Felipe gained but slowly. The relapse was indeed, as Father Salvierderra had said, worse than the original attack. Day after day he lay with little apparent change; no pain, but a weakness so great that it was almost harder to bear than sharp suffering would have been. Nearly every day Alessandro was sent for to play or sing to him. It seemed to be the only thing that roused him from his half lethargic state. Sometimes he would talk with Alessandro on matters relative to the estate, and show for a few moments something like his old animation; but he was soon tired, and would close his eyes, saying: “I will speak with you again about this, Alessandro; I am going to sleep now. Sing.”
The Señora, seeing Felipe’s enjoyment of Alessandro’s presence, soon came to have a warm feeling towards him herself; moreover, she greatly liked his quiet reticence. There was hardly a surer road to the Señora’s favor, for man or woman, than to be chary of speech and reserved in demeanor. She had an instinct of kinship to all that was silent, self-contained, mysterious, in human nature. The more she observed Alessandro, the more she trusted and approved him. Luckily for Juan Can, he did not know how matters were working in his mistress’s mind. If he had, he would have been in a fever of apprehension, and would have got at swords’ points with Alessandro immediately. On the contrary, all unaware of the real situation of affairs, and never quite sure that the Mexican he dreaded might not any day hear of his 117 misfortune, and appear, asking for the place, he took every opportunity to praise Alessandro to the Señora. She never visited his bedside that he had not something to say in favor of the lad, as he called him.
“Truly, Señora,” he said again and again, “I do marvel where the lad got so much knowledge, at his age. He is like an old hand at the sheep business. He knows more than any shepherd I have,—a deal more; and it is not only of sheep. He has had experience, too, in the handling of cattle. Juan José has been beholden to him more than once, already, for a remedy of which he knew not. And such modesty, withal. I knew not that there were such Indians; surely there cannot be many such.”
“No, I fancy not,” the Señora would reply, absently. “His father is a man of intelligence, and has trained his son well.”
“There is nothing he is not ready to do,” continued Alessandro’s eulogist. “He is as handy with tools as if he had been ’prenticed to a carpenter. He has made me a new splint for my leg, which was a relief like salve to a wound, so much easier was it than before. He is a good lad,—a good lad.”
None of these sayings of Juan’s were thrown away on the Señora. More and more closely she watched Alessandro; and the very thing which Juan had feared, and which he had thought to avert by having Alessandro his temporary substitute, was slowly coming to pass. The idea was working in the Señora’s mind, that she might do a worse thing than engage this young, strong, active, willing man to remain permanently in her employ. The possibility of an Indian’s being so born and placed that he would hesitate about becoming permanently a servant even of the Señora Moreno, did not occur to her. However, she would do nothing hastily. There would be plenty of time before Juan 118 Can’s leg was well. She would study the young man more. In the mean time, she would cause Felipe to think of the idea, and propose it.
So one day she said to Felipe: “What a voice that Alessandro has, Felipe. We shall miss his music sorely when he goes, shall we not?”
“He’s not going!” exclaimed Felipe, startled.
“Oh, no, no; not at present. He agreed to stay till Juan Can was about again; but that will be not more than six weeks now, or eight, I suppose. You forget how time has flown while you have been lying here ill, my son.”
“True, true!” said Felipe. “Is it really a month already?” and he sighed.
“Juan Can tells me that the lad has a marvellous knowledge for one of his years,” continued the Señora. “He says he is as skilled with cattle as with sheep; knows more than any shepherd we have on the place. He seems wonderfully quiet and well-mannered. I never saw an Indian who had such behavior.”
“Old Pablo is just like him,” said Felipe. “It was natural enough, living so long with Father Peyri. And I’ve seen other Indians, too, with a good deal the same manner as Alessandro. It’s born in them.”
“I can’t bear the idea of Alessandro’s going away. But by that time you will be well and strong,” said the Señora; “you would not miss him then, would you?”
“Yes, I would, too!” said Felipe, pettishly. He was still weak enough to be childish. “I like him about me. He’s worth a dozen times as much as any man we’ve got. But I don’t suppose money could hire him to stay on any ranch.”
