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Ramona

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grouping of baskets

IX.

When the Señora came back to the veranda, she found Felipe asleep, Alessandro standing at the foot of the bed, with his arms crossed on his breast, watching him. As the Señora drew near, Alessandro felt again the same sense of dawning hatred which had seized him at her harsh speech to Ramona. He lowered his eyes, and waited to be dismissed.

“You can go now, Alessandro,” said the Señora. “I will sit here. You are quite sure that it will be safe for Señor Felipe to sleep here all night?”

“It will cure him before many nights,” replied Alessandro, still without raising his eyes, and turning to go.

“Stay,” said the Señora. Alessandro paused. “It will not do for him to be alone here in the night, Alessandro.”

Alessandro had thought of this, and had remembered that if he lay on the veranda floor by Señor Felipe’s side, he would also lie under the Señorita’s window.

“No, Señora,” he replied. “I will lie here by his side. That was what I had thought, if the Señora is willing.”

“Thank you, Alessandro,” said the Señora, in a tone which would have surprised poor Ramona, still sitting alone in her room, with sad eyes. She did not know the Señora could speak thus sweetly to any one but Felipe. “Thank you! You are kind. I will have a bed made for you.”

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“Oh, no!” cried Alessandro; “if the Señora will excuse me, I could not lie on a bed. A raw-hide like Señor Felipe’s, and my blanket, are all I want. I could not lie on any bed.”

“To be sure,” thought the Señora; “what was I thinking of! How the boy makes one forget he is an Indian! But the floor is harder than the ground, Alessandro,” she said kindly.

“No, Señora,” he said, “it is all one; and to-night I will not sleep. I will watch Señor Felipe, in case there should be a wind, or he should wake and need something.”

“I will watch him myself till midnight,” said the Señora. “I should feel easier to see how he sleeps at first.”

It was the balmiest of summer nights, and as still as if no living thing were on the earth. There was a full moon, which shone on the garden, and on the white front of the little chapel among the trees. Ramona, from her window, saw Alessandro pacing up and down the walk. She had seen him spread down the raw-hide by Felipe’s bed, and had seen the Señora take her place in one of the big carved chairs. She wondered if they were both going to watch; she wondered why the Señora would never let her sit up and watch with Felipe.

“I am not of any use to anybody,” she thought sadly. She dared not go out and ask any questions about the arrangements for the night. At supper the Señora had spoken to her only in the same cold and distant manner which always made her dumb and afraid. She had not once seen Felipe alone during the day. Margarita, who, in the former times,—ah, how far away those former times looked now!—had been a greater comfort to Ramona than she realized,—Margarita now was sulky and silent, never came into Ramona’s presence if she could help it, and looked at 137 her sometimes with an expression which made Ramona tremble, and say to herself, “She hates me. She has always hated me since that morning.”

It had been a long, sad day to Ramona; and as she sat in her window leaning her head against the sash, and looked at Alessandro pacing up and down, she felt for the first time, and did not shrink from it nor in any wise disavow or disguise it to herself, that she was glad he loved her. More than this she did not think; beyond this she did not go. Her mind was not like Margarita’s, full of fancies bred of freedom in intercourse with men. But distinctly, tenderly glad that Alessandro loved her, and distinctly, tenderly aware how well he loved her, she was, as she sat at her window this night, looking out into the moonlit garden; after she had gone to bed, she could still hear his slow, regular steps on the garden-walk, and the last thought she had, as she fell asleep, was that she was glad Alessandro loved her.

The moon had been long set, and the garden, chapel-front, trees, vines, were all wrapped in impenetrable darkness, when Ramona awoke, sat up in her bed, and listened. All was so still that the sound of Felipe’s low, regular breathing came in through her open window. After hearkening to it for a few moments, she rose noiselessly from her bed, and creeping to the window parted the curtains and looked out; noiselessly, she thought; but it was not noiselessly enough to escape Alessandro’s quick ear; without a sound, he sprang to his feet, and stood looking at Ramona’s window.

“I am here, Señorita,” he whispered. “Do you want anything?”

“Has he slept all night like this?” she whispered back.

“Yes, Señorita. He has not once moved.”

“How good!” said Ramona. “How good!”

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Then she stood still; she wanted to speak again to Alessandro, to hear him speak again, but she could think of no more to say. Because she could not, she gave a little sigh.

Alessandro took one swift step towards the window. “May the saints bless you, Señorita,” he whispered fervently.

