The first day had gone, it was near night of the second, and not a word had passed between Felipe and Ramona, except in the presence of the Señora. It would have been beautiful to see, if it had not been so cruel a thing, the various and devious methods by which the Señora had brought this about. Felipe, oddly enough, was more restive under it than Ramona. She had her dreams. He had nothing but his restless consciousness that he had not done for her what he hoped; that he must seem to her to have been disloyal; this, and a continual wonder what she could be planning or expecting which made her so placid, kept Felipe in a fever of unrest, of which his mother noted every sign, and redoubled her vigilance.
Felipe thought perhaps he could speak to Ramona in the night, through her window. But the August heats were fierce now; everybody slept with wide-open windows; the Señora was always wakeful; if she should chance to hear him thus holding secret converse with Ramona, it would indeed make bad matters worse. Nevertheless, he decided to try it. At the first sound of his footsteps on the veranda floor, “My son, are you ill? Can I do anything?” came from the Señora’s window. She had not been asleep at all. It would take more courage than Felipe possessed, to try that plan again; and he lay on his veranda bed, this afternoon, tossing about with sheer impatience at his baffled purpose. Ramona sat at the foot of the bed, taking the last stitches in the nearly completed altar-cloth. The Señora sat in her usual seat, 220 dozing, with her head thrown back. It was very hot; a sultry south-wind, with dust from the desert, had been blowing all day, and every living creature was more or less prostrated by it.
As the Señora’s eyes closed, a sudden thought struck Felipe. Taking out a memorandum-book in which he kept his accounts, he began rapidly writing. Looking up, and catching Ramona’s eye, he made a sign to her that it was for her. She glanced apprehensively at the Señora. She was asleep. Presently Felipe, folding the note, and concealing it in his hand, rose, and walked towards Ramona’s window, Ramona terrifiedly watching him; the sound of Felipe’s steps roused the Señora, who sat up instantly, and gazed about her with that indescribable expression peculiar to people who hope they have not been asleep, but know they have. “Have I been asleep?” she asked.
“About one minute, mother,” answered Felipe, who was leaning, as he spoke, against Ramona’s open window, his arms crossed behind him. Stretching them out, and back and forth a few times, yawning idly, he said, “This heat is intolerable!” Then he sauntered leisurely down the veranda steps into the garden-walk, and seated himself on the bench under the trellis there.
The note had been thrown into Ramona’s room. She was hot and cold with fear lest she might not be able to get it unobserved. What if the Señora were to go first into the room! She hardly dared look at her. But fortune is not always on the side of tyrants. The Señora was fast dozing off again, relieved that Felipe was out of speaking distance of Ramona. As soon as her eyes were again shut, Ramona rose to go. The Señora opened her eyes. Ramona was crossing the threshold of the door; she was going into the house. Good! Still farther away from Felipe.221
“Are you going to your room, Ramona?” said the Señora.
“I was,” replied Ramona, alarmed. “Did you want me here?”
“No,” said the Señora; and she closed her eyes again.
In a second more the note was safe in Ramona’s hands.
“Dear Ramona,” Felipe had written, “I am distracted because I cannot speak with you alone. Can you think of any way? I want to explain things to you. I am afraid you do not understand. Don’t be unhappy. Alessandro will surely be back in four days. I want to help you all I can, but you saw I could not do much. Nobody will hinder your doing what you please; but, dear, I wish you would not go away from us!”
Tearing the paper into small fragments, Ramona thrust them into her bosom, to be destroyed later. Then looking out of the window, and seeing that the Señora was now in a sound sleep, she ventured to write a reply to Felipe, though when she would find a safe opportunity to give it to him, there was no telling. “Thank you, dear Felipe. Don’t be anxious. I am not unhappy. I understand all about it. But I must go away as soon as Alessandro comes.” Hiding this also safe in her bosom, she went back to the veranda. Felipe rose, and walked toward the steps. Ramona, suddenly bold, stooped, and laid her note on the second step. Again the tired eyes of the Señora opened. They had not been shut five minutes; Ramona was at her work; Felipe was coming up the steps from the garden. He nodded laughingly to his mother, and laid his finger on his lips. All was well. The Señora dozed again. Her nap had cost her more than she would ever know. This one secret interchange between Felipe and Ramona then, thus making, as 222 it were, common cause with each other as against her, and in fear of her, was a step never to be recalled,—a step whose significance could scarcely be overestimated. Tyrants, great and small, are apt to overlook such possibilities as this; to forget the momentousness which the most trivial incident may assume when forced into false proportions and relations. Tyranny can make liars and cheats out of the honestest souls. It is done oftener than any except close students of human nature realize. When kings and emperors do this, the world cries out with sympathy, and holds the plotters more innocent than the tyrant who provoked the plot. It is Russia that stands branded in men’s thoughts, and not Siberia.