“Were you thinking of hiring him permanently?” asked the Señora, in a surprised tone. “I don’t doubt you could do so if you wished. They are all 119 poor, I suppose; he would not work with the shearers if he were not poor.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” said Felipe, impatiently. “You can’t understand, because you’ve never been among them. But they are just as proud as we are. Some of them, I mean; such men as old Pablo. They shear sheep for money just as I sell wool for money. There isn’t so much difference. Alessandro’s men in the band obey him, and all the men in the village obey Pablo, just as implicitly as my men here obey me. Faith, much more so!” added Felipe, laughing. “You can’t understand it, mother, but it’s so. I am not at all sure I could offer Alessandro Assis money enough to tempt him to stay here as my servant.”
The Señora’s nostrils dilated in scorn. “No, I do not understand it,” she said. “Most certainly I do not understand it. Of what is it that these noble lords of villages are so proud? their ancestors,—naked savages less than a hundred years ago? Naked savages they themselves too, to-day, if we had not come here to teach and civilize them. The race was never meant for anything but servants. That was all the Fathers ever expected to make of them,—good, faithful Catholics, and contented laborers in the fields. Of course there are always exceptional instances, and I think, myself, Alessandro is one. I don’t believe, however, he is so exceptional, but that if you were to offer him, for instance, the same wages you pay Juan Can, he would jump at the chance of staying on the place.”
“Well, I shall think about it,” said Felipe. “I’d like nothing better than to have him here always. He’s a fellow I heartily like. I’ll think about it.”
Which was all the Señora wanted done at present.
Ramona had chanced to come in as this conversation was going on. Hearing Alessandro’s name, she 120 seated herself at the window, looking out, but listening intently. The month had done much for Alessandro with Ramona, though neither Alessandro nor Ramona knew it. It had done this much,—that Ramona knew always when Alessandro was near, that she trusted him, and that she had ceased to think of him as an Indian any more than when she thought of Felipe, she thought of him as a Mexican. Moreover, seeing the two men frequently together, she had admitted to herself, as Margarita had done before her, that Alessandro was far the handsomer man of the two. This Ramona did not like to admit, but she could not help it.
“I wish Felipe were as tall and strong as Alessandro,” she said to herself many a time. “I do not see why he could not have been. I wonder if the Señora sees how much handsomer Alessandro is.”
When Felipe said that he did not believe he could offer Alessandro Assis money enough to tempt him to stay on the place, Ramona opened her lips suddenly, as if to speak, then changed her mind, and remained silent. She had sometimes displeased the Señora by taking part in conversations between her and her son.
Felipe saw the motion, but he also thought it wiser to wait till after his mother had left the room, before he asked Ramona what she was on the point of saying. As soon as the Señora went out, he said, “What was it, Ramona, you were going to say just now?”
Ramona colored. She had decided not to say it.
“Tell me, Ramona,” persisted Felipe. “You were going to say something about Alessandro’s staying; I know you were.”
Ramona did not answer. For the first time in her life she found herself embarrassed before Felipe.
“Don’t you like Alessandro?” said Felipe.121
“Oh, yes!” replied Ramona, with instant eagerness. “It was not that at all. I like him very much.” But then she stopped.
“Well, what is it, then? Have you heard anything on the place about his staying?”
“Oh, no, no; not a word!” said Ramona. “Everybody understands that he is here only till Juan Can gets well. But you said you did not believe you could offer him money enough to tempt him to stay.”
“Well,” said Felipe, inquiringly, “I do not. Do you?”
“I think he would like to stay,” said Ramona, hesitatingly. “That was what I was going to say.”
“What makes you think so?” asked Felipe.
