It came. And when it came, it fell out worse for Ramona than Margarita’s most malicious hopes had pictured; but Margarita had no hand in it. It was the Señora herself.
Since Felipe had so far gained as to be able to be dressed, sit in his chair on the veranda, and walk about the house and garden a little, the Señora, at ease in her mind about him, had resumed her old habit of long, lonely walks on the place. It had been well said by her servants, that there was not a blade of grass on the estate that the Señora had not seen. She knew every inch of her land. She had a special purpose in walking over it now. She was carefully examining to see whether she could afford to sell to the Ortegas a piece of pasture-land which they greatly desired to buy, as it joined a pasturage tract of theirs. This bit of land lay farther from the house than the Señora realized, and it had taken more time than she thought it would, to go over it; and it was already sunset on this eventful day, when, hurrying home, she turned off from the highway into the same short-cut path in which Father Salvierderra had met Ramona in the spring. There was no difficulty now in getting through the mustard tangle. It was parched and dry, and had been trampled by cattle. The Señora walked rapidly, but it was dusky twilight when she reached the willows; so dusky that she saw nothing—and she stepped so lightly on the smooth brown path that she made no sound—until suddenly, face to face with a man and a woman standing 151 locked in each other’s arms, she halted, stepped back a pace, gave a cry of surprise, and, in the same second, recognized the faces of the two, who, stricken dumb, stood apart, each gazing into her face with terror.
Strangely enough, it was Ramona who spoke first. Terror for herself had stricken her dumb; terror for Alessandro gave her a voice.
“Señora,” she began.
“Silence! Shameful creature!” cried the Señora. “Do not dare to speak! Go to your room!”
Ramona did not move.
“As for you,” the Señora continued, turning to Alessandro, “you,”—she was about to say, “You are discharged from my service from this hour,” but recollecting herself in time, said,—“you will answer to Señor Felipe. Out of my sight!” And the Señora Moreno actually, for once in her life beside herself with rage, stamped her foot on the ground. “Out of my sight!” she repeated.
Alessandro did not stir, except to turn towards Ramona with an inquiring look. He would run no risk of doing what she did not wish. He had no idea what she would think it best to do in this terrible dilemma.
“Go, Alessandro,” said Ramona, calmly, still looking the Señora full in the eye. Alessandro obeyed; before the words had left her lips, he had walked away.
Ramona’s composure, and Alessandro’s waiting for further orders than her own before stirring from the spot, were too much for Señora Moreno. A wrath, such as she had not felt since she was young, took possession of her. As Ramona opened her lips again, saying, “Señora,” the Señora did a shameful deed; she struck the girl on the mouth, a cruel blow.
“Speak not to me!” she cried again; and seizing her by the arm, she pushed rather than dragged her up the garden-walk.152
“Señora, you hurt my arm,” said Ramona, still in the same calm voice. “You need not hold me. I will go with you. I am not afraid.”
Was this Ramona? The Señora, already ashamed, let go the arm, and stared in the girl’s face. Even in the twilight she could see upon it an expression of transcendent peace, and a resolve of which no one would have thought it capable. “What does this mean?” thought the Señora, still weak, and trembling all over, from rage. “The hussy, the hypocrite!” and she seized the arm again.
This time Ramona did not remonstrate, but submitted to being led like a prisoner, pushed into her own room, the door slammed violently and locked on the outside.
All of which Margarita saw. She had known for an hour that Ramona and Alessandro were at the willows, and she had been consumed with impatience at the Señora’s prolonged absence. More than once she had gone to Felipe, and asked with assumed interest if he were not hungry, and if he and the Señorita would not have their supper.
“No, no, not till the Señora returns,” Felipe had answered. He, too, happened this time to know where Ramona and Alessandro were. He knew also where the Señora had gone, and that she would be late home; but he did not know that there would be any chance of her returning by way of the willows at the brook; if he had known it, he would have contrived to summon Ramona.
