Helen Hunt Jackson.

Ramona online

. (page 21 of 35)
Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 21 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

each inch of the way by heart. More than once Ramona stumbled and nearly
fell, and Baba was impatient and restive at the strange inequalities
under his feet. When they reached the corner, Ramona saw the fresh-piled
earth of the new grave. Uttering a wailing cry, Carmena, drawing Ramona
to the edge of it, pointing down with her right hand, then laid both
hands on her heart, and gazed at Ramona piteously. Ramona burst into
weeping, and again clasping Carmena's hand, laid it on her own breast,
to show her sympathy. Carmena did not weep. She was long past that;
and she felt for the moment lifted out of herself by the sweet, sudden
sympathy of this stranger, - this girl like herself, yet so different,
so wonderful, so beautiful, Carmena was sure she must be. Had the saints
sent her from heaven to Alessandro? What did it mean? Carmena's bosom
was heaving with the things she longed to say and to ask; but all she
could do was to press Ramona's hand again and again, and occasionally
lay her soft cheek upon it.

"Now, was it not the saints that put it into my head to come to the
graveyard?" thought Ramona. "What a comfort to this poor heart-broken
thing to see Alessandro! And she keeps me from all fear. Holy Virgin!
but I had died of terror here all alone. Not that the dead would harm
me; but simply from the vast, silent plain, and the gloom."

Soon Carmena made signs to Ramona that they would return to the gate.
Considerate and thoughtful, she remembered that Alessandro would expect
to find them there. But it was a long and weary watch they had, waiting
for Alessandro to come.

After leaving them, and tethering his pony, he had struck off at a
quick run for Hartsel's, which was perhaps an eighth of a mile from the
graveyard. His own old home lay a little to the right. As he drew near,
he saw a light in its windows. He stopped as if shot. "A light in our
house!" he exclaimed; and he clenched his hands. "Those cursed robbers
have gone into it to live already!" His blood seemed turning to fire.
Ramona would not have recognized the face of her Alessandro now. It was
full of implacable vengeance. Involuntarily he felt for his knife. It
was gone. His gun he had left inside the graveyard, leaning against the
wall. Ah! in the graveyard! Yes, and there also was Ramona waiting for
him. Thoughts of vengeance fled. The world held now but one work, one
hope, one passion, for him. But he would at least see who were these
dwellers in his father's house. A fierce desire to see their faces
burned within him. Why should he thus torture himself? Why, indeed? But
he must. He would see the new home-life already begun on the grave of
his. Stealthily creeping under the window from which the light shone, he
listened. He heard children's voices; a woman's voice; at intervals the
voice of a man, gruff and surly; various household sounds also. It was
evidently the supper-hour. Cautiously raising himself till his eyes were
on a level with the lowest panes in the window, he looked in.

A table was set in the middle of the floor, and there were sitting at it
a man, woman, and two children. The youngest, little more than a baby,
sat in its high chair, drumming with a spoon on the table, impatient for
its supper. The room was in great confusion, - beds made on the floor,
open boxes half unpacked, saddles and harness thrown down in the
corners; evidently there were new-comers into the house. The window
was open by an inch. It had warped, and would not shut down. Bitterly
Alessandro recollected how he had put off from day to day the planing
of that window to make it shut tight. Now, thanks to the crack, he could
hear all that was said. The woman looked weary and worn. Her face was a
sensitive one, and her voice kindly; but the man had the countenance
of a brute, - of a human brute. Why do we malign the so-called brute
creation, making their names a unit of comparison for base traits which
never one of them possessed?

"It seems as if I never should get to rights in this world!" said the
woman. Alessandro understood enough English to gather the meaning of
what she said. He listened eagerly. "When will the next wagon get here?"

"I don't know," growled her husband. "There's been a slide in that
cursed canon, and blocked the road. They won't be here for several days
yet. Hain't you got stuff enough round now? If you'd clear up what's
here now, then 'twould be time enough to grumble because you hadn't got

"But, John," she replied, "I can't clear up till the bureau comes, to
put the things away in, and the bedstead. I can't seem to do anything."

"You can grumble, I take notice," he answered. "That's about all you
women are good for, anyhow. There was a first-rate raw-hide bedstead
in here. If Rothsaker hadn't been such a fool's to let those dogs of
Indians carry off all their truck, we might have had that!"