“I don’t know,” Ramona said, still more hesitatingly. Now that she had said it, she was sorry. Felipe looked curiously at her. Hesitancy like this, doubts, uncertainty as to her impressions, were not characteristic of Ramona. A flitting something which was far from being suspicion or jealousy, and yet was of kin to them both, went through Felipe’s mind, went through so swiftly that he was scarce conscious of it; if he had been, he would have scorned himself. Jealous of an Indian sheep-shearer? Impossible! Nevertheless, the flitting something left a trace, and prevented Felipe from forgetting the trivial incident; and after this, it was certain that Felipe would observe Ramona more closely than he had done; would weigh her words and actions; and if she should seem by a shade altered in either, would watch still more closely. Meshes were closing around Ramona. Three watchers of her every look and act,—Alessandro in pure love, Margarita in jealous hate, Felipe in love and perplexity. Only the Señora observed her not. If she had, matters might have turned out very differently; for the Señora was clear-sighted, rarely mistaken in her reading of people’s motives, never long 122 deceived; but her observing and discriminating powers were not in focus, so far as Ramona was concerned. The girl was curiously outside of the Señora’s real life. Shelter, food, clothes, all external needs, in so far as her means allowed, the Señora would, without fail, provide for the child her sister had left in her hands as a trust; but a personal relation with her, a mother’s affection, or even interest and acquaintance, no. The Señora had not that to give. And if she had it not, was she to blame? What could she do? Years ago Father Salvierderra had left off remonstrating with her on this point. “Is there more I should do for the child? Do you see aught lacking, aught amiss?” the Señora would ask, conscientiously, but with pride. And the Father, thus inquired of, could not point out a duty which had been neglected.
“You do not love her, my daughter,” he said.
“No.” Señora Moreno’s truthfulness was of the adamantine order. “No, I do not. I cannot. One cannot love by act of will.”
“That is true,” the Father would say sadly; “but affection may be cultivated.”
“Yes, if it exists,” was the Señora’s constant answer. “But in this case it does not exist. I shall never love Ramona. Only at your command, and to save my sister a sorrow, I took her. I will never fail in my duty to her.”
It was of no use. As well say to the mountain, “Be cast into the sea,” as try to turn the Señora’s heart in any direction whither it did not of itself tend. All that Father Salvierderra could do, was to love Ramona the more himself, which he did heartily, and more and more each year, and small marvel at it; for a gentler, sweeter maiden never drew breath than this same Ramona, who had been all these years, save for Felipe, lonely in the Señora Moreno’s house.
Three watchers of Ramona now. If there had been 123 a fourth, and that fourth herself, matters might have turned out differently. But how should Ramona watch? How should Ramona know? Except for her one year at school with the nuns, she had never been away from the Señora’s house. Felipe was the only young man she had known,—Felipe, her brother since she was five years old.
There were no gayeties in the Señora Moreno’s home. Felipe, when he needed them, went one day’s journey, or two, or three, to get them; went as often as he liked. Ramona never went. How many times she had longed to go to Santa Barbara, or to Monterey, or Los Angeles; but to have asked the Señora’s permission to accompany her on some of her now infrequent journeys to these places would have required more courage than Ramona possessed. It was now three years since she left the convent school, but she was still as fresh from the hands of the nuns as on the day when, with loving tears, they had kissed her in farewell. The few romances and tales and bits of verse she had read were of the most innocent and old-fashioned kind, and left her hardly less childlike than before. This childlikeness, combined with her happy temperament, had kept her singularly contented in her monotonous life. She had fed the birds, taken care of the flowers, kept the chapel in order, helped in light household work, embroidered, sung, and, as the Señora eight years before had bade her do, said her prayers and pleased Father Salvierderra.
By processes strangely unlike, she and Alessandro had both been kept strangely free from thoughts of love and of marriage,—he by living in the shadow, and she by living in the sun; his heart and thoughts filled with perplexities and fears, hers filled by a placid routine of light and easy tasks, and the outdoor pleasures of a child.
As the days went on, and Felipe still remained 124 feeble, Alessandro meditated a bold stroke. Each time that he went to Felipe’s room to sing or to play, he felt himself oppressed by the air. An hour of it made him uncomfortable. The room was large, and had two windows, and the door was never shut; yet the air seemed to Alessandro stifling.
“I should be as ill as the Señor Felipe, if I had to stay in that room, and a bed is a weakening thing, enough to pull the strongest man down,” said Alessandro to Juan Can one day. “Do you think I should anger them if I asked them to let me bring Señor Felipe out to the veranda and put him on a bed of my making? I’d wager my head I’d put him on his feet in a week.”