“Thank you, Alessandro,” murmured Ramona, and glided back to her bed, but not to sleep. It lacked not much of dawn; as the first faint light filtered through the darkness, Ramona heard the Señora’s window open.

“Surely she will not strike up the hymn and wake Felipe,” thought Ramona; and she sprang again to the window to listen. A few low words between the Señora and Alessandro, and then the Señora’s window closed again, and all was still.

“I thought she would not have the heart to wake him,” said Ramona to herself. “The Virgin would have had no pleasure in our song, I am sure; but I will say a prayer to her instead;” and she sank on her knees at the head of her bed, and began saying a whispered prayer. The footfall of a spider in Ramona’s room had not been light enough to escape the ear of that watching lover outside. Again Alessandro’s tall figure arose from the floor, turning towards Ramona’s window; and now the darkness was so far softened to dusk, that the outline of his form could be seen. Ramona felt it rather than saw it, and stopped praying. Alessandro was sure he had heard her voice.

“Did the Señorita speak?” he whispered, his face close at the curtain. Ramona, startled, dropped her rosary, which rattled as it fell on the wooden floor.

“No, no, Alessandro,” she said, “I did not speak.” And she trembled, she knew not why. The sound of 139 the beads on the floor explained to Alessandro what had been the whispered words he heard.

“She was at her prayers,” he thought, ashamed and sorry. “Forgive me,” he whispered, “I thought you called;” and he stepped back to the outer edge of the veranda, and seated himself on the railing. He would lie down no more. Ramona remained on her knees, gazing at the window. Through the transparent muslin curtain the dawning light came slowly, steadily, till at last she could see Alessandro distinctly. Forgetful of all else, she knelt gazing at him. The rosary lay on the floor, forgotten. Ramona would not finish that prayer, that day. But her heart was full of thanksgiving and gratitude, and the Madonna had a better prayer than any in the book.

The sun was up, and the canaries, finches, and linnets had made the veranda ring with joyous racket, before Felipe opened his eyes. The Señora had come and gone and come again, looking at him anxiously, but he stirred not. Ramona had stolen timidly out, glancing at Alessandro only long enough to give him one quick smile, and bent over Felipe’s bed, holding her breath, he lay so still.

“Ought he to sleep so long?” she whispered.

“Till the noon, it may be,” answered Alessandro; “and when he wakes, you will see by his eye that he is another man.”

It was indeed so. When Felipe first looked about him, he laughed outright with pure pleasure. Then catching sight of Alessandro at the steps, he called, in a stronger voice than had yet been heard from him, “Alessandro, you are a famous physician. Why couldn’t that fool from Ventura have known as much? With all his learning, he had had me in the next world before many days, except for you. Now, Alessandro, breakfast! I am hungry. I had forgotten 140 what the thought of food was like to a hungry stomach. And plenty! plenty!” he called, as Alessandro ran toward the kitchen. “Bring all they have.”

When the Señora saw Felipe bolstered up in the bed, his eye bright, his color good, his voice clear, eating heartily like his old self, she stood like a statue in the middle of the veranda for a moment; then turning to Alessandro, she said chokingly, “May Heaven reward you!” and disappeared abruptly in her own room. When she came out, her eyes were red. All day she moved and spoke with a softness unwonted, indeed inconceivable. She even spoke kindly and without constraint to Ramona. She felt like one brought back from the dead.

After this, a new sort of life began for them all. Felipe’s bed on the veranda was the rallying point for everything and everybody. The servants came to look up at him, and wish him well, from the garden-walk below. Juan Can, when he first hobbled out on the stout crutches Alessandro had made him of manzanita wood, dragged himself all the way round the house, to have a look at Señor Felipe and a word with him. The Señora sat there, in the big carved chair, looking like a sibyl with her black silk banded head-dress severely straight across her brow, and her large dark eyes gazing out, past Felipe, into the far south sky. Ramona lived there too, with her embroidery or her book, sitting on cushions on the floor in a corner, or at the foot of Felipe’s bed, always so placed, however,—if anybody had noticed, but nobody did,—so placed that she could look at Felipe without looking full at the Señora’s chair, even if the Señora were not in it.

Here also came Alessandro many times a day,—sometimes sent for, sometimes of his own accord. He was freely welcome. When he played or sang, 141 he sat on the upper step of the stairs leading down to the garden. He also had a secret, which he thought all his own, in regard to the positions he chose. He sat always, when Ramona was there, in the spot which best commanded a view of her face. The secret was not all his own. Felipe knew it. Nothing was escaping Felipe in these days. A bomb-shell exploding at their feet would not have more astonished the different members of this circle, the Señora, Ramona, Alessandro, than it would to have been made suddenly aware of the thoughts which were going on in Felipe’s mind now, from day to day, as he lay there placidly looking at them all.

