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Dear Baba!" and Ramona stepped almost joyfully by the horse's side,
Alessandro riding Benito. As they paced along, their eyes never leaving
the baby's face, Ramona said, in a low tone, "Alessandro, I am almost
afraid to tell you what I have done. I took the little Jesus out of the
Madonna's arms and hid it! Did you never hear, that if you do that, the
Madonna will grant you anything, to get him back again in her arms' Did
you ever hear of it?"

"Never!" exclaimed Alessandro, with horror in his tone. "Never, Majella!
How dared you?"

"I dare anything now!" said Ramona. "I have been thinking to do it for
some days, and to tell her she could not have him any more till she gave
me back the baby well and strong; but I knew I could not have courage to
sit and look at her all lonely without him in her arms, so I did not do
it. But now we are to be away, I thought, that is the time; and I told
her, 'When we come back with our baby well, you shall have your little
Jesus again, too; now, Holy Mother, you go with us, and make the doctor
cure our baby!' Oh, I have heard, many times, women tell the Senora they
had done this, and always they got what they wanted. Never will she let
the Jesus be out of her arms more than three weeks before she will
grant any prayer one can make. It was that way she brought you to me,
Alessandro. I never before told you. I was afraid. I think she had
brought you sooner, but I could keep the little Jesus hid from her only
at night. In the day I could not, because the Senora would see. So she
did not miss him so much; else she had brought you quicker."

"But, Majella," said the logical Alessandro, "it was because I could not
leave my father that I did not come. As soon as he was buried, I came."

"If it had not been for the Virgin, you would never have come at all,"
said Ramona, confidently.

For the first hour of this sad journey it seemed as if the child were
really rallying; the air, the sunlight, the novel motion, the smiling
mother by her side, the big black horses she had already learned to
love, all roused her to an animation she had not shown for days. But
it was only the last flicker of the expiring flame. The eyes drooped,
closed; a strange pallor came over the face. Alessandro saw it first.
He was now walking, Ramona riding Benito. "Majella!" he cried, in a tone
which told her all.

In a second she was at the baby's side, with a cry which smote the
dying child's consciousness. Once more the eyelids lifted; she knew her
mother; a swift spasm shook the little frame; a convulsion as of
agony swept over the face, then it was at peace. Ramona's shrieks were
heart-rending. Fiercely she put Alessandro away from her, as he strove
to caress her. She stretched her arms up towards the sky. "I have killed
her! I have killed her!" she cried. "Oh, let me die!"

Slowly Alessandro turned Baba's head homeward again.

"Oh, give her to me! Let her lie on my breast! I will hold her warm!"
gasped Ramona.

Silently Alessandro laid the body in her arms. He had not spoken since
his first cry of alarm, If Ramona had looked at him, she would have
forgotten her grief for her dead child. Alessandro's face seemed turned
to stone.

When they reached the house, Ramona, laying the child on the bed, ran
hastily to a corner of the room, and lifting the deerskin, drew from its
hiding-place the little wooden Jesus. With tears streaming, she laid it
again in the Madonna's arms, and flinging herself on her knees, sobbed
out prayers for forgiveness. Alessandro stood at the foot of the bed,
his arms folded, his eyes riveted on the child. Soon he went out, still
without speaking. Presently Ramona heard the sound of a saw. She groaned
aloud, and her tears flowed faster: Alessandro was making the baby's
coffin. Mechanically she rose, and, moving like one half paralyzed,
she dressed the little one in fresh white clothes for the burial; then
laying her in the cradle, she spread over it the beautiful lace-wrought
altar-cloth. As she adjusted its folds, her mind was carried back to the
time when she embroidered it, sitting on the Senora's veranda; the song
of the finches, the linnets; the voice and smile of Felipe; Alessandro
sitting on the steps, drawing divine music from his violin. Was that
she, - that girl who sat there weaving the fine threads in the beautiful
altar-cloth? Was it a hundred years ago? Was it another world? Was it
Alessandro yonder, driving those nails into a coffin? How the blows
rang, louder and louder! The air seemed deafening full of sound. With
her hands pressed to her temples, Ramona sank to the floor. A merciful
unconsciousness set her free, for an interval, from her anguish.

When she opened her eyes, she was lying on the bed. Alessandro had
lifted her and laid her there, making no effort to rouse her. He thought
she would die too; and even that thought did not stir him from his
lethargy. When she opened her eyes, and looked at him, he did not speak.
She closed them. He did not move. Presently she opened them again. "I
heard you out there," she said.

"Yes," he replied. "It is done." And he pointed to a little box of rough
boards by the side of the cradle.

"Is Majella ready to go to the mountain now?" he asked.

"Yes, Alessandro, I am ready," she said.

"We will hide forever," he said.

"It makes no difference," she replied.

