Before the end of their second day in the cañon, the place had become to Ramona so like a friendly home, that she dreaded to leave its shelter. Nothing is stronger proof of the original intent of Nature to do more for man than civilization in its arrogance will long permit her to do, than the quick and sure way in which she reclaims his affection, when by weariness, idle chance, or disaster, he is returned, for an interval, to her arms. How soon he rejects the miserable subterfuges of what he had called habits; sheds the still more miserable pretences of superiority, makeshifts of adornment, and chains of custom! “Whom the gods love, die young,” has been too long carelessly said. It is not true, in the sense in which men use the words. Whom the gods love, dwell with nature; if they are ever lured away, return to her before they are old. Then, however long they live before they die, they die young. Whom the gods love, live young—forever.
With the insight of a lover added to the instinct of the Indian, Alessandro saw how, hour by hour, there grew in Ramona’s eyes the wonted look of one at home; how she watched the shadows, and knew what they meant.
“If we lived here, the walls would be sun-dials for us, would they not?” she said, in a tone of pleasure. “I see that yon tall yucca has gone in shadow sooner than it did yesterday.”
And, “What millions of things grow here, Alessandro! I did not know there were so many. Have 281 they all names? The nuns taught us some names; but they were hard, and I forgot them. We might name them for ourselves, if we lived here. They would be our relations.”
And, “For one year I should lie and look up at the sky, my Alessandro, and do nothing else. It hardly seems as if it would be a sin to do nothing for a year, if one gazed steadily at the sky all the while.”
And, “Now I know what it is I have always seen in your face, Alessandro. It is the look from the sky. One must be always serious and not unhappy, but never too glad, I think, when he lives with nothing between him and the sky, and the saints can see him every minute.”
And, “I cannot believe that it is but two days I have lived in the air, Alessandro. This seems to me the first home I have ever had. Is it because I am Indian, Alessandro, that it gives me such joy?”
It was strange how many more words Ramona spoke than Alessandro, yet how full she felt their intercourse to be. His silence was more than silent; it was taciturn. Yet she always felt herself answered. A monosyllable of Alessandro’s, nay, a look, told what other men took long sentences to say, and said less eloquently.
After long thinking over this, she exclaimed, “You speak as the trees speak, and like the rock yonder, and the flowers, without saying anything!”
This delighted Alessandro’s very heart. “And you, Majella,” he exclaimed; “when you say that, you speak in the language of our people; you are as we are.”
And Ramona, in her turn, was made happy by his words,—happier than she would have been made by any other praise or fondness.
Alessandro found himself regaining all his strength 282 as if by a miracle. The gaunt look had left his face. Almost it seemed that its contour was already fuller. There is a beautiful old Gaelic legend of a Fairy who wooed a Prince, came again and again to him, and, herself invisible to all but the Prince, hovered in the air, sang loving songs to draw him away from the crowd of his indignant nobles, who heard her voice and summoned magicians to rout her by all spells and enchantments at their command. Finally they succeeded in silencing her and driving her off; but as she vanished from the Prince’s sight she threw him an apple,—a magic golden apple. Once having tasted of this, he refused all other food. Day after day, night after night, he ate only this golden apple; and yet, morning after morning, evening after evening, there lay the golden fruit, still whole and shining, as if he had not fed upon it; and when the Fairy came the next time, the Prince leaped into her magic boat, sailed away with her, and never was seen in his kingdom again. It was only an allegory, this legend,—a beautiful allegory, and true,—of love and lovers. The food on which Alessandro was, hour by hour, now growing strong, was as magic and invisible as Prince Connla’s apple, and just as strength-giving.
“My Alessandro, how is it you look so well, so soon?” said Ramona, studying his countenance with loving care. “I thought that night you would die. Now you look nearly strong as ever; your eyes shine, and your hand is not hot! It is the blessed air; it has cured you, as it cured Felipe of the fever.”
“If the air could keep me well, I had not been ill, Majella,” replied Alessandro. “I had been under no roof except the tule-shed, till I saw you. It is not the air;” and he looked at her with a gaze that said the rest.
At twilight of the third day, when Ramona saw Alessandro leading up Baba, saddled ready for the 283 journey, the tears filled her eyes. At noon Alessandro had said to her: “To-night, Majella, we must go. There is not grass enough for another day. We must go while the horses are strong. I dare not lead them any farther down the cañon to graze, for there is a ranch only a few miles lower. To-day I found one of the man’s cows feeding near Baba.”
