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conversation with you in my room, if you are at leisure."

"Certainly, mother," said Felipe, a load rolling off his mind at her
having thus taken the initiative, for which he lacked courage; and
walking swiftly towards her, he attempted to put his arm around her
waist, as it was his affectionate habit frequently to do. She repulsed
him gently, but bethinking herself, passed her hand through his arm,
and leaning on it heavily as she walked, said: "This is the most fitting
way, my son. I must lean more and more heavily on you each year now. Age
is telling on me fast. Do you not find me greatly changed, Felipe, in
the last year?"

"No, madre mia," replied Felipe, "indeed I do not. I see not that you
have changed in the last ten years." And he was honest in this. His
eyes did not note the changes so clear to others, and for the best of
reasons. The face he saw was one no one else ever beheld; it was kindled
by emotion, transfigured by love, whenever it was turned towards him.

The Senora sighed deeply as she answered: "That must be because you so
love me, Felipe. I myself see the changes even day by day. Troubles
tell on me as they did not when I was younger. Even within the last
twenty-four hours I seem to myself to have aged frightfully;" and she
looked keenly at Felipe as she seated herself in the arm-chair where
poor Ramona had swooned a few hours before. Felipe remained standing
before her, gazing, with a tender expression, upon her features, but
saying nothing.

"I see that Ramona has told you all!" she continued, her voice hardening
as she spoke. What a fortunate wording of her sentence!

"No, mother; it was not Ramona, it was Alessandro, who told me this
morning, early," Felipe answered hastily, hurrying on, to draw the
conversation as far away from Ramona as possible. "He came and spoke to
me last night after I was in bed; but I told him to wait till morning,
and then I would hear all he had to say."

"Ah!" said the Senora, relieved. Then, as Felipe remained silent, she
asked, "And what did he say?"

"He told me all that had happened."

"All!" said the Senora, sneeringly. "Do you suppose that he told you

"He said that you had bidden him begone out of your sight," said Felipe,
"and that he supposed he must go. So I told him to go at once. I thought
you would prefer not to see him again."

"Ah!" said the Senora again, startled, gratified that Felipe had so
promptly seconded her action, but sorry that Alessandro had gone. "Ah, I
did not know whether you would think it best to discharge him at once
or not; I told him he must answer to you. I did not know but you might
devise some measures by which he could be retained on the estate."

Felipe stared. Could he believe his ears? This did not sound like the
relentless displeasure he had expected. Could Ramona have been dreaming?
In his astonishment, he did not weigh his mother's words carefully; he
did not carry his conjecture far enough; he did not stop to make sure
that retaining Alessandro on the estate might not of necessity bode any
good to Ramona; but with his usual impetuous ardor, sanguine, at the
first glimpse of hope, that all was well, he exclaimed joyfully, "Ah,
dear mother, if that could only be done, all would be well;" and, never
noting the expression of his mother's face, nor pausing to take breath,
he poured out all he thought and felt on the subject.

"That is just what I have been hoping for ever since I saw that he and
Ramona were growing so fond of each other. He is a splendid fellow, and
the best hand we have ever had on the place. All the men like him; he
would make a capital overseer; and if we put him in charge of the whole
estate, there would not be any objection to his marrying Ramona. That
would give them a good living here with us."

"Enough!" cried the Senora, in a voice which fell on Felipe's ears
like a voice from some other world, - so hollow, so strange. He stopped
speaking, and uttered an ejaculation of amazement. At the first words
he had uttered, the Senora had fixed her eyes on the floor, - a habit of
hers when she wished to listen with close attention. Lifting her eyes
now, fixing them full on Felipe, she regarded him with a look which not
all his filial reverence could bear without resentment. It was nearly as
scornful as that with which she had regarded Ramona. Felipe colored.

"Why do you look at me like that, mother?" he exclaimed. "What have I

The Senora waved her hand imperiously. "Enough!" she reiterated. "Do not
say any more. I wish to think for a few moments;" and she fixed her eyes
on the floor again.

Felipe studied her countenance. A more nearly rebellious feeling than
he had supposed himself capable of slowly arose in his heart. Now he for
the first time perceived what terror his mother must inspire in a girl
like Ramona.

