The medicine did the baby no good. In fact, it did her harm. She was too feeble for violent remedies. In a week, Alessandro appeared again at the Agency doctor’s door. This time he had come with a request which to his mind seemed not unreasonable. He had brought Baba for the doctor to ride. Could the doctor then refuse to go to Saboba? Baba would carry him there in three hours, and it would be like a cradle all the way. Alessandro’s name was in the Agency books. It was for this he had written it,—for this and nothing else,—to save the baby’s life. Having thus enrolled himself as one of the Agency Indians, he had a claim on this the Agency doctor. And that his application might be all in due form, he took with him the Agency interpreter. He had had a misgiving, before, that Aunt Ri’s kindly volubility had not been well timed. Not one unnecessary word, was Alessandro’s motto.
To say that the Agency doctor was astonished at being requested to ride thirty miles to prescribe for an ailing Indian baby, would be a mild statement of the doctor’s emotion. He could hardly keep from laughing, when it was made clear to him that this was what the Indian father expected.
“Good Lord!” he said, turning to a crony who chanced to be lounging in the office. “Listen to that beggar, will you? I wonder what he thinks the Government pays me a year for doctoring Indians!”
Alessandro listened so closely it attracted the doctor’s attention. “Do you understand English?” he asked sharply.402
“A very little, Señor,” replied Alessandro.
The doctor would be more careful in his speech, then. But he made it most emphatically clear that the thing Alessandro had asked was not only out of the question, but preposterous. Alessandro pleaded. For the child’s sake he could do it. The horse was at the door; there was no such horse in San Bernardino County; he went like the wind, and one would not know he was in motion, it was so easy. Would not the doctor come down and look at the horse? Then he would see what it would be like to ride him.
“Oh, I’ve seen plenty of your Indian ponies,” said the doctor. “I know they can run.”
Alessandro lingered. He could not give up this last hope. The tears came into his eyes. “It is our only child, Señor,” he said. “It will take you but six hours in all. My wife counts the moments till you come! If the child dies, she will die.”
“No! no!” The doctor was weary of being importuned. “Tell the man it is impossible! I’d soon have my hands full, if I began to go about the country this way. They’d be sending for me down to Agua Caliente next, and bringing up their ponies to carry me.”
“He will not go?” asked Alessandro.
The interpreter shook his head. “He cannot,” he said.
Without a word Alessandro left the room. Presently he returned. “Ask him if he will come for money?” he said. “I have gold at home. I will pay him, what the white men pay him.”
“Tell him no man of any color could pay me for going sixty miles!” said the doctor.
And Alessandro departed again, walking so slowly, however, that he heard the coarse laugh, and the 403 words, “Gold! Looked like it, didn’t he?” which followed his departure from the room.
When Ramona saw him returning alone, she wrung her hands. Her heart seemed breaking. The baby had lain in a sort of stupor since noon; she was plainly worse, and Ramona had been going from the door to the cradle, from the cradle to the door, for an hour, looking each moment for the hoped-for aid. It had not once crossed her mind that the doctor would not come. She had accepted in much fuller faith than Alessandro the account of the appointment by the Government of these two men to look after the Indians’ interests. What else could their coming mean, except that, at last, the Indians were to have justice? She thought, in her simplicity, that the doctor must have died, since Alessandro was riding home alone.
“He would not come!” said Alessandro, as he threw himself off his horse, wearily.
“Would not!” cried Ramona. “Would not! Did you not say the Government had sent him to be the doctor for Indians?”
“That was what they said,” he replied. “You see it is a lie, like the rest! But I offered him gold, and he would not come then. The child must die, Majella!”
“She shall not die!” cried Ramona. “We will carry her to him!” The thought struck them both as an inspiration. Why had they not thought of it before? “You can fasten the cradle on Baba’s back, and he will go so gently, she will think it is but play; and I will walk by her side, or you, all the way!” she continued. “And we can sleep at Aunt Ri’s house. Oh, why, why did we not do it before? Early in the morning we will start.”