The Señora had a Siberia of her own, and it was there that Ramona was living in these days. The Señora would have been surprised to know how little the girl felt the cold. To be sure, it was not as if she had ever felt warmth in the Señora’s presence; yet between the former chill and this were many degrees, and except for her new life, and new love, and hope in the thought of Alessandro, Ramona could not have borne it for a day.
The fourth day came; it seemed strangely longer than the others had. All day Ramona watched and listened. Felipe, too; for, knowing what Alessandro’s impatience would be, he had, in truth, looked for him on the previous night. The horse he rode was a fleet one, and would have made the journey with ease in half the time. But Felipe reflected that there might be many things for Alessandro to arrange at Temecula. He would doubtless return prepared to take Ramona back with him, in case that proved the only alternative left them. Felipe grew wretched as his fancy dwelt on the picture of Ramona’s future. He had been in the Temecula village. He knew its poverty; the thought of Ramona there was monstrous. 223 To the indolent, ease-loving Felipe it was incredible that a girl reared as Ramona had been, could for a moment contemplate leading the life of a poor laboring man’s wife. He could not conceive of love’s making one undertake any such life. Felipe had much to learn of love. Night came; no Alessandro. Till the darkness settled down, Ramona sat, watching the willows. When she could no longer see, she listened. The Señora, noting all, also listened. She was uneasy as to the next stage of affairs, but she would not speak. Nothing should induce her to swerve from the line of conduct on which she had determined. It was the full of the moon. When the first broad beam of its light came over the hill, and flooded the garden and the white front of the little chapel, just as it had done on that first night when Alessandro watched with Felipe on the veranda, Ramona pressed her face against the window-panes, and gazed out into the garden. At each flickering motion of the shadows she saw the form of a man approaching. Again and again she saw it. Again and again the breeze died, and the shadow ceased. It was near morning before, weary, sad, she crept to bed; but not to sleep. With wide-open, anxious eyes, she still watched and listened. Never had the thought once crossed her mind that Alessandro might not come at the time Felipe had said. In her childlike simplicity she had accepted this as unquestioningly as she had accepted other facts in her life. Now that he did not come, unreasoning and unfounded terror took possession of her, and she asked herself continually, “Will he ever come! They sent him away; perhaps he will be too proud to come back!” Then faith would return, and saying to herself, “He would never, never forsake me; he knows I have no one in the whole world but him; he knows how I love him,” she would regain composure, and remind herself of the many detentions which might 224 have prevented his coming at the time set. Spite of all, however, she was heavy at heart; and at breakfast her anxious eyes and absent look were sad to see. They hurt Felipe. Too well he knew what it meant. He also was anxious. The Señora saw it in his face, and it vexed her. The girl might well pine, and be mortified if her lover did not appear. But why should Felipe disquiet himself? The Señora disliked it. It was a bad symptom. There might be trouble ahead yet. There was, indeed, trouble ahead,—of a sort the Señora’s imaginings had not pictured.
Another day passed; another night; another, and another. One week now since Alessandro, as he leaped on his horse, had grasped Felipe’s hand, and said: “You will tell the Señorita; you will make sure that she understands why I go; and in four days I will be back.” One week, and he had not come. The three who were watching and wondering looked covertly into each other’s faces, each longing to know what the others thought.
Ramona was wan and haggard. She had scarcely slept. The idea had taken possession of her that Alessandro was dead. On the sixth and seventh days she had walked each afternoon far down the river road, by which he would be sure to come; down the meadows, and by the cross-cut, out to the highway; at each step straining her tearful eyes into the distance,—the cruel, blank, silent distance. She had come back after dark, whiter and more wan than she went out. As she sat at the supper-table, silent, making no feint of eating, only drinking glass after glass of milk, in thirsty haste, even Margarita pitied her. But the Señora did not. She thought the best thing which could happen, would be that the Indian should never come back. Ramona would recover from it in a little while; the mortification would be the worst thing, but even that, time would heal. She 225 wondered that the girl had not more pride than to let her wretchedness be so plainly seen. She herself would have died before she would go about with such a woe-begone face, for a whole household to see and gossip about.
On the morning of the eighth day, Ramona, desperate, waylaid Felipe, as he was going down the veranda steps. The Señora was in the garden, and saw them; but Ramona did not care. “Felipe!” she cried, “I must, I must speak to you! Do you think Alessandro is dead? What else could keep him from coming?” Her lips were dry, her cheeks scarlet, her voice husky. A few more days of this, and she would be in a brain fever, Felipe thought, as he looked compassionately at her.
“Oh, no, no, dear! Do not think that!” he replied. “A thousand things might have kept him.”
“Ten thousand things would not! Nothing could!” said Ramona. “I know he is dead. Can’t you send a messenger, Felipe, and see?”
The Señora was walking toward them. She overheard the last words. Looking toward Felipe, no more regarding Ramona than if she had not been within sight or hearing, the Señora said, “It seems to me that would not be quite consistent with dignity. How does it strike you, Felipe? If you thought best, we might spare a man as soon as the vintage is done, I suppose.”
