The Capitan’s house faced the east. Just as day broke, and the light streamed in at the open door, Ramona’s eyes unclosed. Felipe and Aunt Ri were both by her side. With a look of bewildered terror, she gazed at them.
“Thar, thar, naow! Yer jest shet yer eyes ’n’ go right off ter sleep agin, honey,” said Aunt Ri, composedly, laying her hand on Ramona’s eyelids, and compelling them down. “We air hyar, Feeleepy ’n’ me, ’n’ we air goin’ ter stay. I allow yer needn’t be afeerd o’ nothin’. Go ter sleep, honey.”
The eyelids quivered beneath Aunt Ri’s fingers. Tears forced their way, and rolled slowly down the cheeks. The lips trembled; the voice strove to speak, but it was only like the ghost of a whisper, the faint question that came,—“Felipe?”
“Yes, dear! I am here, too,” breathed Felipe; “go to sleep. We will not leave you!”
And again Ramona sank away into the merciful sleep which was saving her life.
“Ther longer she kin sleep, ther better,” said Aunt Ri, with a sigh, deep-drawn like a groan. “I allow I dread ter see her reely come to. ’T ’ll be wus ’n the fust; she’ll hev ter live it all over agin!”
But Aunt Ri did not know what forces of fortitude had been gathering in Ramona’s soul during these last bitter years. Out of her gentle constancy had been woven the heroic fibre of which martyrs are made; this, and her inextinguishable faith, had made her strong, as were those of old, who “had trial of cruel mocking, wandered about, being destitute, afflicted, 463 tormented, wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
When she waked the second time, it was with a calm, almost beatific smile that she gazed on Felipe, and whispered, “How did you find me, dear Felipe?” It was rather by the motions of her lips than by any sound that he knew the words. She had not yet strength enough to make an audible sound. When they laid her baby on her breast, she smiled again, and tried to embrace her, but was too weak. Pointing to the baby’s eyes, she whispered, gazing earnestly at Felipe, “Alessandro.” A convulsion passed over her face as she spoke the word, and the tears flowed.
Felipe could not speak. He glanced helplessly at Aunt Ri, who promptly responded: “Naow, honey, don’t yeow talk. ’T ain’t good fur ye; ’n’ Feeleepy ’n’ me, we air in a powerful hurry ter git yer strong ’n’ well, ’n’ tote ye out er this—” Aunt Ri stopped. No substantive in her vocabulary answered her need at that moment. “I allow ye kin go ’n a week, ef nothin’ don’t go agin ye more ’n I see naow; but ef yer git ter talkin’, thar’s no tellin’ when yer’ll git up. Yeow jest shet up, honey. We’ll look arter everythin’.”
Feebly Ramona turned her grateful, inquiring eyes on Felipe. Her lips framed the words, “With you?”
“Yes, dear, home with me,” said Felipe, clasping her hand in his. “I have been searching for you all this time.”
An anxious look came into the sweet face. Felipe knew what it meant. How often he had seen it in the olden time. He feared to shock her by the sudden mention of the Señora’s death; yet that would harm her less than continued anxiety. “I am alone, dear Ramona,” he whispered. “There is no one now but you, my sister, to take care of me. My mother has been dead a year.”464
The eyes dilated, then filled with sympathetic tears. “Dear Felipe!” she sighed; but her heart took courage. Felipe’s phrase was like one inspired; another duty, another work, another loyalty, waiting for Ramona. Not only her child to live for, but to “take care of Felipe”! Ramona would not die! Youth, a mother’s love, a sister’s affection and duty, on the side of life,—the battle was won, and won quickly, too.
To the simple Cahuillas it seemed like a miracle; and they looked on Aunt Ri’s weather-beaten face with something akin to a superstitious reverence. They themselves were not ignorant of the value of the herb by means of which she had wrought the marvellous cure; but they had made repeated experiments with it upon Ramona, without success. It must be that there had been some potent spell in Aunt Ri’s handling. They would hardly believe her when, in answer to their persistent questioning, she reiterated the assertion that she had used nothing except the hot water and “old man,” which was her name for the wild wormwood; and which, when explained to them, impressed them greatly, as having no doubt some significance in connection with the results of her preparation of the leaves.
Rumors about Felipe ran swiftly throughout the region. The presence in the Cahuilla village of a rich Mexican gentleman who spent gold like water, and kept mounted men riding day and night, after everything, anything, he wanted for his sick sister, was an event which in the atmosphere of that lonely country loomed into colossal proportions. He had travelled all over California, with four horses, in search of her. He was only waiting till she was well, to take her to his home in the south; and then he was going to arrest the man who had murdered her husband, and have him hanged,—yes, 465 hanged! Small doubt about that; or, if the law cleared him, there was still the bullet. This rich Señor would see him shot, if rope were not to be had. Jim Farrar heard these tales, and quaked in his guilty soul. The rope he had small fear of, for well he knew the temper of San Diego County juries and judges; but the bullet, that was another thing: and these Mexicans were like Indians in their vengeance. Time did not tire them, and their memories were long. Farrar cursed the day he had let his temper get the better of him on that lonely mountain-side; how much the better, nobody but he himself knew,—nobody but he and Ramona: and even Ramona did not know the bitter whole. She knew that Alessandro had no knife, and had gone forward with no hostile intent; but she knew nothing beyond that. Only the murderer himself knew that the dialogue which he had reported to the judge and jury, to justify his act, was an entire fabrication of his own, and that, instead of it, had been spoken but four words by Alessandro, and those were, “Señor, I will explain;” and