One year, and a half of another year, had passed. Sheep-shearings and vintages had been in San Pasquale; and Alessandro’s new house, having been beaten on by the heavy spring rains, looked no longer new. It stood on the south side of the valley,—too far, Ramona felt, from the blessed bell; but there had not been land enough for wheat-fields any nearer, and she could see the chapel, and the posts, and, on a clear day, the bell itself. The house was small. “Small to hold so much joy,” she said, when Alessandro first led her to it, and said, deprecatingly, “It is small, Majella,—too small;” and he recollected bitterly, as he spoke, the size of Ramona’s own room at the Señora’s house. “Too small,” he repeated.
“Very small to hold so much joy, my Alessandro,” she laughed; “but quite large enough to hold two persons.”
It looked like a palace to the San Pasquale people, after Ramona had arranged their little possessions in it; and she herself felt rich as she looked around her two small rooms. The old San Luis Rey chairs and the raw-hide bedstead were there, and, most precious of all, the statuette of the Madonna. For this Alessandro had built a niche in the wall, between the head of the bed and the one window. The niche was deep enough to hold small pots in front of the statuette; and Ramona kept constantly growing there wild-cucumber plants, which wreathed and re-wreathed the niche till it looked like a bower. Below it hung her gold rosary and the ivory Christ; and many a 337 woman of the village, when she came to see Ramona, asked permission to go into the bedroom and say her prayers there; so that it finally came to be a sort of shrine for the whole village.
A broad veranda, as broad as the Señora’s, ran across the front of the little house. This was the only thing for which Ramona had asked. She could not quite fancy life without a veranda, and linnets in the thatch. But the linnets had not yet come. In vain Ramona strewed food for them, and laid little trains of crumbs to lure them inside the posts; they would not build nests inside. It was not their way in San Pasquale. They lived in the cañons, but this part of the valley was too bare of trees for them. “In a year or two more, when we have orchards, they will come,” Alessandro said.
With the money from that first sheep-shearing, and from the sale of part of his cattle, Alessandro had bought all he needed in the way of farming implements,—a good wagon and harnesses, and a plough. Baba and Benito, at first restive and indignant, soon made up their minds to work. Ramona had talked to Baba about it as she would have talked to a brother. In fact, except for Ramona’s help, it would have been a question whether even Alessandro could have made Baba work in harness. “Good Baba!” Ramona said, as she slipped piece after piece of the harness over his neck,—“Good Baba, you must help us; we have so much work to do, and you are so strong! Good Baba, do you love me?” and with one hand in his mane, and her cheek, every few steps, laid close to his, she led Baba up and down the first furrows he ploughed.
“My Señorita!” thought Alessandro to himself, half in pain, half in pride, as, running behind with the unevenly jerked plough, he watched her laughing face and blowing hair,—“my Señorita!”338
But Ramona would not run with her hand in Baba’s mane this winter. There was a new work for her, indoors. In a rustic cradle, which Alessandro had made, under her directions, of the woven twigs, like the great outdoor acorn-granaries, only closer woven, and of an oval shape, and lifted from the floor by four uprights of red manzanita stems,—in this cradle, on soft white wool fleeces, covered with white homespun blankets, lay Ramona’s baby, six months old, lusty, strong, and beautiful, as only children born of great love and under healthful conditions can be. This child was a girl, to Alessandro’s delight; to Ramona’s regret,—so far as a loving mother can feel regret connected with her first-born. Ramona had wished for an Alessandro; but the disappointed wish faded out of her thoughts, hour by hour, as she gazed into her baby-girl’s blue eyes,—eyes so blue that their color was the first thing noticed by each person who looked at her.
“Eyes of the sky,” exclaimed Ysidro, when he first saw her.
“Like the mother’s,” said Alessandro; on which Ysidro turned an astonished look upon Ramona, and saw for the first time that her eyes, too, were blue.
“Wonderful!” he said. “It is so. I never saw it;” and he wondered in his heart what father it had been, who had given eyes like those to one born of an Indian mother.
“Eyes of the sky,” became at once the baby’s name in the village; and Alessandro and Ramona, before they knew it, had fallen into the way of so calling her. But when it came to the christening, they demurred. The news was brought to the village, one Saturday, that Father Gaspara would hold services in the valley the next day, and that he wished all the new-born babes to be brought for christening. 339 Late into the night, Alessandro and Ramona sat by their sleeping baby and discussed what should be her name. Ramona wondered that Alessandro did not wish to name her Majella.
