the generation just going out were not the business of the young people coming in. They would have tragedies enough of their own presently; what was the use of passing down the old ones? Yet the story was not one to be forgotten; and now and then it was told in the twilight of a summer evening, or in the shadows of vines on a lingering afternoon, and all young men and maidens thrilled who heard it.

It was an elder sister of the Señora’s,—a sister old enough to be wooed and won while the Señora was yet at play,—who had been promised in marriage to a young Scotchman named Angus Phail. She was a beautiful woman; and Angus Phail, from the day that he first saw her standing in the Presidio gate, became so madly her lover, that he was like a man bereft of his senses. This was the only excuse ever to be made for Ramona Gonzaga’s deed. It could never be denied, by her bitterest accusers, that, at the first, and indeed for many months, she told Angus she did not love him, and could not marry him; and that it was only after his stormy and ceaseless entreaties, that she did finally promise to become his wife. Then, almost immediately, she went away to Monterey, and Angus set sail for San Blas. He was the owner of the richest line of ships which traded along the coast at that time; the richest stuffs, carvings, woods, pearls, and jewels, which came into the country, came in his ships. The arrival of one of them was always an event; and Angus himself, having been 34 well-born in Scotland, and being wonderfully well-mannered for a seafaring man, was made welcome in all the best houses, wherever his ships went into harbor, from Monterey to San Diego.

The Señorita Ramona Gonzaga sailed for Monterey the same day and hour her lover sailed for San Blas. They stood on the decks waving signals to each other as one sailed away to the south, the other to the north. It was remembered afterward by those who were in the ship with the Señorita, that she ceased to wave her signals, and had turned her face away, long before her lover’s ship was out of sight. But the men of the “San Jose” said that Angus Phail stood immovable, gazing northward, till nightfall shut from his sight even the horizon line at which the Monterey ship had long before disappeared from view.

This was to be his last voyage. He went on this only because his honor was pledged to do so. Also, he comforted himself by thinking that he would bring back for his bride, and for the home he meant to give her, treasures of all sorts, which none could select so well as he. Through the long weeks of the voyage he sat on deck, gazing dreamily at the waves, and letting his imagination feed on pictures of jewels, satins, velvets, laces, which would best deck his wife’s form and face. When he could no longer bear the vivid fancies’ heat in his blood, he would pace the deck, swifter and swifter, till his steps were like those of one flying in fear; at such times the men heard him muttering and whispering to himself, “Ramona! Ramona!” Mad with love from the first to the last was Angus Phail; and there were many who believed that if he had ever seen the hour when he called Ramona Gonzaga his own, his reason would have fled forever at that moment, and he would have killed either her or himself, as men thus mad have been known to do. But that hour never came. When, 35 eight months later, the “San Jose” sailed into the Santa Barbara harbor, and Angus Phail leaped breathless on shore, the second man he met, no friend of his, looking him maliciously in the face, said: “So, ho! You’re just too late for the wedding! Your sweetheart, the handsome Gonzaga girl, was married here, yesterday, to a fine young officer of the Monterey Presidio!”

Angus reeled, struck the man a blow full in the face, and fell on the ground, foaming at the mouth. He was lifted and carried into a house, and, speedily recovering, burst with the strength of a giant from the hands of those who were holding him, sprang out of the door, and ran bareheaded up the road toward the Presidio. At the gate he was stopped by the guard, who knew him.

“Is it true?” gasped Angus.

“Yes, Señor,” replied the man, who said afterward that his knees shook under him with terror at the look on the Scotchman’s face. He feared he would strike him dead for his reply. But, instead, Angus burst into a maudlin laugh, and, turning away, went staggering down the street, singing and laughing.

The next that was known of him was in a low drinking-place, where he was seen lying on the floor, dead drunk; and from that day he sank lower and lower, till one of the commonest sights to be seen in Santa Barbara was Angus Phail reeling about, tipsy, coarse, loud, profane, dangerous.

“See what the Señorita escaped!” said the thoughtless. “She was quite right not to have married such a drunken wretch.”

