Helen Hunt Jackson.

Ramona online

. (page 22 of 35)
Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 22 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

husband's grave, and threw herself down, to watch till the dawn.

The road which Alessandro would naturally have taken would carry them
directly by Hartsel's again. But, wishing to avoid all risk of meeting
or being seen by any of the men on the place, he struck well out to
the north, to make a wide circuit around it. This brought them past
the place where Antonio's house had stood. Here Alessandro halted, and
putting his hand on Baba's rein, walked the horses close to the pile of
ruined walls. "This was Antonio's house, Majella," he whispered. "I wish
every house in the valley had been pulled down like this. Old Juana was
right. The Americans are living in my father's house, Majella," he went
on, his whisper growing thick with rage. "That was what kept me so long.
I was looking in at the window at them eating their supper. I thought I
should go mad, Majella. If I had had my gun, I should have shot them all

An almost inarticulate gasp was Ramona's first reply to this. "Living in
your house!" she said. "You saw them?"

"Yes," he said; "the man, and his wife, and two little children; and the
man came out, with his gun, on the doorstep, and fired it. They thought
they heard something moving, and it might be an Indian; so he fired.
That was what kept me so long."

Just at this moment Baba tripped over some small object on the ground.
A few steps farther, and he tripped again. "There is something caught
round his foot, Alessandro," said Ramona. "It keeps moving."

Alessandro jumped off his horse, and kneeling down, exclaimed, "It's a
stake, - and the lariat fastened to it. Holy Virgin! what - " The rest of
his ejaculation was inaudible. The next Ramona knew, he had run swiftly
on, a rod or two. Baba had followed, and Capitan and the pony; and there
stood a splendid black horse, as big as Baba, and Alessandro talking
under his breath to him, and clapping both his hands over the horse's
nose, to stop him, as often as he began whinnying; and it seemed hardly
a second more before he had his saddle off the poor little Indian pony,
and striking it sharply on its sides had turned it free, had saddled
the black horse, and leaping on his back, said, with almost a sob in his
voice: "My Majella, it is Benito, my own Benito. Now the saints indeed
have helped us! Oh, the ass, the idiot, to stake out Benito with such a
stake as that! A jack rabbit had pulled it up. Now, my Majella, we will
gallop! Faster! faster! I will not breathe easy till we are out of this
cursed valley. When we are once in the Santa Margarita Canon, I know a
trail they will never find!"

Like the wind galloped Benito, - Alessandro half lying on his back,
stroking his forehead, whispering to him, the horse snorting with joy:
which were gladder of the two, horse or man, could not be said. And
neck by neck with Benito came Baba. How the ground flew away under their
feet! This was companionship, indeed, worthy of Baba's best powers.
Not in all the California herds could be found two superber horses
than Benito and Baba. A wild, almost reckless joy took possession of
Alessandro. Ramona was half terrified as she heard him still talking,
talking to Benito. For an hour they did not draw rein. Both Benito
and Alessandro knew every inch of the ground. Then, just as they had
descended into the deepest part of the canon, Alessandro suddenly reined
sharply to the left, and began climbing the precipitous wall. "Can you
follow, dearest Majella?" he cried.

"Do you suppose Benito can do anything that Baba cannot?" she retorted,
pressing on closely.

But Baba did not like it. Except for the stimulus of Benito ahead, he
would have given Ramona trouble.

"There is only a little, rough like this, dear," called Alessandro, as
he leaped a fallen tree, and halted to see how Baba took it. "Good!" he
cried, as Baba jumped it like a deer. "Good! Majella! We have got the
two best horses in the country. You'll see they are alike, when daylight
comes. I have often wondered they were so much alike. They would go
together splendidly."

After a few rods of this steep climbing they came out on the top of
the canon's south wall, in a dense oak forest comparatively free from
underbrush. "Now," said Alessandro, "I can go from here to San Diego by
paths that no white man knows. We will be near there before daylight."

Already the keen salt air of the ocean smote their faces. Ramona drank
it in with delight. "I taste salt in the air, Alessandro," she cried.

"Yes, it is the sea," he said. "This canon leads straight to the sea. I
wish we could go by the shore, Majella. It is beautiful there. When it
is still, the waves come as gently to the land as if they were in play;
and you can ride along with your horse's feet in the water, and the
green cliffs almost over your head; and the air off the water is like
wine in one's head."

