The little sheepfold, or corral, was beyond the artichoke-patch, on that southern slope whose sunshine had proved so disastrous a temptation to Margarita in the matter of drying the altar-cloth. It was almost like a terrace, this long slope; and the sheepfold, being near the bottom, was wholly out of sight of the house. This was the reason Felipe had selected it as the safest spot for his talk with Alessandro.
When Ramona reached the end of the trellised walk in the garden, she halted and looked to the right and left. No one was in sight. As she had entered the Señora’s room an hour before, she had caught a glimpse of some one, she felt almost positive it was Felipe, turning off in the path to the left, leading down to the sheepfold. She stood irresolute for a moment, gazing earnestly down this path. “If the saints would only tell me where he is!” she said aloud. She trembled as she stood there, fearing each second to hear the Señora’s voice calling her. But fortune was favoring Ramona, for once; even as the words passed her lips, she saw Felipe coming slowly up the bank. She flew to meet him. “Oh, Felipe, Felipe!” she began.
“Yes, dear, I know it all,” interrupted Felipe; “Alessandro has told me.”
“She forbade me to speak to you, Felipe,” said Ramona, “but I could not bear it. What are we to do? Where is Alessandro?”
“My mother forbade you to speak to me!” cried Felipe, in a tone of terror. “Oh, Ramona, why did you 183 disobey her? If she sees us talking, she will be even more displeased. Fly back to your room. Leave it all to me. I will do all that I can.”
“But, Felipe,” began Ramona, wringing her hands in distress.
“I know! I know!” said Felipe; “but you must not make my mother any more angry. I don’t know what she will do till I talk with her. Do go back to your room! Did she not tell you to stay there?”
“Yes,” sobbed Ramona, “but I cannot. Oh, Felipe, I am so afraid! Do help us! Do you think you can? You won’t let her shut me up in the convent, will you, Felipe? Where is Alessandro? Why can’t I go away with him this minute? Where is he? Dear Felipe, let me go now.”
Felipe’s face was horror-stricken. “Shut you in the convent!” he gasped. “Did she say that? Ramona, dear, fly back to your room. Let me talk to her. Fly, I implore you. I can’t do anything for you if she sees me talking with you now;” and he turned away, and walked swiftly down the terrace.
Ramona felt as if she were indeed alone in the world. How could she go back into that house! Slowly she walked up the garden-path again, meditating a hundred wild plans of escape. Where, where was Alessandro? Why did he not appear for her rescue? Her heart failed her; and when she entered her room, she sank on the floor in a paroxysm of hopeless weeping. If she had known that Alessandro was already a good half-hour’s journey on his way to Temecula, galloping farther and farther away from her each moment, she would have despaired indeed.
This was what Felipe, after hearing the whole story, had counselled him to do. Alessandro had given him so vivid a description of the Señora’s face and tone, when she had ordered him out of her sight, that Felipe was alarmed. He had never seen his mother 184 angry like that. He could not conceive why her wrath should have been so severe. The longer he talked with Alessandro, the more he felt that it would be wiser for him to be out of sight till the first force of her anger had been spent. “I will say that I sent you,” said Felipe, “so she cannot feel that you have committed any offence in going. Come back in four days, and by that time it will be all settled what you shall do.”
It went hard with Alessandro to go without seeing Ramona; but it did not need Felipe’s exclamation of surprise, to convince him that it would be foolhardy to attempt it. His own judgment had told him that it would be out of the question.
“But you will tell her all, Señor Felipe? You will tell her that it is for her sake I go?” the poor fellow said piteously, gazing into Felipe’s eyes as if he would read his inmost soul.
“I will, indeed, Alessandro; I will,” replied Felipe; and he held his hand out to Alessandro, as to a friend and equal. “You may trust me to do all I can do for Ramona and for you.”
“God bless you, Señor Felipe,” answered Alessandro, gravely, a slight trembling of his voice alone showing how deeply he was moved.
“He’s a noble fellow,” said Felipe to himself, as he watched Alessandro leap on his horse, which had been tethered near the corral all night,—“a noble fellow! There isn’t a man among all my friends who would have been manlier or franker than he has been in this whole business. I don’t in the least wonder that Ramona loves him. He’s a noble fellow! But what is to be done! What is to be done!”