"Poor little one!" he thought. "If my mother looked at her as she did at
me just now, I wonder she did not die."

A great storm was going on in the Senora's bosom. Wrath against Ramona
was uppermost in it. In addition to all else, the girl had now been the
cause, or at least the occasion, of Felipe's having, for the first time
in his whole life, angered her beyond her control.

"As if I had not suffered enough by reason of that creature," she
thought bitterly to herself, "without her coming between me and Felipe!"

But nothing could long come between the Senora and Felipe. Like a fresh
lava-stream flowing down close on the track of its predecessor, came the
rush of the mother's passionate love for her son close on the passionate
anger at his words.

When she lifted her eyes they were full of tears, which it smote Felipe
to see. As she gazed at him, they rolled down her cheeks, and she said
in trembling tones: "Forgive me, my child; I had not thought anything
could make me thus angry with you. That shameless creature is costing us
too dear. She must leave the house."

Felipe's heart gave a bound; Ramona had not been mistaken, then. A
bitter shame seized him at his mother's cruelty. But her tears made him
tender; and it was in a gentle, even pleading voice that he replied:
"I do not see, mother, why you call Ramona shameless. There is nothing
wrong in her loving Alessandro."

"I found her in his arms!" exclaimed the Senora.

"I know," said Felipe; "Alessandro told me that he had just at that
instant told her he loved her, and she had said she loved him, and would
marry him, just as you came up."

"Humph!" retorted the Senora; "do you think that Indian would have dared
to speak a word of love to the Senorita Ramona Ortegna, if she had not
conducted herself shamelessly? I wonder that he concerned himself to
speak about marriage to her at all."

"Oh, mother! mother!" was all that Felipe could say to this. He was
aghast. He saw now, in a flash, the whole picture as it lay in his
mother's mind, and his heart sank within him. "Mother!" he repeated, in
a tone which spoke volumes.

"Ay," she continued, "that is what I say. I see no reason why he
hesitated to take her, as he would take any Indian squaw, with small
ceremony of marrying."

"Alessandro would not take any woman that way any quicker than I would,
mother," said Felipe courageously; "you do him injustice." He longed
to add, "And Ramona too," but he feared to make bad matters worse by
pleading for her at present.

"No, I do not," said the Senora; "I do Alessandro full justice. I
think very few men would have behaved as well as he has under the same
temptation. I do not hold him in the least responsible for all that has
happened. It is all Ramona's fault."

Felipe's patience gave way. He had not known, till now, how very closely
this pure and gentle girl, whom he had loved as a sister in his boyhood,
and had come near loving as a lover in his manhood, had twined herself
around his heart. He could not remain silent another moment, and hear
her thus wickedly accused.

"Mother!" he exclaimed, in a tone which made the Senora look up at him
in sudden astonishment. "Mother, I cannot help it if I make you very
angry; I must speak; I can't bear to hear you say such things of Ramona.
I have seen for a long time that Alessandro loved the very ground under
her feet; and Ramona would not have been a woman if she had not seen it
too! She has seen it, and has felt it, and has come to love him with all
her soul, just as I hope some woman will love me one of these days. If I
am ever loved as well as she loves Alessandro, I shall be lucky. I think
they ought to be married; and I think we ought to take Alessandro on to
the estate, so that they can live here. I don't see anything disgraceful
in it, nor anything wrong, nor anything but what was perfectly natural.
You know, mother, it isn't as if Ramona really belonged to our family;
you know she is half Indian." A scornful ejaculation from his mother
interrupted him here; but Felipe hurried on, partly because he was borne
out of himself at last by impetuous feeling, partly that he dreaded to
stop, because if he did, his mother would speak; and already he felt
a terror of what her next words might be. "I have often thought about
Ramona's future, mother. You know a great many men would not want to
marry her, just because she is half Indian. You, yourself, would never
have given your consent to my marrying her, if I had wanted to." Again
an exclamation from the Senora, this time more of horror than of scorn.
But Felipe pressed on. "No, of course you would not, I always knew that;
except for that, I might have loved her myself, for a sweeter girl
never drew breath in this God's earth." Felipe was reckless now; having
entered on this war, he would wage it with every weapon that lay within
his reach; if one did not tell, another might. "You have never loved
her. I don't know that you have ever even liked her; I don't think you
have. I know, as a little boy, I always used to see how much kinder you
were to me than to her, and I never could understand it. And you are
unjust to her now. I've been watching her all summer; I've seen her and
Alessandro together continually. You know yourself, mother, he has been
with us on the veranda, day after day, just as if he were one of the
family. I've watched them by the hour, when I lay there so sick; I
thought you must have seen it too. I don't believe Alessandro has ever
looked or said or done a thing I wouldn't have done in his place; and I
don't believe Ramona has ever looked, said, or done a thing I would not
be willing to have my own sister do!" Here Felipe paused. He had made
his charge; like a young impetuous general, massing all his forces at
the onset; he had no reserves. It is not the way to take Gibraltars.