Ramona walked away. The vintage would not be over for a week. There were several vineyards yet which had not been touched; every hand on the place was hard at work, picking the grapes, treading them out in tubs, emptying the juice into stretched raw-hides swung from cross-beams in a long shed. In the willow copse the brandy-still was in full blast; it took one man to watch it; this was Juan Can’s favorite work; for reasons of his own he liked 226 best to do it alone; and now that he could no longer tread grapes in the tubs, he had a better chance for uninterrupted work at the still. “No ill but has its good,” he thought sometimes, as he lay comfortably stretched out in the shade, smoking his pipe day after day, and breathing the fumes of the fiery brandy.
As Ramona disappeared in the doorway, the Señora, coming close to Felipe, and laying her hand on his arm, said in a confidential tone, nodding her head in the direction in which Ramona had vanished: “She looks badly, Felipe. I don’t know what we can do. We surely cannot send to summon back a lover we do not wish her to marry, can we? It is very perplexing. Most unfortunate, every way. What do you think, my son?” There was almost a diabolical art in the manner in which the Señora could, by a single phrase or question, plant in a person’s mind the precise idea she wished him to think he had originated himself.
“No; of course we can’t send for him,” replied Felipe, angrily; “unless it is to send for him to marry her; I wish he had never set foot on the place. I am sure I don’t know what to do. Ramona’s looks frighten me. I believe she will die.”
“I cannot wish Alessandro had never set foot on the place,” said the Señora, gently, “for I feel that I owe your life to him, my Felipe; and he is not to blame for Ramona’s conduct. You need not fear her dying. She may be ill; but people do not die of love like hers for Alessandro.”
“Of what kind do they die, mother?” asked Felipe, impatiently.
The Señora looked reproachfully at him. “Not often of any,” she said; “but certainly not of a sudden passion for a person in every way beneath them, in position, in education, in all points which are 227 essential to congeniality of tastes or association of life.”
The Señora spoke calmly, with no excitement, as if she were discussing an abstract case. Sometimes, when she spoke like this, Felipe for the moment felt as if she were entirely right, as if it were really a disgraceful thing in Ramona to have thus loved Alessandro. It could not be gainsaid that there was this gulf of which she spoke. Alessandro was undeniably Ramona’s inferior in position, education, in all the external matters of life; but in nature, in true nobility of soul, no! Alessandro was no man’s inferior in these; and in capacity to love,—Felipe sometimes wondered whether he had ever known Alessandro’s equal in that. This thought had occurred to him more than once, as from his sick-bed he had, unobserved, studied the expression with which Alessandro gazed at Ramona. But all this made no difference in the perplexity of the present dilemma, in the embarrassment of his and his mother’s position now. Send a messenger to ask why Alessandro did not return! Not even if he had been an accepted and publicly recognized lover, would Felipe do that! Ramona ought to have more pride. She ought of herself to know that. And when Felipe, later in the day, saw Ramona again, he said as much to her. He said it as gently as he could; so gently that she did not at first comprehend his idea. It was so foreign, so incompatible with her faith, how could she?
When she did understand, she said slowly: “You mean that it will not do to send to find out if Alessandro is dead, because it will look as if I wished him to marry me whether he wished it or not?” and she fixed her eyes on Felipe’s, with an expression he could not fathom.
“Yes, dear,” he answered, “something like that, though you put it harshly.”228
“Is it not true,” she persisted, “that is what you mean?”
Reluctantly Felipe admitted that it was.
Ramona was silent for some moments; then she said, speaking still more slowly, “If you feel like that, we had better never talk about Alessandro again. I suppose it is not possible that you should know, as I do, that nothing but his being dead would keep him from coming back. Thanks, dear Felipe;” and after this she did not speak again of Alessandro.
Days went by; a week. The vintage was over. The Señora wondered if Ramona would now ask again for a messenger to go to Temecula. Almost even the Señora relented, as she looked into the girl’s white and wasted face, as she sat silent, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes fixed on the willows. The altar-cloth was done, folded and laid away. It would never hang in the Moreno chapel. It was promised, in Ramona’s mind, to Father Salvierderra. She had resolved to go to him; if he, a feeble old man, could walk all the way between Santa Barbara and their home, she could surely do the same. She would not lose the way. There were not many roads; she could ask. The convent, the bare thought of which had been so terrible to Ramona fourteen days ago, when the Señora had threatened her with it, now seemed a heavenly refuge, the only shelter she craved. There was a school for orphans attached to the convent at San Juan Bautista, she knew; she would ask the Father to let her go there, and she would spend the rest of her life in prayer, and in teaching the orphan girls. As hour after hour she sat revolving this plan, her fancy projected itself so vividly into the future, that she lived years of her life. She felt herself middle-aged, old. She saw the procession of nuns, going to vespers, leading the children by the hand; herself wrinkled and white-haired, walking between two of 229 the little ones. The picture gave her peace. As soon as she grew a little stronger, she would set off on her journey to the Father; she could not go just yet, she was too weak; her feet trembled if she did but walk to the foot of the garden. Alessandro was dead; there could be no doubt of that. He was buried in that little walled graveyard of which he had told her. Sometimes she thought she would try to go there and see his grave, perhaps see his father; if Alessandro had told him of her, the old man would be glad to see her; perhaps, after all, her work might lie there, among Alessandro’s people. But this looked hard; she had not courage for it; shelter and rest were what she wanted,—the sound of the Church’s prayers, and the Father’s blessing every day. The convent was the best.