It is probable that if Felipe had been in full health and strength when the revelation suddenly came to him that Alessandro loved Ramona, and that Ramona might love Alessandro, he would have been instantly filled with jealous antagonism. But at the time when this revelation came, he was prostrate, feeble, thinking many times a day that he must soon die; it did not seem to Felipe that a man could be so weak as he was, and ever again be strong and well. Side by side with these forebodings of his own death, always came the thought of Ramona. What would become of her, if he were gone? Only too well he knew that the girl’s heart would be broken; that she could not live on alone with his mother. Felipe adored his mother; but he understood her feeling about Ramona.

With his feebleness had also come to Felipe, as is often the case in long illnesses, a greater clearness of perception. Ramona had ceased to puzzle him. He no longer asked himself what her long, steady look into his eyes meant. He knew. He saw it meant that as a sister she loved him, had always loved him, and could love him in no other way. He wondered 142 a little at himself that this gave him no more pain; only a sort of sweet, mournful tenderness towards her. It must be because he was so soon going out of the world, he thought. Presently he began to be aware that a new quality was coming into his love for her. He himself was returning to the brother love which he had had for her when they were children together, and in which he had felt no change until he became a man and Ramona a woman. It was strange what a peace fell upon Felipe when this was finally clear and settled in his mind. No doubt he had had more misgiving and fear about his mother in the matter than he had ever admitted to himself; perhaps also the consciousness of Ramona’s unfortunate birth had rankled at times; but all this was past now. Ramona was his sister. He was her brother. What course should he pursue in the crisis which he saw drawing near? How could he best help Ramona? What would be best for both her and Alessandro? Long before the thought of any possible union between himself and Ramona had entered into Alessandro’s mind, still longer before it had entered into Ramona’s to think of Alessandro as a husband, Felipe had spent hours in forecasting, plotting, and planning for them. For the first time in his life he felt himself in the dark as to his mother’s probable action. That any concern as to Ramona’s personal happiness or welfare would influence her, he knew better than to think for a moment. So far as that was concerned, Ramona might wander out the next hour, wife of a homeless beggar, and his mother would feel no regret. But Ramona had been the adopted daughter of the Señora Ortegna, bore the Ortegna name, and had lived as foster-child in the house of the Morenos. Would the Señora permit such a one to marry an Indian?

Felipe doubted. The longer he thought, the more 143 he doubted. The more he watched, the more he saw that the question might soon have to be decided. Any hour might precipitate it. He made plan after plan for forestalling trouble, for preparing his mother; but Felipe was by nature indolent, and now he was, in addition, feeble. Day after day slipped by. It was exceedingly pleasant on the veranda. Ramona was usually with him; his mother was gentler, less sad, than he had ever seen her. Alessandro was always at hand, ready for any service,—in the field, in the house,—his music a delight, his strength and fidelity a repose, his personal presence always agreeable. “If only my mother could think it,” reflected Felipe, “it would be the best thing, all round, to have Alessandro stay here as overseer of the place, and then they might be married. Perhaps before the summer is over she will come to see it so.”

And the delicious, languid, semi-tropic summer came hovering over the valley. The apricots turned golden, the peaches glowed, the grapes filled and hardened, like opaque emeralds hung thick under the canopied vines. The garden was a shade brown, and the roses had all fallen; but there were lilies, and orange-blossoms, and poppies, and carnations, and geraniums in the pots, and musk,—oh, yes, ever and always musk. It was like an enchanter’s spell, the knack the Señora had of forever keeping relays of musk to bloom all the year; and it was still more like an enchanter’s spell, that Felipe would never confess that he hated it. But the bees liked it, and the humming-birds,—the butterflies also; and the air was full of them. The veranda was a quieter place now as the season’s noon grew near. The linnets were all nesting, and the finches and the canaries too; and the Señora spent hours, every day, tirelessly feeding the mothers. The vines had all grown and spread out to their thickest; no need any longer of the gay blanket Alessandro 144 had pinned up that first morning to keep the sun off Felipe’s head.

What was the odds between a to-day and a to-morrow in such a spot as this? “To-morrow,” said Felipe, “I will speak to my mother,” and “to-morrow,” and “to-morrow;” but he did not.