“No! Never but one Majella,” he said, in a tone which gave Ramona a sense of vague fear, it was so solemn.
They discussed “Ramona,” “Isabella.” Alessandro suggested Carmena. This had been his mother’s name.
At the mention of it Ramona shuddered, recollecting the scene in the Temecula graveyard. “Oh, no, no! Not that!” she cried. “It is ill-fated;” and Alessandro blamed himself for having forgotten her only association with the name.
At last Alessandro said: “The people have named her, I think, Majella. Whatever name we give her in the chapel, she will never be called anything but ‘Eyes of the Sky,’ in the village.”
“Let that name be her true one, then,” said Ramona. And so it was settled; and when Father Gaspara took the little one in his arms, and made the sign of the cross on her brow, he pronounced with some difficulty the syllables of the Indian name, which meant “Blue Eyes,” or “Eyes of the Sky.”
Heretofore, when Father Gaspara had come to San Pasquale to say mass, he had slept at Lomax’s, the store and post-office, six miles away, in the Bernardo valley. But Ysidro, with great pride, had this time ridden to meet him, to say that his cousin Alessandro, who had come to live in the valley, and had a good new adobe house, begged that the Father would do him the honor to stay with him.
“And indeed, Father,” added Ysidro, “you will be far better lodged and fed than in the house of Lomax. My cousin’s wife knows well how all should be done.”340
“Alessandro! Alessandro!” said the Father, musingly. “Has he been long married?”
“No, Father,” answered Ysidro. “But little more than two years. They were married by you, on their way from Temecula here.”
“Ay, ay! I remember,” said Father Gaspara. “I will come;” and it was with no small interest that he looked forward to meeting again the couple that had so strongly impressed him.
Ramona was full of eager interest in her preparations for entertaining the priest. This was like the olden time; and as she busied herself with her cooking and other arrangements, the thought of Father Salvierderra was much in her mind. She could, perhaps, hear news of him from Father Gaspara. It was she who had suggested the idea to Alessandro; and when he said, “But where will you sleep yourself, with the child, Majella, if we give our room to the Father? I can lie on the floor outside; but you?”—“I will go to Ysidro’s, and sleep with Juana,” she replied. “For two nights, it is no matter; and it is such shame to have the Father sleep in the house of an American, when we have a good bed like this!”
Seldom in his life had Alessandro experienced such a sense of gratification as he did when he led Father Gaspara into his and Ramona’s bedroom. The clean whitewashed walls, the bed neatly made, with broad lace on sheets and pillows, hung with curtains and a canopy of bright red calico, the old carved chairs, the Madonna shrine in its bower of green leaves, the shelves on the walls, the white-curtained window, all made up a picture such as Father Gaspara had never before seen in his pilgrimages among the Indian villages. He could not restrain an ejaculation of surprise. Then his eye falling on the golden rosary, he exclaimed, “Where got you that?”341
“It is my wife’s,” replied Alessandro, proudly. “It was given to her by Father Salvierderra.”
“Ah!” said the Father. “He died the other day.”
“Dead! Father Salvierderra dead!” cried Alessandro. “That will be a terrible blow. Oh, Father, I implore you not to speak of it in her presence. She must not know it till after the christening. It will make her heart heavy, so that she will have no joy.”
Father Gaspara was still scrutinizing the rosary and crucifix. “To be sure, to be sure,” he said absently; “I will say nothing of it; but this is a work of art, this crucifix; do you know what you have here? And this,—is this not an altar-cloth?” he added, lifting up the beautiful wrought altar-cloth, which Ramona, in honor of his coming, had pinned on the wall below the Madonna’s shrine.
“Yes, Father, it was made for that. My wife made it. It was to be a present to Father Salvierderra; but she has not seen him, to give it to him. It will take the light out of the sun for her, when first she hears that he is dead.”
Father Gaspara was about to ask another question, when Ramona appeared in the doorway, flushed with running. She had carried the baby over to Juana’s and left her there, that she might be free to serve the Father’s supper.