that even after the first shot had pierced his lungs, and the blood was choking in his throat, he had still run a step or two farther, with his hand uplifted deprecatingly, and made one more effort to speak before he fell to the ground dead. Callous as Farrar was, and clear as it was in his mind that killing an Indian was no harm, he had not liked to recall the pleading anguish in Alessandro’s tone and in his face as he fell. He had not liked to recall this, even before he heard of this rich Mexican brother-in-law who had appeared on the scene; and now, he found the memories still more unpleasant. Fear is a wonderful goad to remorse. There was another thing, too, which to his great wonder had been apparently overlooked by everybody; at least, nothing had been said about it; but the bearing of 466 it on his case, if the case were brought up a second time and minutely investigated, would be most unfortunate. And this was, that the only clew he had to the fact of Alessandro’s having taken his horse, was that the poor, half-crazed fellow had left his own well-known gray pony in the corral in place of the horse he took. A strange thing, surely, for a horse-thief to do! Cold sweat burst out on Farrar’s forehead, more than once, as he realized how this, coupled with the well-known fact of Alessandro’s liability to attacks of insanity, might be made to tell against him, if he should be brought to trial for the murder. He was as cowardly as he was cruel: never yet were the two traits separate in human nature; and after a few days of this torturing suspense and apprehension, he suddenly resolved to leave the country, if not forever, at least for a few years, till this brother-in-law should be out of the way. He lost no time in carrying out his resolution; and it was well he did not, for it was only three days after he had disappeared, that Felipe walked into Judge Wells’s office, one morning, to make inquiries relative to the preliminary hearing which had been held there in the matter of the murder of the Indian, Alessandro Assis, by James Farrar. And when the judge, taking down his books, read to Felipe his notes of the case, and went on to say, “If Farrar’s testimony is true, Ramona’s, the wife’s, must be false,” and “at any rate, her testimony would not be worth a straw with any jury,” Felipe sprang to his feet, and cried, “She of whom you speak is my foster-sister; and, by God, Señor, if I can find that man, I will shoot him as I would a dog! And I’ll see, then, if a San Diego County jury will hang me for ridding the country of such a brute!” and Felipe would have been as good as his word. It was a wise thing Farrar had done in making his escape.467
When Aunt Ri heard that Farrar had fled the country, she pushed up her spectacles and looked reflectively at her informant. It was young Merrill. “Fled ther country, hez he?” she said. “Wall, he kin flee ez many countries ez he likes, an’ ’t won’t dew him no good. I know yeow folks hyar don’t seem ter think killin’ an Injun’s enny murder, but I say ’t is; an’ yeow’ll all git it brung home ter yer afore yer die: ef ’t ain’t brung one way, ’t ’ll be anuther; yeow jest mind what I say, ’n’ don’t yeow furgit it. Naow this miser’ble murderer, this Farrar, thet’s lighted out er hyar, he’s nothin’ more ’n a skunk, but he’s got the Lawd arter him, naow. It’s jest ’s well he’s gawn; I never did b’leeve in hangin’. I never could. It’s jest tew men dead ’stead o’ one. I don’t want to see no man hung, no marter what he’s done, ’n’ I don’t want to see no man shot down, nuther, no marter what he’s done; ’n’ this hyar Feeleepy, he’s thet high-strung, he’d ha’ shot thet Farrar, any minnit, quicker ’n lightnin’, ef he’d ketched him; so it’s better all raound he’s lit aout. But I tell yeow, naow, he hain’t made much by goin’! Thet Injun he murdered ’ll foller him night ’n’ day, till he dies, ’n’ long arter; he’ll wish he wuz dead afore he doos die, I allow he will, naow. He’ll be jest like a man I knowed back in Tennessee. I wa’n’t but a mite then, but I never forgot it. ’T’s a great country fur gourds, East Tennessee is, whar I wuz raised; ’n’ thar wuz two houses, ’n’ a fence between ’em, ’n’ these gourds a runnin’ all over the fence; ’n’ one o’ ther childun picked one o’ them gourds, an’ they fit abaout it; ’n’ then the women took it up,—ther childun’s mothers, yer know,—’n’ they got fightin’ abaout it; ’n’ then ’t the last the men took it up, ’n’ they fit; ’n’ Rowell he got his butcher-knife, ’n’ he ground it up, ’n’ he picked a querril with Claiborne, ’n’ he cut him inter pieces. They hed him up for ’t, 468 ’n’ somehow they clared him. I don’t see how they ever did, but they put ’t off, ’n’ put ’t off, ’n’ ’t last they got him free; ’n’ he lived on thar a spell, but he couldn’t stan’ it; ’peared like he never hed no peace; ’n’ he come over ter our ’us, ’n’ sed he, ‘Jake,’—they allers called daddy ‘Jake,’ or ‘Uncle Jake,’—‘Jake,’ sed he, ‘I can’t stan’ it, livin’ hyar.’ ‘Why,’ sez daddy, ’the law o’ the country’s clar’d ye.’ ‘Yes,’ sez he, ‘but the law o’ God hain’t; ’n’ I’ve got Claiborne allers with me. Thar ain’t any path so narrer, but he’s a walkin’ in it, by my side, all day; ’n’ come night, I sleep with him ter one side, ’n’ my wife t’ other; ’n’ I can’t stan’ it!’ Them’s ther very words I heered him say, ’n’ I wuzn’t ennythin’ but a mite, but I didn’t furgit it. Wall, sir, he went West, way aout hyar to Californy, ’n’ he couldn’t stay thar nuther, ’n’ he come back hum agin; ’n’ I wuz bigger then, a gal grown, ’n’ daddy sez to him,—I heern him,—‘Wal,’ sez he, ‘did Claiborne foller yer?’ ‘Yes,’ sez he, ‘he follered me. I’ll never git shet o’ him in this world. He’s allers clost to me everywhar.’ Yer see, ’t was jest his conscience er whippin’ him. Thet’s all ’t wuz. ’T least, thet’s all I think ’t wuz; though thar wuz those thet said ’t wuz Claiborne’s ghost. ’N’ thet’ll be the way ’t’ll be with this miser’ble Farrar. He’ll live ter wish he’d let hisself be hanged er shot, er erry which way, ter git out er his misery.”