She thought she was sure that Alessandro was dead; but she was not, for she still listened, still watched. Each day she walked out on the river road, and sat waiting till dusk. At last came a day when she could not go; her strength failed her. She lay all day on her bed. To the Señora, who asked frigidly if she were ill, she answered: “No, Señora, I do not think I am ill. I have no pain, but I cannot get up. I shall be better to-morrow.”
“I will send you strong broth and a medicine,” the Señora said; and sent her both by the hands of Margarita, whose hatred and jealousy broke down at the first sight of Ramona’s face on the pillow; it looked so much thinner and sharper there than it had when she was sitting up. “Oh, Señorita! Señorita!” she cried, in a tone of poignant grief, “are you going to die? Forgive me, forgive me!”
“I have nothing to forgive you, Margarita,” replied Ramona, raising herself on her elbow, and lifting her eyes kindly to the girl’s face as she took the broth from her hands. “I do not know why you ask me to forgive you.”230
Margarita flung herself on her knees by the bed, in a passion of weeping. “Oh, but you do know, Señorita, you do know! Forgive me!”
“No, I know nothing,” replied Ramona; “but if you know anything, it is all forgiven. I am not going to die, Margarita. I am going away,” she added, after a second’s pause. Her inmost instinct told her that she could trust Margarita now. Alessandro being dead, Margarita would no longer be her enemy, and Margarita could perhaps help her. “I am going away, Margarita, as soon as I feel a little stronger. I am going to a convent; but the Señora does not know. You will not tell?”
“No, Señorita!” whispered Margarita,—thinking in her heart, “Yes, she is going away, but it will be with the angels.”—“No, Señorita, I will not tell. I will do anything you want me to.”
“Thanks, Margarita mia,” replied Ramona. “I thought you would;” and she lay back on her pillow, and closed her eyes, looking so much more like death than like life that Margarita’s tears flowed faster than before, and she ran to her mother, sobbing out, “Mother, mother! the Señorita is ill to death. I am sure she is. She has taken to her bed; and she is as white as Señor Felipe was at the worst of the fever.”
“Ay,” said old Marda, who had seen all this for days back; “ay, she has wasted away, this last week, like one in a fever, sure enough; I have seen it. It must be she is starving herself to death.”
“Indeed, she has not eaten for ten days,—hardly since that day;” and Margarita and her mother exchanged looks. It was not necessary to further define the day.
“Juan Can says he thinks he will never be seen here again,” continued Margarita.
“The saints grant it, then,” said Marda, hotly, “if 231 it is he has cost the Señorita all this! I am that turned about in my head with it all, that I’ve no thoughts to think; but plain enough it is, he is mixed up with whatever ’tis has gone wrong.”
“I could tell what it is,” said Margarita, her old pertness coming uppermost for a moment; “but I’ve got no more to say, now the Señorita’s lying on her bed, with the face she’s got. It’s enough to break your heart to look at her. I could just go down on my knees to her for all I’ve said; and I will, and to Saint Francis too! She’s going to be with him before long; I know she is.”
“No,” said the wiser, older Marda. “She is not so ill as you think. She is young. It’s the heart’s gone out of her; that’s all. I’ve been that way myself. People are, when they’re young.”
“I’m young!” retorted Margarita. “I’ve never been that way.”
“There’s many a mile to the end of the road, my girl,” said Marda, significantly; “and ‘It’s ill boasting the first day out,’ was a proverb when I was your age!”
Marda had never been much more than half-way fond of this own child of hers. Their natures were antagonistic. Traits which, in Margarita’s father, had embittered many a day of Marda’s early married life, were perpetually cropping out in Margarita, making between the mother and daughter a barrier which even parental love was not always strong enough to surmount. And, as was inevitable, this antagonism was constantly leading to things which seemed to Margarita, and in fact were, unjust and ill-founded.