Ramona made no remonstrance. The necessity was too evident; but the look on her face gave Alessandro a new pang. He, too, felt as if exiled afresh in leaving the spot. And now, as he led the horses slowly up, and saw Ramona sitting in a dejected attitude beside the nets, in which were again carefully packed their small stores, his heart ached anew. Again the sense of his homeless and destitute condition settled like an unbearable burden on his soul. Whither and to what was he leading his Majella?
But once in the saddle, Ramona recovered cheerfulness. Baba was in such gay heart, she could not be wholly sad. The horse seemed fairly rollicking with satisfaction at being once more on the move. Capitan, too, was gay. He had found the cañon dull, spite of its refreshing shade and cool water. He longed for sheep. He did not understand this inactivity. The puzzled look on his face had made Ramona laugh more than once, as he would come and stand before her, wagging his tail and fixing his eyes intently on her face, as if he said in so many words, “What in the world are you about in this cañon, and do not you ever intend to return home? Or if you will stay here, why not keep sheep? Do you not see that I have nothing to do?”
“We must ride all night, Majella,” said Alessandro, “and lose no time. It is a long way to the place where we shall stay to-morrow.”
“Is it a cañon?” asked Ramona, hopefully.
“No,” he replied, “not a cañon; but there are 284 beautiful oak-trees. It is where we get our acorns for the winter. It is on the top of a high hill.”
“Will it be safe there?” she asked.
“I think so,” he replied; “though not so safe as here. There is no such place as this in all the country.”
“And then where shall we go next?” she asked.
“That is very near Temecula,” he said. “We must go into Temecula, dear Majella. I must go to Mr. Hartsel’s. He is friendly. He will give me money for my father’s violin. If it were not for that, I would never go near the place again.”
“I would like to see it, Alessandro,” she said gently.
“Oh, no, no, Majella!” he cried; “you would not. It is terrible; the houses all unroofed,—all but my father’s and José’s. They were shingled roofs; they will be just the same; all the rest are only walls. Antonio’s mother threw hers down; I don’t know how the old woman ever had the strength; they said she was like a fury. She said nobody should ever live in those walls again; and she took a pole, and made a great hole in one side, and then she ran Antonio’s wagon against it with all her might, till it fell in. No, Majella. It will be dreadful.”
“Wouldn’t you like to go into the graveyard again, Alessandro?” she said timidly.
“The saints forbid!” he said solemnly. “I think it would make me a murderer to stand in that graveyard! If I had not you, my Majel, I should kill some white man when I came out. Oh, do not speak of it!” he added, after a moment’s silence; “it takes the strength all out of my blood again, Majella. It feels as if I should die!”
And the word “Temecula” was not mentioned between them again until dusk the next day, when, as 285 they were riding slowly along between low, wooded hills, they suddenly came to an opening, a green, marshy place, with a little thread of trickling water, at which their horses stopped, and drank thirstily; and Ramona, looking ahead, saw lights twinkling in the distance. “Lights, Alessandro, lights!” she exclaimed, pointing to them.
“Yes, Majella,” he replied, “it is Temecula;” and springing off his pony he came to her side, and putting both his hands on hers, said: “I have been thinking, for a long way back, Carita, what is to be done here. I do not know. What does Majella think will be wise? If men have been sent out to pursue us, they may be at Hartsel’s. His store is the place where everybody stops, everybody goes. I dare not have you go there, Majella; yet I must go. The only way I can get any money is from Mr. Hartsel.”
“I must wait somewhere while you go!” said Ramona, her heart beating as she gazed ahead into the blackness of the great plain. It looked vast as the sea. “That is the only safe thing, Alessandro.”
“I think so too,” he said; “but, oh, I am afraid for you; and will not you be afraid?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I am afraid. But it is not so dangerous as the other.”
“If anything were to happen to me, and I could not come back to you, Majella, if you give Baba his reins he will take you safe home,—he and Capitan.”
Ramona shrieked aloud. She had not thought of this possibility. Alessandro had thought of everything. “What could happen?” she cried.
“I mean if the men were there, and if they took me for stealing the horse,” he said.
“But you would not have the horse with you,” she said. “How could they take you?”286
“That mightn’t make any difference,” replied Alessandro. “They might take me, to make me tell where the horse was.”