“I pray you tell her not,” said Alessandro, under his breath; but it was too late. Seeing the Father with her rosary in his hand, Ramona exclaimed:—
“That, Father, is my most sacred possession. It once belonged to Father Peyri, of San Luis Rey, and he gave it to Father Salvierderra, who gave it to me. Know you Father Salvierderra? I was hoping to hear news of him through you.”
“Yes, I knew him,—not very well; it is long since I saw him,” stammered Father Gaspara. His hesitancy 342 alone would not have told Ramona the truth; she would have set that down to the secular priest’s indifference, or hostility, to the Franciscan order; but looking at Alessandro, she saw terror and sadness on his face. No shadow there ever escaped her eye. “What is it, Alessandro?” she exclaimed. “Is it something about Father Salvierderra? Is he ill?”
Alessandro shook his head. He did not know what to say. Looking from one to the other, seeing the confused pain in both their faces, Ramona, laying both her hands on her breast, in the expressive gesture she had learned from the Indian women, cried out in a piteous tone: “You will not tell me! You do not speak! Then he is dead!” and she sank on her knees.
“Yes, my daughter, he is dead,” said Father Gaspara, more tenderly than that brusque and warlike priest often spoke. “He died a month ago, at Santa Barbara. I am grieved to have brought you tidings to give you such sorrow. But you must not mourn for him. He was very feeble, and he longed to die, I heard. He could no longer work, and he did not wish to live.”
Ramona had buried her face in her hands. The Father’s words were only a confused sound in her ears. She had heard nothing after the words, “a month ago.” She remained silent and motionless for some moments; then rising, without speaking a word, or looking at either of the men, she crossed the room and knelt down before the Madonna. By a common impulse, both Alessandro and Father Gaspara silently left the room. As they stood together outside the door, the Father said, “I would go back to Lomax’s if it were not so late. I like not to be here when your wife is in such grief.”
“That would but be another grief, Father,” said Alessandro. “She has been full of happiness in 343 making ready for you. She is very strong of soul. It is she who makes me strong often, and not I who give strength to her.”
“My faith, but the man is right,” thought Father Gaspara, a half-hour later, when, with a calm face, Ramona summoned them to supper. He did not know, as Alessandro did, how that face had changed in the half-hour. It wore a look Alessandro had never seen upon it. Almost he dreaded to speak to her.
When he walked by her side, later in the evening, as she went across the valley to Fernando’s house, he ventured to mention Father Salvierderra’s name. Ramona laid her hand on his lips. “I cannot talk about him yet, dear,” she said. “I never believed that he would die without giving us his blessing. Do not speak of him till to-morrow is over.”
Ramona’s saddened face smote on all the women’s hearts as they met her the next morning. One by one they gazed, astonished, then turned away, and spoke softly among themselves. They all loved her, and half revered her too, for her great kindness, and readiness to teach and to help them. She had been like a sort of missionary in the valley ever since she came, and no one had ever seen her face without a smile. Now she smiled not. Yet there was the beautiful baby in its white dress, ready to be christened; and the sun shone, and the bell had been ringing for half an hour, and from every corner of the valley the people were gathering, and Father Gaspara, in his gold and green cassock, was praying before the altar; it was a joyous day in San Pasquale. Why did Alessandro and Ramona kneel apart in a corner, with such heart-stricken countenances, not even looking glad when their baby laughed, and reached up her hands? Gradually it was whispered about what had happened. Some one had got it from Antonio, of Temecula, Alessandro’s friend. Then all the 344 women’s faces grew sad too. They all had heard of Father Salvierderra, and many of them had prayed to the ivory Christ in Ramona’s room, and knew that he had given it to her.
As Ramona passed out of the chapel, some of them came up to her, and taking her hand in theirs, laid it on their hearts, speaking no word. The gesture was more than any speech could have been.
When Father Gaspara was taking leave, Ramona said, with quivering lips, “Father, if there is anything you know of Father Salvierderra’s last hours, I would be grateful to you for telling me.”
“I heard very little,” replied the Father, “except that he had been feeble for some weeks; yet he would persist in spending most of the night kneeling on the stone floor in the church, praying.”
“Yes,” interrupted Ramona; “that he always did.”
“And the last morning,” continued the Father, “the Brothers found him there, still kneeling on the stone floor, but quite powerless to move; and they lifted him, and carried him to his room, and there they found, to their horror, that he had had no bed; he had lain on the stones; and then they took him to the Superior’s own room, and laid him in the bed, and he did not speak any more, and at noon he died.”