“She’s always flinging out at me, whatever I do,” thought Margarita. “I know one thing; I’ll never tell her what the Señorita’s told me; never,—not till after she’s gone.”232
A sudden suspicion flashed into Margarita’s mind. She seated herself on the bench outside the kitchen door, to wrestle with it. What if it were not to a convent at all, but to Alessandro, that the Señorita meant to go! No; that was preposterous. If it had been that, she would have gone with him in the outset. Nobody who was plotting to run away with a lover ever wore such a look as the Señorita wore now. Margarita dismissed the thought; yet it left its trace. She would be more observant for having had it; her resuscitated affection for her young mistress was not yet so strong that it would resist the assaults of jealousy, if that passion were to be again aroused in her fiery soul. Though she had never been deeply in love with Alessandro herself, she had been enough so, and she remembered him vividly enough, to feel yet a sharp emotion of displeasure at the recollection of his devotion to the Señorita. Now that the Señorita seemed to be deserted, unhappy, prostrated, she had no room for anything but pity for her; but let Alessandro come on the stage again, and all would be changed. The old hostility would return. It was but a dubious sort of ally, after all, that Ramona had so unexpectedly secured in Margarita. She might prove the sharpest of broken reeds.
It was sunset of the eighteenth day since Alessandro’s departure. Ramona had lain for four days well-nigh motionless on her bed. She herself began to think she must be going to die. Her mind seemed to be vacant of all thought. She did not even sorrow for Alessandro’s death; she seemed torpid, body and soul. Such prostrations as these are Nature’s enforced rests. It is often only by help of them that our bodies tide over crises, strains, in which, if we continued to battle, we should be slain.
As Ramona lay half unconscious,—neither awake 233 nor yet asleep,—on this evening, she was suddenly aware of a vivid impression produced upon her; it was not sound, it was not sight. She was alone; the house was still as death; the warm September twilight silence reigned outside. She sat up in her bed, intent—half alarmed—half glad—bewildered—alive. What had happened? Still there was no sound, no stir. The twilight was fast deepening; not a breath of air moving. Gradually her bewildered senses and faculties awoke from their long-dormant condition; she looked around the room; even the walls seemed revivified; she clasped her hands, and leaped from the bed. “Alessandro is not dead!” she said aloud; and she laughed hysterically. “He is not dead!” she repeated. “He is not dead! He is somewhere near!”
With quivering hands she dressed, and stole out of the house. After the first few seconds she found herself strangely strong; she did not tremble; her feet trod firm on the ground. “Oh, miracle!” she thought, as she hastened down the garden-walk; “I am well again! Alessandro is near!” So vivid was the impression, that when she reached the willows and found the spot silent, vacant, as when she had last sat there, hopeless, broken-hearted, she experienced a revulsion of disappointment. “Not here!” she cried; “not here!” and a swift fear shook her. “Am I mad? Is it this way, perhaps, people lose their senses, when they are as I have been!”
But the young, strong blood was running swift in her veins. No! this was no madness; rather a newly discovered power; a fulness of sense; a revelation. Alessandro was near.
Swiftly she walked down the river road. The farther she went, the keener grew her expectation, her sense of Alessandro’s nearness. In her present mood she would have walked on and on, even to 234 Temecula itself, sure that she was at each step drawing nearer to Alessandro. As she approached the second willow copse, which lay perhaps a quarter of a mile west of the first, she saw the figure of a man, standing, leaning against one of the trees. She halted. It could not be Alessandro. He would not have paused for a moment so near the house where he was to find her. She was afraid to go on. It was late to meet a stranger in this lonely spot. The figure was strangely still; so still that, as she peered through the dusk, she half fancied it might be an optical illusion. She advanced a few steps, hesitatingly, then stopped. As she did so, the man advanced a few steps, then stopped. As he came out from the shadows of the trees, she saw that he was of Alessandro’s height. She quickened her steps, then suddenly stopped again. What did this mean? It could not be Alessandro. Ramona wrung her hands in agony of suspense. An almost unconquerable instinct urged her forward; but terror held her back. After standing irresolute for some minutes, she turned to walk back to the house, saying, “I must not run the risk of its being a stranger. If it is Alessandro, he will come.”
But her feet seemed to refuse to move in the opposite direction. Slower and slower she walked for a few paces, then turned again. The man had returned to his former place, and stood as at first, leaning against the tree.
“It may be a messenger from him,” she said; “a messenger who has been told not to come to the house until after dark.”
Her mind was made up. She quickened her pace to a run. A few moments more brought her so near that she could see distinctly. It was—yes, it was Alessandro. He did not see her. His face was turned partially away, his head resting against the tree; he 235 must be ill. Ramona flew, rather than ran. In a moment more, Alessandro had heard the light steps, turned, saw Ramona, and, with a cry, bounded forward, and they were clasped in each other’s arms before they had looked in each other’s faces. Ramona spoke first. Disengaging herself gently, and looking up, she began: “Alessandro—” But at the first sight of his face she shrieked. Was this Alessandro, this haggard, emaciated, speechless man, who gazed at her with hollow eyes, full of misery, and no joy! “O God,” cried Ramona, “you have been ill! you are ill! My God, Alessandro, what is it?”