“Oh, Alessandro,” sobbed Ramona, “what shall we do!” Then in another second, gathering her courage, she exclaimed, “Alessandro, I know what I will do. I will stay in the graveyard. No one will come there. Shall I not be safest there?”
“Holy Virgin! would my Majel stay there?” exclaimed Alessandro.
“Why not?” she said. “It is not the dead that will harm us. They would all help us if they could. I have no fear. I will wait there while you go; and if you do not come in an hour, I will come to Mr. Hartsel’s after you. If there are men of the Señora’s there, they will know me; they will not dare to touch me. They will know that Felipe would punish them. I will not be afraid. And if they are ordered to take Baba, they can have him; we can walk when the pony is tired.”
Her confidence was contagious. “My wood-dove has in her breast the heart of the lion,” said Alessandro, fondly. “We will do as she says. She is wise;” and he turned their horses’ heads in the direction of the graveyard. It was surrounded by a low adobe wall, with one small gate of wooden paling. As they reached it, Alessandro exclaimed, “The thieves have taken the gate!”
“What could they have wanted with that?” said Ramona.
“To burn,” he said doggedly. “It was wood; but it was very little. They might have left the graves safe from wild beasts and cattle!”
As they entered the enclosure, a dark figure rose from one of the graves. Ramona started.
“Fear nothing,” whispered Alessandro. “It must be one of our people. I am glad; now you will not 287 be alone. It is Carmena, I am sure. That was the corner where they buried José. I will speak to her;” and leaving Ramona at the gate, he went slowly on, saying in a low voice, in the Luiseno language, “Carmena, is that you? Have no fear. It is I, Alessandro!”
It was Carmena. The poor creature, nearly crazed with grief, was spending her days by her baby’s grave in Pachanga, and her nights by her husband’s in Temecula. She dared not come to Temecula by day, for the Americans were there, and she feared them. After a short talk with her, Alessandro returned, leading her along. Bringing her to Ramona’s side, he laid her feverish hand in Ramona’s, and said: “Majella, I have told her all. She cannot speak a word of Spanish, but she is very glad, she says, that you have come with me, and she will stay close by your side till I come back.”
Ramona’s tender heart ached with desire to comfort the girl; but all she could do was to press her hand in silence. Even in the darkness she could see the hollow, mournful eyes and the wasted cheek. Words are less needful to sorrow than to joy. Carmena felt in every fibre how Ramona was pitying her. Presently she made a gentle motion, as if to draw her from the saddle. Ramona bent down and looked inquiringly into her face. Again she drew her gently with one hand, and with the other pointed to the corner from which she had come. Ramona understood. “She wants to show me her husband’s grave,” she thought. “She does not like to be away from it. I will go with her.”
Dismounting, and taking Baba’s bridle over her arm, she bowed her head assentingly, and still keeping firm hold of Carmena’s hand, followed her. The graves were thick, and irregularly placed, each mound marked by a small wooden cross. Carmena led with 288 the swift step of one who knew each inch of the way by heart. More than once Ramona stumbled and nearly fell, and Baba was impatient and restive at the strange inequalities under his feet. When they reached the corner, Ramona saw the fresh-piled earth of the new grave. Uttering a wailing cry, Carmena, drawing Ramona to the edge of it, pointed down with her right hand, then laid both hands on her heart, and gazed at Ramona piteously. Ramona burst into weeping, and again clasping Carmena’s hand, laid it on her own breast, to show her sympathy. Carmena did not weep. She was long past that; and she felt for the moment lifted out of herself by the sweet, sudden sympathy of this stranger,—this girl like herself, yet so different, so wonderful, so beautiful, Carmena was sure she must be. Had the saints sent her from heaven to Alessandro? What did it mean? Carmena’s bosom was heaving with the things she longed to say and to ask; but all she could do was to press Ramona’s hand again and again, and occasionally lay her soft cheek upon it.
“Now, was it not the saints that put it into my head to come to the graveyard?” thought Ramona. “What a comfort to this poor heart-broken thing to see Alessandro! And she keeps me from all fear. Holy Virgin! but I had died of terror here all alone. Not that the dead would harm me; but simply from the vast, silent plain, and the gloom.”
Soon Carmena made signs to Ramona that they would return to the gate. Considerate and thoughtful, she remembered that Alessandro would expect to find them there. But it was a long and weary watch they had, waiting for Alessandro to come.