Felipe was sorely perplexed. No sharp crisis of disagreement had ever arisen between him and his mother, but he felt that one was coming now. He was unaware of the extent of his influence over her. 185 He doubted whether he could move her very far. The threat of shutting Ramona up in the convent terrified him more than he liked to admit to himself. Had she power to do that? Felipe did not know. She must believe that she had, or she would not have made the threat. Felipe’s whole soul revolted at the cruel injustice of the idea.
“As if it were a sin for the poor girl to love Alessandro!” he said. “I’d help her to run away with him, if worse comes to worst. What can make my mother feel so!” And Felipe paced back and forth till the sun was high, and the sharp glare and heat reminded him that he must seek shelter; then he threw himself down under the willows. He dreaded to go into the house. His instinctive shrinking from the disagreeable, his disposition to put off till another time, held him back, hour by hour. The longer he thought the situation over, the less he knew how to broach the subject to his mother; the more uncertain he felt whether it would be wise for him to broach it at all Suddenly he heard his name called. It was Margarita, who had been sent to call him to dinner. “Good heavens! dinner already!” he cried, springing to his feet.
“Yes, Señor,” replied Margarita, eyeing him observantly. She had seen him talking with Alessandro, had seen Alessandro galloping away down the river road. She had also gathered much from the Señora’s look, and Ramona’s, as they passed the dining-room door together soon after breakfast. Margarita could have given a tolerably connected account of all that had happened within the last twenty-four hours to the chief actors in this tragedy which had so suddenly begun in the Moreno household. Not supposed to know anything, she yet knew nearly all; and her every pulse was beating high with excited conjecture and wonder as to what would come next.186
Dinner was a silent and constrained meal,—Ramona absent, the fiction of her illness still kept up; Felipe embarrassed, and unlike himself; the Señora silent, full of angry perplexity. At her first glance in Felipe’s face, she thought to herself, “Ramona has spoken to him. When and how did she do it?” For it had been only a few moments after Ramona had left her presence, that she herself had followed, and, seeing the girl in her own room, had locked the door as before, and had spent the rest of the morning on the veranda within hands’ reach of Ramona’s window. How, when, and where had she contrived to communicate with Felipe? The longer the Señora studied over this, the angrier and more baffled she felt; to be outwitted was even worse to her than to be disobeyed. Under her very eyes, as it were, something evidently had happened, not only against her will, but which she could not explain. Her anger even rippled out towards Felipe, and was fed by the recollection of Ramona’s unwise retort, “Felipe would not let you!” What had Felipe done or said to make the girl so sure that he would be on her side and Alessandro’s? Was it come to this, that she, the Señora Moreno, was to be defied in her own house by children and servants!
It was with a tone of severe displeasure that she said to Felipe, as she rose from the dinner-table, “My son, I would like to have some conversation with you in my room, if you are at leisure.”
“Certainly, mother,” said Felipe, a load rolling off his mind at her having thus taken the initiative, for which he lacked courage; and walking swiftly towards her, he attempted to put his arm around her waist, as it was his affectionate habit frequently to do. She repulsed him gently, but bethinking herself, passed her hand through his arm, and leaning on it heavily as she walked, said: “This is the most fitting 187 way, my son. I must lean more and more heavily on you each year now. Age is telling on me fast. Do you not find me greatly changed, Felipe, in the last year?”
“No, madre mia,” replied Felipe, “indeed I do not. I see not that you have changed in the last ten years.” And he was honest in this. His eyes did not note the changes so clear to others, and for the best of reasons. The face he saw was one no one else ever beheld; it was kindled by emotion, transfigured by love, whenever it was turned towards him.
The Señora sighed deeply as she answered: “That must be because you so love me, Felipe. I myself see the changes even day by day. Troubles tell on me as they did not when I was younger. Even within the last twenty-four hours I seem to myself to have aged frightfully;” and she looked keenly at Felipe as she seated herself in the arm-chair where poor Ramona had swooned a few hours before. Felipe remained standing before her, gazing, with a tender expression, upon her features, but saying nothing.