“Thank you very much, Father,” said Ramona, without lifting her eyes from the ground; and in the same low, tremulous tone, “I am glad that I know that he is dead.”
“Strange what a hold those Franciscans got on these Indians!” mused Father Gaspara, as he rode down the valley. “There’s none of them would look like that if I were dead, I warrant me! There,” he exclaimed, “I meant to have asked Alessandro who this wife of his is! I don’t believe she is a Temecula Indian. Next time I come, I will find out. 345 She’s had some schooling somewhere, that’s plain. She’s quite superior to the general run of them. Next time I come, I will find out about her.”
“Next time!” In what calendar are kept the records of those next times which never come? Long before Father Gaspara visited San Pasquale again, Alessandro and Ramona were far away, and strangers were living in their home.
It seemed to Ramona in after years, as she looked back over this life, that the news of Father Salvierderra’s death was the first note of the knell of their happiness. It was but a few days afterward, when Alessandro came in one noon with an expression on his face that terrified her; seating himself in a chair, he buried his face in his hands, and would neither look up nor speak; not until Ramona was near crying from his silence, did he utter a word. Then, looking at her with a ghastly face, he said in a hollow voice, “It has begun!” and buried his face again. Finally Ramona’s tears wrung from him the following story:
Ysidro, it seemed, had the previous year rented a cañon, at the head of the valley, to one Doctor Morong. It was simply as bee-pasture that the Doctor wanted it, he said. He put his hives there, and built a sort of hut for the man whom he sent up to look after the honey. Ysidro did not need the land, and thought it a good chance to make a little money. He had taken every precaution to make the transaction a safe one; had gone to San Diego, and got Father Gaspara to act as interpreter for him, in the interview with Morong; it had been a written agreement, and the rent agreed upon had been punctually paid. Now, the time of the lease having expired, Ysidro had been to San Diego to ask the Doctor if he wished to renew it for another year; and the Doctor had said that the land was his, and he was coming out there to build a house, and live.346
Ysidro had gone to Father Gaspara for help, and Father Gaspara had had an angry interview with Doctor Morong; but it had done no good. The Doctor said the land did not belong to Ysidro at all, but to the United States Government; and that he had paid the money for it to the agents in Los Angeles, and there would very soon come papers from Washington, to show that it was his. Father Gaspara had gone with Ysidro to a lawyer in San Diego, and had shown to this lawyer Ysidro’s paper,—the old one from the Mexican Governor of California, establishing the pueblo of San Pasquale, and saying how many leagues of land the Indians were to have; but the lawyer had only laughed at Father Gaspara for believing that such a paper as that was good for anything. He said that was all very well when the country belonged to Mexico, but it was no good now; that the Americans owned it now; and everything was done by the American law now, not by the Mexican law any more.
“Then we do not own any land in San Pasquale at all,” said Ysidro. “Is that what it means?”
And the lawyer had said, he did not know how it would be with the cultivated land, and the village where the houses were,—he could not tell about that; but he thought it all belonged to the men at Washington.
Father Gaspara was in such rage, Ysidro said, that he tore open his gown on his breast, and he smote himself, and he said he wished he were a soldier, and no priest, that he might fight this accursed United States Government; and the lawyer laughed at him, and told him to look after souls,—that was his business,—and let the Indian beggars alone! “Yes, that was what he said,—‘the Indian beggars!’ and so they would be all beggars, presently.”
Alessandro told this by gasps, as it were; at long intervals. His voice was choked; his whole frame 347 shook. He was nearly beside himself with rage and despair.
“You see, it is as I said, Majella. There is no place safe. We can do nothing! We might better be dead!”
“It is a long way off, that cañon Doctor Morong had,” said Ramona, piteously. “It wouldn’t do any harm, his living there, if no more came.”
“Majella talks like a dove, and not like a woman,” said Alessandro, fiercely. “Will there be one to come, and not two? It is the beginning. To-morrow may come ten more, with papers to show that the land is theirs. We can do nothing, any more than the wild beasts. They are better than we.”