After leaving them, and tethering his pony, he had struck off at a quick run for Hartsel’s, which was perhaps an eighth of a mile from the graveyard. His own old home lay a little to the right. As he drew 289 near, he saw a light in its windows. He stopped as if shot. “A light in our house!” he exclaimed; and he clenched his hands. “Those cursed robbers have gone into it to live already!” His blood seemed turning to fire. Ramona would not have recognized the face of her Alessandro now. It was full of implacable vengeance. Involuntarily he felt for his knife. It was gone. His gun he had left inside the graveyard, leaning against the wall. Ah! in the graveyard! Yes, and there also was Ramona waiting for him. Thoughts of vengeance fled. The world held now but one work, one hope, one passion, for him. But he would at least see who were these dwellers in his father’s house. A fierce desire to see their faces burned within him. Why should he thus torture himself? Why, indeed? But he must. He would see the new home-life already begun on the grave of his. Stealthily creeping under the window from which the light shone, he listened. He heard children’s voices; a woman’s voice; at intervals the voice of a man, gruff and surly; various household sounds also. It was evidently the supper-hour. Cautiously raising himself till his eyes were on a level with the lowest panes in the window, he looked in.
A table was set in the middle of the floor, and there were sitting at it a man, woman, and two children. The youngest, little more than a baby, sat in its high chair, drumming with a spoon on the table, impatient for its supper. The room was in great confusion,—beds made on the floor, open boxes half unpacked, saddles and harness thrown down in corners; evidently there were new-comers into the house. The window was open by an inch. It had warped, and would not shut down. Bitterly Alessandro recollected how he had put off from day to day the planing of that window to make it shut tight. Now, thanks to that crack, he could hear all that 290 was said. The woman looked weary and worn. Her face was a sensitive one, and her voice kindly; but the man had the countenance of a brute,—of a human brute. Why do we malign the so-called brute creation, making their names a unit of comparison for base traits which never one of them possessed?
“It seems as if I never should get to rights in this world!” said the woman. Alessandro understood enough English to gather the meaning of what she said. He listened eagerly. “When will the next wagon get here?”
“I don’t know,” growled her husband. “There’s been a slide in that cursed cañon, and blocked the road. They won’t be here for several days yet. Hain’t you got stuff enough round now? If you’d clear up what’s here now, then ’twould be time enough to grumble because you hadn’t got everything.”
“But, John,” she replied, “I can’t clear up till the bureau comes, to put the things away in, and the bedsteads. I can’t seem to do anything.”
“You can grumble, I take notice,” he answered. “That’s about all you women are good for, anyhow. There was a first-rate raw-hide bedstead in here. If Rothsaker hadn’t been such a fool’s to let those dogs of Indians carry off all their truck, we might have had that!”
The woman looked at him reproachfully, but did not speak for a moment. Then her cheeks flushed, and seeming unable to repress the speech, she exclaimed, “Well, I’m thankful enough he did let the poor things take their furniture. I’d never have slept a wink on that bedstead, I know, if it had ha’ been left here. It’s bad enough to take their houses this way!”
“Oh, you shut up your head for a blamed fool, will you!” cried the man. He was half drunk, his 291 worst and most dangerous state. She glanced at him half timorously, half indignantly, and turning to the children, began feeding the baby. At that second the other child looked up, and catching sight of the outline of Alessandro’s head, cried out, “There’s a man there! There, at the window!”
Alessandro threw himself flat on the ground, and held his breath. Had he imperilled all, brought danger on himself and Ramona, by yielding to this mad impulse to look once more inside the walls of his home? With a fearful oath, the half-drunken man exclaimed, “One of those damned Indians, I expect. I’ve seen several hangin’ round to-day. We’ll have to shoot two or three of ’em yet, before we’re rid of ’em!” and he took his gun down from the pegs above the fireplace, and went to the door with it in his hand.
“Oh, don’t fire, father, don’t!” cried the woman. “They’ll come and murder us all in our sleep if you do! Don’t fire!” and she pulled him back by the sleeve.
Shaking her off, with another oath, he stepped across the threshold, and stood listening, and peering into the darkness. Alessandro’s heart beat like a hammer in his breast. Except for the thought of Ramona, he would have sprung on the man, seized his gun, and killed him.
“I don’t believe it was anybody, after all, father,” persisted the woman. “Bud’s always seein’ things. I don’t believe there was anybody there. Come in; supper’s gettin’ all cold.”