“I see that Ramona has told you all!” she continued, her voice hardening as she spoke. What a fortunate wording of her sentence!
“No, mother; it was not Ramona, it was Alessandro, who told me this morning, early,” Felipe answered hastily, hurrying on, to draw the conversation as far away from Ramona as possible. “He came and spoke to me last night after I was in bed; but I told him to wait till morning, and then I would hear all he had to say.”
“Ah!” said the Señora, relieved. Then, as Felipe remained silent, she asked, “And what did he say?”
“He told me all that had happened.”
“All!” said the Señora, sneeringly. “Do you suppose that he told you all?”
“He said that you had bidden him begone out of 188 your sight,” said Felipe, “and that he supposed he must go. So I told him to go at once. I thought you would prefer not to see him again.”
“Ah!” said the Señora again, startled, gratified that Felipe had so promptly seconded her action, but sorry that Alessandro had gone. “Ah, I did not know whether you would think it best to discharge him at once or not; I told him he must answer to you. I did not know but you might devise some measures by which he could be retained on the estate.”
Felipe stared. Could he believe his ears? This did not sound like the relentless displeasure he had expected. Could Ramona have been dreaming? In his astonishment, he did not weigh his mother’s words carefully; he did not carry his conjecture far enough; he did not stop to make sure that retaining Alessandro on the estate might not of necessity bode any good to Ramona; but with his usual impetuous ardor, sanguine, at the first glimpse of hope, that all was well, he exclaimed joyfully, “Ah, dear mother, if that could only be done, all would be well;” and, never noting the expression of his mother’s face, nor pausing to take breath, he poured out all he thought and felt on the subject.
“That is just what I have been hoping for ever since I saw that he and Ramona were growing so fond of each other. He is a splendid fellow, and the best hand we have ever had on the place. All the men like him: he would make a capital overseer; and if we put him in charge of the whole estate, there would not be any objection to his marrying Ramona. That would give them a good living here with us.”
“Enough!” cried the Señora, in a voice which fell on Felipe’s ears like a voice from some other world,—so hollow, so strange. He stopped speaking, and uttered an ejaculation of amazement. At the first words he had uttered, the Señora had fixed her eyes 189 on the floor,—a habit of hers when she wished to listen with close attention. Lifting her eyes now, and fixing them full on Felipe, she regarded him with a look which not all his filial reverence could bear without resentment. It was nearly as scornful as that with which she had regarded Ramona. Felipe colored.
“Why do you look at me like that, mother?” he exclaimed. “What have I done?”
The Señora waved her hand imperiously. “Enough!” she reiterated. “Do not say any more. I wish to think for a few moments;” and she fixed her eyes on the floor again.
Felipe studied her countenance. A more nearly rebellious feeling than he had supposed himself capable of slowly arose in his heart. Now he for the first time perceived what terror his mother must inspire in a girl like Ramona.
“Poor little one!” he thought. “If my mother looked at her as she did at me just now, I wonder she did not die.”
A great storm was going on in the Señora’s bosom. Wrath against Ramona was uppermost in it. In addition to all else, the girl had now been the cause, or at least the occasion, of Felipe’s having, for the first time in his whole life, angered her beyond her control.
“As if I had not suffered enough by reason of that creature,” she thought bitterly to herself, “without her coming between me and Felipe!”
But nothing could long come between the Señora and Felipe. Like a fresh lava-stream flowing down close on the track of its predecessor, came the rush of the mother’s passionate love for her son close on the passionate anger at his words.
When she lifted her eyes they were full of tears, which it smote Felipe to see. As she gazed at him, 190 they rolled down her cheeks, and she said in trembling tones: “Forgive me, my child; I had not thought anything could make me thus angry with you. That shameless creature is costing us too dear. She must leave the house.”
Felipe’s heart gave a bound; Ramona had not been mistaken, then. A bitter shame seized him at his mother’s cruelty. But her tears made him tender; and it was in a gentle, even pleading voice that he replied: “I do not see, mother, why you call Ramona shameless. There is nothing wrong in her loving Alessandro.”
“I found her in his arms!” exclaimed the Señora.