“And if you did that, you might ask the Señora for the half of the estate, and get it, lad,” replied Juan. Seeing the hot blood darkening in Alessandro’s face at his words, he hastened to add, “Do not be so hot-blooded. I meant not that you would ask any reward for doing it; I was only thinking what joy it would be to the Señora to see Señor Felipe on his feet again. It has often crossed my thoughts that if he did not get up from this sickness the Señora would not be long behind him. It is but for him that she lives. And who would have the estate in that case, I have never been able to find out.”
“Would it not be the Señorita?” asked Alessandro.
Juan Can laughed an ugly laugh. “Ha, ha! Let the Señora hear you say that!” he said. “Faith, it will be little the Señorita gets more than enough for her bread, may be, out of the Moreno estate. Hark ye, Alessandro; if you will not tell, I will tell you the story of the Señorita. You know she is not of the Moreno blood; is no relation of theirs.”
“Yes,” said Alessandro; “Margarita has said to me that the Señorita Ramona was only the foster-child of the Señora Moreno.”125
“Foster-child!” repeated Juan Can, contemptuously, “There is something to the tale I know not, nor ever could find out; for when I was in Monterey the Ortegna house was shut, and I could not get speech of any of their people. But this much I know, that it was the Señora Ortegna that had the girl first in keeping; and there was a scandalous tale about her birth.”
If Juan Can’s eyes had not been purblind with old age, he would have seen that in Alessandro’s face which would have made him choose his words more carefully. But he went on: “It was after the Señora Ortegna was buried, that our Señora returned, bringing this child with her; and I do assure you, lad, I have seen the Señora look at her many a time as if she wished her dead. And it is a shame, for she was always as fair and good a child as the saints ever saw. But a stain on the blood, a stain on the blood, lad, is a bitter thing in a house. This much I know, her mother was an Indian. Once when I was in the chapel, behind the big Saint Joseph there, I overheard the Señora say as much. She was talking to Father Salvierderra, and she said, ‘If the child had only the one blood in her veins, it would be different. I like not these crosses with Indians.’”
If Alessandro had been civilized, he would at this word “Indian” have bounded to his feet. Being Alessandro, he stood if possible stiller than before, and said in a low voice, “How know you it was the mother that was the Indian?”
Juan laughed again, maliciously: “Ha, it is the Ortegna face she has; and that Ortegna, why, he was the scandal byword of the whole coast. There was not a decent woman would have spoken to him, except for his wife’s sake.”
“But did you not say that it was in the Señora Ortegna’s keeping that the child was?” asked Alessandro, breathing harder and faster each moment 126 now; stupid old Juan Can so absorbed in relish of his gossip, that he noticed nothing.
“Ay, ay. So I said,” he went on; “and so it was. There be such saints, you know; though the Lord knows if she had been minded to give shelter to all her husband’s bastards, she might have taken lease of a church to hold them. But there was a story about a man’s coming with this infant and leaving it in the Señora’s room; and she, poor lady, never having had a child of her own, did warm to it at first sight, and kept it with her to the last; and I wager me, a hard time she had to get our Señora to take the child when she died; except that it was to spite Ortegna, I think our Señora would as soon the child had been dead.”
“Has she not treated her kindly?” asked Alessandro, in a husky voice.
Juan Can’s pride resented this question. “Do you suppose the Señora Moreno would do an unkindness to one under her roof?” he asked loftily. “The Señorita has been always, in all things, like Señor Felipe himself. It was so that she promised the Señora Ortegna, I have heard.”
“Does the Señorita know all this?” asked Alessandro.
Juan Can crossed himself. “Saints save us, no!” he exclaimed. “I’ll not forget, to my longest day, what it cost me, once I spoke in her hearing, when she was yet small. I did not know she heard; but she went to the Señora, asking who was her mother. And she said I had said her mother was no good, which in faith I did, and no wonder. And the Señora came to me, and said she, ‘Juan Canito, you have been a long time in our house; but if ever I hear of your mentioning aught concerning the Señorita Ramona, on this estate or anywhere else in the country, that day you leave my service!’—And you’d not do me the ill-turn to speak of it, Alessandro, now?” said 127 the old man, anxiously. “My tongue runs away with me, lying here on this cursed bed, with nothing to do, an active man like me.”
“No, I’ll not speak of it, you may be assured,” said Alessandro, walking away slowly.