All through the night they sat watching the little creature. If they had ever seen death, they would 404 have known that there was no hope for the child. But how should Ramona and Alessandro know?
The sun rose bright and warm. Before it was up, the cradle was ready, ingeniously strapped on Baba’s back. When the baby was placed in it, she smiled. “The first smile she has given for days,” cried Ramona. “Oh, the air itself will do good to her! Let me walk by her first! Come, Baba! Dear Baba!” and Ramona stepped almost joyfully by the horse’s side, Alessandro riding Benito. As they paced along, their eyes never leaving the baby’s face, Ramona said, in a low tone, “Alessandro, I am almost afraid to tell you what I have done. I took the little Jesus out of the Madonna’s arms and hid it! Did you never hear, that if you do that, the Madonna will grant you anything, to get him back again in her arms? Did you ever hear of it?”
“Never!” exclaimed Alessandro, with horror in his tone. “Never, Majella! How dared you?”
“I dare anything now!” said Ramona. “I have been thinking to do it for some days, and to tell her she could not have him any more till she gave me back the baby well and strong; but I knew I could not have courage to sit and look at her all lonely without him in her arms, so I did not do it. But now we are to be away, I thought, that is the time; and I told her, ‘When we come back with our baby well, you shall have your little Jesus again, too; now, Holy Mother, you go with us, and make the doctor cure our baby!’ Oh, I have heard, many times, women tell the Señora they had done this, and always they got what they wanted. Never will she let the Jesus be out of her arms more than three weeks before she will grant any prayer one can make. It was that way she brought you to me, Alessandro. I never before told you. I was afraid. I think she 405 had brought you sooner, but I could keep the little Jesus hid from her only at night. In the day I could not, because the Señora would see. So she did not miss him so much; else she had brought you quicker.”
“But, Majella,” said the logical Alessandro, “it was because I could not leave my father that I did not come. As soon as he was buried, I came.”
“If it had not been for the Virgin, you would never have come at all,” said Ramona, confidently.
For the first hour of this sad journey it seemed as if the child were really rallying; the air, the sunlight, the novel motion, the smiling mother by her side, the big black horses she had already learned to love, all roused her to an animation she had not shown, for days. But it was only the last flicker of the expiring flame. The eyes drooped, closed; a strange pallor came over the face. Alessandro saw it first. He was now walking, Ramona riding Benito. “Majella!” he cried, in a tone which told her all.
In a second she was at the baby’s side, with a cry which smote the dying child’s consciousness. Once more the eyelids lifted; she knew her mother; a swift spasm shook the little frame; a convulsion as of agony swept over the face, then it was at peace. Majella’s shrieks were heart-rending. Fiercely she put Alessandro away from her, as he strove to caress her. She stretched her arms up towards the sky. “I have killed her! I have killed her!” she cried. “Oh, let me die!”
Slowly Alessandro turned Baba’s head homeward again.
“Oh, give her to me! Let her lie on my breast! I will hold her warm!” gasped Ramona.
Silently Alessandro laid the body in her arms. He had not spoken since his first cry of alarm. If 406 Ramona had looked at him, she would have forgotten her grief for her dead child. Alessandro’s face seemed turned to stone.