Alessandro passed his hand slowly over his forehead, as if trying to collect his thoughts before speaking, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on Ramona, with the same anguished look, convulsively holding both her hands in his.
“Señorita,” he said, “my Señorita!” Then he stopped. His tongue seemed to refuse him utterance; and this voice,—this strange, hard, unresonant voice,—whose voice was it? Not Alessandro’s.
“My Señorita,” he began again, “I could not go without one sight of your face; but when I was here, I had not courage to go near the house. If you had not come, I should have gone back without seeing you.”
Ramona heard these words in fast-deepening terror. What did they mean? Her look seemed to suggest a new thought to Alessandro.
“Heavens, Señorita!” he cried, “have you not heard? Do you not know what has happened?”
“I know nothing, love,” answered Ramona. “I have heard nothing since you went away. For ten days I have been sure you were dead; but to-night something told me that you were near, and I came to meet you.”236
At the first words of Ramona’s sentence, Alessandro threw his arms around her again. As she said “love,” his whole frame shook with emotion.
“My Señorita!” he whispered, “my Señorita! how shall I tell you! How shall I tell you!”
“What is there to tell, Alessandro?” she said. “I am afraid of nothing, now that you are here, and not dead, as I thought.”
But Alessandro did not speak. It seemed impossible. At last, straining her closer to his breast, he cried: “Dearest Señorita! I feel as if I should die when I tell you,—I have no home; my father is dead; my people are driven out of their village. I am only a beggar now, Señorita; like those you used to feed and pity in Los Angeles convent!” As he spoke the last words, he reeled, and, supporting himself against the tree, added: “I am not strong, Señorita; we have been starving.”
Ramona’s face did not reassure him. Even in the dusk he could see its look of incredulous horror. He misread it.
“I only came to look at you once more,” he continued. “I will go now. May the saints bless you, my Señorita, always. I think the Virgin sent you to me to-night. I should never have seen your face if you had not come.”
While he was speaking, Ramona had buried her face in his bosom. Lifting it now, she said, “Did you mean to leave me to think you were dead, Alessandro?”
“I thought that the news about our village must have reached you,” he said, “and that you would know I had no home, and could not come, to seem to remind you of what you had said. Oh, Señorita, it was little enough I had before to give you! I don’t know how I dared to believe that you could come to be with me; but I loved you so much, I had thought of 237 many things I could do; and—” lowering his voice and speaking almost sullenly—“it is the saints, I believe, who have punished me thus for having resolved to leave my people, and take all I had for myself and you. Now they have left me nothing;” and he groaned.
“Who?” cried Ramona. “Was there a battle? Was your father killed?” She was trembling with horror.
“No,” answered Alessandro. “There was no battle. There would have been, if I had had my way; but my father implored me not to resist. He said it would only make it worse for us in the end. The sheriff, too, he begged me to let it all go on peaceably, and help him keep the people quiet. He felt terribly to have to do it. It was Mr. Rothsaker, from San Diego. We had often worked for him on his ranch. He knew all about us. Don’t you recollect, Señorita, I told you about him,—how fair he always was, and kind too? He has the biggest wheat-ranch in Cajon; we’ve harvested miles and miles of wheat for him. He said he would have rather died, almost, than have had it to do; but if we resisted, he would have to order his men to shoot. He had twenty men with him. They thought there would be trouble; and well they might,—turning a whole village full of men and women and children out of their houses, and driving them off like foxes. If it had been any man but Mr. Rothsaker, I would have shot him dead, if I had hung for it; but I knew if he thought we must go, there was no help for us.”
“But, Alessandro,” interrupted Ramona, “I can’t understand. Who was it made Mr. Rothsaker do it? Who has the land now?”
“I don’t know who they are,” Alessandro replied, his voice full of anger and scorn. “They’re Americans,—eight or ten of them. They all got together 238 and brought a suit, they call it, up in San Francisco; and it was decided in the court that they owned all our land. That was all Mr. Rothsaker could tell about it. It was the law, he said, and nobody could go against the law.”
“Oh,” said Ramona, “that’s the way the Americans took so much of the Señora’s land away from her. It was in the court up in San Francisco; and they decided that miles and miles of her land, which the General had always had, was not hers at all. They said it belonged to the United States Government.”