From this day Alessandro was a changed man. Hope had died in his bosom. In all the village councils,—and they were many and long now, for the little community had been plunged into great anxiety and distress by this Doctor Morong’s affair,—Alessandro sat dumb and gloomy. To whatever was proposed, he had but one reply: “It is of no use. We can do nothing.”
“Eat your dinners to-day, to-morrow we starve,” he said one night, bitterly, as the council broke up. When Ysidro proposed to him that they should journey to Los Angeles, where Father Gaspara had said the headquarters of the Government officers were, and where they could learn all about the new laws in regard to land, Alessandro laughed at him. “What more is it, then, which you wish to know, my brother, about the American laws?” he said. “Is it not enough that you know they have made a law which will take the land from Indians; from us who have owned it longer than any can remember; land that our ancestors are buried in,—will take that land and give it to themselves, and say it is theirs? Is it to hear this again said in your face, and to see 348 the man laugh who says it, like the lawyer in San Diego, that you will journey to Los Angeles? I will not go!”
And Ysidro went alone. Father Gaspara gave him a letter to the Los Angeles priest, who went with him to the land-office, patiently interpreted for him all he had to say, and as patiently interpreted all that the officials had to say in reply. They did not laugh, as Alessandro in his bitterness had said. They were not inhuman, and they felt sincere sympathy for this man, representative of two hundred hard-working, industrious people, in danger of being turned out of house and home. But they were very busy; they had to say curtly, and in few words, all there was to be said: the San Pasquale district was certainly the property of the United States Government, and the lands were in market, to be filed on, and bought, according to the homestead laws. These officials had neither authority nor option in the matter. They were there simply to carry out instructions, and obey orders.
Ysidro understood the substance of all this, though the details were beyond his comprehension. But he did not regret having taken the journey; he had now made his last effort for his people. The Los Angeles priest had promised that he would himself write a letter to Washington, to lay the case before the head men there, and perhaps something would be done for their relief. It seemed incredible to Ysidro, as, riding along day after day, on his sad homeward journey, he reflected on the subject,—it seemed incredible to him that the Government would permit such a village as theirs to be destroyed. He reached home just at sunset; and looking down, as Alessandro and Ramona had done on the morning of their arrival, from the hill-crests at the west end of the valley, seeing the broad belt of cultivated fields and orchards, the 349 peaceful little hamlet of houses, he groaned. “If the people who make these laws could only see this village, they would never turn us out, never! They can’t know what is being done. I am sure they can’t know.”
“What did I tell you?” cried Alessandro, galloping up on Benito, and reining him in so sharply he reared and plunged. “What did I tell you? I saw by your face, many paces back, that you had come as you went, or worse! I have been watching for you these two days. Another American has come in with Morong in the cañon; they are making corrals; they will keep stock. You will see how long we have any pasture-lands in that end of the valley. I drive all my stock to San Diego next week. I will sell it for what it will bring,—both the cattle and the sheep. It is no use. You will see.”
When Ysidro began to recount his interview with the land-office authorities, Alessandro broke in fiercely: “I wish to hear no more of it. Their names and their speech are like smoke in my eyes and my nose. I think I shall go mad, Ysidro. Go tell your story to the men who are waiting to hear it, and who yet believe that an American may speak truth!”
Alessandro was as good as his word. The very next week he drove all his cattle and sheep to San Diego, and sold them at great loss. “It is better than nothing,” he said. “They will not now be sold by the sheriff, like my father’s in Temecula.” The money he got, he took to Father Gaspara. “Father,” he said huskily, “I have sold all my stock. I would not wait for the Americans to sell it for me, and take the money. I have not got much, but it is better than nothing. It will make that we do not starve for one year. Will you keep it for me, Father? I dare not have it in San 350 Pasquale. San Pasquale will be like Temecula,—it may be to-morrow.”
To the Father’s suggestion that he should put the money in a bank in San Diego, Alessandro cried: “Sooner would I throw it in the sea yonder! I trust no man, henceforth; only the Church I will trust. Keep it for me, Father, I pray you;” and the Father could not refuse his imploring tone.
“What are your plans now?” he asked.
“Plans!” repeated Alessandro,—“plans, Father! Why should I make plans? I will stay in my house so long as the Americans will let me. You saw our little house, Father!” His voice broke as he said this. “I have large wheat-fields; if I can get one more crop off them, it will be something; but my land is of the richest in the valley, and as soon as the Americans see it, they will want it. Farewell, Father. I thank you for keeping my money, and for all you said to the thief Morong. Ysidro told me. Farewell.” And he was gone, and out of sight on the swift galloping Benito, before Father Gaspara bethought himself.