When he paused, literally breathless, he had spoken so fast, - and even
yet Felipe was not quite strong, so sadly had the fever undermined his
constitution, - the Senora looked at him interrogatively, and said in
a now composed tone: "You do not believe that Ramona has done anything
that you would not be willing to have your own sister do? Would you be
willing that your own sister should marry Alessandro?"

Clever Senora Moreno! During the few moments that Felipe had been
speaking, she had perceived certain things which it would be beyond her
power to do; certain others that it would be impolitic to try to do.
Nothing could possibly compensate her for antagonizing Felipe. Nothing
could so deeply wound her, as to have him in a resentful mood towards
her; or so weaken her real control of him, as to have him feel that she
arbitrarily overruled his preference or his purpose. In presence of her
imperious will, even her wrath capitulated and surrendered. There would
be no hot words between her and her son. He should believe that he
determined the policy of the Moreno house, even in this desperate

Felipe did not answer. A better thrust was never seen on any field than
the Senora's question. She repeated it, still more deliberately, in her
wonted gentle voice. The Senora was herself again, as she had not been
for a moment since she came upon Alessandro and Ramona at the brook.
How just and reasonable the question sounded, as she repeated it slowly,
with an expression in her eyes, of poising and weighing matters. "Would
you be willing that your own sister should marry Alessandro?"

Felipe was embarrassed. He saw whither he was being led. He could give
but one answer to this question. "No, mother," he said, "I should not;
but - "

"Never mind buts," interrupted his mother; "we have not got to those
yet;" and she smiled on Felipe, - an affectionate smile, but it somehow
gave him a feeling of dread. "Of course I knew you could make but one
answer to my question. If you had a sister, you would rather see her
dead than married to any one of these Indians."

Felipe opened his lips eagerly, to speak. "Not so," he said.

"Wait, dear!" exclaimed his mother. "One thing at a time, I see how full
your loving heart is, and I was never prouder of you as my son than when
listening just now to your eloquent defence of Ramona, Perhaps you
may be right and I wrong as to her character and conduct. We will not
discuss those points." It was here that the Senora had perceived some
things that it would be out of her power to do. "We will not discuss
those, because they do not touch the real point at issue. What it is
our duty to do by Ramona, in such a matter as this, does not turn on
her worthiness or unworthiness. The question is, Is it right for you
to allow her to do what you would not allow your own sister to do?" The
Senora paused for a second, noted with secret satisfaction how puzzled
and unhappy Felipe looked; then, in a still gentler voice, she went on,
"You surely would not think that right, my son, would you?" And now the
Senora waited for an answer.

"No, mother," came reluctantly from Felipe's lips. "I suppose not;
but - "

"I was sure my own son could make no other reply," interrupted the
Senora. She did not wish Felipe at present to do more than reply to
her questions. "Of course it would not be right for us to let Ramona
do anything which we would not let her do if she were really of our own
blood. That is the way I have always looked at my obligation to her. My
sister intended to rear her as her own daughter. She had given her her
own name. When my sister died, she transferred to me all her right and
responsibility in and for the child. You do not suppose that if your
aunt had lived, she would have ever given her consent to her adopted
daughter's marrying an Indian, do you?"

Again the Senora paused for a reply, and again the reluctant Felipe
said, in a low tone, "No, I suppose she would not."

"Very well. Then that lays a double obligation on us. It is not only
that we are not to permit Ramona to do a thing which we would consider
disgraceful to one of our own blood; we are not to betray the trust
reposed in us by the only person who had a right to control her, and who
transferred that trust to us. Is not that so?"