“They are a pack of thieves and liars, every one of them!” cried Alessandro. “They are going to steal all the land in this country; we might all just as well throw ourselves into the sea, and let them have it. My father has been telling me this for years. He saw it coming; but I did not believe him. I did not think men could be so wicked; but he was right. I am glad he is dead. That is the only thing I have to be thankful for now. One day I thought he was going to get well, and I prayed to the Virgin not to let him. I did not want him to live. He never knew anything clear after they took him out of his house. That was before I got there. I found him sitting on the ground outside. They said it was the sun that had turned him crazy; but it was not. It was his heart breaking in his bosom. He would not come out of his house, and the men lifted him up and carried him out by force, and threw him on the ground; and then they threw out all the furniture we had; and when he saw them doing that, he put his hands up to his head, and called out, ‘Alessandro! Alessandro!’ and I was not there! Señorita, they said it was a voice to make the dead hear, that he called with; and nobody could stop him. All that day and all the night he kept on 239 calling. God! Señorita, I wonder I did not die when they told me! When I got there, some one had built up a little booth of tule over his head, to keep the sun off. He did not call any more, only for water, water. That was what made them think the sun had done it. They did all they could; but it was such a dreadful time, nobody could do much; the sheriff’s men were in great hurry; they gave no time. They said the people must all be off in two days. Everybody was running hither and thither. Everything out of the houses in piles on the ground. The people took all the roofs off their houses too. They were made of the tule reeds; so they would do again. Oh, Señorita, don’t ask me to tell you any more! It is like death. I can’t!”
Ramona was crying bitterly. She did not know what to say. What was love, in face of such calamity! What had she to give to a man stricken like this?
“Don’t weep, Señorita,” said Alessandro, drearily. “Tears kill one, and do no good.”
“How long did your father live?” asked Ramona, clasping her arms closer around his neck. They were sitting on the ground now, and Ramona, yearning over Alessandro, as if she were the strong one and he the one to be sheltered, had drawn his head to her bosom, caressing him as if he had been hers for years. Nothing could have so clearly shown his enfeebled and benumbed condition, as the manner in which he received these caresses, which once would have made him beside himself with joy. He leaned against her breast as a child might.
“He! He died only four days ago. I stayed to bury him, and then I came away. I have been three days on the way; the horse, poor beast, is almost weaker than I. The Americans took my horse,” Alessandro said.240
“Took your horse!” cried Ramona, aghast. “Is that the law, too?”
“So Mr. Rothsaker told me. He said the judge had said he must take enough of our cattle and horses to pay all it had cost for the suit up in San Francisco. They didn’t reckon the cattle at what they were worth, I thought; but they said cattle were selling very low now. There were not enough in all the village to pay it, so we had to make it up in horses; and they took mine. I was not there the day they drove the cattle away, or I would have put a ball into Benito’s head before any American should ever have had him to ride. But I was over in Pachanga with my father. He would not stir a step for anybody but me; so I led him all the way; and then after he got there he was so ill I never left him a minute. He did not know me any more, nor know anything that had happened. I built a little hut of tule, and he lay on the ground till he died. When I put him in his grave, I was glad.”
“In Temecula?” asked Ramona.
“In Temecula!” exclaimed Alessandro, fiercely. “You don’t seem to understand, Señorita. We have no right in Temecula, not even to our graveyard full of the dead. Mr. Rothsaker warned us all not to be hanging about there; for he said the men who were coming in were a rough set, and they would shoot any Indian at sight, if they saw him trespassing on their property.”
“Their property!” ejaculated Ramona.
“Yes; it is theirs,” said Alessandro, doggedly. “That is the law. They’ve got all the papers to show it. That is what my father always said,—if the Señor Valdez had only given him a paper! But they never did in those days. Nobody had papers. The American law is different.”
“It’s a law of thieves!” cried Ramona.241
“Yes, and of murderers too,” said Alessandro. “Don’t you call my father murdered just as much as if they had shot him? I do! And, O Señorita, my Señorita, there was José! You recollect José, who went for my violin? But, my beloved one, I am killing you with these terrible things! I will speak no more.”
“No, no, Alessandro. Tell me all, all. You must have no grief I do not share. Tell me about José,” cried Ramona, breathlessly.
“Señorita, it will break your heart to hear. José was married a year ago. He had the best house in Temecula, next to my father’s. It was the only other one that had a shingled roof. And he had a barn too, and that splendid horse he rode, and oxen, and a flock of sheep. He was at home when the sheriff came. A great many of the men were away, grape-picking. That made it worse. But José was at home; for his wife had a little baby only a few weeks old, and the child seemed sickly and not like to live, and José would not leave it. José was the first one that saw the sheriff riding into the village, and the band of armed men behind him, and José knew what it meant. He had often talked it over with me and with my father, and now he saw that it had come; and he went crazy in one minute, and fell on the ground all froth at his mouth. He had had a fit like that once before; and the doctor said if he had another, he would die. But he did not. They picked him up, and presently he was better; and Mr. Rothsaker said nobody worked so well in the moving the first day as José did. Most of the men would not lift a hand. They sat on the ground with the women, and covered up their faces, and would not see. But José worked; and, Señorita, one of the first things he did, was to run with my father’s violin to the store, to Mrs. Hartsel, and ask her to 242 hide it for us; José knew it was worth money. But before noon the second day he had another fit, and died in it,—died right in his own door, carrying out some of the things; and after Carmena—that’s his wife’s name—saw he was dead, she never spoke, but sat rocking back and forth on the ground, with the baby in her arms. She went over to Pachanga at the same time I did with my father. It was a long procession of us.”