“And I remembered not to ask who his wife was. I will look back at the record,” said the Father. Taking down the old volume, he ran his eye back over the year. Marriages were not so many in Father Gaspara’s parish, that the list took long to read. The entry of Alessandro’s marriage was blotted. The Father had been in haste that night. “Alessandro Assis. Majella Fa—” No more could be read. The name meant nothing to Father Gaspara. “Clearly an Indian name,” he said to himself; “yet she seemed superior in every way. I wonder where she got it.”
The winter wore along quietly in San Pasquale. The delicious soft rains set in early, promising a good grain year. It seemed a pity not to get in as 351 much wheat as possible; and all the San Pasquale people went early to ploughing new fields,—all but Alessandro.
“If I reap all I have, I will thank the saints,” he said. “I will plough no more land for the robbers.” But after his fields were all planted, and the beneficent rains still kept on, and the hills all along the valley wall began to turn green earlier than ever before was known, he said to Ramona one morning, “I think I will make one more field of wheat. There will be a great yield this year. Maybe we will be left unmolested till the harvest is over.”
“Oh, yes, and for many more harvests, dear Alessandro!” said Ramona, cheerily. “You are always looking on the black side.”
“There is no other but the black side, Majella,” he replied. “Strain my eyes as I may, on all sides all is black. You will see. Never any more harvests in San Pasquale for us, after this. If we get this, we are lucky. I have seen the white men riding up and down in the valley, and I found some of their cursed bits of wood with figures on them set up on my land the other day; and I pulled them up and burned them to ashes. But I will plough one more field this week; though, I know not why it is, my thoughts go against it even now. But I will do it; and I will not come home till night, Majella, for the field is too far to go and come twice. I shall be the whole day ploughing.” So saying, he stooped and kissed the baby, and then kissing Ramona, went out.
Ramona stood at the door and watched him as he harnessed Benito and Baba to the plough. He did not once look back at her; his face seemed full of thought, his hands acting as it were mechanically. After he had gone a few rods from the house, he stopped, stood still for some minutes meditating, 352 then went on irresolutely, halted again, but finally went on, and disappeared from sight among the low foot-hills to the east. Sighing deeply, Ramona turned back to her work. But her heart was too disquieted. She could not keep back the tears.
“How changed is Alessandro!” she thought. “It terrifies me to see him thus. I will tell the Blessed Virgin about it;” and kneeling before the shrine, she prayed fervently and long. She rose comforted, and drawing the baby’s cradle out into the veranda, seated herself at her embroidery. Her skill with her needle had proved a not inconsiderable source of income, her fine lace-work being always taken by San Diego merchants, and at fairly good prices.
It seemed to her only a short time that she had been sitting thus, when, glancing up at the sun, she saw it was near noon; at the same moment she saw Alessandro approaching, with the horses. In dismay, she thought, “There is no dinner! He said he would not come!” and springing up, was about to run to meet him, when she observed that he was not alone. A short, thick-set man was walking by his side; they were talking earnestly. It was a white man. What did it bode? Presently they stopped. She saw Alessandro lift his hand and point to the house, then to the tule sheds in the rear. He seemed to be talking excitedly; the white man also; they were both speaking at once. Ramona shivered with fear. Motionless she stood, straining eye and ear; she could hear nothing, but the gestures told much. Had it come,—the thing Alessandro had said would come? Were they to be driven out,—driven out this very day, when the Virgin had only just now seemed to promise her help and protection?
The baby stirred, waked, began to cry. Catching the child up to her breast, she stilled her by convulsive caresses. Clasping her tight in her arms, she 353 walked a few steps towards Alessandro, who, seeing her, made an imperative gesture to her to return. Sick at heart, she went back to the veranda and sat down to wait.
In a few moments she saw the white man counting out money into Alessandro’s hand; then he turned and walked away, Alessandro still standing as if rooted to the spot, gazing into the palm of his hand, Benito and Baba slowly walking away from him unnoticed; at last he seemed to rouse himself as from a trance, and picking up the horses’ reins, came slowly toward her. Again she started to meet him; again he made the same authoritative gesture to her to return; and again she seated herself, trembling in every nerve of her body. Ramona was now sometimes afraid of Alessandro. When these fierce glooms seized him, she dreaded, she knew not what. He seemed no more the Alessandro she had loved.