In the rare intervals when he was partially sober, he sold all he possessed,—ship after ship sold for a song, and the proceeds squandered in drinking or worse. He never had a sight of his lost bride. He did not seek it; and she, terrified, took every precaution to 36 avoid it, and soon returned with her husband to Monterey.

Finally Angus disappeared, and after a time the news came up from Los Angeles that he was there, had gone out to the San Gabriel Mission, and was living with the Indians. Some years later came the still more surprising news that he had married a squaw,—a squaw with several Indian children,—had been legally married by the priest in the San Gabriel Mission Church. And that was the last that the faithless Ramona Gonzaga ever heard of her lover, until twenty-five years after her marriage, when one day he suddenly appeared in her presence. How he had gained admittance to the house was never known; but there he stood before her, bearing in his arms a beautiful babe, asleep. Drawing himself up to the utmost of his six feet of height, and looking at her sternly, with eyes blue like steel, he said: “Señora Ortegna, you once did me a great wrong. You sinned, and the Lord has punished you. He has denied you children. I also have done a wrong; I have sinned, and the Lord has punished me. He has given me a child. I ask once more at your hands a boon. Will you take this child of mine, and bring it up as a child of yours, or of mine, ought to be brought up?”

The tears were rolling down the Señora Ortegna’s cheeks. The Lord had indeed punished her in more ways than Angus Phail knew. Her childlessness, bitter as that had been, was the least of them. Speechless, she rose, and stretched out her arms for the child. He placed it in them. Still the child slept on, undisturbed.

“I do not know if I will be permitted,” she said falteringly; “my husband—”

“Father Salvierderra will command it. I have seen him,” replied Angus.

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The Señora’s face brightened. “If that be so, I hope it can be as you wish,” she said. Then a strange embarrassment came upon her, and looking down upon the infant, she said inquiringly, “But the child’s mother?”

Angus’s face turned swarthy red. Perhaps, face to face with this gentle and still lovely woman he had once so loved, he first realized to the full how wickedly he had thrown away his life. With a quick wave of his hand, which spoke volumes, he said: “That is nothing. She has other children, of her own blood. This is mine, my only one, my daughter. I wish her to be yours; otherwise, she will be taken by the Church.”

With each second that she felt the little warm body’s tender weight in her arms, Ramona Ortegna’s heart had more and more yearned towards the infant. At these words she bent her face down and kissed its cheek. “Oh no! not to the Church! I will love it as my own,” she said.

Angus Phail’s face quivered. Feelings long dead within him stirred in their graves. He gazed at the sad and altered face, once so beautiful, so dear. “I should hardly have known you, Señora!” burst from him involuntarily.

She smiled piteously, with no resentment. “That is not strange. I hardly know myself,” she whispered. “Life has dealt very hardly with me. I should not have known you either—Angus.” She pronounced his name hesitatingly, half appealingly. At the sound of the familiar syllables, so long unheard, the man’s heart broke down. He buried his face in his hands, and sobbed out: “O Ramona, forgive me! I brought the child here, not wholly in love; partly in vengeance. But I am melted now. Are you sure you wish to keep her? I will take her away if you are not.”

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“Never, so long as I live, Angus,” replied Señora Ortegna. “Already I feel that she is a mercy from the Lord. If my husband sees no offence in her presence, she will be a joy in my life. Has she been christened?”

Angus cast his eyes down. A sudden fear smote him. “Before I had thought of bringing her to you,” he stammered, “at first I had only the thought of giving her to the Church. I had had her christened by”—the words refused to leave his lips—“the name— Can you not guess, Señora, what name she bears?”

The Señora knew. “My own?” she said.

Angus bowed his head. “The only woman’s name that my lips ever spoke with love,” he said, reassured, “was the name my daughter should bear.”

“It is well,” replied the Señora. Then a great silence fell between them. Each studied the other’s face, tenderly, bewilderedly. Then by a simultaneous impulse they drew nearer. Angus stretched out both his arms with a gesture of infinite love and despair, bent down and kissed the hands which lovingly held his sleeping child.

“God bless you, Ramona! Farewell! You will never see me more,” he cried, and was gone.