The woman looked at him reproachfully, but did not speak for a moment.
Then her cheeks flushed, and seeming unable to repress the speech, she
exclaimed, "Well, I'm thankful enough he did let the poor things take
their furniture. I'd never have slept a wink an that bedstead, I know,
if it had ha' been left here. It's bad enough to take their houses this

"Oh, you shut up your head for a blamed fool, will you!" cried the man.
He was half drunk, his worst and most dangerous state. She glanced at
him half timorously, half indignantly, and turning to the children,
began feeding the baby. At that second the other child looked up, and
catching sight of the outline of Alessandro's head, cried out, "There's
a man there! There, at the window!"

Alessandro threw himself flat on the ground, and held his breath. Had
he imperilled all, brought danger on himself and Ramona, by yielding to
this mad impulse to look once more inside the walls of his home? With
a fearful oath, the half-drunken man exclaimed, "One of those damned
Indians, I expect. I've seen several hangin' round to-day. We'll have to
shoot two or three of 'em yet, before we're rid of 'em!" and he took his
gun down from the pegs above the fireplace, and went to the door with it
in his hand.

"Oh, don't fire, father, don't." cried the woman. "They'll come and
murder us all in our sleep if you do! Don't fire!" and she pulled him
back by the sleeve.

Shaking her off, with another oath, he stepped across the threshold, and
stood listening, and peering into the darkness. Alessandro's heart beat
like a hammer in his breast. Except for the thought of Ramona, he would
have sprung on the man, seized his gun, and killed him.

"I don't believe it was anybody, after all, father," persisted the
woman. "Bud's always seein' things. I don't believe there was anybody
there. Come in; supper's gettin' all cold."

"Well, I'll jest fire, to let 'em know there's powder 'n shot round
here," said the fiend. "If it hits any on 'em roamin' round, he won't
know what hurt him;" and levelling his gun at random, with his drunken,
unsteady hand he fired. The bullet whistled away harmlessly into
the empty darkness. Hearkening a few moments, and hearing no cry, he
hiccuped, "Mi-i-issed him that time," and went in to his supper.

Alessandro did not dare to stir for a long time. How he cursed his own
folly in having brought himself into this plight! What needless pain of
waiting he was inflicting on the faithful one, watching for him in that
desolate and fearful place of graves! At last he ventured, - sliding
along on his belly a few inches at a time, till, several rods from the
house, he dared at last to spring to his feet and bound away at full
speed for Hartsel's.

Hartsel's was one of those mongrel establishments to be seen nowhere
except in Southern California. Half shop, half farm, half tavern, it
gathered up to itself all the threads of the life of the whole region.
Indians, ranchmen, travellers of all sorts, traded at Hartsel's, drank
at Hartsel's, slept at Hartsel's. It was the only place of its kind
within a radius of twenty miles; and it was the least bad place of its
kind within a much wider radius.

Hartsel was by no means a bad fellow - when he was sober; but as that
condition was not so frequent as it should have been, he sometimes came
near being a very bad fellow indeed. At such times everybody was afraid
of him, - wife, children, travellers, ranchmen, and all. "It was only a
question of time and occasion," they said, "Hartsel's killing somebody
sooner or later;" and it looked as if the time were drawing near
fast. But, out of his cups, Hartsel was kindly, and fairly truthful;
entertaining, too, to a degree which held many a wayfarer chained to his
chair till small hours of the morning, listening to his landlord's talk.
How he had drifted from Alsace to San Diego County, he could hardly have
told in minute detail himself, there had been so many stages and phases
of the strange journey; but he had come to his last halt now. Here, in
this Temecula, he would lay his bones. He liked the country. He liked
the wild life, and, for a wonder, he liked the Indians. Many a good word
he spoke for them to travellers who believed no good of the race, and
evidently listened with polite incredulity when he would say, as he
often did: "I've never lost a dollar off these Indians yet. They do all
their trading with me. There's some of them I trust as high's a hundred
dollars. If they can't pay this year, they'll pay next; and if they die,
their relations will pay their debts for them, a little at a time, till
they've got it all paid off. They'll pay in wheat, or bring a steer,
maybe, or baskets or mats the women make; but they'll pay. They're
honester 'n the general run of Mexicans about paying; I mean Mexicans
that are as poor's they are."