"Cannot we go there?" she said longingly. "Would it not be safe?"

"I dare not," he answered regretfully. "Not now, Majella; for on the
shore-way, at all times, there are people going and coming."

"Some other time, Alessandro, we can come, after we are married, and
there is no danger?" she asked.

"Yes, Majella," he replied; but as he spoke the words, he thought, "Will
a time ever come when there will be no danger?"

The shore of the Pacific Ocean for many miles north of San Diego is a
succession of rounding promontories, walling the mouths of canons, down
many of which small streams make to the sea. These canons are green and
rich at bottom, and filled with trees, chiefly oak. Beginning as little
more than rifts in the ground, they deepen and widen, till at their
mouths they have a beautiful crescent of shining beach from an eighth to
a quarter of a mile long, The one which Alessandro hoped to reach
before morning was not a dozen miles from the old town of San Diego, and
commanded a fine view of the outer harbor. When he was last in it, he
had found it a nearly impenetrable thicket of young oak-trees. Here, he
believed, they could hide safely all day, and after nightfall ride into
San Diego, be married at the priest's house, and push on to San Pasquale
that same night. "All day, in that canon, Majella can look at the sea,"
he thought; "but I will not tell her now, for it may be the trees have
been cut down, and we cannot be so close to the shore."

It was near sunrise when they reached the place. The trees had not been
cut down. Their tops, seen from above, looked like a solid bed of moss
filling in the canon bottom. The sky and the sea were both red. As
Ramona looked down into this soft green pathway, it seemed, leading out
to the wide and sparkling sea, she thought Alessandro had brought her
into a fairy-land.

"What a beautiful world!" she cried; and riding up so close to Benito
that she could lay her hand on Alessandro's, she said solemnly: "Do you
not think we ought to be very happy, Alessandro, in such a beautiful
world as this? Do you think we might sing our sunrise hymn here?"

Alessandro glanced around. They were alone on the breezy open; it was
not yet full dawn; great masses of crimson vapor were floating upward
from the hills behind San Diego. The light was still burning in the
light-house on the promontory walling the inner harbor, but in a few
moments more it would be day. "No, Majella, not here." he said. "We must
not stay. As soon as the sun rises, a man or a horse may be seen on this
upper coast-line as far as eye can reach. We must be among the trees
with all the speed we can make."

It was like a house with a high, thick roof of oak tree-tops, the
shelter they found. No sun penetrated it; a tiny trickle of water still
remained, and some grass along its rims was still green, spite of the
long drought, - a scanty meal for Baba and Benito, but they ate it with
relish in each other's company.

"They like each other, those two," said Ramona, laughing, as she watched
them. "They will be friends."

"Ay," said Alessandro, also smiling. "Horses are friends, like men, and
can hate each other, like men, too. Benito would never see Antonio's
mare, the little yellow one, that he did not let fly his heels at her;
and she was as afraid, at sight of him, as a cat is at a dog. Many a
time I have laughed to see it."

"Know you the priest at San Diego?" asked Ramona.

"Not well," replied Alessandro. "He came seldom to Temecula when I was
there; but he is a friend of Indians. I know he came with the men from
San Diego at the time when there was fighting, and the whites were in
great terror; and they said, except for Father Gaspara's words, there
would not have been a white man left alive in Pala. My father had sent
all his people away before that fight began. He knew it was coming, but
he would have nothing to do with it. He said the Indians were all crazy.
It was no use. They would only be killed themselves. That is the worst
thing, my Majella. The stupid Indians fight and kill, and then what can
we do? The white men think we are all the same. Father Gaspara has never
been to Pala, I heard, since that time. There goes there now the
San Juan Capistrano priest. He is a bad man. He takes money from the
starving poor."

"A priest!" ejaculated Ramona, horror-stricken.

"Ay! a priest!" replied Alessandro. "They are not all good, - not like
Father Salvierderra."

"Oh, if we could but have gone to Father Salvierderra!" exclaimed
Ramona, involuntarily.

Alessandro looked distressed. "It would have been much more danger,
Majella," he said, "and I had no knowledge of work I could do there."