In a moment more he reappeared on the threshold of the door, but only to say in a low tone, “There is no need to be alarmed if the child does not wake for some hours yet. She has had a safe sleeping-potion given her. It will not harm her.”

One more long lingering look into each other’s faces, and the two lovers, so strangely parted, still more strangely met, had parted again, forever. The quarter of a century which had lain between them had been bridged in both their hearts as if it were but a day. In the heart of the man it was the old 39 passionate adoring love reawakening; a resurrection of the buried dead, to full life, with lineaments unchanged. In the woman it was not that; there was no buried love to come to such resurrection in her heart, for she had never loved Angus Phail. But, long unloved, ill-treated, heart-broken, she woke at that moment to the realization of what manner of love it had been which she had thrown away in her youth; her whole being yearned for it now, and Angus was avenged.

When Francis Ortegna, late that night, reeled, half-tipsy, into his wife’s room, he was suddenly sobered by the sight which met his eyes, his wife kneeling by the side of a cradle, in which lay, smiling in its sleep, a beautiful infant.

“What in the devil’s name,” he began; then recollecting, he muttered: “Oh, the Indian brat! I see! I wish you joy, Señora Ortegna, of your first child!” and with a mock bow, and cruel sneer, he staggered by, giving the cradle an angry thrust with his foot as he passed.

The brutal taunt did not much wound the Señora. The time had long since passed when unkind words from her husband could give her keen pain. But it was a warning not lost upon her new-born mother instinct, and from that day the little Ramona was carefully kept and tended in apartments where there was no danger of her being seen by the man to whom the sight of her baby face was only a signal for anger and indecency.

Hitherto Ramona Ortegna had, so far as was possible, carefully concealed from her family the unhappiness of her married life. Ortegna’s character was indeed well known; his neglect of his wife, his shameful dissipations of all sorts, were notorious in every port in the country. But from the wife herself no one had even heard so much as a syllable of complaint. 40 She was a Gonzaga, and she knew how to suffer in silence. But now she saw a reason for taking her sister into her confidence. It was plain to her that she had not many years to live; and what then would become of the child? Left to the tender mercies of Ortegna, it was only too certain what would become of her. Long sad hours of perplexity the lonely woman passed, with the little laughing babe in her arms, vainly endeavoring to forecast her future. The near chance of her own death had not occurred to her mind when she accepted the trust.

Before the little Ramona was a year old, Angus Phail died. An Indian messenger from San Gabriel brought the news to Señora Ortegna. He brought her also a box and a letter, given to him by Angus the day before his death. The box contained jewels of value, of fashions a quarter of a century old. They were the jewels which Angus had bought for his bride. These alone remained of all his fortune. Even in the lowest depths of his degradation, a certain sentiment had restrained him from parting with them. The letter contained only these words: “I send you all I have to leave my daughter. I meant to bring them myself this year. I wished to kiss your hands and hers once more. But I am dying. Farewell.”

After these jewels were in her possession, Señora Ortegna rested not till she had persuaded Señora Moreno to journey to Monterey, and had put the box into her keeping as a sacred trust. She also won from her a solemn promise that at her own death she would adopt the little Ramona. This promise came hard from Señora Moreno. Except for Father Salvierderra’s influence, she had not given it. She did not wish any dealings with such alien and mongrel blood. “If the child were pure Indian, I would like it better,” she said. “I like not these crosses. 41 It is the worst, and not the best of each, that remains.”

But the promise once given, Señora Ortegna was content. Well she knew that her sister would not lie, nor evade a trust. The little Ramona’s future was assured. During the last years of the unhappy woman’s life the child was her only comfort. Ortegna’s conduct had become so openly and defiantly infamous, that he even flaunted his illegitimate relations in his wife’s presence; subjecting her to gross insults, spite of her helpless invalidism. This last outrage was too much for the Gonzaga blood to endure; the Señora never afterward left her apartment, or spoke to her husband. Once more she sent for her sister to come; this time, to see her die. Every valuable she possessed, jewels, laces, brocades, and damasks, she gave into her sister’s charge, to save them from falling into the hands of the base creature that she knew only too well would stand in her place as soon as the funeral services had been said over her dead body.