When Margarita saw Ramona shoved into her room by the pale and trembling Señora, saw the key turned, taken out, and dropped into the Señora’s pocket, she threw her apron over her head, and ran into the back porch. Almost a remorse seized her. She remembered in a flash how often Ramona had helped her in times gone by,—sheltered her from 153 the Señora’s displeasure. She recollected the torn altar-cloth. “Holy Virgin! what will be done to her now?” she exclaimed, under her breath. Margarita had never conceived of such an extremity as this. Disgrace, and a sharp reprimand, and a sundering of all relations with Alessandro,—this was all Margarita had meant to draw down on Ramona’s head. But the Señora looked as if she might kill her.
“She always did hate her, in her heart,” reflected Margarita; “she shan’t starve her to death, anyhow. I’ll never stand by and see that. But it must have been something shameful the Señora saw, to have brought her to such a pass as this;” and Margarita’s jealousy again got the better of her sympathy. “Good enough for her. No more than she deserved. An honest fellow like Alessandro, that would make a good husband for any girl!” Margarita’s short-lived remorse was over. She was an enemy again.
It was an odd thing, how identical were Margarita’s and the Señora’s view and interpretation of the situation. The Señora looking at it from above, and Margarita looking at it from below, each was sure, and they were both equally sure, that it could be nothing more nor less than a disgraceful intrigue. Mistress and maid were alike incapable either of conjecturing or of believing the truth.
As ill luck would have it,—or was it good luck?—Felipe also had witnessed the scene in the garden-walk. Hearing voices, he had looked out of his window, and, almost doubting the evidence of his senses, had seen his mother violently dragging Ramona by the arm,—Ramona pale, but strangely placid; his mother with rage and fury in her white face. The sight told its own tale to Felipe. Smiting his forehead with his hand, he groaned out: “Fool that I was, to let her be surprised; she has come on them unawares; now she will never, never forgive it!” And 154 Felipe threw himself on his bed, to think what should be done. Presently he heard his mother’s voice, still agitated, calling his name. He remained silent, sure she would soon seek him in his room. When she entered, and, seeing him on the bed, came swiftly towards him, saying, “Felipe, dear, are you ill?” he replied in a feeble voice, “No, mother, only tired a little to-night;” and as she bent over him, anxious, alarmed, he threw his arms around her neck and kissed her warmly. “Mother mia!” he said passionately, “what should I do without you?” The caress, the loving words, acted like oil on the troubled waters. They restored the Señora as nothing else could. What mattered anything, so long as she had her adoring and adorable son! And she would not speak to him, now that he was so tired, of this disgraceful and vexing matter of Alessandro. It could wait till morning. She would send him his supper in his room, and he would not miss Ramona, perhaps.
“I will send your supper here, Felipe,” she said; “you must not overdo; you have been walking too much. Lie still.” And kissing him affectionately, she went to the dining-room, where Margarita, vainly trying to look as if nothing had happened, was standing, ready to serve supper. When the Señora entered, with her countenance composed, and in her ordinary tones said, “Margarita, you can take Señor Felipe’s supper into his room; he is lying down, and will not get up; he is tired,” Margarita was ready to doubt if she had not been in a nightmare dream. Had she, or had she not, within the last half-hour, seen the Señora, shaking and speechless with rage, push the Señorita Ramona into her room, and lock her up there? She was so bewildered that she stood still and gazed at the Señora, with her mouth wide open.155
“What are you staring at, girl?” asked the Señora, so sharply that Margarita jumped.
“Oh, nothing, nothing, Señora! And the Señorita, will she come to supper? Shall I call her?” she said.
The Señora eyed her. Had she seen? Could she have seen? The Señora Moreno was herself again. So long as Ramona was under her roof, no matter what she herself might do or say to the girl, no servant should treat her with disrespect, or know that aught was wrong.
“The Señorita is not well,” she said coldly. “She is in her room. I myself will take her some supper later, if she wishes it. Do not disturb her.” And the Señora returned to Felipe.
Margarita chuckled inwardly, and proceeded to clear the table she had spread with such malicious punctuality two short hours before. In those two short hours how much had happened!
“Small appetite for supper will our Señorita have, I reckon,” said the bitter Margarita, “and the Señor Alessandro also! I’m curious to see how he will carry himself.”