There was one close observer of these pleasant veranda days that Felipe knew nothing about. That was Margarita. As the girl came and went about her household tasks, she was always on the watch for Alessandro, on the watch for Ramona. She was biding her time. Just what shape her revenge was going to take, she did not know. It was no use plotting. It must be as it fell out; but that the hour and the way for her revenge would come, she never doubted.

When she saw the group on the veranda, as she often did, all listening to Alessandro’s violin, or to his singing, Alessandro himself now at his ease and free in the circle, as if he had been there always, her anger was almost beyond bounds.

“Oh, ho! like a member of the family; quite so!” she sneered. “It is new times when a head shepherd spends his time with the ladies of the house, and sits in their presence like a guest who is invited! We shall see; we shall see what comes of all this!” And she knew not which she hated the more of the two, Alessandro or Ramona.

Since the day of the scene at the artichoke-field she had never spoken to Alessandro, and had avoided, so far as was possible, seeing him. At first Alessandro was sorry for this, and tried to be friendly with her. As soon as he felt assured that the incident had not hurt him at all in the esteem of Ramona, he began to be sorry for Margarita. “A man should not be rude to any maiden,” he thought; and he hated to remember how he had pushed Margarita from him, and 145 snatched his hand away, when he had in the outset made no objection to her taking it. But Margarita’s resentment was not to be appeased. She understood only too clearly how little Alessandro’s gentle advances meant, and she would none of them. “Let him go to his Señorita,” she said bitterly, mocking the reverential tone in which she had overheard him pronounce the word. “She is fond enough of him, if only the fool had eyes to see it. She’ll be ready to throw herself at his head before long, if this kind of thing keeps up. ‘It is not well to speak thus freely of young men, Margarita!’ Ha, ha! Little I thought that day which way the wind set in my mistress’s temper! I’ll wager she reproves me no more, under this roof or any other! Curse her! What did she want of Alessandro, except to turn his head, and then bid him go his way!”

To do Margarita justice, she never once dreamed of the possibility of Ramona’s wedding Alessandro. A clandestine affair, an intrigue of more or less intensity, such as she herself might have carried on with any one of the shepherds,—this was the utmost stretch of Margarita’s angry imaginations in regard to her young mistress’s liking for Alessandro. There was not, in her way of looking at things, any impossibility of such a thing as that. But marriage! It might be questioned whether that idea would have been any more startling to the Señora herself than to Margarita.

Little had passed between Alessandro and Ramona which Margarita did not know. The girl was always like a sprite,—here, there, everywhere, in an hour, and with eyes which, as her mother often told her, saw on all sides of her head. Now, fired by her new purpose, new passion, she moved swifter than ever, and saw and heard even more. There were few hours of any day when she did not know to a certainty 146 where both Alessandro and Ramona were; and there had been few meetings between them which she had not either seen or surmised.

In the simple life of such a household as the Señora’s, it was not strange that this was possible; nevertheless, it argued and involved untiring vigilance on Margarita’s part. Even Felipe, who thought himself, from his vantage-post of observation on the veranda, and from his familiar relation with Ramona, well informed of most that happened, would have been astonished to hear all that Margarita could have told him. In the first days Ramona herself had guilelessly told him much,—had told him how Alessandro, seeing her trying to sprinkle and bathe and keep alive the green ferns with which she had decorated the chapel for Father Salvierderra’s coming, had said: “Oh, Señorita, they are dead! Do not take trouble with them! I will bring you fresh ones;” and the next morning she had found, lying at the chapel door, a pile of such ferns as she had never before seen; tall ones, like ostrich-plumes, six and eight feet high; the feathery maiden-hair, and the gold fern, and the silver, twice as large as she ever had found them. The chapel was beautiful, like a conservatory, after she had arranged them in vases and around the high candlesticks.

It was Alessandro, too, who had picked up in the artichoke-patch all of the last year’s seed-vessels which had not been trampled down by the cattle, and bringing one to her, had asked shyly if she did not think it prettier than flowers made out of paper. His people, he said, made wreaths of them. And so they were, more beautiful than any paper flowers which ever were made,—great soft round disks of fine straight threads like silk, with a kind of saint’s halo around them of sharp, stiff points, glossy as satin, and of a lovely creamy color. It was the 147 strangest thing in the world nobody had ever noticed them as they lay there on the ground. She had put a great wreath of them around Saint Joseph’s head, and a bunch in the Madonna’s hand; and when the Señora saw them, she exclaimed in admiration, and thought they must have been made of silk and satin.