Young Merrill listened with unwonted gravity to Aunt Ri’s earnest words. They reached a depth in his nature which had been long untouched; a stratum, so to speak, which lay far beneath the surface. The character of the Western frontiersman is often a singular accumulation of such strata,—the training and beliefs of his earliest days overlain by successions of unrelated and violent experiences, like geological 469 deposits. Underneath the exterior crust of the most hardened and ruffianly nature often remains—its forms not yet quite fossilized—a realm full of the devout customs, doctrines, religious influences, which the boy knew, and the man remembers. By sudden upheaval, in some great catastrophe or struggle in his mature life, these all come again into the light. Assembly Catechism definitions, which he learned in his childhood, and has not thought of since, ring in his ears, and he is thrown into all manner of confusions and inconsistencies of feeling and speech by this clashing of the old and new man within him. It was much in this way that Aunt Ri’s words smote upon young Merrill. He was not many years removed from the sound of a preaching of the straitest New England Calvinism. The wild frontier life had drawn him in and under, as in a whirlpool; but he was New Englander yet at heart.
“That’s so, Aunt Ri!” he exclaimed. “That’s so! I don’t s’pose a man that’s committed murder’ll ever have any peace in this world, nor in the next nuther, without he repents; but ye see this horse-stealin’ business is different. ’T ain’t murder to kill a hoss-thief, any way you can fix it; everybody admits that. A feller that’s caught horse-stealin’ had ought to be shot; and he will be, too, I tell you, in this country!”
A look of impatient despair spread over Aunt Ri’s face. “I hain’t no patience left with yer,” she said, “er talkin’ abaout stealin’ hosses ez ef hosses wuz more ’n human bein’s! But lettin’ thet all go, this Injun, he wuz crazy. Yer all knowed it. Thet Farrar knowed it. D’ yer think ef he’d ben stealin’ the hoss, he’d er left his own hoss in the corral, same ez, yer might say, leavin’ his kyerd to say ’t wuz he done it; ’n’ the hoss er tied in plain sight ’n front uv his house fur ennybody ter see?”470
“Left his own horse, so he did!” retorted Merrill. “A poor, miserable, knock-kneed old pony, that wa’n’t worth twenty dollars; ’n’ Jim’s horse was worth two hundred, ’n’ cheap at that.”
“Thet ain’t nuther here nor thar in what we air sayin’,” persisted Aunt Ri. “I ain’t a speakin’ on ’t ez a swap er hosses. What I say is, he wa’n’t tryin’ to cover ’t up thet he’d tuk the hoss. We air sum used ter hoss-thieves in Tennessee; but I never heered o’ one yit thet left his name fur a refference berhind him, ter show which road he tuk, ’n’ fastened ther stolen critter ter his front gate when he got hum! I allow me ’n’ yeow hedn’t better say any thin’ much more on ther subjeck, fur I allow we air bound to querril ef we dew;” and nothing that Merrill said could draw another word out of Aunt Ri in regard to Alessandro’s death. But there was another subject on which she was tireless, and her speech eloquent. It was the kindness and goodness of the Cahuilla people. The last vestige of her prejudice against Indians had melted and gone, in the presence of their simple-hearted friendliness. “I’ll never hear a word said agin ’em, never, ter my longest day,” she said. “The way the pore things hed jest stripped theirselves, to git things fur Ramony, beat all ever I see among white folks, ’n’ I’ve ben raound more ’n most. ’N’ they wa’n’t lookin’ fur no pay, nuther; fur they didn’t know, till Feeleepy ’n’ me cum, thet she hed any folks ennywhar, ’n’ they’d ha’ taken care on her till she died, jest the same. The sick allers ez took care on among them, they sed, ’s long uz enny on ’em hez got a thing left. Thet’s ther way they air raised; I allow white folks might take a lesson on ’em, in thet; ’n’ in heaps uv other things tew. Oh, I’m done talkin’ agin Injuns, naow, don’t yeow furgit it! But I know, fur all thet, ’t won’t make any difference; ’pears like there cuddn’t nobody b’leeve 471 ennythin’ ’n this world ’thout seein’ ’t theirselves. I wuz thet way tew; I allow I hain’t got no call ter talk; but I jest wish the hull world could see what I’ve seen! Thet’s all!”
It was a sad day in the village when Ramona and her friends departed. Heartily as the kindly people rejoiced in her having found such a protector for herself and her child, and deeply as they felt Felipe’s and Aunt Ri’s good-will and gratitude towards them, they were yet conscious of a loss,—of a void. The gulf between them and the rest of the world seemed defined anew, their sense of isolation deepened, their hopeless poverty emphasized. Ramona, wife of Alessandro, had been as their sister,—one of them; as such, she would have had share in all their life had to offer. But its utmost was nothing, was but hardship and deprivation; and she was being borne away from it, like one rescued, not so much from death, as from a life worse than death.
The tears streamed down Ramona’s face as she bade them farewell. She embraced again and again the young mother who had for so many days suckled her child, even, it was said, depriving her own hardier babe that Ramona’s should not suffer. “Sister, you have given me my child,” she cried; “I can never thank you; I will pray for you all my life.”
She made no inquiries as to Felipe’s plans. Unquestioningly, like a little child, she resigned herself into his hands. A power greater than hers was ordering her way; Felipe was its instrument. No other voice spoke to guide her. The same old simplicity of acceptance which had characterized her daily life in her girlhood, and kept her serene and sunny then,—serene under trials, sunny in her routine of little duties,—had kept her serene through all the 472 afflictions, and calm, if not sunny, under all the burdens of her later life; and it did not desert her even now.
Aunt Ri gazed at her with a sentiment as near to veneration as her dry, humorous, practical nature was capable of feeling. “I allow I donno but I sh’d cum ter believin’ in saints tew,” she said, “ef I wuz ter live ’long side er thet gal. ’Pears like she wuz suthin’ more ’n human. ’T beats me plum out, ther way she takes her troubles. Thar ’s sum would say she hedn’t no feelin’; but I allow she hez more ’n most folks. I kin see, ’t ain’t thet. I allow I didn’t never expect ter think ’s well uv prayin’ to picters, ’n’ strings er beads, ’n’ sech; but ef thet keeps her up ther way she’s kept up, I allow thar’s more in it ’n it’s hed credit fur. I ain’t gwine ter say enny more agin it, nor agin Injuns. ’Pears like I’m gittin’ heaps er new idears inter my head, these days. I’ll turn Injun, mebbe, afore I git through!”