But her curiosity was not gratified. Alessandro came not to the kitchen. The last of the herdsmen had eaten and gone; it was past nine o’clock, and no Alessandro. Slyly Margarita ran out and searched in some of the places where she knew he was in the habit of going; but Alessandro was not to be found. Once she brushed so near his hiding-place that he thought he was discovered, and was on the point of speaking, but luckily held his peace, and she passed on. Alessandro was hid behind the geranium clump at the chapel door; sitting on the ground, with his knees drawn up to his chin, watching Ramona’s window. He intended to stay there all night. He felt that he might be needed; if Ramona wanted 156 him, she would either open her window and call, or would come out and go down through the garden-walk to the willows. In either case, he would see her from the hiding-place he had chosen. He was racked by his emotions; mad with joy one minute, sick at heart with misgiving the next. Ramona loved him. She had told him so. She had said she would go away with him and be his wife. The words had but just passed her lips, at that dreadful moment when the Señora appeared in their presence. As he lived the scene over again, he re-experienced the joy and the terror equally.
What was not that terrible Señora capable of doing? Why did she look at him and at Ramona with such loathing scorn? Since she knew that the Señorita was half Indian, why should she think it so dreadful a thing for her to marry an Indian man? It did not once enter into Alessandro’s mind, that the Señora could have had any other thought, seeing them as she did, in each other’s arms. And again, what had he to give to Ramona? Could she live in a house such as he must live in,—live as the Temecula women lived? No! for her sake he must leave his people; must go to some town, must do—he knew not what—something to earn more money. Anguish seized him as he pictured to himself Ramona suffering deprivations. The more he thought of the future in this light, the more his joy faded and his fear grew. He had never had sufficient hope that she could be his, to look forward thus to the practical details of life; he had only gone on loving, and in a vague way dreaming and hoping; and now,—now, in a moment, all had been changed; in a moment he had spoken, and she had spoken, and such words once spoken, there was no going back; and he had put his arms around her, and felt her head on his shoulder, and kissed her! Yes, he, Alessandro, had 157 kissed the Señorita Ramona, and she had been glad of it, and had kissed him on the lips, as no maiden kisses a man unless she will wed with him,—him, Alessandro! Oh, no wonder the man’s brain whirled, as he sat there in the silent darkness, wondering, afraid, helpless; his love wrenched from him, in the very instant of their first kiss,—wrenched from him, and he himself ordered, by one who had the right to order him, to begone! What could an Indian do against a Moreno!
Would Felipe help him? Ay, there was Felipe! That Felipe was his friend, Alessandro knew with a knowledge as sure as the wild partridge’s instinct for the shelter of her brood; but could Felipe move the Señora? Oh, that terrible Señora! What would become of them?
As in the instant of drowning, men are said to review in a second the whole course of their lives, so in this supreme moment of Alessandro’s love there flashed through his mind vivid pictures of every word and act of Ramona’s since he first knew her. He recollected the tone in which she had said, and the surprise with which he heard her say it, at the time of Felipe’s fall, “You are Alessandro, are you not?” He heard again her soft-whispered prayers the first night Felipe slept on the veranda. He recalled her tender distress because the shearers had had no dinner; the evident terribleness to her of a person going one whole day without food. “O God! will she always have food each day if she comes with me?” he said. And at the bare thought he was ready to flee away from her forever. Then he recalled her look and her words only a few hours ago, when he first told her he loved her; and his heart took courage. She had said, “I know you love me, Alessandro, and I am glad of it,” and had lifted her eyes to his, with all the love that a woman’s 158 eyes can carry; and when he threw his arms around her, she had of her own accord come closer, and laid one hand on his shoulder, and turned her face to his. Ah, what else mattered! There was the whole world; if she loved him like this, nothing could make them wretched; his love would be enough for her,—and for him hers was an empire.
It was indeed true, though neither the Señora nor Margarita would have believed it, that this had been the first word of love ever spoken between Alessandro and Ramona, the first caress ever given, the first moment of unreserve. It had come about, as lovers’ first words, first caresses, are so apt to do, unexpectedly, with no more premonition, at the instant, than there is of the instant of the opening of a flower. Alessandro had been speaking to Ramona of the conversation Felipe had held with him in regard to remaining on the place, and asked her if she knew of the plan.