Hartsel's dwelling-house was a long, low adobe building, with still
lower flanking additions, in which were bedrooms for travellers, the
kitchen, and storerooms. The shop was a separate building, of rough
planks, a story and a half high, the loft of which was one great
dormitory well provided with beds on the floor, but with no other
article of bedroom furniture. They who slept in this loft had no
fastidious standards of personal luxury. These two buildings, with some
half-dozen out-houses of one sort and another, stood in an enclosure
surrounded by a low white picket fence, which gave to the place a
certain home-like look, spite of the neglected condition of the ground,
which was bare sand, or sparsely tufted with weeds and wild grass. A few
plants, parched and straggling, stood in pots and tin cans around the
door of the dwelling-house. One hardly knew whether they made the place
look less desolate or more so. But they were token of a woman's
hand, and of a nature which craved something more than the unredeemed
wilderness around her afforded.

A dull and lurid light streamed out from the wide-open door of the
store. Alessandro drew cautiously near. The place was full of men, and
he heard loud laughing and talking. He dared not go in. Stealing around
to the rear, he leaped the fence, and went to the other house and opened
the kitchen door. Here he was not afraid. Mrs. Hartsel had never any but
Indian servants in her employ. The kitchen was lighted only by one
dim candle. On the stove were sputtering and hissing all the pots and
frying-pans it would hold. Much cooking was evidently going on for the
men who were noisily rollicking in the other house.

Seating himself by the fire, Alessandro waited. In a few moments Mrs.
Hartsel came hurrying back to her work. It was no uncommon experience to
find an Indian quietly sitting by her fire. In the dim light she did not
recognize Alessandro, but mistook him, as he sat bowed over, his head in
his hands, for old Ramon, who was a sort of recognized hanger-on of the
place, earning his living there by odd jobs of fetching and carrying,
and anything else he could do.

"Run, Ramon," she said, "and bring me more wood; this cotton wood is so
dry, it burns out like rotten punk; I'm off my feet to-night, with all
these men to cook for;" then turning to the table, she began cutting
her bread, and did not see how tall and unlike Ramon was the man who
silently rose and went out to do her bidding. When, a few moments later,
Alessandro re-entered, bringing a huge armful of wood, which it would
have cost poor old Ramon three journeys at least to bring, and throwing
it down, on the hearth, said, "Will that be enough, Mrs. Hartsel?"
she gave a scream of surprise, and dropped her knife. "Why, who - " she
began; then, seeing his face, her own lighting up with pleasure, she
continued, "Alessandro! Is it you? Why, I took you in the dark for old
Ramon! I thought you were in Pachanga."

"In Pachanga!" Then as yet no one had come from the Senora Moreno's to
Hartsel's in search of him and the Senorita Ramona! Alessandro's heart
felt almost light in his bosom, From the one immediate danger he had
dreaded, they were safe; but no trace of emotion showed on his face, and
he did not raise his eyes as he replied; "I have been in Pachanga. My
father is dead. I have buried him there."

"Oh, Alessandro! Did he die?" cried the kindly woman, coming closer to
Alessandro, and laying her hand on his shoulder. "I heard he was sick."
She paused; she did not know what to say. She had suffered so at the
time of the ejectment of the Indians, that it had made her ill. For two
days she had kept her doors shut and her windows close curtained, that
she need not see the terrible sights. She was not a woman of many words.
She was a Mexican, but there were those who said that some Indian blood
ran in her veins. This was not improbable; and it seemed more than ever
probable now, as she stood still by Alessandro's side, her hand on his
shoulder, her eyes fixed in distress on his face. How he had altered!
How well she recollected his lithe figure, his alert motion, his superb
bearing, his handsome face, when she last saw him in the spring!

"You were away all summer, Alessandro?" she said at last, turning back
to her work.

"Yes," he said: "at the Senora Moreno's."

"So I heard," she said. "That is a fine great place, is it not? Is her
son grown a fine man? He was a lad when I saw him. He went through here
with a drove of sheep once."

"Ay, he is a man now," said Alessandro, and buried his face in his hands

"Poor fellow! I don't wonder he does not want to speak," thought Mrs.
Hartsel. "I'll just let him alone;" and she spoke no more for some

Alessandro sat still by the fire. A strange apathy seemed to have seized
him; at last he said wearily: "I must be going now. I wanted to see Mr.
Hartsel a minute, but he seems to be busy in the store."

"Yes," she said, "a lot of San Francisco men; they belong to the company
that's coming in here in the valley; they've been here two days. Oh,
Alessandro," she continued, bethinking herself, "Jim's got your violin
here; Jose brought it."

"Yes, I know it," answered Alessandro. "Jose told me; and that was one
thing I stopped for."