“I know,” said Felipe; “Alessandro told me that he had just at that instant told her he loved her, and she had said she loved him, and would marry him, just as you came up.”
“Humph!” retorted the Señora; “do you think that Indian would have dared to speak a word of love to the Señorita Ramona Ortegna, if she had not conducted herself shamelessly? I wonder that he concerned himself to speak about marriage to her at all.”
“Oh, mother! mother!” was all that Felipe could say to this. He was aghast. He saw now, in a flash, the whole picture as it lay in his mother’s mind, and his heart sank within him. “Mother!” he repeated, in a tone which spoke volumes.
“Ay,” she continued, “that is what I say. I see no reason why he hesitated to take her, as he would take any Indian squaw, with small ceremony of marrying.”
“Alessandro would not take any woman that way any quicker than I would, mother,” said Felipe courageously; “you do him injustice.” He longed to add, “And Ramona too,” but he feared to make bad matters worse by pleading for her at present.191
“No, I do not,” said the Señora; “I do Alessandro full justice. I think very few men would have behaved as well as he has under the same temptation. I do not hold him in the least responsible for all that has happened. It is all Ramona’s fault.”
Felipe’s patience gave way. He had not known, till now, how very closely this pure and gentle girl, whom he had loved as a sister in his boyhood, and had come near loving as a lover in his manhood, had twined herself around his heart. He could not remain silent another moment, and hear her thus wickedly accused.
“Mother!” he exclaimed, in a tone which made the Señora look up at him in sudden astonishment. “Mother, I cannot help it if I make you very angry; I must speak; I can’t bear to hear you say such things of Ramona. I have seen for a long time that Alessandro loved the very ground under her feet; and Ramona would not have been a woman if she had not seen it too! She has seen it, and has felt it, and has come to love him with all her soul, just as I hope some woman will love me one of these days. If I am ever loved as well as she loves Alessandro, I shall be lucky. I think they ought to be married; and I think we ought to take Alessandro on to the estate, so that they can live here. I don’t see anything disgraceful in it, nor anything wrong, nor anything but what was perfectly natural. You know, mother, it isn’t as if Ramona really belonged to our family; you know she is half Indian.” A scornful ejaculation from his mother interrupted him here; but Felipe hurried on, partly because he was borne out of himself at last by impetuous feeling, partly that he dreaded to stop, because if he did, his mother would speak; and already he felt a terror of what her next words might be. “I have often thought about Ramona’s future, mother. You know a great many 192 men would not want to marry her, just because she is half Indian. You, yourself, would never have given your consent to my marrying her, if I had wanted to.” Again an exclamation from the Señora, this time more of horror than of scorn. But Felipe pressed on. “No, of course you would not, I always knew that; except for that, I might have loved her myself, for a sweeter girl never drew breath in this God’s earth.” Felipe was reckless now; having entered on this war, he would wage it with every weapon that lay within his reach; if one did not tell, another might. “You have never loved her. I don’t know that you have ever even liked her; I don’t think you have. I know, as a little boy, I always used to see how much kinder you were to me than to her, and I never could understand it. And you are unjust to her now. I’ve been watching her all summer; I’ve seen her and Alessandro together continually. You know yourself, mother, he has been with us on the veranda, day after day, just as if he were one of the family. I’ve watched them by the hour, when I lay there so sick; I thought you must have seen it too. I don’t believe Alessandro has ever looked or said or done a thing I wouldn’t have done in his place; and I don’t believe Ramona has ever looked, said, or done a thing I would not be willing to have my own sister do!” Here Felipe paused. He had made his charge; like a young impetuous general, massing all his forces at the onset; he had no reserves. It is not the way to take Gibraltars.
When he paused, literally breathless, he had spoken so fast,—and even yet Felipe was not quite strong, so sadly had the fever undermined his constitution,—the Señora looked at him interrogatively, and said in a now composed tone: “You do not believe that Ramona has done anything that you would 193 not be willing to have your own sister do? Would you be willing that your own sister should marry Alessandro?”