“Well, I’ll jest fire, to let ’em know there’s powder ’n shot round here,” said the fiend. “If it hits any on ’em roamin’ round, he won’t know what hurt him;” and levelling his gun at random, with his drunken, unsteady hand he fired. The bullet whistled away harmlessly into the empty darkness. Hearkening a 292 few moments, and hearing no cry, he hiccupped, “Mi-i-issed him that time,” and went in to his supper.
Alessandro did not dare to stir for a long time. How he cursed his own folly in having brought himself into this plight! What needless pain of waiting he was inflicting on the faithful one, watching for him in that desolate and fearful place of graves! At last he ventured,—sliding along on his belly a few inches at a time, till, several rods from the house, he dared at last to spring to his feet and bound away at full speed for Hartsel’s.
Hartsel’s was one of those mongrel establishments to be seen nowhere except in Southern California. Half shop, half farm, half tavern, it gathered up to itself all the threads of the life of the whole region. Indians, ranchmen, travellers of all sorts, traded at Hartsel’s, drank at Hartsel’s, slept at Hartsel’s. It was the only place of its kind within a radius of twenty miles; and it was the least bad place of its kind within a much wider radius.
Hartsel was by no means a bad fellow—when he was sober; but as that condition was not so frequent as it should have been, he sometimes came near being a very bad fellow indeed. At such times everybody was afraid of him,—wife, children, travellers, ranchmen, and all. “It was only a question of time and occasion,” they said, “Hartsel’s killing somebody sooner or later;” and it looked as if the time were drawing near fast. But, out of his cups, Hartsel was kindly, and fairly truthful; entertaining, too, to a degree which held many a wayfarer chained to his chair till small hours of the morning, listening to his landlord’s talk. How he had drifted from Alsace to San Diego County, he could hardly have told in minute detail himself, there had been so many stages and phases of the strange journey; but he had come to his last halt now. 293 Here, in this Temecula, he would lay his bones. He liked the country. He liked the wild life, and, for a wonder, he liked the Indians. Many a good word he spoke for them to travellers who believed no good of the race, and evidently listened with polite incredulity when he would say, as he often did: “I’ve never lost a dollar off these Indians yet. They do all their trading with me. There’s some of them I trust as high’s a hundred dollars. If they can’t pay this year, they’ll pay next; and if they die, their relations will pay their debts for them, a little at a time, till they’ve got it all paid off. They’ll pay in wheat, or bring a steer, maybe, or baskets or mats the women make; but they’ll pay. They’re honester ’n the general run of Mexicans about paying; I mean Mexicans that are as poor’s they are.”
Hartsel’s dwelling-house was a long, low adobe building, with still lower flanking additions, in which were bedrooms for travellers, the kitchen, and storerooms. The shop was a separate building, of rough planks, a story and a half high, the loft of which was one great dormitory well provided with beds on the floor, but with no other article of bedroom furniture. They who slept in this loft had no fastidious standards of personal luxury. These two buildings, with some half-dozen out-houses of one sort and another, stood in an enclosure surrounded by a low white picket fence, which gave to the place a certain homelike look, spite of the neglected condition of the ground, which was bare sand, or sparsely tufted with weeds and wild grass. A few plants, parched and straggling, stood in pots and tin cans around the door of the dwelling-house. One hardly knew whether they made the place look less desolate or more so. But they were token of a woman’s hand, and of a nature which craved something more than the unredeemed wilderness around her afforded.294
A dull and lurid light streamed out from the wide-open door of the store. Alessandro drew cautiously near. The place was full of men, and he heard loud laughing and talking. He dared not go in. Stealing around to the rear, he leaped the fence, and went to the other house and opened the kitchen door. Here he was not afraid. Mrs. Hartsel had never any but Indian servants in her employ. The kitchen was lighted only by one dim candle. On the stove were sputtering and hissing all the pots and frying-pans it would hold. Much cooking was evidently going on for the men who were noisily rollicking in the other house.
Seating himself by the fire, Alessandro waited. In a few moments Mrs. Hartsel came hurrying back to her work. It was no uncommon experience to find an Indian quietly sitting by her fire. In the dim light she did not recognize Alessandro, but mistook him, as he sat bowed over, his head in his hands, for old Ramon, who was a sort of recognized hanger-on of the place, earning his living there by odd jobs of fetching and carrying, and anything else he could do.