“Here! Here!” called Juan. “What about that plan you had for making a bed for Señor Felipe on the veranda? Was it of raw-hide you meant?”
“Ah, I had forgotten,” said Alessandro, returning. “Yes, that was it. There is great virtue in a raw-hide, tight stretched; my father says that it is the only bed the Fathers would ever sleep on, in the Mission days. I myself like the ground even better; but my father sleeps always on the raw-hide. He says it keeps him well. Do you think I might speak of it to the Señora?”
“Speak of it to Señor Felipe himself,” said Juan. “It will be as he says. He rules this place now, from beginning to end; and it is but yesterday I held him on my knee. It is soon that the old are pushed to the wall, Alessandro.”
“Nay, Juan Canito,” replied Alessandro, kindly. “It is not so. My father is many years older than you are, and he rules our people to-day as firmly as ever. I myself obey him, as if I were a lad still.”
“What else, then, but a lad do you call yourself, I wonder,” thought Juan; but he answered, “It is not so with us. The old are not held in such reverence.”
“That is not well,” replied Alessandro. “We have been taught differently. There is an old man in our village who is many, many years older than my father. He helped to carry the mortar at the building of the San Diego Mission, I do not know how many years ago. He is long past a hundred years of age. He is blind and childish, and cannot walk; but he is cared for by every one. And we bring him in our arms to every council, and set him by my father’s 128 side. He talks very foolishly sometimes, but my father will not let him be interrupted. He says it brings bad luck to affront the aged. We will presently be aged ourselves.”
“Ay, ay!” said Juan, sadly. “We must all come to it. It is beginning to look not so far off to me!”
Alessandro stared, no less astonished at Juan Can’s unconscious revelation of his standard of measurement of years than Juan had been at his. “Faith, old man, what name dost give to yourself to-day!” he thought; but went on with the topic of the raw-hide bed. “I may not so soon get speech with Señor Felipe,” he said. “It is usually when he is sleepy that I go to play for him or to sing. But it makes my heart heavy to see him thus languishing day by day, and all for lack of the air and the sun, I do believe, indeed, Juan.”
“Ask the Señorita, then,” said Juan. “She has his ear at all times.”
Alessandro made no answer. Why was it that it did not please him,—this suggestion of speaking to Ramona of his plan for Felipe’s welfare? He could not have told; but he did not wish to speak of it to her.
“I will speak to the Señora,” he said; and as luck would have it, at that moment the Señora stood in the doorway, come to ask after Juan Can’s health.
The suggestion of the raw-hide bed struck her favorably. She herself had, in her youth, heard much of their virtues, and slept on them. “Yes,” she said, “they are good. We will try it. It was only yesterday that Señor Felipe was complaining of the bed he lies on; and when he was well, he thought nothing could be so good; he brought it here, at a great price, for me, but I could not lie on it. It seemed as if it would throw me off as soon as I lay down; it is a cheating device, like all these innovations the Americans have brought into the country. But Señor 129 Felipe till now thought it a luxury; now he tosses on it, and says it is throwing him all the time.”
Alessandro smiled, in spite of his reverence for the Señora. “I once lay down on one myself, Señora,” he said, “and that was what I said to my father. It was like a wild horse under me, making himself ready to buck. I thought perhaps the invention was of the saints, that men should not sleep too long.”
“There is a pile of raw-hides,” said Juan, “well cured, but not too stiff; Juan José was to have sent them off to-day to be sold; one of those will be just right. It must not be too dry.”
“The fresher the better,” said Alessandro, “so it have no dampness. Shall I make the bed, Señora?” he asked, “and will the Señora permit that I make it on the veranda? I was just asking Juan Can if he thought I might be so bold as to ask you to let me bring Señor Felipe into the outer air. With us, it is thought death to be shut up in walls, as he has been so long. Not till we are sure to die, do we go into the dark like that.”
The Señora hesitated. She did not share Alessandro’s prejudice in favor of fresh air.
“Night and day both?” she said. “Surely it is not well to sleep out in the night?”
“That is the best of all, Señora,” replied Alessandro, earnestly. “I beg the Señora to try it. If Señor Felipe have not mended greatly after the first night he have so slept, then Alessandro will be a liar.”