When they reached the house, Ramona, laying the child on the bed, ran hastily to a corner of the room, and lifting the deerskin, drew from its hiding-place the little wooden Jesus. With tears streaming, she laid it again in the Madonna’s arms, and flinging herself on her knees, sobbed out prayers for forgiveness. Alessandro stood at the foot of the bed, his arms folded, his eyes riveted on the child. Soon he went out, still without speaking. Presently Ramona heard the sound of a saw. She groaned aloud, and her tears flowed faster: Alessandro was making the baby’s coffin. Mechanically she rose, and, moving like one half paralyzed, she dressed the little one in fresh white clothes for the burial; then laying her in the cradle, she spread over it the beautiful lace-wrought altar-cloth. As she adjusted its folds, her mind was carried back to the time when she embroidered it, sitting on the Señora’s veranda; the song of the finches, the linnets; the voice and smile of Felipe; Alessandro sitting on the steps, drawing divine music from his violin. Was that she,—that girl who sat there weaving the fine threads in the beautiful altar-cloth? Was it a hundred years ago? Was it another world? Was it Alessandro yonder, driving those nails into a coffin? How the blows rang, louder and louder! The air seemed deafening full of sound. With her hands pressed to her temples, Ramona sank to the floor. A merciful unconsciousness set her free, for an interval, from her anguish.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on the bed. Alessandro had lifted her and laid her there, making no effort to rouse her. He thought she would die too; and even that thought did not stir him from his lethargy. When she opened her eyes, 407 and looked at him, he did not speak. She closed them. He did not move. Presently she opened them again. “I heard you out there,” she said.
“Yes,” he replied. “It is done.” And he pointed to a little box of rough boards by the side of the cradle.
“Is Majella ready to go to the mountain now?” he asked.
“Yes, Alessandro, I am ready,” she said.
“We will hide forever,” he said.
“It makes no difference,” she replied.
The Saboba women did not know what to think of Ramona now. She had never come into sympathetic relation with them, as she had with the women of San Pasquale. Her intimacy with the Hyers had been a barrier the Saboba people could not surmount. No one could be on such terms with whites, and be at heart an Indian, they thought; so they held aloof from Ramona. But now in her bereavement they gathered round her. They wept at sight of the dead baby’s face, lying in its tiny white coffin. Ramona had covered the box with white cloth, and the lace altar-cloth thrown over it fell in folds to the floor. “Why does not this mother weep? Is she like the whites, who have no heart?” said the Saboba mothers among themselves; and they were embarrassed before her, and knew not what to say. Ramona perceived it, but had no life in her to speak to them. Benumbing terrors, which were worse than her grief, were crowding Ramona’s heart now. She had offended the Virgin; she had committed a blasphemy: in one short hour the Virgin had punished her, had smitten her child dead before her eyes. And now Alessandro was going mad; hour by hour Ramona fancied she saw changes in him. What form would the Virgin’s vengeance take next? Would she let Alessandro become a raging madman, and finally kill both himself and 408 her? That seemed to Ramona the most probable fate in store for them. When the funeral was over, and they returned to their desolate home, at the sight of the empty cradle Ramona broke down.
“Oh, take me away, Alessandro! Anywhere! I don’t care where! anywhere, so it is not here!” she cried.
“Would Majella be afraid, now, on the high mountain, the place I told her of?” he said.
“No!” she replied earnestly. “No! I am afraid of nothing! Only take me away!”
A gleam of wild delight flitted across Alessandro’s face. “It is well,” he said. “My Majella, we will go to the mountain; we will be safe there.”
The same fierce restlessness which took possession of him at San Pasquale again showed itself in his every act. His mind was unceasingly at work, planning the details of their move and of the new life. He mentioned them one after another to Ramona. They could not take both horses; feed would be scanty there, and there would be no need of two horses. The cow also they must give up. Alessandro would kill her, and the meat, dried, would last them for a long time. The wagon he hoped he could sell; and he would buy a few sheep; sheep and goats could live well in these heights to which they were going. Safe at last! Oh, yes, very safe; not only against whites, who, because the little valley was so small and bare, would not desire it, but against Indians also. For the Indians, silly things, had a terror of the upper heights of San Jacinto; they believed the Devil lived there, and money would not hire one of the Saboba Indians to go so high as this valley which Alessandro had discovered. Fiercely he gloated over each one of these features of safety in their hiding-place. “The first time I saw it, Majella,—I believe the saints led me there,—I said, it is a hiding-place. And then I never 409 thought I would be in want of such,—of a place to keep my Majella safe! safe! Oh, my Majel!” And he clasped her to his breast with a terrifying passion.