“Yes,” she said; “I heard the Señora talking about it with Felipe, some days ago.”
“Was she against my staying?” asked Alessandro, quickly.
“I think not,” said Ramona, “but I am not sure. It is not easy to be sure what the Señora wishes, till afterward. It was Felipe that proposed it.”
This somewhat enigmatical statement as to the difficulty of knowing the Señora’s wishes was like Greek to Alessandro’s mind.
“I do not understand, Señorita,” he said. “What do you mean by ‘afterward’?”
“I mean,” replied Ramona, “that the Señora never says she wishes anything; she says she leaves everything to Felipe to decide, or to Father Salvierderra. But I think it is always decided as she wishes to have it, after all. The Señora is wonderful, Alessandro; don’t you think so?”159
“She loves Señor Felipe very much,” was Alessandro’s evasive reply.
“Oh, yes,” exclaimed Ramona. “You do not begin to know how much. She does not love any other human being. He takes it all. She hasn’t any left. If he had died, she would have died too. That is the reason she likes you so much; she thinks you saved Felipe’s life. I mean, that is one reason,” added Ramona, smiling, and looking up confidingly at Alessandro, who smiled back, not in vanity, but honest gratitude that the Señorita was pleased to intimate that he was not unworthy of the Señora’s regard.
“I do not think she likes me,” he said. “I cannot tell why; but I do not think she likes any one in the world. She is not like any one I ever saw, Señorita.”
“No,” replied Ramona, thoughtfully. “She is not. I am, oh, so afraid of her, Alessandro! I have always been, ever since I was a little girl. I used to think she hated me; but now I think she does not care one way or the other, if I keep out of her way.”
While Ramona spoke these words, her eyes were fixed on the running water at her feet. If she had looked up, and seen the expression in Alessandro’s eyes as he listened, the thing which was drawing near would have drawn near faster, would have arrived at that moment; but she did not look up. She went on, little dreaming how hard she was making it for Alessandro.
“Many’s the time I’ve come down here, at night, to this brook, and looked at it, and wished it was a big river, so I could throw myself in, and be carried away out to the sea, dead. But it is a fearful sin, Father Salvierderra says, to take one’s own life; and always the next morning, when the sun came out, and the birds sang, I’ve been glad enough I had not 160 done it. Were you ever so unhappy as that, Alessandro?”
“No, Señorita, never,” replied Alessandro; “and it is thought a great disgrace, among us, to kill one’s self. I think I could never do it. But, oh, Señorita, it is a grief to think of your being unhappy. Will you always be so? Must you always stay here?”
“Oh, but I am not always unhappy!” said Ramona, with her sunny little laugh. “Indeed, I am generally very happy. Father Salvierderra says that if one does no sin, one will be always happy, and that it is a sin not to rejoice every hour of the day in the sun and the sky and the work there is to do; and there is always plenty of that.” Then, her face clouding, she continued: “I suppose I shall always stay here. I have no other home; you know I was the Señora’s sister’s adopted child. She died when I was little, and the Señora kindly took me. Father Salvierderra says I must never forget to be grateful to her for all she has done for me, and I try not to.”
Alessandro eyed her closely. The whole story, as Juan Can had told it to him, of the girl’s birth, was burning in his thoughts. How he longed to cry out, “O my loved one, they have made you homeless in your home. They despise you. The blood of my race is in your veins; come to me; come to me! be surrounded with love!” But he dared not. How could he dare?
Some strange spell seemed to have unloosed Ramona’s tongue to-night. She had never before spoken to Alessandro of her own personal history or burdens; but she went on: “The worst thing is, Alessandro, that she will not tell me who my mother was; and I do not know if she is alive or not, or anything about her. Once I asked the Señora, but she forbade me ever to ask her again. She said she herself would 161 tell me when it was proper for me to know. But she never has.”
How the secret trembled on Alessandro’s lips now. Ramona had never seemed so near, so intimate, so trusting. What would happen if he were to tell her the truth? Would the sudden knowledge draw her closer to him, or repel her?
“Have you never asked her again?” he said.