His look made Ramona remorseful at once. How cruel to lay one
feather-weight of additional burden on this loving man. "Oh, this is
much better, really," she said. "I did not mean what I said. It is only
because I have always loved Father Salvierderra so. And the Senora will
tell him what is not true. Could we not send him a letter, Alessandro?"

"There is a Santa Inez Indian I know," replied Alessandro, "who comes
down with nets to sell, sometimes, to Temecula. I know not if he goes
to San Diego. If I could get speech with him, he would go up from Santa
Inez to Santa Barbara for me, I am sure; for once he lay in my father's
house, sick for many weeks, and I nursed him, and since then he is
always begging me to take a net from him, whenever he comes. It is not
two days from Santa Inez to Santa Barbara."

"I wish it were the olden time now, Alessandro," sighed Ramona, "when
the men like Father Salvierderra had all the country. Then there would
be work for all, at the Missions. The Senora says the Missions were like
palaces, and that there were thousands of Indians in every one of them;
thousands and thousands, all working so happy and peaceful."

"The Senora does not know all that happened at the Missions," replied
Alessandro. "My father says that at some of them were dreadful things,
when bad men had power. Never any such things at San Luis Rey. Father
Peyri was like a father to all his Indians. My father says that they
would all of them lie down in a fire for him, if he had commanded it.
And when he went away, to leave the country, when his heart was broken,
and the Mission all ruined, he had to fly by night, Majella, just as you
and I have done; for if the Indians had known it, they would have risen
up to keep him. There was a ship here in San Diego harbor, to sail for
Mexico, and the Father made up his mind to go in it; and it was over
this same road we have come, my Majella, that he rode, and by night; and
my father was the only one he trusted to know it. My father came with
him; they took the swiftest horses, and they rode all night, and my
father carried in front of him, on the horse, a box of the sacred things
of the altar, very heavy. And many a time my father has told me the
story, how they got to San Diego at daybreak, and the Father was rowed
out to the ship in a little boat; and not much more than on board was
he, my father standing like one dead on the shore, watching, he loved
him so, when, lo! he heard a great crying, and shouting, and trampling
of horses' feet, and there came galloping down to the water's edge three
hundred of the Indians from San Luis Rey, who had found out that the
Father had gone to San Diego to take ship, and they had ridden all night
on his track, to fetch him back. And when my father pointed to the ship,
and told them he was already on board, they set up a cry fit to bring
the very sky down; and some of them flung themselves into the sea, and
swam out to the ship, and cried and begged to be taken on board and go
with him. And Father Peyri stood on the deck, blessing them, and
saying farewell, with the tears running on his face; and one of the
Indians - how they never knew - made shift to climb up on the chains
and ropes, and got into the ship itself; and they let him stay, and
he sailed away with the Father. And my father said he was all his life
sorry that he himself had not thought to do the same thing; but he
was like one dumb and deaf and with no head, he was so unhappy at the
Father's going."

"Was it here, in this very harbor?" asked Ramona, in breathless
interest, pointing out towards the blue water of which they could see a
broad belt framed by their leafy foreground arch of oak tops.

"Ay, just there he sailed, - as that ship goes now," he exclaimed, as a
white-sailed schooner sailed swiftly by, going out to sea. "But the ship
lay at first inside the bar; you cannot see the inside harbor from here.
It is the most beautiful water I have ever seen, Majella. The two high
lands come out like two arms to hold it and keep it safe, as if they
loved it."

"But, Alessandro," continued Ramona, "were there really bad men at the
other Missions? Surely not the Franciscan Fathers?"

"Perhaps not the Fathers themselves, but the men under them. It was
too much power, Majella. When my father has told me how it was, it has
seemed to me I should not have liked to be as he was. It is not right
that one man should have so much power. There was one at the San Gabriel
Mission; he was an Indian. He had been set over the rest; and when a
whole band of them ran away one time, and went back into the mountains,
he went after them; and he brought back a piece of each man's ear; the
pieces were strung on a string; and he laughed, and said that was to
know them by again, - by their clipped ears. An old woman, a Gabrieleno,
who came over to Temecula, told me she saw that. She lived at the
Mission herself. The Indians did not all want to come to the Missions;
some of them preferred to stay in the woods, and live as they always
had lived; and I think they had a right to do that if they preferred,
Majella. It was stupid of them to stay and be like beasts, and not know
anything; but do you not think they had the right?"