For an Indian to sell a horse and wagon in the San Jacinto valley was not an easy thing, unless he would give them away. Alessandro had hard work to give civil answers to the men who wished to buy Benito and the wagon for quarter of their value. He knew they would not have dared to so much as name such prices to a white man. Finally Ramona, who had felt unconquerable misgivings as to the wisdom of thus irrevocably parting from their most valuable possessions, persuaded him to take both horses and wagon to San Bernardino, and offer them to the Hyers to use for the winter.
It would be just the work for Jos, to keep him in the open air, if he could get teaming to do; she was sure he would be thankful for the chance. “He is as fond of the horses as we are ourselves, Alessandro,” she said. “They would be well cared for; and then, if we did not like living on the mountain, we could have the horses and wagon again when we came down, or Jos could sell them for us in San Bernardino. Nobody could see Benito and Baba working together, and not want them.”
“Majella is wiser than the dove!” cried Alessandro. “She has seen what is the best thing to do. I will take them.”
When he was ready to set off, he implored Ramona to go with him; but with a look of horror she refused. “Never,” she cried, “one step on that accursed road! I will never go on that road again unless it is to be carried, as we brought her, dead.”
Neither did Ramona wish to see Aunt Ri. Her sympathy would be intolerable, spite of all its affectionate kindliness. “Tell her I love her,” she said, “but I do not want to see a human being yet; next 410 year perhaps we will go down,—if there is any other way besides that road.”
Aunt Ri was deeply grieved. She could not understand Ramona’s feeling. It rankled deep. “I allow I’d never hev bleeved it uv her, never,” she said. “I shan’t never think she wuz quite right ’n her head, to do ’t! I allow we shan’t never set eyes on ter her, Jos. I’ve got jest thet feelin’ abaout it. ’Pears like she’d gone klar out ’er this yer world inter anuther.”
The majestic bulwark of San Jacinto Mountain looms in the southern horizon of the San Bernardino valley. It was in full sight from the door of the little shanty in which Aunt El’s carpet-loom stood. As she sat there hour after hour, sometimes seven hours to the day, working the heavy treadle, and slipping the shuttle back and forth, she gazed with tender yearnings at the solemn, shining summit. When sunset colors smote it, it glowed like fire; on cloudy days, it was lost in the clouds.
“’Pears like ’t was next door to heaven, up there, Jos,” Aunt Ri would say. “I can’t tell yer the feelin’ ’t comes over me, to look up t’ it, ever sence I knowed she wuz there. ’T shines enuf to put yer eyes aout, sometimes; I allow ’t ain’t so light ’s thet when you air into ’t; ’t can’t be; ther couldn’t nobody stan’ it, ef ’t wuz. I allow ’t must be like bein’ dead, Jos, don’t yer think so, to be livin’ thar? He sed ther couldn’t nobody git to ’em. Nobody ever seed the place but hisself. He found it a huntin’. Thar’s water thar, ’n’ thet’s abaout all thar is, ’s fur’s I cud make aout; I allow we shan’t never see her agin.”
The horses and the wagon were indeed a godsend to Jos. It was the very thing he had been longing for; the only sort of work he was as yet strong enough to do, and there was plenty of it to be had in San Bernardino. But the purchase of a wagon suitable 411 for the purpose was at present out of their power; the utmost Aunt Ri had hoped to accomplish was to have, at the end of a year, a sufficient sum laid up to buy one. They had tried in vain to exchange their heavy emigrant-wagon for one suitable for light work. “’Pears like I’d die o’ shame,” said Aunt Ri, “sometimes when I ketch myself er thinkin’ what luck et’s ben to Jos, er gettin’ thet Injun’s hosses an’ waggin. But ef Jos keeps on, airnin’ ez much ez he hez so fur, he’s goin’ ter pay the Injun part on ’t, when he cums. I allow ter Jos ’t ain’t no more ’n fair. Why, them hosses, they’ll dew good tew days’ work ’n one. I never see sech hosses; ’n’ they’re jest like kittens; they’ve ben drefful pets, I allow. I know she set all the world, ’n’ more tew, by thet nigh one. He wuz hern, ever sence she wuz a child. Pore thing,—’pears like she hedn’t hed no chance!”