Ramona looked up astonished. “No one ever disobeyed the Señora,” she said quickly.
“I would!” exclaimed Alessandro.
“You may think so,” said Ramona, “but you couldn’t. When you tried, you would find you couldn’t. I did ask Father Salvierderra once.”
“What did he say?” asked Alessandro, breathless.
“The same thing. He said I must not ask; I was not old enough. When the time came, I would be told,” answered Ramona, sadly. “I don’t see what they can mean by the time’s coming. What do you suppose they meant?”
“I do not know the ways of any people but my own, Señorita,” replied Alessandro. “Many things that your people do, and still more that these Americans do, are to me so strange, I know nothing what they mean. Perhaps they do not know who was your mother?”
“I am sure they do,” answered Ramona, in a low tone, as if the words were wrung from her. “But let us talk about something else, Alessandro; not about sad things, about pleasant things. Let us talk about your staying here.”
“Would it be truly a pleasure to the Señorita Ramona, if I stayed?” said Alessandro.
“You know it would,” answered Ramona, frankly, yet with a tremor in her voice, which Alessandro felt. “I do not see what we could any of us do without you. Felipe says he shall not let you go.”162
Alessandro’s face glowed. “It must be as my father says, Señorita,” he said. “A messenger came from him yesterday, and I sent him back with a letter telling him what the Señor Felipe had proposed to me, and asking him what I should do. My father is very old, Señorita, and I do not see how he can well spare me. I am his only child, and my mother died years ago. We live alone together in our house, and when I am away he is very lonely. But he would like to have me earn the wages, I know, and I hope he will think it best for me to stay. There are many things we want to do for the village; most of our people are poor, and can do little more than get what they need to eat day by day, and my father wishes to see them better off before he dies. Now that the Americans are coming in all around us, he is afraid and anxious all the time. He wants to get a big fence built around our land, so as to show where it is; but the people cannot take much time to work on the fence; they need all their time to work for themselves and their families. Indians have a hard time to live now, Señorita. Were you ever in Temecula?”
“No,” said Ramona. “Is it a large town?”
Alessandro sighed. “Dear Señorita, it is not a town; it is only a little village not more than twenty houses in all, and some of those are built only of tule. There is a chapel, and a graveyard. We built an adobe wall around the graveyard last year. That my father said we would do, before we built the fence around the village.”
“How many people are there in the village?” asked Ramona.
“Nearly two hundred, when they are all there; but many of them are away most of the time. They must go where they can get work; they are hired by the farmers, or to do work on the great ditches, or 163 to go as shepherds; and some of them take their wives and children with them. I do not believe the Señorita has ever seen any very poor people.”
“Oh, yes, I have, Alessandro, at Santa Barbara. There were many poor people there, and the Sisters used to give them food every week.”
“Indians?” said Alessandro.
Ramona colored. “Yes,” she said, “some of them were, but not like your men, Alessandro. They were very different; miserable looking; they could not read nor write, and they seemed to have no ambition.”
“That is the trouble,” said Alessandro, “with so many of them; it is with my father’s people, too. They say, ‘What is the use?’ My father gets in despair with them, because they will not learn better. He gives them a great deal, but they do not seem to be any better off for it. There is only one other man in our village who can read and write, besides my father and me, Señorita; and yet my father is all the time begging them to come to his house and learn of him. But they say they have no time; and indeed there is much truth in that, Señorita. You see everybody has troubles, Señorita.”
Ramona had been listening with sorrowful face. All this was new to her. Until to-night, neither she nor Alessandro had spoken of private and personal matters.
“Ah, but these are real troubles,” she said. “I do not think mine were real troubles at all. I wish I could do something for your people, Alessandro. If the village were only near by, I could teach them, could I not? I could teach them to read. The Sisters always said, that to teach the ignorant and the poor was the noblest work one could do. I wish I could teach your people. Have you any relatives there besides your father? Is there any one in the village that you—love, Alessandro?”164
Alessandro was too much absorbed in thoughts of his people, to observe the hesitating emphasis with which Ramona asked this question.
“Yes, Señorita, I love them all. They are like my brothers and sisters, all of my father’s people,” he said; “and I am unhappy about them all the time.”