"Yes, mother," said the unhappy Felipe.

He saw the meshes closing around him. He felt that there was a flaw
somewhere in his mother's reasoning, but he could not point it out;
in fact, he could hardly make it distinct to himself. His brain was
confused. Only one thing he saw clearly, and that was, that after all
had been said and done, Ramona would still marry Alessandro. But it was
evident that it would never be with his mother's consent. "Nor with mine
either, openly, the way she puts it. I don't see how it can be; and yet
I have promised Alessandro to do all I could for him. Curse the luck,
I wish he had never set foot on the place!" said Felipe in his heart,
growing unreasonable, and tired with the perplexity.

The Senora continued: "I shall always blame myself bitterly for having
failed to see what was going on. As you say, Alessandro has been with
us a great deal since your illness, with his music, and singing, and one
thing and another; but I can truly say that I never thought of Ramona's
being in danger of looking upon him in the light of a possible lover,
any more than of her looking thus upon Juan Canito, or Luigo, or any
other of the herdsmen or laborers. I regret it more than words can
express, and I do not know what we can do, now that it has happened."

"That's it, mother! That's it!" broke in Felipe. "You see, you see it is
too late now."

The Senora went on as if Felipe had not spoken. "I suppose you would
really very much regret to part with Alessandro, and your word is in a
way pledged to him, as you had asked him if he would stay on the place,
Of course, now that all this has happened, it would be very unpleasant
for Ramona to stay here, and see him continually - at least for a time,
until she gets over this strange passion she seems to have conceived
for him. It will not last. Such sudden passions never do." The Senora
artfully interpolated, "What should you think, Felipe, of having her go
back to the Sisters' school for a time? She was very happy there."

The Senora had strained a point too far. Felipe's self-control suddenly
gave way, and as impetuously as he had spoken in the beginning, he spoke
again now, nerved by the memory of Ramona's face and tone as she had
cried to him in the garden, "Oh, Felipe, you won't let her shut me up
in the convent, will you?" "Mother!" he cried, "you would never do that.
You would not shut the poor girl up in the convent!"

The Senora raised her eyebrows in astonishment. "Who spoke of shutting
up?" she said. "Ramona has already been there at school. She might go
again. She is not too old to learn. A change of scene and occupation is
the best possible cure for a girl who has a thing of this sort to get
over. Can you propose anything better, my son? What would you advise?"
And a third time the Senora paused for an answer.

These pauses and direct questions of the Senora's were like nothing
in life so much as like that stage in a spider's processes when,
withdrawing a little way from a half-entangled victim, which still
supposes himself free, it rests from its weaving, and watches the victim
flutter. Subtle questions like these, assuming, taking for granted as
settled, much which had never been settled at all, were among the best
weapons in the Senora's armory. They rarely failed her.

"Advise!" cried Felipe, excitedly. "Advise! This is what I advise - to
let Ramona and Alessandro marry. I can't help all you say about our
obligations. I dare say you're right; and it's a cursedly awkward
complication for us, anyhow, the way you put it."

"Yes, awkward for you, as the head of our house," interrupted the
Senora, sighing. "I don't quite see how you would face it."

"Well, I don't propose to face it," continued Felipe, testily. "I don't
propose to have anything to do with it, from first to last. Let her go
away with him, if she wants to.'

"Without our consent?" said the Senora, gently.

"Yes, without it, if she can't go with it; and I don't see, as you have
stated it, how we could exactly take any responsibility about marrying
her to Alessandro. But for heaven's sake, mother, let her go! She will
go, any way. You haven't the least idea how she loves Alessandro, or how
he loves her. Let her go!"

"Do you really think she would run away with him, if it came to that?"
asked the Senora, earnestly. "Run away and marry him, spite of our
refusing to consent to the marriage?"

"I do," said Felipe.

"Then it is your opinion, is it, that the only thing left for us to do,
is to wash our hands of it altogether, and leave her free to do what she

"That's just what I do think, mother," replied Felipe, his heart growing
lighter at her words. "That's just what I do think. We can't prevent
it, and it is of no use to try. Do let us tell them they can do as they

"Of course, Alessandro must leave us, then," said the Senora. "They
could not stay here."