Stealthily, as if she had been a thief, the sorrowing Señora Moreno conveyed her sister’s wardrobe, article by article, out of the house, to be sent to her own home. It was the wardrobe of a princess. The Ortegnas lavished money always on the women whose hearts they broke; and never ceased to demand of them that they should sit superbly arrayed in their lonely wretchedness.

One hour after the funeral, with a scant and icy ceremony of farewell to her dead sister’s husband, Señora Moreno, leading the little four-year-old Ramona by the hand, left the house, and early the next morning set sail for home.

When Ortegna discovered that his wife’s jewels and valuables of all kinds were gone, he fell into a great rage, and sent a messenger off, post-haste, with an insulting letter to the Señora Moreno, demanding 42 their return. For answer, he got a copy of his wife’s memoranda of instructions to her sister, giving all the said valuables to her in trust for Ramona; also a letter from Father Salvierderra, upon reading which he sank into a fit of despondency that lasted a day or two, and gave his infamous associates considerable alarm, lest they had lost their comrade. But he soon shook off the influence, whatever it was, and settled back into his old gait on the same old high-road to the devil. Father Salvierderra could alarm him, but not save him.

And this was the mystery of Ramona. No wonder the Señora Moreno never told the story. No wonder, perhaps, that she never loved the child. It was a sad legacy, indissolubly linked with memories which had in them nothing but bitterness, shame, and sorrow from first to last.

How much of all this the young Ramona knew or suspected, was locked in her own breast. Her Indian blood had as much proud reserve in it as was ever infused into the haughtiest Gonzaga’s veins. While she was yet a little child, she had one day said to the Señora Moreno, “Señora, why did my mother give me to the Señora Ortegna?”

Taken unawares, the Señora replied hastily: “Your mother had nothing whatever to do with it. It was your father.”

“Was my mother dead?” continued the child.

Too late the Señora saw her mistake. “I do not know,” she replied; which was literally true, but had the spirit of a lie in it. “I never saw your mother.”

“Did the Señora Ortegna ever see her?” persisted Ramona.

“No, never,” answered the Señora, coldly, the old wounds burning at the innocent child’s unconscious touch.

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Ramona felt the chill, and was silent for a time, her face sad, and her eyes tearful. At last she said, “I wish I knew if my mother was dead.”

“Why?” asked the Señora.

“Because if she is not dead I would ask her why she did not want me to stay with her.”

The gentle piteousness of this reply smote the Señora’s conscience. Taking the child in her arms, she said, “Who has been talking to you of these things, Ramona?”

“Juan Can,” she replied.

“What did he say?” asked the Señora, with a look in her eye which boded no good to Juan Canito.

“It was not to me he said it, it was to Luigo; but I heard him,” answered Ramona, speaking slowly, as if collecting her various reminiscences on the subject. “Twice I heard him. He said that my mother was no good, and that my father was bad too.” And the tears rolled down the child’s cheeks.

The Señora’s sense of justice stood her well in place of tenderness, now. Caressing the little orphan as she had never before done, she said, with an earnestness which sank deep into the child’s mind, “Ramona must not believe any such thing as that. Juan Can is a bad man to say it. He never saw either your father or your mother, and so he could know nothing about them. I knew your father very well. He was not a bad man. He was my friend, and the friend of the Señora Ortegna; and that was the reason he gave you to the Señora Ortegna, because she had no child of her own. And I think your mother had a good many.”

“Oh!” said Ramona, relieved, for the moment, at this new view of the situation,—that the gift had been not as a charity to her, but to the Señora Ortegna. “Did the Señora Ortegna want a little daughter very much?”

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“Yes, very much indeed,” said the Señora, heartily and with fervor. “She had grieved many years because she had no child.”

Silence again for a brief space, during which the little lonely heart, grappling with its vague instinct of loss and wrong, made wide thrusts into the perplexities hedging it about, and presently electrified the Señora by saying in a half-whisper, “Why did not my father bring me to you first? Did he know you did not want any daughter?”

The Señora was dumb for a second; then recovering herself, she said: “Your father was the Señora Ortegna’s friend more than he was mine. I was only a child, then.”