Clever Señora Moreno! During the few moments that Felipe had been speaking, she had perceived certain things which it would be beyond her power to do; certain others that it would be impolitic to try to do. Nothing could possibly compensate her for antagonizing Felipe. Nothing could so deeply wound her, as to have him in a resentful mood towards her; or so weaken her real control of him, as to have him feel that she arbitrarily overruled his preference or his purpose. In presence of her imperious will, even her wrath capitulated and surrendered. There would be no hot words between her and her son. He should believe that he determined the policy of the Moreno house, even in this desperate crisis.
Felipe did not answer. A better thrust was never seen on any field than the Señora’s question. She repeated it, still more deliberately, in her wonted gentle voice. The Señora was herself again, as she had not been for a moment since she came upon Alessandro and Ramona at the brook. How just and reasonable the question sounded, as she repeated it slowly, with an expression in her eyes, of poising and weighing matters. “Would you be willing that your own sister should marry Alessandro?”
Felipe was embarrassed. He saw whither he was being led. He could give but one answer to this question. “No, mother,” he said, “I should not; but—”
“Never mind buts,” interrupted his mother; “we have not got to those yet;” and she smiled on Felipe,—an affectionate smile, but it somehow gave him a feeling of dread. “Of course I knew you could make but one answer to my question. If you had 194 a sister, you would rather see her dead than married to any one of these Indians.”
Felipe opened his lips eagerly, to speak. “Not so,” he said.
“Wait, dear!” exclaimed his mother. “One thing at a time. I see how full your loving heart is, and I was never prouder of you as my son than when listening just now to your eloquent defence of Ramona. Perhaps you may be right and I wrong as to her character and conduct. We will not discuss those points.” It was here that the Señora had perceived some things that it would be out of her power to do. “We will not discuss those, because they do not touch the real point at issue. What it is our duty to do by Ramona, in such a matter as this, does not turn on her worthiness or unworthiness. The question is, Is it right for you to allow her to do what you would not allow your own sister to do?” The Señora paused for a second, noted with secret satisfaction how puzzled and unhappy Felipe looked; then, in a still gentler voice, she went on, “You surely would not think that right, my son, would you?” And now the Señora waited for an answer.
“No, mother,” came reluctantly from Felipe’s lips. “I suppose not; but—”
“I was sure my own son could make no other reply,” interrupted the Señora. She did not wish Felipe at present to do more than reply to her questions. “Of course it would not be right for us to let Ramona do anything which we would not let her do if she were really of our own blood. That is the way I have always looked at my obligation to her. My sister intended to rear her as her own daughter. She had given her her own name. When my sister died, she transferred to me all her right and responsibility in and for the child. You do not suppose that if your aunt had lived, she would have ever given her 195 consent to her adopted daughter’s marrying an Indian, do you?”
Again the Señora paused for a reply, and again the reluctant Felipe said, in a low tone, “No, I suppose she would not.”
“Very well. Then that lays a double obligation on us. It is not only that we are not to permit Ramona to do a thing which we would consider disgraceful to one of our own blood; we are not to betray the trust reposed in us by the only person who had a right to control her, and who transferred that trust to us. Is not that so?”
“Yes, mother,” said the unhappy Felipe.
He saw the meshes closing around him. He felt that there was a flaw somewhere in his mother’s reasoning, but he could not point it out; in fact, he could hardly make it distinct to himself. His brain was confused. Only one thing he saw clearly, and that was, that after all had been said and done, Ramona would still marry Alessandro. But it was evident that it would never be with his mother’s consent. “Nor with mine either, openly, the way she puts it. I don’t see how it can be; and yet I have promised Alessandro to do all I could for him. Curse the luck, I wish he had never set foot on the place!” said Felipe in his heart, growing unreasonable, and tired with the perplexity.
The Señora continued: “I shall always blame myself bitterly for having failed to see what was going on. As you say, Alessandro has been with us a great deal since your illness, with his music, and singing, and one thing and another; but I can truly say that I never thought of Ramona’s being in danger of looking upon him in the light of a possible lover, any more than of her looking thus upon Juan Canito, or Luigo, or any other of the herdsmen or laborers. I regret it more than words can express, and I 196 do not know what we can do, now that it has happened.”