Deliberately, lingeringly, he unharnessed the horses and put them in the corral. Then still more deliberately, lingeringly, he walked to the house; walked, without speaking, past Ramona, into the door. A lurid spot on each cheek showed burning red through the bronze of his skin. His eyes glittered. In silence Ramona followed him, and saw him draw from his pocket a handful of gold-pieces, fling them on the table, and burst into a laugh more terrible than any weeping,—a laugh which wrung from her instantly, involuntarily, the cry, “Oh, my Alessandro! my Alessandro! What is it? Are you mad?”
“No, my sweet Majel,” he exclaimed, turning to her, and flinging his arms round her and the child together, drawing them so close to his breast that the embrace hurt,—“no, I am not mad; but I think I shall soon be! What is that gold? The price of this house, Majel, and of the fields,—of all that was ours in San Pasquale! To-morrow we will go out into 354 the world again. I will see if I can find a place the Americans do not want!”
It did not take many words to tell the story. Alessandro had not been ploughing more than an hour, when, hearing a strange sound, he looked up and saw a man unloading lumber a few rods off. Alessandro stopped midway in the furrow and watched him. The man also watched Alessandro. Presently he came toward him, and said roughly, “Look here! Be off, will you? This is my land. I’m going to build a house here.”
Alessandro had replied, “This was my land yesterday. How comes it yours to-day?”
Something in the wording of this answer, or something in Alessandro’s tone and bearing, smote the man’s conscience, or heart, or what stood to him in the place of conscience and heart, and he said: “Come, now, my good fellow, you look like a reasonable kind of a fellow; you just clear out, will you, and not make me any trouble. You see the land’s mine. I’ve got all this land round here;” and he waved his arm, describing a circle; “three hundred and twenty acres, me and my brother together, and we’re coming in here to settle. We got our papers from Washington last week. It’s all right, and you may just as well go peaceably, as make a fuss about it. Don’t you see?”
Yes, Alessandro saw. He had been seeing this precise thing for months. Many times, in his dreams and in his waking thoughts, he had lived over scenes similar to this. An almost preternatural calm and wisdom seemed to be given him now.
“Yes, I see, Señor,” he said. “I am not surprised. I knew it would come; but I hoped it would not be till after harvest. I will not give you any trouble, Señor, because I cannot. If I could, I would. But I have heard all about the new law which gives all 355 the Indians’ lands to the Americans. We cannot help ourselves. But it is very hard, Señor.” He paused.
The man, confused and embarrassed, astonished beyond expression at being met in this way by an Indian, did not find words come ready to his tongue. “Of course, I know it does seem a little rough on fellows like you, that are industrious, and have done some work on the land. But you see the land’s in the market; I’ve paid my money for it.”
“The Señor is going to build a house?” asked Alessandro.
“Yes,” the man answered. “I’ve got my family in San Diego, and I want to get them settled as soon as I can. My wife won’t feel comfortable till she’s in her own house. We’re from the States, and she’s been used to having everything comfortable.”
“I have a wife and child, Señor,” said Alessandro, still in the same calm, deliberate tone; “and we have a very good house of two rooms. It would save the Señor’s building, if he would buy mine.”
“How far is it?” said the man. “I can’t tell exactly where the boundaries of my land are, for the stakes we set have been pulled up.”
“Yes, Señor, I pulled them up and burned them. They were on my land,” replied Alessandro. “My house is farther west than your stakes; and I have large wheat-fields there, too,—many acres, Señor, all planted.”
Here was a chance, indeed. The man’s eyes gleamed. He would do the handsome thing. He would give this fellow something for his house and wheat-crops. First he would see the house, however; and it was for that purpose he had walked back with Alessandro. When he saw the neat whitewashed adobe, with its broad veranda, the sheds and corrals 356 all in good order, he instantly resolved to get possession of them by fair means or foul.
“There will be three hundred dollars’ worth of wheat in July, Señor, you can see for yourself; and a house so good as that, you cannot build for less than one hundred dollars. What will you give me for them?”