"It is the command to preach the gospel to every creature," replied the
pious Ramona. "That is what Father Salvierderra said was the reason
the Franciscans came here. I think they ought to have made the Indians
listen. But that was dreadful about the ears, Alessandro. Do you believe

"The old woman laughed when she told it," he answered. "She said it was
a joke; so I think it was true. I know I would have killed the man who
tried to crop my ears that way."

"Did you ever tell that to Father Salvierderra?" asked Ramona.

"No, Majella. It would not be polite," said Alessandro.

"Well, I don't believe it," replied Ramona, in a relieved tone. "I don't
believe any Franciscan ever could have permitted such things."

The great red light in the light-house tower had again blazed out,
and had been some time burning before Alessandro thought it prudent to
resume their journey. The road on which they must go into old San Diego,
where Father Gaspara lived, was the public road from San Diego to San
Luis Rey, and they were almost sure to meet travellers on it.

But their fleet horses bore them so well, that it was not late when they
reached the town. Father Gaspara's house was at the end of a long, low
adobe building, which had served no mean purpose in the old Presidio
days, but was now fallen into decay; and all its rooms except those
occupied by the Father, had been long uninhabited. On the opposite
side of the way, in a neglected, weedy open, stood his chapel, - a
poverty-stricken little place, its walls imperfectly whitewashed,
decorated by a few coarse pictures and by broken sconces of
looking-glass, rescued in their dilapidated condition from the
Mission buildings, now gone utterly to ruin. In these had been put
handle-holders of common tin, in which a few cheap candles dimly lighted
the room. Everything about it was in unison with the atmosphere of the
place, - the most profoundly melancholy in all Southern California. Here
was the spot where that grand old Franciscan, Padre Junipero Serra,
began his work, full of the devout and ardent purpose to reclaim the
wilderness and its peoples to his country and his Church; on this very
beach he went up and down for those first terrible weeks, nursing
the sick, praying with the dying, and burying the dead, from the
pestilence-stricken Mexican ships lying in the harbor. Here he baptized
his first Indian converts, and founded his first Mission. And the only
traces now remaining of his heroic labors and hard-won successes were a
pile of crumbling ruins, a few old olive-trees and palms; in less than
another century even these would be gone; returned into the keeping of
that mother, the earth, who puts no head-stones at the sacredest of her

Father Gaspara had been for many years at San Diego. Although not a
Franciscan, having, indeed, no especial love for the order, he had been
from the first deeply impressed by the holy associations of the place.
He had a nature at once fiery and poetic; there were but three things he
could have been, - a soldier, a poet, or a priest. Circumstances had made
him a priest; and the fire and the poetry which would have wielded the
sword or kindled the verse, had he found himself set either to fight or
to sing, had all gathered into added force in his priestly vocation.
The look of a soldier he had never quite lost, - neither the look nor the
tread; and his flashing dark eyes, heavy black hair and beard, and
quick elastic step, seemed sometimes strangely out of harmony with his
priest's gown. And it was the sensitive soul of the poet in him which
had made him withdraw within himself more and more, year after year, as
he found himself comparatively powerless to do anything for the hundreds
of Indians that he would fain have seen gathered once more, as of old,
into the keeping of the Church. He had made frequent visits to them in
their shifting refuges, following up family after family, band after
band, that he knew; he had written bootless letter after letter to the
Government officials of one sort and another, at Washington. He had made
equally bootless efforts to win some justice, some protection for them,
from officials nearer home; he had endeavored to stir the Church itself
to greater efficiency in their behalf. Finally, weary, disheartened,
and indignant with that intense, suppressed indignation which the poetic
temperament alone can feel, he had ceased, - had said, "It is of no use;
I will speak no word; I am done; I can bear no more!" and settling down
into the routine of his parochial duties to the little Mexican and Irish
congregation of his charge in San Diego, he had abandoned all effort to
do more for the Indians than visit their chief settlements once or twice
a year, to administer the sacraments. When fresh outrages were brought
to his notice, he paced his room, plucked fiercely at his black beard,
with ejaculations, it is to be feared, savoring more of the camp than
the altar; but he made no effort to do anything. Lighting his pipe, he
would sit down on the old bench in his tile-paved veranda, and smoke
by the hour, gazing out on the placid water of the deserted harbor,
brooding, ever brooding, over the wrongs he could not redress.