“That’s it, mother! That’s it!” broke in Felipe. “You see, you see it is too late now.”
The Señora went on as if Felipe had not spoken. “I suppose you would really very much regret to part with Alessandro, and your word is in a way pledged to him, as you had asked him if he would stay on the place. Of course, now that all this has happened, it would be very unpleasant for Ramona to stay here, and see him continually—at least for a time, until she gets over this strange passion she seems to have conceived for him. It will not last. Such sudden passions never do.” The Señora artfully interpolated, “What should you think, Felipe, of having her go back to the Sisters’ school for a time? She was very happy there.”
The Señora had strained a point too far. Felipe’s self-control suddenly gave way, and as impetuously as he had spoken in the beginning, he spoke again now, nerved by the memory of Ramona’s face and tone as she had cried to him in the garden, “Oh, Felipe, you won’t let her shut me up in the convent, will you?” “Mother!” he cried, “you would never do that. You would not shut the poor girl up in the convent!”
The Señora raised her eyebrows in astonishment. “Who spoke of shutting up?” she said. “Ramona has already been there at school. She might go again. She is not too old to learn. A change of scene and occupation is the best possible cure for a girl who has a thing of this sort to get over. Can you propose anything better, my son? What would you advise?” And a third time the Señora paused for an answer.
These pauses and direct questions of the Señora’s were like nothing in life so much as like that stage 197 in a spider’s processes when, withdrawing a little way from a half-entangled victim, which still supposes himself free, it rests from its weaving, and watches the victim flutter. Subtle questions like these, assuming, taking for granted as settled, much which had never been settled at all, were among the best weapons in the Señora’s armory. They rarely failed her.
“Advise!” cried Felipe, excitedly. “Advise! This is what I advise—to let Ramona and Alessandro marry. I can’t help all you say about our obligations. I dare say you’re right; and it’s a cursedly awkward complication for us, anyhow, the way you put it.”
“Yes, awkward for you, as the head of our house,” interrupted the Señora, sighing. “I don’t quite see how you would face it.”
“Well, I don’t propose to face it,” continued Felipe, testily. “I don’t propose to have anything to do with it, from first to last. Let her go away with him, if she wants to.”
“Without our consent?” said the Señora, gently.
“Yes, without it, if she can’t go with it; and I don’t see, as you have stated it, how we could exactly take any responsibility about marrying her to Alessandro. But for heaven’s sake, mother, let her go! She will go, any way. You haven’t the least idea how she loves Alessandro, or how he loves her. Let her go!”
“Do you really think she would run away with him, if it came to that?” asked the Señora, earnestly. “Run away and marry him, spite of our refusing to consent to the marriage?”
“I do,” said Felipe.
“Then it is your opinion, is it, that the only thing left for us to do, is to wash our hands of it altogether, and leave her free to do what she pleases?”
“That’s just what I do think, mother,” replied 198 Felipe, his heart growing lighter at her words. “That’s just what I do think. We can’t prevent it, and it is of no use to try. Do let us tell them they can do as they like.”
“Of course, Alessandro must leave us, then,” said the Señora. “They could not stay here.”
“I don’t see why!” said Felipe, anxiously.
“You will, my son, if you think a moment. Could we possibly give a stronger indorsement to their marriage than by keeping them here? Don’t you see that would be so?”
Felipe’s eyes fell. “Then I suppose they couldn’t be married here, either,” he said.
“What more could we do than that, for a marriage that we heartily approved of, my son?”
“True, mother;” and Felipe clapped his hand to his forehead. “But then we force them to run away!”
“Oh, no!” said the Señora, icily. “If they go, they will go of their own accord. We hope they will never do anything so foolish and wrong. If they do, I suppose we shall always be held in a measure responsible for not having prevented it. But if you think it is not wise, or of no use to attempt that, I do not see what there is to be done.”
Felipe did not speak. He felt discomfited; felt as if he had betrayed his friend Alessandro, his sister Ramona; as if a strange complication, network of circumstances, had forced him into a false position; he did not see what more he could ask, what more could be asked, of his mother; he did not see, either, that much less could have been granted to Alessandro and Ramona; he was angry, wearied, perplexed.