Alessandro had put off, from day to day, the killing of the cow. It went hard with him to slaughter the faithful creature, who knew him, and came towards him at the first sound of his voice. He had pastured her, since the baby died, in a cañon about three miles northeast of the village,—a lovely green cañon with oak-trees and a running brook. It was here that he had thought of building his house if they had stayed in Saboba. But Alessandro laughed bitterly to himself now, as he recalled that dream. Already the news had come to Saboba that a company had been formed for the settling up of the San Jacinto valley; the Ravallo brothers had sold to this company a large grant of land. The white ranchmen in the valley were all fencing in their lands; no more free running of stock. The Saboba people were too poor to build miles of fencing; they must soon give up keeping stock; and the next thing would be that they would be driven out, like the people of Temecula. It was 412 none too soon that he had persuaded Majella to flee to the mountain. There, at least, they could live and die in peace,—a poverty-stricken life, and the loneliest of deaths; but they would have each other. It was well the baby had died; she was saved all this misery. By the time she had grown to be a woman, if she had lived, there would be no place in all the country where an Indian could find refuge. Brooding over such thoughts as these, Alessandro went up into the cañon one morning. It must be done. Everything was ready for their move; it would take many days to carry even their few possessions up the steep mountain trail to their new home; the pony which had replaced Benito and Baba could not carry a heavy load. While this was being done, Ramona would dry the beef which would be their supply of meat for many months. Then they would go.
At noon he came down with the first load of the meat, and Ramona began cutting it into long strips, as is the Mexican fashion of drying. Alessandro returned for the remainder. Early in the afternoon, as Ramona went to and fro about her work, she saw a group of horsemen riding from house to house, in the upper part of the village; women came running out excitedly from each house as the horsemen left it; finally one of them darted swiftly up the hill to Ramona. “Hide it! hide it!” she cried, breathless; “hide the meat! It is Merrill’s men, from the end of the valley. They have lost a steer, and they say we stole it. They found the place, with blood on it, where it was killed; and they say we did it. Oh, hide the meat! They took all that Fernando had; and it was his own, that he bought; he did not know anything about their steer!”
“I shall not hide it!” cried Ramona, indignantly. “It is our own cow. Alessandro killed it to-day.”413
“They won’t believe you!” said the woman, in distress. “They’ll take it all away. Oh, hide some of it!” And she dragged a part of it across the floor, and threw it under the bed, Ramona standing by, stupefied.
Before she had spoken again, the forms of the galloping riders darkened the doorway; the foremost of them, leaping off his horse, exclaimed: “By God! here’s the rest of it. If they ain’t the damnedest impudent thieves! Look at this woman, cutting it up! Put that down, will you? We’ll save you the trouble of dryin’ our meat for us, besides killin’ it! Fork over, now, every bit you’ve got, you ——.” And he called Ramona by a vile epithet.
Every drop of blood left Ramona’s face. Her eyes blazed, and she came forward with the knife uplifted in her hand. “Out of my house, you dogs of the white color!” she said. “This meat is our own; my husband killed the creature but this morning.”
Her tone and bearing surprised them. There were six of the men, and they had all swarmed into the little room.
“I say, Merrill,” said one of them, “hold on; the squaw says her husband only jest killed it to-day. It might be theirs.”
Ramona turned on him like lightning. “Are you liars, you all,” she cried, “that you think I lie? I tell you the meat is ours; and there is not an Indian in this village would steal cattle!”