The farewell to Aunt Ri was hardest of all. Ramona clung to her as to a mother. At times she felt that she would rather stay by her side than go home with Felipe; then she reproached herself for the thought, as for a treason and ingratitude. Felipe saw the feeling, and did not wonder at it. “Dear girl,” he thought; “it is the nearest she has ever come to knowing what a mother’s love is like!” And he lingered in San Bernardino week after week, on the pretence that Ramona was not yet strong enough to bear the journey home, when in reality his sole motive for staying was his reluctance to deprive her of Aunt Ri’s wholesome and cheering companionship.
Aunt Ri was busily at work on a rag carpet for the Indian Agent’s wife. She had just begun it, had woven only a few inches, on that dreadful morning when the news of Alessandro’s death reached her. It was of her favorite pattern, the “hit-er-miss” pattern, as she 473 called it: no set stripes or regular alternation of colors, but ball after ball of the indiscriminately mixed tints, woven back and forth, on a warp of a single color. The constant variety in it, the unexpectedly harmonious blending of the colors, gave her delight, and afforded her a subject, too, of not unphilosophical reflection.
“Wall,” she said, “it’s called ther ‘hit-er-miss’ pattren; but it’s ‘hit’ oftener ’n ’t is ‘miss.’ Thar ain’t enny accountin’ fur ther way ther breadths’ll come, sometimes; ’pears like ’t wuz kind er magic, when they air sewed tergether; ’n’ I allow thet’s ther way it’s gwine ter be with heaps er things in this life. It’s jest a kind er ‘hit-er-miss’ pattren we air all on us livin’ on; ’t ain’t much use tryin’ ter reckon how ’t ’ll come aout; but the breadths doos fit heaps better ’n yer’d think; come ter sew ’em, ’t aint never no sech colors ez yer thought ’t wuz gwine ter be, but it’s allers pooty, allers; never see a ‘hit-er-miss’ pattren ’n my life yit, thet wa’n’t pooty. ’N’ ther wa’n’t never nobody fetched me rags, ’n’ hed ’em all planned aout, ’n’ jest ther way they wanted ther warp, ’n’ jest haow ther stripes wuz ter come, ’n’ all, thet they wa’n’t orful diserpynted when they cum ter see ’t done. It don’t never look’s they thought ’t would, never! I larned thet lesson airly; ’n’ I allers make ’em write ’t aout on a paper, jest ther wedth er every stripe, ’n’ each er ther colors, so’s they kin see it’s what they ordered; ’r else they’d allers say I hedn’t wove ’t ’s I wuz told ter. I got ketched thet way oncet! I allow ennybody’s a bawn fool gits ketched twice runnin’ ther same way. But fur me, I’ll take ther ‘hit-er-miss’ pattren, every time, sir, straight along.”
When the carpet was done, Aunt Ri took the roll in her own independent arms, and strode with it to the Agent’s house. She had been biding the time 474 when she should have this excuse for going there. Her mind was burdened with questions she wished to ask, information she wished to give, and she chose an hour when she knew she would find the Agent himself at home.
“I allow yer heered why I wuz behind time with this yere carpet,” she said; “I wuz up ter San Jacinto Mounting, where thet Injun wuz murdered. We brung his widder ’n’ ther baby daown with us, me ’n’ her brother. He’s tuk her home ter his house ter live. He’s reel well off.”
Yes, the Agent had heard this; he had wondered why the widow did not come to see him; he had expected to hear from her.
“Wall, I did hent ter her thet p’raps yer could dew something, ef she wuz ter tell yer all abaout it; but she allowed thar wa’n’t enny use in talkin’. Ther jedge, he sed her witnessin’ wouldn’t be wuth nuthin’ to no jury; ’n’ thet wuz what I wuz a wantin’ to ask yeow, ef thet wuz so.”
“Yes, that is what the lawyers here told me,” said the Agent. “I was going to have the man arrested, but they said it would be folly to bring the case to trial. The woman’s testimony would not be believed.”
“Yeow’ve got power ter git a man punished fur sellin’ whiskey to Injuns, I notice,” broke in Aunt Ri; “hain’t yer? I see yeour man ’n’ the marshal here arrestin’ ’em pooty lively last month; they sed ’t was yeour doin’: yeow was a gwine ter prossacute every livin’ son o’ hell—them wuz thar words—thet sold whiskey ter Injuns.”
“That’s so!” said the Agent. “So I am; I am determined to break up this vile business of selling whiskey to Indians. It is no use trying to do anything for them while they are made drunk in this way; it’s a sin and a shame.”475
“Thet’s so, I allow ter yeow,” said Aunt Ri. “Thar ain’t any gainsayin’ thet. But ef yeow’ve got power ter git a man put in jail fur sellin’ whiskey t’ ’n Injun, ’n’ hain’t got power to git him punished ef he goes ’n’ kills thet Injun, ’t sems ter me thar’s suthin’ cur’us abaout thet.”
“That is just the trouble in my position here, Aunt Ri,” he said. “I have no real power over my Indians, as I ought to have.”
“What makes yer call ’em yeour Injuns?” broke in Aunt Ri.
The Agent colored. Aunt Ri was a privileged character, but her logical method of questioning was inconvenient.
“I only mean that they are under my charge,” he said. “I don’t mean that they belong to me in any way.”
“Wall, I allow not,” retorted Aunt Ri, “enny more ’n I dew. They air airnin’ their livin’, sech ’s ’t is, ef yer kin call it a livin’. I’ve ben ’mongst ’em, naow, this hyar last tew weeks, ’n’ I allow I’ve hed my eyes opened ter some things. What’s thet docter er yourn, him thet they call the Agency docter,—what’s he got ter do?”
“To attend to the Indians of this Agency when they are sick,” replied the Agent, promptly.