The Señora studied his face. “You do not seem satisfied, Felipe dear,” she said tenderly. “As, indeed, how could you be in this unfortunate state of affairs? But can you think of anything different for us to do?”199
“No,” said Felipe, bitterly. “I can’t, that’s the worst of it. It is just turning Ramona out of the house, that’s all.”
“Felipe! Felipe!” exclaimed the Señora, “how unjust you are to yourself! You know you would never do that! You know that she has always had a home here as if she were a daughter; and always will have, as long as she wishes it. If she chooses to turn her back on it, and go away, is it our fault? Do not let your pity for this misguided girl blind you to what is just to yourself and to me. Turn Ramona out of the house! You know I promised my sister to bring her up as my own child; and I have always felt that my son would receive the trust from me, when I died. Ramona has a home under the Moreno roof so long as she will accept it. It is not just, Felipe, to say that we turn her out;” and tears stood in the Señora’s eyes.
“Forgive me, dear mother,” cried the unhappy Felipe. “Forgive me for adding one burden to all you have to bear. Truth is, this miserable business has so distraught my senses, I can’t seem to see anything as it is. Dear mother, it is very hard for you. I wish it were done with.”
“Thanks for your precious sympathy, my Felipe,” replied the Señora. “If it were not for you, I should long ago have broken down beneath my cares and burdens. But among them all, have been few so grievous as this. I feel myself and our home dishonored. But we must submit. As you say, Felipe, I wish it were done with. It would be as well, perhaps, to send for Ramona at once, and tell her what we have decided. She is no doubt in great anxiety; we will see her here.”
Felipe would have greatly preferred to see Ramona alone; but as he knew not how to bring this about, he assented to his mother’s suggestion.200
Opening her door, the Señora walked slowly down the passage-way, unlocked Ramona’s door, and said: “Ramona, be so good as to come to my room. Felipe and I have something to say to you.”
Ramona followed, heavy-hearted. The words, “Felipe and I,” boded no good.
“The Señora has made Felipe think just as she does herself,” thought Ramona. “Oh, what will become of me!” and she stole a reproachful, imploring look at Felipe. He smiled back in a way which reassured her; but the reassurance did not last long.
“Señorita Ramona Ortegna,” began the Señora. Felipe shivered. He had had no conception that his mother could speak in that way. The words seemed to open a gulf between Ramona and all the rest of the world, so cold and distant they sounded,—as the Señora might speak to an intruding stranger.
“Señorita Ramona Ortegna,” she said, “my son and I have been discussing what it is best for us to do in the mortifying and humiliating position in which you place us by your relation with the Indian Alessandro. Of course you know—or you ought to know—that it is utterly impossible for us to give our consent to your making such a marriage; we should be false to a trust, and dishonor our own family name, if we did that.”
Ramona’s eyes dilated, her cheeks paled; she opened her lips, but no sound came from them; she looked toward Felipe, and seeing him with downcast eyes, and an expression of angry embarrassment on his face, despair seized her. Felipe had deserted their cause. Oh, where, where was Alessandro! Clasping her hands, she uttered a low cry,—a cry that cut Felipe to the heart. He was finding out, in thus being witness of Ramona’s suffering, that she was far nearer and dearer to him than he had realized. It 201 would have taken very little, at such moments as these, to have made Felipe her lover again; he felt now like springing to her side, folding his arms around her, and bidding his mother defiance. It took all the self-control he could gather, to remain silent, and trust to Ramona’s understanding him later.
Ramona’s cry made no break in the smooth, icy flow of the Señora’s sentences. She gave no sign of having heard it, but continued: “My son tells me that he thinks our forbidding it would make no difference; that you would go away with the man all the same. I suppose he is right in thinking so, as you yourself told me that even if Father Salvierderra forbade it, you would disobey him. Of course, if this is your determination, we are powerless. Even if I were to put you in the keeping of the Church, which is what I am sure my sister, who adopted you as her child, would do, if she were alive, you would devise some means of escape, and thus bring a still greater and more public scandal on the family. Felipe thinks that it is not worth while to attempt to bring you to reason in that way; and we shall therefore do nothing. I wished to impress it upon you that my son, as head of this house, and I, as my sister’s representative, consider you a member of our own family. So long as we have a home for ourselves, that home is yours, as it always has been. If you choose to leave it, and to disgrace yourself and us by marrying an Indian, we cannot help ourselves.”