A derisive shout of laughter from all the men greeted this speech; and at that second, the leader, seeing the mark of blood where the Indian woman had dragged the meat across the ground, sprang to the bed, and lifting the deerskin, pointed with a sneer to the beef hidden there. “Perhaps, when you know Injuns ’s well ’s I do,” he said, “you won’t be for believin’ all they say! What’s she got it hid under 414 the bed for, if it was their own cow?” and he stooped to drag the meat out. “Give us a hand here, Jake!”
“If you touch it, I will kill you!” cried Ramona, beside herself with rage; and she sprang between the men, her uplifted knife gleaming.
“Hoity-toity!” cried Jake, stepping back; “that’s a handsome squaw when she’s mad! Say, boys, let’s leave her some of the meat. She wasn’t to blame; of course, she believes what her husband told her.”
“You go to grass for a soft-head, you Jake!” muttered Merrill, as he dragged the meat out from beneath the bed.
“What is all this?” said a deep voice in the door; and Ramona, turning, with a glad cry, saw Alessandro standing there, looking on, with an expression which, even in her own terror and indignation, gave her a sense of dread, it was so icily defiant. He had his hand on his gun. “What is all this?” he repeated. He knew very well.
“It’s that Temecula man,” said one of the men, in a low tone, to Merrill. “If I’d known ’t was his house, I wouldn’t have let you come here. You’re up the wrong tree, sure!”
Merrill dropped the meat he was dragging over the floor, and turned to confront Alessandro’s eyes. His countenance fell. Even he saw that he had made a mistake. He began to speak. Alessandro interrupted him. Alessandro could speak forcibly in Spanish. Pointing to his pony, which stood at the door with a package on its back, the remainder of the meat rolled in the hide, he said: “There is the remainder of the beef. I killed the creature this morning, in the cañon. I will take Señor Merrill to the place, if he wishes it. Señor Merrill’s steer was killed down in the willows yonder, yesterday.”415
“That’s so!” cried the men, gathering around him. “How did you know? Who did it?”
Alessandro made no reply. He was looking at Ramona. She had flung her shawl over her head, as the other woman had done, and the two were cowering in the corner, their faces turned away. Ramona dared not look on; she felt sure Alessandro would kill some one. But this was not the type of outrage that roused Alessandro to dangerous wrath. He even felt a certain enjoyment in the discomfiture of the self-constituted posse of searchers for stolen goods. To all their questions in regard to the stolen steer, he maintained silence. He would not open his lips. At last, angry, ashamed, with a volley of coarse oaths at him for his obstinacy, they rode away. Alessandro went to Ramona’s side. She was trembling. Her hands were like ice.
“Let us go to the mountain to-night!” she gasped. “Take me where I need never see a white face again!”
A melancholy joy gleamed in Alessandro’s eyes. Ramona, at last, felt as he did.
“I would not dare to leave Majella there alone, while there is no house,” he said; “and I must go and come many times, before all the things can be carried.”
“It will be less danger there than here, Alessandro,” said Ramona, bursting into violent weeping as she recalled the insolent leer with which the man Jake had looked at her. “Oh! I cannot stay here!”
“It will not be many days, my Majel. I will borrow Fernando’s pony, to take double at once; then we can go sooner.”
“Who was it stole that man’s steer?” said Ramona. “Why did you not tell them? They looked as if they would kill you.”
“It was that Mexican that lives in the bottom, 416 José Castro. I myself came on him, cutting the steer up. He said it was his; but I knew very well, by the way he spoke, he was lying. But why should I tell? They think only Indians will steal cattle. I can tell them, the Mexicans steal more.”
“I told them there was not an Indian in this village would steal cattle,” said Ramona, indignantly.
“That was not true, Majella,” replied Alessandro, sadly. “When they are very hungry, they will steal a heifer or steer. They lose many themselves, and they say it is not so much harm to take one when they can get it. This man Merrill, they say, branded twenty steers for his own, last spring, when he knew they were Saboba cattle!”
“Why did they not make him give them up?” cried Ramona.
“Did not Majella see to-day why they can do nothing? There is no help for us, Majella, only to hide; that is all we can do!”