“Run, Ramon,” she said, “and bring me more wood; this cottonwood is so dry, it burns out like rotten punk; I’m off my feet to-night, with all these men to cook for;” then turning to the table, she began cutting her bread, and did not see how tall and unlike Ramon was the man who silently rose and went out to do her bidding. When, a few moments later, Alessandro re-entered, bringing a huge armful of wood, which it would have cost poor old Ramon three journeys at least to bring, and throwing it down, on the hearth, said, “Will that be enough, Mrs. Hartsel?” she gave a scream of surprise, and dropped her knife. “Why, who—” she began; then, seeing his face, her own lighting up with pleasure, she continued, 295 “Alessandro! Is it you? Why, I took you in the dark for old Ramon! I thought you were in Pachanga.”
“In Pachanga!” Then as yet no one had come from the Señora Moreno’s to Hartsel’s in search of him and the Señorita Ramona! Alessandro’s heart felt almost light in his bosom. From the one immediate danger he had dreaded, they were safe; but no trace of emotion showed on his face, and he did not raise his eyes as he replied: “I have been in Pachanga. My father is dead. I have buried him there.”
“Oh, Alessandro! Did he die?” cried the kindly woman, coming close to Alessandro, and laying her hand on his shoulder. “I heard he was sick.” She paused; she did not know what to say. She had suffered so at the time of the ejectment of the Indians, that it had made her ill. For two days she had kept her doors shut and her windows close curtained, that she need not see the terrible sights. She was not a woman of many words. She was a Mexican, but there were those who said that some Indian blood ran in her veins. This was not improbable; and it seemed more than ever probable now, as she stood still by Alessandro’s side, her hand on his shoulder, her eyes fixed in distress on his face. How he had altered! How well she recollected his lithe figure, his alert motion, his superb bearing, his handsome face, when she last saw him in the spring!
“You were away all summer, Alessandro?” she said at last, turning back to her work.
“Yes,” he said; “at the Señora Moreno’s.”
“So I heard,” she said. “That is a fine great place, is it not? Is her son grown a fine man? He was a lad when I saw him. He went through here with a drove of sheep once.”
“Ay, he is a man now,” said Alessandro, and buried his face in his hands again.296
“Poor fellow! I don’t wonder he does not want to speak,” thought Mrs. Hartsel. “I’ll just let him alone;” and she spoke no more for some moments.
Alessandro sat still by the fire. A strange apathy seemed to have seized him; at last he said wearily: “I must be going now. I wanted to see Mr. Hartsel a minute, but he seems to be busy in the store.”
“Yes,” she said, “a lot of San Francisco men; they belong to the company that’s coming in here in the valley; they’ve been here two days. Oh, Alessandro,” she continued, bethinking herself, “Jim’s got your violin here; José brought it.”
“Yes, I know it,” answered Alessandro. “José told me; and that was one thing I stopped for.”
“I’ll run and get it,” she exclaimed.
“No,” said Alessandro, in a slow, husky voice. “I do not want it. I thought Mr. Hartsel might buy it. I want some money. It was not mine; it was my father’s. It is a great deal better than mine. My father said it would bring a great deal of money. It is very old.”
“Indeed it is,” she replied; “one of those men in there was looking at it last night. He was astonished at it, and he would not believe Jim when he told him about its having come from the Mission.”
“Does he play? Will he buy it?” cried Alessandro.
“I don’t know; I’ll call Jim,” she said; and running out she looked in at the other door, saying, “Jim! Jim!”
Alas, Jim was in no condition to reply. At her first glance in his face, her countenance hardened into an expression of disgust and defiance. Returning to the kitchen, she said scornfully, disdaining all disguises, “Jim’s drunk. No use your talking to him to-night. Wait till morning.”
“Till morning!” A groan escaped from Alessandro, 297 in spite of himself. “I can’t!” he cried. “I must go on to-night.”
“Why, what for?” exclaimed Mrs. Hartsel, much astonished. For one brief second Alessandro revolved in his mind the idea of confiding everything to her; only for a second, however. No; the fewer knew his secret and Ramona’s, the better.
“I must be in San Diego to-morrow,” he said.
“Got work there?” she said.
“Yes; that is, in San Pasquale,” he said; “and I ought to have been there three days ago.”
Mrs. Hartsel mused. “Jim can’t do anything to-night,” she said; “that’s certain. You might see the man yourself, and ask him if he’d buy it.”