“I suppose I can have them without paying you for them, if I choose,” said the man, insolently.
“No, Señor,” replied Alessandro.
“What’s to hinder, then, I’d like to know!” in a brutal sneer. “You haven’t got any rights here, whatever, according to law.”
“I shall hinder, Señor,” replied Alessandro. “I shall burn down the sheds and corrals, tear down the house; and before a blade of the wheat is reaped, I will burn that.” Still in the same calm tone.
“What’ll you take?” said the man, sullenly.
“Two hundred dollars,” replied Alessandro.
“Well, leave your plough and wagon, and I’ll give it to you,” said the man; “and a big fool I am, too. Well laughed at, I’ll be, do you know it, for buying out an Indian!”
“The wagon, Señor, cost me one hundred and thirty dollars in San Diego. You cannot buy one so good for less. I will not sell it. I need it to take away my things in. The plough you may have. That is worth twenty.”
“I’ll do it,” said the man; and pulling out a heavy buckskin pouch, he counted out into Alessandro’s hand two hundred dollars in gold.
“Is that all right?” he said, as he put down the last piece.
“That is the sum I said, Señor,” replied Alessandro. “To-morrow, at noon, you can come into the house.”
“Where will you go?” asked the man, again 357 slightly touched by Alessandro’s manner. “Why don’t you stay round here? I expect you could get work enough; there are a lot of farmers coming in here; they’ll want hands.”
A fierce torrent of words sprang to Alessandro’s lips, but he choked them back. “I do not know where I shall go, but I will not stay here,” he said; and that ended the interview.
“I don’t know as I blame him a mite for feeling that way,” thought the man from the States, as he walked slowly back to his pile of lumber. “I expect I should feel just so myself.”
Almost before Alessandro had finished this tale, he began to move about the room, taking down, folding up, opening and shutting lids; his restlessness was terrible to see. “By sunrise, I would like to be off,” he said. “It is like death, to be in the house which is no longer ours.” Ramona had spoken no word since her first cry on hearing that terrible laugh. She was like one stricken dumb. The shock was greater to her than to Alessandro. He had lived with it ever present in his thoughts for a year. She had always hoped. But far more dreadful than the loss of her home, was the anguish of seeing, hearing, the changed face, changed voice, of Alessandro. Almost this swallowed up the other. She obeyed him mechanically, working faster and faster as he grew more and more feverish in his haste. Before sundown the little house was dismantled; everything, except the bed and the stove, packed in the big wagon.
“Now, we must cook food for the journey,” said Alessandro.
“Where are we going?” said the weeping Ramona.
“Where?” ejaculated Alessandro, so scornfully that it sounded like impatience with Ramona, and made her tears flow afresh. “Where? I know not, 358 Majella! Into the mountains, where the white men come not! At sunrise we will start.”
Ramona wished to say good-by to their friends. There were women in the village that she tenderly loved. But Alessandro was unwilling. “There will be weeping and crying, Majella; I pray you do not speak to one. Why should we have more tears? Let us disappear. I will say all to Ysidro. He will tell them.”
This was a sore grief to Ramona. In her heart she rebelled against it, as she had never yet rebelled against an act of Alessandro’s; but she could not distress him. Was not his burden heavy enough now?
Without a word of farewell to any one, they set off in the gray dawn, before a creature was stirring in the village,—the wagon piled high; Ramona, her baby in her arms, in front; Alessandro walking. The load was heavy. Benito and Baba walked slowly. Capitan, unhappy, looking first at Ramona’s face, then at Alessandro’s, walked dispiritedly by their side. He knew all was wrong.
As Alessandro turned the horses into a faintly marked road leading in a northeasterly direction, Ramona said with a sob, “Where does this road lead, Alessandro?”
“To San Jacinto,” he said. “San Jacinto Mountain. Do not look back, Majella! Do not look back!” he cried, as he saw Ramona, with streaming eyes, gazing back towards San Pasquale. “Do not look back! It is gone! Pray to the saints now, Majella! Pray! Pray!”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XX
he pronounced with some difficulty the syllables of the Indian name
[I hope the author researched this. In some times and places, Catholic babies had to be christened with a saint’s name.]
“Has he been long married?” . . . “But little more than two years.”
[The chapter began by telling us that a year and a half have passed since Ramona and Alessandro ran away together.]