“No, only mistaken,” said the Señora, gently. She felt herself greatly drawn to this young man by his devotion, as she thought, to Felipe. “When I die and leave Felipe here,” she had more than once said to herself, “it would be a great good to him to have such a servant as this on the place.”
“Very well, Alessandro,” she replied; “make the bed, and we will try it at once.”130
This was early in the forenoon. The sun was still high in the west, when Ramona, sitting as usual in the veranda, at her embroidery, saw Alessandro coming, followed by two men, bearing the raw-hide bed.
“What can that be?” she said. “Some new invention of Alessandro’s, but for what?”
“A bed for the Señor Felipe, Señorita,” said Alessandro, running lightly up the steps. “The Señora has given permission to place it here on the veranda, and Señor Felipe is to lie here day and night; and it will be a marvel in your eyes how he will gain strength. It is the close room which is keeping him weak now; he has no illness.”
“I believe that is the truth, Alessandro,” exclaimed Ramona; “I have been thinking the same thing. My head aches after I am in that room but an hour, and when I come here I am well. But the nights too, Alessandro? Is it not harmful to sleep out in the night air?”
“Why, Señorita?” asked Alessandro, simply.
And Ramona had no answer, except, “I do not know; I have always heard so.”
“My people do not think so,” replied Alessandro; “unless it is cold, we like it better. It is good, Señorita, to look up at the sky in the night.”
“I should think it would be,” cried Ramona. “I never thought of it. I should like to do it.”
Alessandro was busy, with his face bent down, arranging the bedstead in a sheltered corner of the veranda. If his face had been lifted, Ramona would have seen a look on it that would have startled her more than the one she had surprised a few days previous, after the incident with Margarita. All day there had been coming and going in Alessandro’s brain a confused procession of thoughts, vague yet intense. Put in words, they would have been found to be little more than ringing changes on this idea: 131 “The Señorita Ramona has Indian blood in her veins. The Señorita Ramona is alone. The Señora loves her not. Indian blood! Indian blood!” These, or something like them, would have been the words; but Alessandro did not put them in words. He only worked away on the rough posts for Señor Felipe’s bedstead, hammered, fitted, stretched the raw-hide and made it tight and firm, driving every nail, striking every blow, with a bounding sense of exultant strength, as if there were suddenly all around him a new heavens and a new earth.
Now, when he heard Ramona say suddenly in her girlish, eager tone, “It must be; I never thought of it; I should like to try it,” these vague confused thoughts of the day, and the day’s bounding sense of exultant strength, combined in a quick vision before Alessandro’s eyes,—a vision of starry skies overhead, Ramona and himself together, looking up to them. But when he raised his head, all he said was, “There, Señorita! That is all firm, now. If Señor Felipe will let me lay him on this bed, he will sleep as he has not slept since he fell ill.”
Ramona ran eagerly into Felipe’s room. “The bed is all ready on the veranda,” she exclaimed. “Shall Alessandro come in and carry you out?”
Felipe looked up, startled. The Señora turned on Ramona that expression of gentle, resigned displeasure, which always hurt the girl’s sensitive nature far worse than anger. “I had not spoken to Felipe yet of the change, Ramona,” she said. “I supposed that Alessandro would have informed me when the bed was ready; I am sorry you came in so suddenly. Felipe is still very weak, you see.”
“What is it? What is it?” exclaimed Felipe, impatiently.
As soon as it was explained to him, he was like a child in his haste to be moved.132
“That’s just what I needed!” he exclaimed. “This cursed bed racks every bone in my body, and I have longed for the sun more than ever a thirsty man longed for water. Bless you, Alessandro,” he went on, seeing Alessandro in the doorway. “Come here, and take me up in those long arms of yours, and carry me quick. Already I feel myself better.”
Alessandro lifted him as if he were a baby; indeed, it was but a light burden now, Felipe’s wasted body, for a man much less strong than Alessandro to lift.
Ramona, chilled and hurt, ran in advance, carrying pillows and blankets. As she began to arrange them on the couch, the Señora took them from her hands, saying, “I will arrange them myself;” and waved Ramona away.