“Wall, thet’s what I heern; thet’s what yeow sed afore, ’n’ thet’s why Alessandro, the Injun thet wuz murdered,—thet’s why he put his name down ’n yeour books, though ’t went agin him orful ter do it. He wuz high-spereted, ’n’ ’d allers took keer er hisself; but he’d ben druv out er fust one place ’n’ then another, tell he’d got clar down, ’n’ pore; ’n’ he jest begged thet docter er yourn to go to see his little gal, ’n’ the docter wouldn’t; ’n’ more ’n thet, he laughed at him fur askin’. ’N’ they set the little thing on the hoss ter bring her here, ’n’ she died afore they’d come 476 a mile with her; ’n’ ’t wuz thet, on top er all the rest, druv Alessandro crazy. He never hed none er them wandrin’ spells till arter thet. Naow I allow thet wa’n’t right er thet docter. I wouldn’t hev no sech docter ’s thet raound my Agency, ef I wuz yeow. Pr’aps yer never heered uv thet. I told Ramony I didn’t bleeve yer knowed it, or ye’d hev made him go.”
“No, Aunt Ri,” said the Agent; “I could not have done that; he is only required to doctor such Indians as come here.”
“I allow, then, thar ain’t any gret use en hevin’ him at all,” said Aunt Ri; “’pears like thar ain’t more ’n a harndful uv Injuns raound here. I expect he gits well paid?” and she paused for an answer. None came. The Agent did not feel himself obliged to reveal to Aunt Ri what salary the Government paid the San Bernardino doctor for sending haphazard prescriptions to Indians he never saw.
After a pause Aunt Ri resumed: “Ef it ain’t enny offence ter yeow, I allow I’d like ter know jest what ’t is yeow air here ter dew fur these Injuns. I’ve got my feelin’s considdable stirred up, bein’ among ’em, ’n’ knowing this hyar one, thet’s ben murdered. Hev ye got enny power to giv’ ’em ennything,—food, or sech? They air powerful pore, most on ’em.”
“I have had a little fund for buying supplies for them in times of special suffering;” replied the Agent, “a very little; and the Department has appropriated some money for wagons and ploughs; not enough, however, to supply every village; you see these Indians are in the main self-supporting.”
“Thet’s jest it,” persisted Aunt Ri. “Thet’s what I’ve ben seein’; ’n’ thet’s why I want so bad ter git at what ’t is the Guvvermunt means ter hev yeow dew fur ’em. I allow ef yeow ain’t ter feed ’em, an’ ef yer can’t put folks inter jail fur robbin’ ’n’ cheatin’ 477 ’em, not ter say killin’ em,—ef yer can’t dew ennythin’ more ’n keep ’em from gettin’ whiskey, wall, I’m free ter say—” Aunt Ri paused; she did not wish to seem to reflect on the Agent’s usefulness, and so concluded her sentence very differently from her first impulse,—“I’m free ter say I shouldn’t like ter stan’ in yer shoes.”
“You may very well say that, Aunt Ri,” laughed the Agent, complacently. “It is the most troublesome Agency in the whole list, and the least satisfactory.”
“Wall, I allow it mought be the least satisfyin’,” rejoined the indefatigable Aunt Ri; “but I donno whar the trouble comes in, ef so be ’s thar’s no more kin be done than yer wuz er tellin’.” And she looked honestly puzzled.
“Look there, Aunt Ri!” said he, triumphantly, pointing to a pile of books and papers. “All those to be gone through with, and a report to be made out every month, and a voucher to be sent for every lead-pencil I buy. I tell you I work harder than I ever did in my life before, and for less pay.”
“I allow yer hev hed easy times afore, then,” retorted Aunt Ri, good-naturedly satirical, “ef yeow air plum tired doin’ thet!” And she took her leave, not a whit clearer in her mind as to the real nature and function of the Indian Agency than she was in the beginning.
Through all of Ramona’s journey home she seemed to herself to be in a dream. Her baby in her arms; the faithful creatures, Baba and Benito, gayly trotting along at a pace so swift that the carriage seemed gliding; Felipe by her side,—the dear Felipe,—his eyes wearing the same bright and loving look as of old,—what strange thing was it which had happened to her to make it all seem unreal? Even the little one in her arms,—she, too, seemed unreal! Ramona did not know it, but her nerves were still partially 478 paralyzed. Nature sends merciful anæsthetics in the shocks which almost kill us. In the very sharpness of the blow sometimes lies its own first healing. It would be long before Ramona would fully realize that Alessandro was dead. Her worst anguish was yet to come.
Felipe did not know and could not have understood this; and it was with a marvelling gratitude that he saw Ramona, day after day, placid, always ready with a smile when he spoke to her. Her gratitude for each thoughtfulness of his smote him like a reproach; all the more that he knew her gentle heart had never held a thought of reproach in it towards him. “Grateful to me!” he thought. “To me, who might have spared her all this woe if I had been strong!”
Never would Felipe forgive himself,—no, not to the day of his death. His whole life should be devoted to her and her child; but what a pitiful thing was that to render!
As they drew near home, he saw Ramona often try to conceal from him that she had shed tears. At last he said to her: “Dearest Ramona, do not fear to weep before me. I would not be any constraint on you. It is better for you to let the tears come freely, my sister. They are healing to wounds.”
“I do not think so, Felipe,” replied Ramona. “Tears are only selfish and weak. They are like a cry because we are hurt. It is not possible always to keep them back; but I am ashamed when I have wept, and think also that I have sinned, because I have given a sad sight to others. Father Salvierderra always said that it was a duty to look happy, no matter how much we might be suffering.”
“That is more than human power can do!” said Felipe.479
“I think not,” replied Ramona. “If it were, Father Salvierderra would not have commanded it. And do you not recollect, Felipe, what a smile his face always wore? and his heart had been broken for many, many years before he died. Alone, in the night, when he prayed, he used to weep, from the great wrestling he had with God, he told me; but we never saw him except with a smile. When one thinks in the wilderness, alone, Felipe, many things become clear. I have been learning, all these years in the wilderness, as if I had had a teacher. Sometimes I almost thought that the spirit of Father Salvierderra was by my side putting thoughts into my mind. I hope I can tell them to my child when she is old enough. She will understand them quicker than I did, for she has Alessandro’s soul; you can see that by her eyes. And all these things of which I speak were in his heart from his childhood. They belong to the air and the sky and the sun, and all trees know them.”