"I'll run and get it," she exclaimed.

"No," said Alessandro, in a slow, husky voice. "I do not want it. I
thought Mr. Hartsel might buy it. I want some money. It was not mine; it
was my father's. It is a great deal better than mine. My father said it
would bring a great deal of money. It is very old."

"Indeed it is," she replied; "one of those men in there was looking at
it last night. He was astonished at it, and he would not believe Jim
when he told him about its having come from the Mission."

"Does he play? Will he buy it?" cried Alessandro.

"I don't know; I'll call Jim," she said; and running out she looked in
at the other door, saying, "Jim! Jim!"

Alas, Jim was in no condition to reply. At her first glance in his face,
her countenance hardened into an expression of disgust and defiance.
Returning to the kitchen, she said scornfully, disdaining all disguises,
"Jim's drunk. No use your talking to him to-night. Wait till morning."

"Till morning!" A groan escaped from Alessandro, in spite of himself. "I
can't!" he cried. "I must go on to-night."

"Why, what for?" exclaimed Mrs. Hartsel, much astonished. For one brief
second Alessandro revolved in his mind the idea of confiding everything
to her; only for a second, however. No; the fewer knew his secret and
Ramona's, the better.

"I must be in San Diego to-morrow," he said.

"Got work there?" she said.

"Yes; that is, in San Pasquale," he said; "and I ought to have been
there three days ago."

Mrs. Hartsel mused. "Jim can't do anything to-night," she said; "that's
certain. You might see the man yourself, and ask him if he'd buy it."

Alessandro shook his head. An invincible repugnance withheld him.
He could not face one of these Americans who were "coming in" to his
valley. Mrs. Hartsel understood.

"I'll tell you, Alessandro," said the kindly woman, "I'll give you what
money you need to-night, and then, if you say so, Jim'll sell the violin
to-morrow, if the man wants it, and you can pay me back out of that, and
when you're along this way again you can have the rest. Jim'll make as
good a trade for you's he can. He's a real good friend to all of you,
Alessandro, when he's himself."

"I know it, Mrs. Hartsel. I'd trust Mr. Hartsel more than any other man
in this country," said Alessandro. "He's about the only white man I do

Mrs. Hartsel was fumbling in a deep pocket in her under-petticoat.
Gold-piece after gold-piece she drew out. "Humph! Got more'n I thought
I had," she said. "I've kept all that's been paid in here to-day, for I
knew Jim'd be drunk before night."

Alessandro's eyes fastened on the gold. How he longed for an abundance
of those little shining pieces for his Majella! He sighed as Mrs.
Hartsel counted them out on the table, - one, two, three, four, bright
five-dollar pieces.

"That is as much as I dare take," said Alessandro, when she put down
the fourth. "Will you trust me for so much?" he added sadly. "You know I
have nothing left now. Mrs. Hartsel, I am only a beggar, till I get some
work to do."

The tears came into Mrs. Hartsel's eyes. "It's a shame!" she said, - "a
shame, Alessandro! Jim and I haven't thought of anything else, since it
happened. Jim says they'll never prosper, never. Trust you? Yes, indeed.
Jim and I'd trust you, or your father, the last day of our lives."

"I'm glad he is dead," said Alessandro, as he knotted the gold into
his handkerchief and put it into his bosom. "But he was murdered, Mrs.
Hartsel, - murdered, just as much as if they had fired a bullet into

"That's true." she exclaimed vehemently. "I say so too; and so was Jose.
That's just what I said at the time, - that bullets would not be half so

The words had hardly left her lips, when the door from the dining-room
burst open, and a dozen men, headed by the drunken Jim, came stumbling,
laughing, reeling into the kitchen.

"Where's supper! Give us our supper! What are you about with your Indian
here? I'll teach you how to cook ham!" stammered Jim, making a lurch
towards the stove. The men behind caught him and saved him. Eyeing the
group with scorn, Mrs. Hartsel, who had not a cowardly nerve in her
body, said: "Gentlemen, if you will take your seats at the table, I will
bring in your supper immediately. It is all ready."

One or two of the soberer ones, shamed by her tone, led the rest back
into the dining-room, where, seating themselves, they began to pound the
table and swing the chairs, swearing, and singing ribald songs.

"Get off as quick as you can, Alessandro," whispered Mrs. Hartsel, as
she passed by him, standing like a statue, his eyes, full of hatred and
contempt, fixed on the tipsy group. "You'd better go. There's no knowing
what they'll do next."