A new terror had entered into Ramona’s life; she dared not tell it to Alessandro; she hardly put it into words in her thoughts. But she was haunted by the face of the man Jake, as by a vision of evil, and on one pretext and another she contrived to secure the presence of some one of the Indian women in her house whenever Alessandro was away. Every day she saw the man riding past. Once he had galloped up to the open door, looked in, spoken in a friendly way to her, and ridden on. Ramona’s instinct was right. Jake was merely biding his time. He had made up his mind to settle in the San Jacinto valley, at least for a few years, and he wished to have an Indian woman come to live with him and keep his house. Over in Santa Ysabel, his brother had lived in that way with an Indian mistress for three years; and when he sold out, and left Santa Ysabel, he had given the 417 woman a hundred dollars and a little house for herself and her child. And she was not only satisfied, but held herself, in consequence of this temporary connection with a white man, much above her Indian relatives and friends. When an Indian man had wished to marry her, she had replied scornfully that she would never marry an Indian; she might marry another white man, but an Indian,—never. Nobody had held his brother in any less esteem for this connection; it was quite the way in the country. And if Jake could induce this handsomest squaw he had ever seen, to come and live with him in a similar fashion, he would consider himself a lucky man, and also think he was doing a good thing for the squaw. It was all very clear and simple in his mind; and when, seeing Ramona walking alone in the village one morning, he overtook her, and walking by her side began to sound her on the subject, he had small misgivings as to the result. Ramona trembled as he approached her. She walked faster, and would not look at him; but he, in his ignorance, misinterpreted these signs egregiously.
“Are you married to your husband?” he finally said. “It is but a poor place he gives you to live in. If you will come and live with me, you shall have the best house in the valley, as good as the Ravallos’; and—” Jake did not finish his sentence. With a cry which haunted his memory for years, Ramona sprang from his side as if to run; then, halting suddenly, she faced him, her eyes like javelins, her breath coming fast. “Beast!” she said, and spat towards him; then turned and fled to the nearest house, where she sank on the floor and burst into tears, saying that the man below there in the road had been rude to her. Yes, the women said, he was a bad man; they all knew it. Of this Ramona said no word to Alessandro. She dared not; she believed he would kill Jake.418
When the furious Jake confided to his friend Merrill his repulse, and the indignity accompanying it, Merrill only laughed at him, and said: “I could have told you better than to try that woman. She’s married, fast enough. There’s plenty you can get, though, if you want ’em. They’re first-rate about a house, and jest ’s faithful ’s dogs. You can trust ’em with every dollar you’ve got.”
From this day, Ramona never knew an instant’s peace or rest till she stood on the rim of the refuge valley, high on San Jacinto. Then, gazing around, looking up at the lofty pinnacles above, which seemed to pierce the sky, looking down upon the world,—it seemed the whole world, so limitless it stretched away at her feet,—feeling that infinite unspeakable sense of nearness to Heaven, remoteness from earth which comes only on mountain heights, she drew in a long breath of delight, and cried: “At last! at last, Alessandro! Here we are safe! This is freedom! This is joy!”
“Can Majella be content?” he asked.
“I can almost be glad, Alessandro!” she cried, inspired by the glorious scene. “I dreamed not it was like this!”
It was a wondrous valley. The mountain seemed to have been cleft to make it. It lay near midway to the top, and ran transversely on the mountain’s side, its western or southwestern end being many feet lower than the eastern. Both the upper and lower ends were closed by piles of rocks and tangled fallen trees; the rocky summit of the mountain itself made the southern wall; the northern was a spur, or ridge, nearly vertical, and covered thick with pine-trees. A man might roam years on the mountain and not find this cleft. At the upper end gushed out a crystal spring, which trickled rather than ran, in a bed of marshy green, the entire length of the valley, disappeared 419 in the rocks at the lower end, and came out no more; many times Alessandro had searched for it lower down, but could find no trace of it. During the summer, when he was hunting with Jeff, he had several times climbed the wall and descended it on the inner side, to see if the rivulet still ran; and, to his joy, had found it the same in July as in January. Drought could not harm it, then. What salvation in such a spring! And the water was pure and sweet as if it came from the skies.