When Ramona spoke thus of Alessandro, Felipe marvelled in silence. He himself had been afraid to mention Alessandro’s name; but Ramona spoke it as if he were yet by her side. Felipe could not fathom this. There were to be many things yet which Felipe could not fathom in this lovely, sorrowing, sunny sister of his.
When they reached the house, the servants, who had been on the watch for days, were all gathered in the court-yard, old Marda and Juan Can heading the group; only two absent,—Margarita and Luigo. They had been married some months before, and were living at the ranch, where Luigo, to Juan Can’s scornful amusement, had been made head shepherd.
On all sides were beaming faces, smiles, and glad cries of greeting. Underneath these were affectionate 480 hearts quaking with fear lest the home-coming be but a sad one after all. Vaguely they knew a little of what their dear Señorita had been through since she left them; it seemed that she must be sadly altered by so much sorrow, and that it would be terrible to her to come back to the place so full of painful associations. “And the Señora gone, too,” said one of the outdoor hands, as they were talking it over; “it’s not the same place at all that it was when the Señora was here.”
“Humph!” muttered Juan Can, more consequential and overbearing than ever, for this year of absolute control of the estate. “Humph! that’s all you know. A good thing the Señora died when she did, I can tell you! We’d never have seen the Señorita back here else; I can tell you that, my man! And for my part, I’d much rather be under Señor Felipe and the Señorita than under the Señora, peace to her ashes! She had her day. They can have theirs now.”
When these loving and excited retainers saw Ramona—pale, but with her own old smile on her face—coming towards them with her babe in her arms, they broke into wild cheering, and there was not a dry eye in the group.
Singling out old Marda by a glance, Ramona held out the baby towards her, and said in her old gentle, affectionate voice, “I am sure you will love my baby, Marda!”
“Señorita! Señorita! God bless you, Señorita!” they cried; and closed up their ranks around the baby, touching her, praising her, handing her from one to another.
Ramona stood for a few seconds watching them; then she said, “Give her to me, Marda. I will myself carry her into the house;” and she moved toward the inner door.481
“This way, dear; this way,” cried Felipe. “It is Father Salvierderra’s room I ordered to be prepared for you, because it is so sunny for the baby!”
“Thanks, kind Felipe!” cried Ramona, and her eyes said more than her words. She knew he had divined the one thing she had most dreaded in returning,—the crossing again the threshold of her own room. It would be long now before she would enter that room. Perhaps she would never enter it. How tender and wise of Felipe!
Yes; Felipe was both tender and wise, now. How long would the wisdom hold the tenderness in leash, as he day after day looked upon the face of this beautiful woman,—so much more beautiful now than she had been before her marriage, that Felipe sometimes, as he gazed at her, thought her changed even in feature? But in this very change lay a spell which would for a long time surround her, and set her as apart from lover’s thoughts as if she were guarded by a cordon of viewless spirits. There was a rapt look of holy communion on her face, which made itself felt by the dullest perception, and sometimes overawed even where it attracted. It was the same thing which Aunt Ri had felt, and formulated in her own humorous fashion. But old Marda put it better, when, one day, in reply to a half-terrified, low-whispered suggestion of Juan Can, to the effect that it was “a great pity the Señor Felipe hadn’t married the Señorita years ago,—what if he were to do it yet?” she said, also under her breath. “It is my opinion he’d as soon think of Saint Catharine herself! Not but that it would be a great thing if it could be!”
And now the thing that the Señora had imaged to herself so often had come about,—the presence of a little child in her house, on the veranda, in the garden, everywhere; the sunny, joyous, blest presence. 482 But how differently had it come! Not Felipe’s child, as she proudly had pictured, but the child of Ramona: the friendless, banished Ramona returned now into full honor and peace as the daughter of the house,—Ramona, widow of Alessandro. If the child had been Felipe’s own, he could not have felt for it a greater love. From the first, the little thing had clung to him as only second to her mother. She slept hours in his arms, one little hand hid in his dark beard, close to his lips, and kissed again and again when no one saw. Next to Ramona herself in Felipe’s heart came Ramona’s child; and on the child he could lavish the fondness he felt that he could never dare to show to the mother. Month by month it grew clearer to Felipe that the mainsprings of Ramona’s life were no longer of this earth; that she walked as one in constant fellowship with one unseen. Her frequent and calm mention of Alessandro did not deceive him. It did not mean a lessening grief: it meant an unchanged relation.
One thing weighed heavily on Felipe’s mind,—the concealed treasure. A sense of humiliation withheld him, day after day, from speaking of it. But he could have no peace until Ramona knew it. Each hour that he delayed the revelation he felt himself almost as guilty as he had held his mother to be. At last he spoke. He had not said many words, before Ramona interrupted him. “Oh, yes!” she said. “I knew about those things; your mother told me. When we were in such trouble, I used to wish sometimes we could have had a few of the jewels. But they were all given to the Church. That was what the Señora Ortegna said must be done with them if I married against your mother’s wishes.”
It was with a shame-stricken voice that Felipe replied: “Dear Ramona, they were not given to the Church. You know Father Salvierderra died; and 483 I suppose my mother did not know what to do with them. She told me about them just as she was dying.”
“But why did you not give them to the Church, dear?” asked Ramona, simply.
“Why?” cried Felipe. “Because I hold them to be yours, and yours only. I would never have given them to the Church, until I had sure proof that you were dead and had left no children.”
Ramona’s eyes were fixed earnestly on Felipe’s face. “You have not read the Señora Ortegna’s letter?” she said.
“Yes, I have,” he replied, “every word of it.”
“But that said I was not to have any of the things if I married against the Señora Moreno’s will.”
Felipe groaned. Had his mother lied? “No, dear,” he said, “that was not the word. It was, if you married unworthily.”