“Where is Pachanga?” asked Ramona.
“About three miles from Temecula, a little sort of cañon. I told the people they’d better move over there; the land did not belong to anybody, and perhaps they could make a living there. There isn’t any water; that’s the worst of it.”
“No water!” cried Ramona.
“No running water. There is one little spring, and they dug a well by it as soon as they got there; so there was water to drink, but that is all. I saw Carmena could hardly keep up, and I carried the baby for her on one arm, while I led my father with the other hand; but the baby cried, so she took it back. I thought then it wouldn’t live the day out; but it did live till the morning of the day my father died. Just a few hours before he died, Carmena came along with the baby rolled up in her shawl, and sat down by me on the ground, and did not speak. When I said, ‘How is the little one?’ she opened her shawl and showed it to me, dead. ‘Good, Carmena!’ said I. ‘It is good! My father is dying too. We will bury them together.’ So she sat by me all that morning, and at night she helped me dig the graves. I wanted to put the baby on my father’s breast; but she said, no, it must have a little grave. So she dug it herself; and we put them in; and she never spoke, except that once. She was sitting there by the grave when I came away. 243 I made a cross of two little trees with the boughs chopped off, and set it up by the graves. So that is the way our new graveyard was begun,—my father and the little baby; it is the very young and the very old that have the blessed fortune to die. I cannot die, it seems!”
“Where did they bury José?” gasped Ramona.
“In Temecula,” said Alessandro. “Mr. Rothsaker made two of his men dig a grave in our old graveyard for José. But I think Carmena will go at night and bring his body away. I would! But, my Señorita, it is very dark, I can hardly see your beloved eyes. I think you must not stay longer. Can I go as far as the brook with you, safely, without being seen? The saints bless you, beloved, for coming. I could not have lived, I think, without one more sight of your face;” and, springing to his feet, Alessandro stood waiting for Ramona to move. She remained still. She was in a sore strait. Her heart held but one impulse, one desire,—to go with Alessandro; nothing was apparently farther from his thoughts than this. Could she offer to go? Should she risk laying a burden on him greater than he could bear? If he were indeed a beggar, as he said, would his life be hindered or helped by her? She felt herself strong and able. Work had no terrors for her; privations she knew nothing of, but she felt no fear of them.
“Alessandro!” she said, in a tone which startled him.
“My Señorita!” he said tenderly.
“You have never once called me Ramona.”
“I cannot, Señorita!” he replied.
“I do not know. I sometimes think ‘Ramona,’” he added faintly; “but not often. If I think of you by any other name than as my Señorita, it is usually by a name you never heard.”244
“What is it?” exclaimed Ramona, wonderingly.
“An Indian word, my dearest one, the name of the bird you are like,—the wood-dove. In the Luiseno tongue that is Majel; that was what I thought my people would have called you, if you had come to dwell among us. It is a beautiful name, Señorita, and is like you.”
Alessandro was still standing. Ramona rose; coming close to him, she laid both her hands on his breast, and her head on her hands, and said: “Alessandro, I have something to tell you. I am an Indian. I belong to your people.”
Alessandro’s silence astonished her. “You are surprised,” she said. “I thought you would be glad.”
“The gladness of it came to me long ago, my Señorita,” he said. “I knew it!”
“How?” cried Ramona. “And you never told me, Alessandro!”
“How could I?” he replied. “I dared not. Juan Canito, it was, told me.”
“Juan Canito?” said Ramona, musingly. “How could he have known?” Then in a few rapid words she told Alessandro all that the Señora had told her. “Is that what Juan Can said?” she asked.
“All except the father’s name,” stammered Alessandro.
“Who did he say was my father?” she asked.
Alessandro was silent.
“It matters not,” said Ramona. “He was wrong. The Señora, of course, knew. He was a friend of hers, and of the Señora Ortegna, to whom he gave me. But I think, Alessandro, I have more of my mother than of my father.”
“Yes, you have, my Señorita,” replied Alessandro, tenderly. “After I knew it, I then saw what it was in your face had always seemed to me like the faces of my own people.”245
“Are you not glad, Alessandro?”
“Yes, my Señorita.”
What more should Ramona say? Suddenly her heart gave way; and without premeditation, without resolve, almost without consciousness of what she was doing, she flung herself on Alessandro’s breast, and cried: “Oh, Alessandro, take me with you! take me with you! I would rather die than have you leave me again!”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIV
Indeed, she has not eaten for ten days
[Now, is that ten days since Alessandro left, or ten days since the day he said he would return?]
the eighteenth day since Alessandro’s departure
[i.e. two weeks past the full moon, since the day of Alessandro’s planned return was exactly the full moon]
The Señora Moreno had never before been so discomfited
Alessandro’s first answer to this cry of Ramona’s was a tightening of his arms around her
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.