“Of course you did not need any daughter when you had Felipe,” continued Ramona, pursuing her original line of inquiry and reflection without noticing the Señora’s reply. “A son is more than a daughter; but most people have both,” eying the Señora keenly, to see what response this would bring.

But the Señora was weary and uncomfortable with the talk. At the very mention of Felipe, a swift flash of consciousness of her inability to love Ramona had swept through her mind. “Ramona,” she said firmly, “while you are a little girl, you cannot understand any of these things. When you are a woman, I will tell you all that I know myself about your father and your mother. It is very little. Your father died when you were only two years old. All that you have to do is to be a good child, and say your prayers, and when Father Salvierderra comes he will be pleased with you. And he will not be pleased if you ask troublesome questions. Don’t ever speak to me again about this. When the proper time comes I will tell you myself.”

This was when Ramona was ten. She was now 45 nineteen. She had never again asked the Señora a question bearing on the forbidden subject. She had been a good child and said her prayers, and Father Salvierderra had been always pleased with her, growing more and more deeply attached to her year by year. But the proper time had not yet come for the Señora to tell her anything more about her father and mother. There were few mornings on which the girl did not think, “Perhaps it may be to-day that she will tell me.” But she would not ask. Every word of that conversation was as vivid in her mind as it had been the day it occurred; and it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that during every day of the whole nine years had deepened in her heart the conviction which had prompted the child’s question, “Did he know that you did not want any daughter?”

A nature less gentle than Ramona’s would have been embittered, or, at least hardened, by this consciousness. But Ramona’s was not. She never put it in words to herself. She accepted it, as those born deformed seem sometimes to accept the pain and isolation caused by their deformity, with an unquestioning acceptance, which is as far above resignation, as resignation is above rebellious repining.

No one would have known, from Ramona’s face, manner, or habitual conduct, that she had ever experienced a sorrow or had a care. Her face was sunny, she had a joyous voice, and never was seen to pass a human being without a cheerful greeting, to highest and lowest the same. Her industry was tireless. She had had two years at school, in the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Los Angeles, where the Señora had placed her at much personal sacrifice, during one of the hardest times the Moreno estate had ever seen. Here she had won the affection of all the Sisters, who spoke of her habitually as the “blessed child.” 46 They had taught her all the dainty arts of lace-weaving, embroidery, and simple fashions of painting and drawing, which they knew; not overmuch learning out of books, but enough to make her a passionate lover of verse and romance. For serious study or for deep thought she had no vocation. She was a simple, joyous, gentle, clinging, faithful nature, like a clear brook rippling along in the sun,—a nature as unlike as possible to the Señora’s, with its mysterious depths and stormy, hidden currents.

Of these Ramona was dimly conscious, and at times had a tender, sorrowful pity for the Señora, which she dared not show, and could only express by renewed industry, and tireless endeavor to fulfil every duty possible in the house. This gentle faithfulness was not wholly lost on Señora Moreno, though its source she never suspected; and it won no new recognition from her for Ramona, no increase of love.

But there was one on whom not an act, not a look, not a smile of all this graciousness was thrown away. That one was Felipe. Daily more and more he wondered at his mother’s lack of affection of Ramona. Nobody knew so well as he how far short she stopped of loving her. Felipe knew what it meant, how it felt, to be loved by the Señora Moreno. But Felipe had learned while he was a boy that one sure way to displease his mother was to appear to be aware that she did not treat Ramona as she treated him. And long before he had become a man he had acquired the habit of keeping to himself most of the things he thought and felt about his little playmate sister,—a dangerous habit, out of which were slowly ripening bitter fruits for the Señora’s gathering in later years.

Notes and Corrections: Chapter III

the whole sixteen years of her life

She was now nineteen.
[I don’t think our author understands how flashbacks work. In the time it took to deliver the backstory, Ramona has aged three years.]

Before the little Ramona was a year old, Angus Phail died

“Your father died when you were only two years old.”
[. . . and that’s why I don’t recommend trying to follow the chronology.]


The Señora Moreno’s house was one of the best specimens to be found in California


It was longer even than the Señora had thought it would be, before Father Salvierderra arrived.

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.