Ramona reflected. “I never recollected the words,” she said. “I was too frightened; but I thought that was what it meant. I did not marry unworthily. Do you feel sure, Felipe, that it would be honest for me to take them for my child?”
“Perfectly,” said Felipe.
“Do you think Father Salvierderra would say I ought to keep them?”
“I am sure of it, dear.”
“I will think about it, Felipe. I cannot decide hastily. Your mother did not think I had any right to them, if I married Alessandro. That was why she showed them to me. I never knew of them till then. I took one thing,—a handkerchief of my father’s. I was very glad to have it; but it got lost when we went from San Pasquale. Alessandro rode back a half-day’s journey to find it for me; but it had blown away. I grieved sorely for it.”
The next day Ramona said to Felipe: “Dear Felipe, I have thought it all over about those 484 jewels. I believe it will be right for my daughter to have them. Can there be some kind of a paper written for me to sign, to say that if she dies they are all to be given to the Church,—to Father Salvierderra’s College, in Santa Barbara? That is where I would rather have them go.”
“Yes, dear,” said Felipe; “and then we will put them in some safer place. I will take them to Los Angeles when I go. It is wonderful no one has stolen them all these years!”
And so a second time the Ortegna jewels were passed on, by a written bequest, into the keeping of that mysterious, certain, uncertain thing we call the future, and delude ourselves with the fancy that we can have much to do with its shaping.
Life ran smoothly in the Moreno household,—smoothly to the eye. Nothing could be more peaceful, fairer to see, than the routine of its days, with the simple pleasures, light tasks, and easy diligence of all. Summer and winter were alike sunny, and had each its own joys. There was not an antagonistic or jarring element; and, flitting back and forth, from veranda to veranda, garden to garden, room to room, equally at home and equally welcome everywhere, there went perpetually, running, frisking, laughing, rejoicing, the little child that had so strangely drifted into this happy shelter,—the little Ramona. As unconscious of aught sad or fateful in her destiny as the blossoms with which it was her delight to play, she sometimes seemed to her mother to have been from the first in some mysterious way disconnected from it, removed, set free from all that could ever by any possibility link her to sorrow.
Ramona herself bore no impress of sorrow; rather her face had now an added radiance. There had 485 been a period, soon after her return, when she felt that she for the first time waked to the realization of her bereavement; when every sight, sound, and place seemed to cry out, mocking her with the name and the memory of Alessandro. But she wrestled with this absorbing grief as with a sin; setting her will steadfastly to the purposes of each day’s duty, and, most of all, to the duty of joyfulness. She repeated to herself Father Salvierderra’s sayings, till she more than knew them by heart; and she spent long hours of the night in prayer, as it had been his wont to do.
No one but Felipe dreamed of these vigils and wrestlings. He knew them; and he knew, too, when they ceased, and the new light of a new victory diffused itself over Ramona’s face: but neither did the first dishearten, nor the latter encourage him. Felipe was a clearer-sighted lover now than he had been in his earlier youth. He knew that into the world where Ramona really lived he did not so much as enter; yet her every act, word, look, was full of loving thoughtfulness of and for him, loving happiness in his companionship. And while this was so, all Felipe’s unrest could not make him unhappy.
There were other causes entering into this unrest besides his yearning desire to win Ramona for his wife. Year by year the conditions of life in California were growing more distasteful to him. The methods, aims, standards of the fast incoming Americans were to him odious. Their boasted successes, the crowding of colonies, schemes of settlement and development,—all were disagreeable and irritating. The passion for money and reckless spending of it, the great fortunes made in one hour, thrown away in another, savored to Felipe’s mind more of brigandage and gambling than of the occupations of gentlemen. He loathed them. Life under the new government grew more and more intolerable to him; both his 486 hereditary instincts and prejudices, and his temperament, revolted. He found himself more and more alone in the country. Even the Spanish tongue was less and less spoken. He was beginning to yearn for Mexico,—for Mexico, which he had never seen, yet yearned for like an exile. There he might yet live among men of his own race and degree, and of congenial beliefs and occupations. Whenever he thought of this change, always came the quick memory of Ramona. Would she be willing to go? Could it be that she felt a bond to this land, in which she had known nothing but suffering?
At last he asked her. To his unutterable surprise, Ramona cried: “Felipe! The saints be praised! I should never have told you. I did not think that you could wish to leave this estate. But my most beautiful dream for Ramona would be, that she should grow up in Mexico.”
And as she spoke, Felipe understood by a lightning intuition, and wondered that he had not foreknown it, that she would spare her daughter the burden she had gladly, heroically borne herself, in the bond of race.
The question was settled. With gladness of heart almost more than he could have believed possible, Felipe at once communicated with some rich American proprietors who had desired to buy the Moreno estate. Land in the valley had so greatly advanced in value, that the sum he received for it was larger than he had dared to hope; was ample for the realization of all his plans for the new life in Mexico. From the hour that this was determined, and the time for their sailing fixed, a new expression came into Ramona’s face. Her imagination was kindled. An untried future beckoned,—a future which she would embrace and conquer for her daughter. Felipe saw the look, felt the change, and for the first 487 time hoped. It would be a new world, a new life; why not a new love? She could not always be blind to his devotion; and when she saw it, could she refuse to reward it? He would be very patient, and wait long, he thought. Surely, since he had been patient so long without hope, he could be still more patient now that hope had dawned! But patience is not hope’s province in breasts of lovers. From the day when Felipe first thought to himself, “She will yet be mine,” it grew harder, and not easier, for him to refrain from pouring out his love in words. Her tender sisterliness, which had been such balm and comfort to him, grew at times intolerable; and again and again her gentle spirit was deeply disquieted with the fear that she had displeased him, so strangely did he conduct himself.
He had resolved that nothing should tempt him to disclose to her his passion and its dreams, until they had reached their new home. But there came a moment which mastered him, and he spoke.