The Señora paused. Ramona did not speak. Her eyes were fixed on the Señora’s face, as if she would penetrate to her inmost soul; the girl was beginning to recognize the Señora’s true nature; her instincts and her perceptions were sharpened by love.
“Have you anything to say to me or to my son?” asked the Señora.
“No, Señora,” replied Ramona; “I do not think 202 of anything more to say than I said this morning. Yes,” she added, “there is. Perhaps I shall not speak with you again before I go away. I thank you once more for the home you have given me for so many years. And you too, Felipe,” she continued, turning towards Felipe, her face changing, all her pent-up affection and sorrow looking out of her tearful eyes,—“you too, dear Felipe. You have always been so good to me. I shall always love you as long as I live;” and she held out both her hands to him. Felipe took them in his, and was about to speak, when the Señora interrupted him. She did not intend to have any more of this sort of affectionate familiarity between her son and Ramona.
“Are we to understand that you are taking your leave now?” she said. “Is it your purpose to go at once?”
“I do not know, Señora,” stammered Ramona; “I have not seen Alessandro; I have not heard—” And she looked up in distress at Felipe, who answered compassionately,—
“Alessandro has gone.”
“Gone!” shrieked Ramona. “Gone! not gone, Felipe!”
“Only for four days,” replied Felipe. “To Temecula. I thought it would be better for him to be away for a day or two. He is to come back immediately. Perhaps he will be back day after to-morrow.”
“Did he want to go? What did he go for? Why didn’t you let me go with him? Oh, why, why did he go?” cried Ramona.
“He went because my son told him to go,” broke in the Señora, impatient of this scene, and of the sympathy she saw struggling in Felipe’s expressive features. “My son thought, and rightly, that the sight of him would be more than I could bear just 203 now; so he ordered him to go away, and Alessandro obeyed.”
Like a wounded creature at bay, Ramona turned suddenly away from Felipe, and facing the Señora, her eyes resolute and dauntless spite of the streaming tears, exclaimed, lifting her right hand as she spoke, “You have been cruel; God will punish you!” and without waiting to see what effect her words had produced, without looking again at Felipe, she walked swiftly out of the room.
“You see,” said the Señora, “you see she defies us.”
“She is desperate,” said Felipe. “I am sorry I sent Alessandro away.”
“No, my son,” replied the Señora, “you were wise, as you always are. It may bring her to her senses, to have a few days’ reflection in solitude.”
“You do not mean to keep her locked up, mother, do you?” cried Felipe.
The Señora turned a look of apparently undisguised amazement on him. “You would not think that best, would you? Did you not say that all we could do, was simply not to interfere with her in any way? To wash our hands, so far as is possible, of all responsibility about her?”
“Yes, yes,” said the baffled Felipe; “that was what I said. But, mother—” He stopped. He did not know what he wanted to say.
The Señora looked tenderly at him, her face full of anxious inquiry.
“What is it, Felipe dear? Is there anything more you think I ought to say or do?” she asked.
“What is it you are going to do, mother?” said Felipe. “I don’t seem to understand what you are going to do.”
“Nothing, Felipe! You have entirely convinced me that all effort would be thrown away. I shall do nothing,” replied the Señora. “Nothing whatever.”204
“Then as long as Ramona is here, everything will be just as it always has been?” said Felipe.
The Señora smiled sadly. “Dear Felipe, do you think that possible? A girl who has announced her determination to disobey not only you and me, but Father Salvierderra, who is going to bring disgrace both on the Moreno and the Ortegna name,—we can’t feel exactly the same towards her as we did before, can we?”
Felipe made an impatient gesture. “No, of course not. But I mean, is everything to be just the same, outwardly, as it was before?”
“I supposed so,” said the Señora. “Was not that your idea? We must try to have it so, I think. Do not you?”
“Yes,” groaned Felipe, “if we can!”