During the whole of this conversation Ramona had had an undercurrent of thought going on, which was making her uneasy. The more Alessandro said about his father and his people, the more she realized that he was held to Temecula by bonds that would be hard to break, the more she feared his father would not let him remain away from home for any length of time. At the thought of his going away, her very heart sickened. Taking a sudden step towards him, she said abruptly, “Alessandro, I am afraid your father will not give his consent to your staying here.”
“So am I, Señorita,” he replied sadly.
“And you would not stay if he did not approve of it, of course,” she said.
“How could I, Señorita?”
“No,” she said, “it would not be right;” but as she said these words, the tears filled her eyes.
Alessandro saw them. The world changed in that second. “Señorita! Señorita Ramona!” he cried, “tears have come in your eyes! O Señorita, then you will not be angry if I say that I love you!” and Alessandro trembled with the terror and delight of having said the words.
Hardly did he trust his palpitating senses to be telling him true the words that followed, quick, firm, though only in a whisper,—“I know that you love me, Alessandro, and I am glad of it!” Yes, this was what the Señorita Ramona was saying! And when he stammered, “But you, Señorita, you do not—you could not—” “Yes, Alessandro, I do—I love 165 you!” in the same clear, firm whisper; and the next minute Alessandro’s arms were around Ramona, and he had kissed her, sobbing rather than saying, “O Señorita, do you mean that you will go with me? that you are mine? Oh, no, beloved Señorita, you cannot mean that!” But he was kissing her. He knew she did mean it; and Ramona, whispering, “Yes, Alessandro, I do mean it; I will go with you,” clung to him with her hands, and kissed him, and repeated it, “I will go with you, I love you.” And then, just then, came the Señora’s step, and her sharp cry of amazement, and there she stood, no more than an arm’s-length away, looking at them with her indignant, terrible eyes.
What an hour this for Alessandro to be living over and over, as he crouched in the darkness, watching! But the bewilderment of his emotions did not dull his senses. As if stalking deer in a forest, he listened for sounds from the house. It seemed strangely still. As the darkness deepened, it seemed still stranger that no lamps were lit. Darkness in the Señora’s room, in the Señorita’s; a faint light in the dining-room, soon put out,—evidently no supper going on there. Only from under Felipe’s door streamed a faint radiance; and creeping close to the veranda, Alessandro heard voices fitfully talking,—the Señora’s and Felipe’s; no word from Ramona. Piteously he fixed his eyes on her window; it was open, but the curtains tight drawn; no stir, no sound. Where was she? What had been done to his love? Only the tireless caution and infinite patience of his Indian blood kept Alessandro from going to her window. But he would imperil nothing by acting on his own responsibility. He would wait, if it were till daylight, till his love made a sign. Certainly before long Señor Felipe would come to his veranda bed, and then he could venture to speak to him. But it was 166 near midnight when the door of Felipe’s room opened, and he and his mother came out, still speaking in low tones. Felipe lay down on his couch; his mother, bending over, kissed him, bade him good-night, and went into her own room.
It had been some time now since Alessandro had left off sleeping on the veranda floor by Felipe’s side. Felipe was so well it was not needful. But Felipe felt sure he would come to-night, and was not surprised when, a few minutes after the Señora’s door closed, he heard a low voice through the vines, “Señor Felipe?”
“Hush, Alessandro,” whispered Felipe. “Do not make a sound. To-morrow morning early I will see you, behind the little sheepfold. It is not safe to talk here.”
“Where is the Señorita?” Alessandro breathed rather than said.
“In her room,” answered Felipe.
“Well?” said Alessandro.
“Yes,” said Felipe, hoping he was not lying; and this was all Alessandro had to comfort himself with, through his long night of watching. No, not all; one other thing comforted him,—the notes of two wood-doves, that at intervals he heard, cooing to each other; just the two notes, the call and the answer, “Love?” “Here.” “Love?” “Here,”—and long intervals of silence between. Plain as if written on a page was the thing they told.
“That is what my Ramona is like,” thought he, “the gentle wood-dove. If she is my wife my people will call her Majel, the Wood-Dove.”