"I don't see why!" said Felipe, anxiously.

"You will, my son, if you think a moment. Could we possibly give a
stronger indorsement to their marriage than by keeping them here? Don't
you see that would be so?"

Felipe's eyes fell. "Then I suppose they couldn't be married here,
either," he said.

"What more could we do than that, for a marriage that we heartily
approved of, my son?"

"True, mother;" and Felipe clapped his hand to his forehead. "But then
we force them to run away!"

"Oh, no." said the Senora, icily. "If they go, they will go of their
own accord. We hope they will never do anything so foolish and wrong. If
they do, I suppose we shall always be held in a measure responsible for
not having prevented it. But if you think it is not wise, or of no use
to attempt that, I do not see what there is to be done."

Felipe did not speak. He felt discomfited; felt as if he had betrayed
his friend Alessandro, his sister Ramona; as if a strange complication,
network of circumstances, had forced him into a false position; he did
not see what more he could ask, what more could be asked, of his mother;
he did not see, either, that much less could have been granted to
Alessandro and Ramona; he was angry, wearied, perplexed.

The Senora studied his face. "You do not seem satisfied, Felipe dear,"
she said tenderly. "As, indeed, how could you be in this unfortunate
state of affairs? But can you think of anything different for us to do?"

"No," said Felipe, bitterly. "I can't, that's the worst of it. It is
just turning Ramona out of the house, that's all."

"Felipe! Felipe!" exclaimed the Senora, "how unjust you are to yourself!
You know you would never do that! You know that she has always had a
home here as if she were a daughter; and always will have, as long as
she wishes it. If she chooses to turn her back on it, and go away, is
it our fault? Do not let your pity for this misguided girl blind you to
what is just to yourself and to me. Turn Ramona out of the house! You
know I promised my sister to bring her up as my own child; and I have
always felt that my son would receive the trust from me, when I died.
Ramona has a home under the Moreno roof so long as she will accept it.
It is not just, Felipe, to say that we turn her out;" and tears stood in
the Senora's eyes.

"Forgive me, dear mother," cried the unhappy Felipe. "Forgive me for
adding one burden to all you have to bear. Truth is, this miserable
business has so distraught my senses, I can't seem to see anything as it
is. Dear mother, it is very hard for you. I wish it were done with."

"Thanks for your precious sympathy, my Felipe," replied the Senora. "If
it were not for you, I should long ago have broken down beneath my cares
and burdens. But among them all, have been few so grievous as this. I
feel myself and our home dishonored. But we must submit. As you say,
Felipe, I wish it were done with. It would be as well, perhaps, to send
for Ramona at once, and tell her what we have decided. She is no doubt
in great anxiety; we will see her here."

Felipe would have greatly preferred to see Ramona alone; but as he knew
not how to bring this about he assented to his mother's suggestion.

Opening her door, the Senora walked slowly down the passage-way,
unlocked Ramona's door, and said: "Ramona, be so good as to come to my
room. Felipe and I have something to say to you."

Ramona followed, heavy-hearted. The words, "Felipe and I," boded no

"The Senora has made Felipe think just as she does herself," thought
Ramona. "Oh, what will become of me!" and she stole a reproachful,
imploring look at Felipe. He smiled back in a way which reassured her;
but the reassurance did not last long.

"Senorita Ramona Ortegna," began the Senora. Felipe shivered. He had had
no conception that his mother could speak in that way. The words seemed
to open a gulf between Ramona and all the rest of the world, so cold
and distant they sounded, - as the Senora might speak to an intruding

"Senorita Ramona Ortegna," she said, "my son and I have been discussing
what it is best for us to do in the mortifying and humiliating position
in which you place us by your relation with the Indian Alessandro. Of
course you know - or you ought to know - that it is utterly impossible
for us to give our consent to your making such a marriage; we should be
false to a trust, and dishonor our own family name, if we did that."

Ramona's eyes dilated, her cheeks paled; she opened her lips, but no
sound came from them; she looked toward Felipe, and seeing him with
downcast eyes, and an expression of angry embarrassment on his face,
despair seized her. Felipe had deserted their cause. Oh, where, where
was Alessandro! Clasping her hands, she uttered a low cry, - a cry that

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 14 of 35)