It was in Monterey. They were to sail on the morrow, and had been on board the ship to complete the last arrangements. They were rowed back to shore in a little boat. A full moon shone. Ramona sat bareheaded in the end of the boat, and the silver radiance from the water seemed to float up around her, and invest her as with a myriad halos. Felipe gazed at her till his senses swam; and when, on stepping from the boat, she put her hand in his, and said, as she had said hundreds of times before, “Dear Felipe, how good you are!” he clasped her hands wildly, and cried, “Ramona, my love! Oh, can you not love me?”
The moonlight was bright as day. They were alone on the shore. Ramona gazed at him for one second, in surprise. Only for a second; then she 488 knew all. “Felipe! My brother!” she cried, and stretched out her hands as if in warning.
“No! I am not your brother!” he cried. “I will not be your brother! I would rather die!”
“Felipe!” cried Ramona again. This time her voice recalled him to himself. It was a voice of terror and of pain.
“Forgive me, my sweet one!” he exclaimed. “I will never say it again. But I have loved you so long—so long!”
Ramona’s head had fallen forward on her breast, her eyes fixed on the shining sands; the waves rose and fell, rose and fell, at her feet gently as sighs. A great revelation had come to Ramona. In this supreme moment of Felipe’s abandonment of all disguises, she saw his whole past life in a new light. Remorse smote her. “Dear Felipe,” she said, clasping her hands, “I have been very selfish. I did not know—”
“Of course you did not, love,” said Felipe. “How could you? But I have never loved any one else. I have always loved you. Can you not learn to love me? I did not mean to tell you for a long time yet. But now I have spoken; I cannot hide it any more.”
Ramona drew nearer to him, still with her hands clasped. “I have always loved you,” she said. “I love no other living man; but, Felipe,”—her voice sank to a solemn whisper,—“do you not know, Felipe, that part of me is dead,—dead? can never live again? You could not want me for your wife, Felipe, when part of me is dead!”
Felipe threw his arms around her. He was beside himself with joy. “You would not say that if you did not think you could be my wife,” he cried. “Only give yourself to me, my love, I care not whether you call yourself dead or alive!”489
Ramona stood quietly in his arms. Ah, well for Felipe that he did not know, never could know, the Ramona that Alessandro had known. This gentle, faithful, grateful Ramona, asking herself fervently now if she would do her brother a wrong, yielding up to him what seemed to her only the broken fragment of a life; weighing his words, not in the light of passion, but of calmest, most unselfish affection,—ah, how unlike was she to that Ramona who flung herself on Alessandro’s breast, crying, “Take me with you! I would rather die than have you leave me!”
Ramona had spoken truth. Part of her was dead. But Ramona saw now, with infallible intuition, that even as she had loved Alessandro, so Felipe loved her. Could she refuse to give Felipe happiness, when he had saved her, saved her child? What else now remained for them, these words having been spoken? “I will be your wife, dear Felipe,” she said, speaking solemnly, slowly, “if you are sure it will make you happy, and if you think it is right.”
“Right!” ejaculated Felipe, mad with the joy unlooked for so soon. “Nothing else would be right! My Ramona, I will love you so, you will forget you ever said that part of you was dead!”
A strange look which startled Felipe swept across Ramona’s face; it might have been a moonbeam. It passed. Felipe never saw it again.
General Moreno’s name was still held in warm remembrance in the city of Mexico, and Felipe found himself at once among friends. On the day after their arrival he and Ramona were married in the cathedral, old Marda and Juan Can, with his crutches, kneeling in proud joy behind them. The story of the romance of their lives, being widely rumored, greatly enhanced the interest with which they were welcomed. The beautiful young Señora Moreno was the theme of the city; and Felipe’s bosom thrilled 490 with pride to see the gentle dignity of demeanor by which she was distinguished in all assemblages. It was indeed a new world, a new life. Ramona might well doubt her own identity. But undying memories stood like sentinels in her breast. When the notes of doves, calling to each other, fell on her ear, her eyes sought the sky, and she heard a voice saying, “Majella!” This was the only secret her loyal, loving heart had kept from Felipe. A loyal, loving heart indeed it was,—loyal, loving, serene. Few husbands so blest as the Señor Felipe Moreno.
Sons and daughters came to bear his name. The daughters were all beautiful; but the most beautiful of them all, and, it was said, the most beloved by both father and mother, was the eldest one: the one who bore the mother’s name, and was only stepdaughter to the Señor,—Ramona,—Ramona, daughter of Alessandro the Indian.
University Press: John Wilson and Son, Cambridge.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXVI
“had trial of cruel mocking, wandered about, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
[Hebrews 11:36-38, paraphrased. By this time the Bible existed in Spanish translation, but there is no hint that anyone but the priests actually read it.]
but ef ’t’s thet keeps her up ther way she’s kept up
text has t’s thet without first apostrophe
Ther jedge, he sed her witnessin’ wouldn’t be wuth nuthin’ to no jury
[Some commentators seem to think this means Ramona’s testimony wouldn’t be admissible in court at all. The author neither says nor implies this; she only says that a jury would choose not to believe an Indian woman over a white man.]
living at the Ortegas’ ranch
text has Ortegas without apostrophe
if you married unworthily
[The original letter, quoted in Chapter XI, said “if she weds worthily and with your approval”—two separate conditions. Later in the same chapter, the Señora paraphrases it as “if you marry worthily, with my permission”. Lawyers would have fun with these nuances.]
the little Ramona
[Did the author forget that Ramona made a point of christening the child Majella, or did Ramona change her mind and not tell us?]
the duty of joyfulness
[This has more to do with Helen Fiske’s own Calvinist upbringing than with any Catholic doctrine.]
the time for their sailing
[For comparison purposes: Until fairly recently, people traveled by sea between Spain and Portugal. But is Felipe planning to sail to Mexico City?]
nothing should tempt him to disclose to her his passion and its dreams
[The implication is that this state continued for several years. Does Felipe really want a wife who is that slow on the uptake?]
I care not whether you call yourself dead or alive
[Morbid a little bit, Felipe?]
The beautiful young Señora Moreno
[I consider this a splendid piece of irony. In the end, even Señora Moreno’s name is taken over by her unloved foster daughter.]