It was a little thing. Ramona was well used to such. Ordinarily it would have given her no pain she could not conceal. But the girl’s nerves were not now in equilibrium. She had had hard work to keep back her tears at the first rebuff. This second was too much. She turned, and walked swiftly away, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
Alessandro saw it; Felipe saw it.
To Felipe the sight was, though painful, not a surprise. He knew but too well how often his mother hurt Ramona. All he thought now, in his weakness, was, “Alas! what a pity my mother does not love Ramona!”
To Alessandro the sight was the one drop too much in the cup. As he stooped to lay Felipe on the bed, he trembled so that Felipe looked up, half afraid.
“Am I still so heavy, Alessandro?” he said, smiling.
“It is not your weight, Señor Felipe,” answered Alessandro, off guard, still trembling, his eyes following Ramona.133
Felipe saw. In the next second, the eyes of the two young men met. Alessandro’s fell before Felipe’s. Felipe gazed on, steadily, at Alessandro.
“Ah!” he said; and as he said it, he closed his eyes, and let his head sink back into the pillow.
“Is that comfortable? Is that right?” asked the Señora, who had seen nothing.
“The first comfortable moment I have had, mother,” said Felipe. “Stay, Alessandro. I want to speak to you as soon as I am rested. This move has shaken me up a good deal. Wait.”
“Yes, Señor,” replied Alessandro, and seated himself on the veranda steps.
“If you are to stay, Alessandro,” said the Señora, “I will go and look after some matters that need my attention. I feel always at ease about Señor Felipe when you are with him. You will stay till I come back?”
“Yes, Señora,” said Alessandro, in a tone cold as the Señora’s own had been to Ramona. He was no longer in heart the Señora Moreno’s servant. In fact, he was at that very moment revolving confusedly in his mind whether there could be any possibility of his getting away before the expiration of the time for which he had agreed to stay.
It was a long time before Felipe opened his eyes. Alessandro thought he was asleep.
At last Felipe spoke. He had been watching Alessandro’s face for some minutes. “Alessandro,” he said.
Alessandro sprang to his feet, and walked swiftly to the bedside. He did not know what the next word might be. He felt that the Señor Felipe had seen straight into his heart in that one moment’s look, and Alessandro was prepared for anything.
“Alessandro,” said Felipe, “my mother has been speaking to me about your remaining with us permanently. 134 Juan Can is now very old, and after this accident will go on crutches the rest of his days, poor soul! We are in great need of some man who understands sheep, and the care of the place generally.”
As he spoke, he watched Alessandro’s face closely. Swift changing expressions passed over it. Surprise predominated. Felipe misunderstood the surprise. “I knew you would be surprised,” he said. “I told my mother that you would not think of it; that you had stayed now only because we were in trouble.”
Alessandro bowed his head gratefully. This recognition from Felipe gave him pleasure.
“Yes, Señor,” he said, “that was it. I told Father Salvierderra it was not for the wages. But my father and I have need of all the money we can earn. Our people are very poor, Señor. I do not know whether my father would think I ought to take the place you offer me, or not, Señor. It would be as he said. I will ask him.”
“Then you would be willing to take it?” asked Felipe.
“Yes, Señor, if my father wished me to take it,” replied Alessandro, looking steadily and gravely at Felipe; adding, after a second’s pause, “if you are sure that you desire it, Señor Felipe, it would be a pleasure to me to be of help to you.”
And yet it was only a few moments ago that Alessandro had been turning over in his mind the possibility of leaving the Señora Moreno’s service immediately. This change had not been a caprice, not been an impulse of passionate desire to remain near Ramona; it had come from a sudden consciousness that the Señor Felipe would be his friend. And Alessandro was not mistaken.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter VIII
Except for her one year at school with the nuns
[In Chapter III it was “She had had two years at school”]
Felipe, her brother since she was five years old
[In Chapter III she was “the little four-year-old Ramona”]
It was now three years since she left the convent school
[Then where was she last year and the year before, when Felipe saw Alesssandro and she didn’t?]
now he tosses on it, and says it is throwing him all the time
[Fun fact: The innerspring mattress was patented in 1865.]
It was strange to see how quickly and naturally Alessandro fitted into his place in the household.
When the Señora came back to the veranda, she found Felipe asleep
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.