A few paces off from his door stood the just begun walls of a fine
brick church, which it had been the dream and pride of his heart to
see builded, and full of worshippers. This, too, had failed. With San
Diego's repeatedly vanishing hopes and dreams of prosperity had gone
this hope and dream of Father Gaspara's. It looked, now, as if it
would be indeed a waste of money to build a costly church on this site.
Sentiment, however sacred and loving towards the dead, must yield to
the demands of the living. To build a church on the ground where Father
Junipero first trod and labored, would be a work to which no Catholic
could be indifferent; but there were other and more pressing claims to
be met first. This was right. Yet the sight of these silent walls, only
a few feet high, was a sore one to Father Gaspara, - a daily cross, which
he did not find grow lighter as he paced up and down his veranda, year
in and year out, in the balmy winter and cool summer of that magic

"Majella, the chapel is lighted; but that is good!" exclaimed
Alessandro, as they rode into the silent plaza. "Father Gaspara must
be there;" and jumping off his horse, he peered in at the uncurtained
window. "A marriage, Majella, - a marriage!" he cried, hastily returning.
"This, too, is good fortune. We need not to wait long."

When the sacristan whispered to Father Gaspara that an Indian couple had
just come in, wishing to be married, the Father frowned. His supper was
waiting; he had been out all day, over at the old Mission olive-orchard,
where he had not found things to his mind; the Indian man and wife whom
he hired to take care of the few acres the Church yet owned there had
been neglecting the Church lands and trees, to look after their own. The
Father was vexed, tired, and hungry, and the expression with which he
regarded Alessandro and Ramona, as they came towards him, was one of the
least prepossessing of which his dark face was capable. Ramona, who had
never knelt to any priest save the gentle Father Salvierderra, and who
had supposed that all priests must look, at least, friendly, was shocked
at the sight of the impatient visage confronting her. But, as his first
glance fell on Ramona, Father Gaspara's expression changed.

"What is all this!" he thought; and as quick as he thought it, he
exclaimed, in a severe tone, looking at Ramona, "Woman, are you an

"Yes, Father," answered Ramona, gently. "My mother was an Indian."

"Ah! half-breed!" thought Father Gaspara. "It is strange how sometimes
one of the types will conquer, and sometimes another! But this is no
common creature;" and it was with a look of new interest and sympathy
on his face that he proceeded with the ceremony, - the other couple, a
middle-aged Irishman, with his more than middle-aged bride, standing
quietly by, and looking on with a vague sort of wonder in their ugly,
impassive faces, as if it struck them oddly that Indians should marry.

The book of the marriage-records was kept in Father Gaspara's own rooms,
locked up and hidden even from his old housekeeper. He had had bitter
reason to take this precaution. It had been for more than one man's
interest to cut leaves out of this old record, which dated back to 1769,
and had many pages written full in the hand of Father Junipero himself.

As they came out of the chapel, Father Gaspara leading the way, the
Irish couple shambling along shamefacedly apart from each other,
Alessandro, still holding Ramona's hand in his, said, "Will you ride,
dear? It is but a step."

"No, thanks, dear Alessandro, I would rather walk," she replied; and
Alessandro slipping the bridles of the two horses over his left arm,
they walked on. Father Gaspara heard the question and answer, and was
still more puzzled.

"He speaks as a gentleman speaks to a lady," he mused. "What does it
mean? Who are they?"

Father Gaspara was a well-born man, and in his home in Spain had been
used to associations far superior to any which he had known in his
Californian life, A gentle courtesy of tone and speech, such as that
with which Alessandro had addressed Ramona, was not often heard in
his parish. When they entered his house, he again regarded them both
attentively. Ramona wore on her head the usual black shawl of the
Mexican women. There was nothing distinctive, to the Father's eye, in
her figure or face. In the dim light of the one candle, - Father Gaspara
allowed himself no luxuries, - the exquisite coloring of her skin and the
deep blue of her eyes were not to be seen. Alessandro's tall figure
and dignified bearing were not uncommon. The Father had seen many as
fine-looking Indian men. But his voice was remarkable, and he spoke

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 22 of 35)