"Are you not afraid?" he said in a low tone.

"No!" she said. "I'm used to it. I can always manage Jim. And Ramon's
round somewhere, - he and the bull-pups; if worse comes to worse, I can
call the dogs. These San Francisco fellows are always the worst to get
drunk. But you'd better get out of the way!"

"And these are the men that have stolen our lands, and killed my father,
and Jose, and Carmena's baby!" thought Alessandro, as he ran swiftly
back towards the graveyard. "And Father Salvierderra says, God is good.
It must be the saints no longer pray to Him for us!"

But Alessandro's heart was too full of other thoughts, now, to dwell
long on past wrongs, however bitter. The present called him too
loudly. Putting his hand in his bosom, and feeling the soft, knotted
handkerchief, he thought: "Twenty dollars! It is not much! But it will
buy food for many days for my Majella and for Baba!"


EXCEPT for the reassuring help of Carmena's presence by her side, Ramona
would never have had courage to remain during this long hour in the
graveyard. As it was, she twice resolved to bear the suspense no longer,
and made a movement to go. The chance of Alessandro's encountering at
Hartsel's the men sent in pursuit of him and of Baba, loomed in her
thoughts into a more and more frightful danger each moment she reflected
upon it. It was a most unfortunate suggestion for Alessandro to have
made. Her excited fancy went on and on, picturing the possible scenes
which might be going on almost within stone's-throw of where she was
sitting, helpless, in the midnight darkness, - Alessandro seized, tied,
treated as a thief, and she, Ramona, not there to vindicate him, to
terrify the men into letting him go. She could not bear it; she would
ride boldly to Hartsel's door. But when she made a motion as if she
would go, and said in the soft Spanish, of which Carmena knew no word,
but which yet somehow conveyed Ramona's meaning, "I must go! It is too
long! I cannot wait here!" Carmena had clasped her hand tighter, and
said in the San Luiseno tongue, of which Ramona knew no word, but which
yet somehow conveyed Carmena's meaning, "O beloved lady, you must not
go! Waiting is the only safe thing. Alessandro said, to wait here. He
will come." The word "Alessandro" was plain. Yes, Alessandro had said,
wait; Carmena was right. She would obey, but it was a fearful ordeal. It
was strange how Ramona, who felt herself preternaturally brave, afraid
of nothing, so long as Alessandro was by her side, became timorous and
wretched the instant he was lost to her sight. When she first heard his
steps coming, she quivered with terror lest they might not be his. The
next second she knew; and with a glad cry, "Alessandro! Alessandro!" she
bounded to him, dropping Baba's reins.

Sighing gently, Carmena picked up the reins, and stood still, holding
the horse, while the lovers clasped each other with breathless words.
"How she loves Alessandro!" thought the widowed Carmena. "Will they
leave him alive to stay with her? It is better not to love!" But there
was no bitter envy in her mind for the two who were thus blest while she
went desolate. All of Pablo's people had great affection for Alessandro.
They had looked forward to his being over them in his father's place.
They knew his goodness, and were proud of his superiority to themselves.

"Majella, you tremble," said Alessandro, as he threw his arms around
her. "You have feared! Yet you were not alone." He glanced at Carmena's
motionless figure, standing by Baba.

"No, not alone, dear Alessandro, but it was so long!" replied Ramona;
"and I feared the men had taken you, as you feared. Was there any one

"No! No one has heard anything. All was well. They thought I had just
come from Pachanga," he answered.

"Except for Carmena, I should have ridden after you half an hour ago,"
continued Ramona. "But she told me to wait."

"She told you!" repeated Alessandro. "How did you understand her

"I do not know. Was it not a strange thing?" replied Ramona. "She spoke
in your tongue, but I thought I understood her, Ask her if she did not
say that I must not go; that it was safer to wait; that you had so said,
and you would soon come."

Alessandro repeated the words to Carmena. "Did you say that?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Carmena.

"You see, then, she has understood the Luiseno words," he said
delightedly. "She is one of us."

"Yes," said Carmena, gravely, "she is one of us." Then, taking Ramona's
hand in both of her own for farewell, she repeated, in a tone as of dire
prophecy, "One of us, Alessandro! one of us!" And as she gazed after
their retreating forms, almost immediately swallowed and lost in the
darkness, she repeated the words again to herself, - "One of us! one of
us! Sorrow came to me; she rides to meet it!" and she crept back to her

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 21 of 35)