And Alessandro had brought her beautiful baskets, made by the Indian women at Pala, and one which had come from the North, from the Tulare country; it had gay feathers woven in with the reeds,—red and yellow, in alternate rows, round and round. It was like a basket made out of a bright-colored bird.

And a beautiful stone bowl Alessandro had brought her, glossy black, that came all the way from Catalina Island; a friend of Alessandro’s got it. For the first few weeks it had seemed as if hardly a day passed that there was not some new token to be chronicled of Alessandro’s thought­fulness and good-will. Often, too, Ramona had much to tell that Alessandro had said,—tales of the old Mission days that he had heard from his father; stories of saints, and of the early Fathers, who were more like saints than like men, Alessandro said,—Father Junipero, who founded the first Missions, and Father Crespi, his friend. Alessandro’s grandfather had journeyed with Father Crespi as his servant, and many a miracle he had with his own eyes seen Father Crespi perform. There was a cup out of which the Father always took his chocolate for breakfast,—a beautiful cup, which was carried in a box, the only luxury the Father had; and one morning it was broken, and everybody was in terror and despair. “Never mind, never mind,” said the Father; “I will make it whole;” and taking the two pieces in his hands, he held them tight together, and prayed over them, and they became one solid piece again, and it was used all through the journey, just as before.

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But now, Ramona never spoke voluntarily of Alessandro. To Felipe’s sometimes artfully put questions or allusions to him, she made brief replies, and never continued the topic; and Felipe had observed another thing: she now rarely looked at Alessandro. When he was speaking to others she kept her eyes on the ground. If he addressed her, she looked quickly up at him, but lowered her eyes after the first glance. Alessandro also observed this, and was glad of it. He understood it. He knew how differently she could look in his face in the rare moments when they were alone together. He fondly thought he alone knew this; but he was mistaken. Margarita knew. She had more than once seen it.

It had happened more than once that he had found Ramona at the willows by the brook, and had talked with her there. The first time it happened, it was a chance; after that never a chance again, for Alessandro went often seeking the spot, hoping to find her. In Ramona’s mind too, not avowed, but half consciously, there was, if not the hope of seeing him there, at least the memory that it was there they had met. It was a pleasant spot,—cool and shady even at noon, and the running water always full of music. Ramona often knelt there of a morning, washing out a bit of lace or a handkerchief; and when Alessandro saw her, it went hard with him to stay away. At such moments the vision returned to him vividly of that first night when, for the first second, seeing her face in the sunset glow, he had thought her scarce mortal. It was not that he even now thought her less a saint; but ah, how well he knew her to be human! He had gone alone in the dark to this spot many a time, and, lying on the grass, put his hands into the running water, and played with it dreamily, thinking, in his poetic Indian fashion, thoughts like these: “Whither have gone the drops that passed 149 beneath her hands, just here? These drops will never find those in the sea; but I love this water!”

Margarita had seen him thus lying, and without dreaming of the refined sentiment which prompted his action, had yet groped blindly towards it, thinking to herself: “He hopes his Señorita will come down to him there. A nice place it is for a lady to meet her lover, at the washing-stones! It will take swifter water than any in that brook, Señorita Ramona, to wash you white in the Señora’s eyes, if ever she come upon you there with the head shepherd, making free with him, may be! Oh, but if that could only happen, I’d die content!” And the more Margarita watched, the more she thought it not unlikely that it might turn out so. It was oftener at the willows than anywhere else that Ramona and Alessandro met; and, as Margarita noticed with malicious satisfaction, they talked each time longer, each time parted more lingeringly. Several times it had happened to be near supper-time; and Margarita, with one eye on the garden-walk, had hovered restlessly near the Señora, hoping to be ordered to call the Señorita to supper.

“If but I could come on them of a sudden, and say to her as she did to me, ‘You are wanted in the house’! Oh, but it would do my soul good! I’d say it so it would sting like a lash laid on both their faces! It will come! It will come! It will be there that she’ll be caught one of these fine times she’s having! I’ll wait! It will come!”

Notes and Corrections: Chapter IX

The moon had been long set . . . wrapped in impenetrable darkness
[It can’t have set all that long ago, since we’ve already established that the moon is full and therefore sets at dawn.]

It lacked not much of dawn
[Make up your mind, Helen.]

the stout crutches Alessandro had made him of manzanita wood
text has manzanitta


Felipe gained but slowly. The relapse was . . . worse than the original attack.


It came. And when it came, it fell out worse for Ramona than Margarita’s most malicious hopes

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.