Alessandro shook his head. An invincible repugnance withheld him. He could not face one of these Americans who were “coming in” to his valley. Mrs. Hartsel understood.
“I’ll tell you, Alessandro,” said the kindly woman, “I’ll give you what money you need to-night, and then, if you say so, Jim’ll sell the violin to-morrow, if that man wants it, and you can pay me back out of that, and when you’re along this way again you can have the rest. Jim’ll make as good a trade for you ’s he can. He’s a real good friend to all of you, Alessandro, when he’s himself.”
“I know it, Mrs. Hartsel. I’d trust Mr. Hartsel more than any other man in this country,” said Alessandro. “He’s about the only white man I do trust!”
Mrs. Hartsel was fumbling in a deep pocket in her under-petticoat. Gold-piece after gold-piece she drew out. “Humph! Got more ’n I thought I had,” she said. “I’ve kept all that’s been paid in here to-day, for I knew Jim’d be drunk before night.”
Alessandro’s eyes fastened on the gold. How he longed for an abundance of those little shining pieces 298 for his Majella! He sighed as Mrs. Hartsel counted them out on the table,—one, two, three, four, bright five-dollar pieces.
“That is as much as I dare take,” said Alessandro, when she put down the fourth. “Will you trust me for so much?” he added sadly. “You know I have nothing left now. Mrs. Hartsel, I am only a beggar, till I get some work to do.”
The tears came into Mrs. Hartsel’s eyes. “It’s a shame!” she said,—“a shame, Alessandro! Jim and I haven’t thought of anything else, since it happened. Jim says they’ll never prosper, never. Trust you? Yes, indeed. Jim and I’ll trust you, or your father, the last day of our lives.”
“I’m glad he is dead,” said Alessandro, as he knotted the gold into his handkerchief and put it into his bosom. “But he was murdered, Mrs. Hartsel,—murdered, just as much as if they had fired a bullet into him.”
“That’s true!” she exclaimed vehemently. “I say so too; and so was José. That’s just what I said at the time,—that bullets would not be half so inhuman!”
The words had hardly left her lips, when the door from the dining-room burst open, and a dozen men, headed by the drunken Jim, came stumbling, laughing, reeling into the kitchen.
“Where’s supper! Give us our supper! What are you about with your Indian here? I’ll teach you how to cook ham!” stammered Jim, making a lurch towards the stove. The men behind caught him and saved him. Eying the group with slow scorn, Mrs. Hartsel, who had not a cowardly nerve in her body, said: “Gentlemen, if you will take your seats at the table, I will bring in your supper immediately. It is all ready.”
One or two of the soberer ones, shamed by her tone, 299 led the rest back into the dining-room, where, seating themselves, they began to pound the table and swing the chairs, swearing, and singing ribald songs.
“Get off as quick as you can, Alessandro,” whispered Mrs. Hartsel, as she passed by him, standing like a statue, his eyes, full of hatred and contempt, fixed on the tipsy group. “You’d better go. There’s no knowing what they’ll do next.”
“Are you not afraid?” he said in a low tone.
“No!” she said. “I’m used to it. I can always manage Jim. And Ramon’s round somewhere,—he and the bull-pups; if worse comes to worst, I can call the dogs. These San Francisco fellows are always the worst to get drunk. But you’d better get out of the way!”
“And these are the men that have stolen our lands, and killed my father, and José, and Carmena’s baby!” thought Alessandro, as he ran swiftly back towards the graveyard. “And Father Salvierderra says, God is good. It must be the saints no longer pray to Him for us!”
But Alessandro’s heart was too full of other thoughts, now, to dwell long on past wrongs, however bitter. The present called him too loudly. Putting his hand in his bosom, and feeling the soft, knotted handkerchief, he thought: “Twenty dollars! It is not much! But it will buy food for many days for my Majella and for Baba!”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XVII
a beautiful old Gaelic legend . . . . Prince Connla
[Connla (or Conle), of the golden (or fiery) hair. This paragraph was plagiarized in the Railroad Trainmen’s Journal, volume 14, Dec. 1897.]
“To-night, Majella, we must go.”
[Besides, they can’t get married while they remain hiding in the canyon.]
She was a Mexican, but there were those who said that some Indian blood ran in her veins.
[Did the author believe that all Mexicans were 100% pure-blooded Castilian? Or did she simply not grasp that the only difference between “Mexican” and “Indian” is the very border the book was written to condemn?]