A short distance off was another ridge or spur of the mountain, widening out into almost a plateau. This was covered with acorn-bearing oaks; and under them were flat stones worn into hollows, where bygone generations of Indians had ground the nuts into meal. Generations long bygone indeed, for it was not in the memory of the oldest now living, that Indians had ventured so high up as this on San Jacinto. It was held to be certain death to climb to its summit, and foolhardy in the extreme to go far up its sides.
There was exhilaration in the place. It brought healing to both Alessandro and Ramona. Even the bitter grief for the baby’s death was soothed. She did not seem so far off, since they had come so much nearer to the sky. They lived at first in a tent; no time to build a house, till the wheat and vegetables were planted. Alessandro was surprised, when he came to the ploughing, to see how much good land he had. The valley thrust itself, in inlets and coves, into the very rocks of its southern wall; lovely sheltered nooks these were, where he hated to wound the soft, flower-filled sward with his plough. As soon as the planting was done, he began to fell trees for the house. No mournful gray adobe this time, but walls of hewn pine, with half the bark left on; alternate yellow and brown, as gay as if glad hearts had 420 devised it. The roof, of thatch, tule, and yucca-stalks, double laid and thick, was carried out several feet in front of the house, making a sort of bower-like veranda, supported by young fir-tree stems, left rough. Once more Ramona would sit under a thatch with birds’-nests in it. A little corral for the sheep, and a rough shed for the pony, and the home was complete: far the prettiest home they had ever had. And here, in the sunny veranda, when autumn came, sat Ramona, plaiting out of fragrant willow twigs a cradle. The one over which she had wept such bitter tears in the valley, they had burned the night before they left their Saboba home. It was in early autumn she sat plaiting this cradle. The ground around was strewn with wild grapes drying; the bees were feasting on them in such clouds that Ramona rose frequently from her work to drive them away, saying, as she did so, “Good bees, make our honey from something else; we gain nothing if you drain our grapes for it; we want these grapes for the winter;” and as she spoke, her imagination sped fleetly forward to the winter. The Virgin must have forgiven her, to give her again the joy of a child in her arms. Ay, a joy! Spite of poverty, spite of danger, spite of all that cruelty and oppression could do, it would still be a joy to hold her child in her arms.
The baby was born before winter came. An old Indian woman, the same whose house they had hired in Saboba, had come up to live with Ramona. She was friendless now, her daughter having died, and she thankfully came to be as a mother to Ramona. She was ignorant and feeble; but Ramona saw in her always the picture of what her own mother might perchance be, wandering, suffering, she knew not what or where; and her yearning, filial instinct found sad pleasure in caring for this lonely, childless, aged one.421
Ramona was alone with her on the mountain at the time of the baby’s birth. Alessandro had gone to the valley, to be gone two days; but Ramona felt no fear. When Alessandro returned, and she laid the child in his arms, she said with a smile, radiant once more, like the old smiles, “See, beloved! The Virgin has forgiven me; she has given us a daughter again!”
But Alessandro did not smile. Looking scrutinizingly into the baby’s face, he sighed, and said, “Alas, Majella, her eyes are like mine, not yours!”
“I am glad of it,” cried Ramona. “I was glad the first minute I saw it.”
He shook his head. “It is an ill fate to have the eyes of Alessandro;” he said. “They look ever on woe;” and he laid the baby back on Ramona’s breast, and stood gazing sadly at her.
“Dear Alessandro,” said Ramona, “it is a sin to always mourn. Father Salvierderra said if we repined under our crosses, then a heavier cross would be laid on us. Worse things would come.”
“Yes,” he said. “That is true. Worse things will come.” And he walked away, with his head sunk deep on his breast.