The Saboba women did not know what to think of Ramona now. She had never
come into sympathetic relations with them, as she had with the women of
San Pasquale. Her intimacy with the Hyers had been a barrier the Saboba
people could not surmount. No one could be on such terms with whites,
and be at heart an Indian, they thought; so they held aloof from Ramona.
But now in her bereavement they gathered round her. They wept at sight
of the dead baby's face, lying in its tiny white coffin. Ramona had
covered the box with white cloth, and the lace altar-cloth thrown over
it fell in folds to the floor. "Why does not this mother weep? Is she
like the whites, who have no heart?" said the Saboba mothers among
themselves; and they were embarrassed before her, and knew not what
to say. Ramona perceived it, but had no life in her to speak to them.
Benumbing terrors, which were worse than her grief, were crowding
Ramona's heart now. She had offended the Virgin; she had committed a
blasphemy: in one short hour the Virgin had punished her, had smitten
her child dead before her eyes. And now Alessandro was going mad; hour
by hour Ramona fancied she saw changes in him. What form would the
Virgin's vengeance take next? Would she let Alessandro become a raging
madman, and finally kill both himself and her? That seemed to Ramona
the most probable fate in store for them. When the funeral was over, and
they returned to their desolate home, at the sight of the empty cradle
Ramona broke down.

"Oh, take me away, Alessandro! Anywhere! I don't care where! anywhere,
so it is not here!" she cried.

"Would Majella be afraid, now, on the high mountain, the place I told
her of?" he said.

"No!" she replied earnestly. "No! I am afraid of nothing! Only take me

A gleam of wild delight flitted across Alessandro's face. "It is well,"
he said. "My Majella, we will go to the mountain; we will be safe

The same fierce restlessness which took possession of him at San
Pasquale again showed itself in his every act. His mind was unceasingly
at work, planning the details of their move and of the new life. He
mentioned them one after another to Ramona. They could not take both
horses; feed would be scanty there, and there would be no need of two
horses. The cow also they must give up. Alessandro would kill her, and
the meat, dried, would last them for a long time. The wagon he hoped
he could sell; and he would buy a few sheep; sheep and goats could live
well in these heights to which they were going. Safe at last! Oh, yes,
very safe; not only against whites, who, because the little valley was
so small and bare, would not desire it, but against Indians also. For
the Indians, silly things, had a terror of the upper heights of San
Jacinto; they believed the Devil lived there, and money would not hire
one of the Saboba Indians to go so high as this valley which Alessandro
had discovered. Fiercely he gloated over each one of these features
of safety in their hiding-place. "The first time I saw it, Majella, - I
believe the saints led me there, - I said, it is a hiding-place. And
then I never thought I would be in want of such, - of a place to keep my
Majella safe! safe! Oh, my Majel!" And he clasped her to his breast with
a terrifying passion.

For an Indian to sell a horse and wagon in the San Jacinto valley was
not an easy thing, unless he would give them away. Alessandro had hard
work to give civil answers to the men who wished to buy Benito and the
wagon for quarter of their value. He knew they would not have dared to
so much as name such prices to a white man. Finally Ramona, who had felt
unconquerable misgivings as to the wisdom of thus irrevocably parting
from their most valuable possessions, persuaded him to take both horses
and wagon to San Bernardino, and offer them to the Hyers to use for the

It would be just the work for Jos, to keep him in the open air, if
he could get teaming to do; she was sure he would be thankful for the
chance. "He is as fond of the horses as we are ourselves, Alessandro,"
she said. "They would be well cared for; and then, if we did not like
living on the mountain, we could have the horses and wagon again when we
came down, or Jos could sell them for us in San Bernardino. Nobody could
see Benito and Baba working together, and not want them."

"Majella is wiser than the dove!" cried Alessandro. "She has seen what
is the best thing to do. I will take them."

When he was ready to set off, he implored Ramona to go with him; but
with a look of horror she refused. "Never," she cried, "one step on that
accursed road! I will never go on that road again unless it is to be
carried, as we brought her, dead."

Neither did Ramona wish to see Aunt Ri. Her sympathy would be
intolerable, spite of all its affectionate kindliness. "Tell her I love
her," she said, "but I do not want to see a human being yet; next year
perhaps we will go down, - if there is any other way besides that road."

Aunt Ri was deeply grieved. She could not understand Ramona's feeling.
It rankled deep. "I allow I'd never hev bleeved it uv her, never," she
said. "I shan't never think she wuz quite right 'n her head, to do 't!
I allow we shan't never set eyes on ter her, Jos. I've got jest thet
feelin' abaout it. 'Pears like she'd gone klar out 'er this yer world
inter anuther."

The majestic bulwark of San Jacinto Mountain looms in the southern
horizon of the San Bernardino valley. It was in full sight from the door
of the little shanty in which Aunt Ri's carpet-loom stood. As she sat
there hour after hour, sometimes seven hours to the day, working the
heavy treadle, and slipping the shuttle back and forth, she gazed with
tender yearnings at the solemn, shining summit. When sunset colors smote
it, it glowed like fire; on cloudy days, it was lost in the clouds.

"'Pears like 'twas next door to heaven, up there, Jos," Aunt Ri would
say. "I can't tell yer the feelin' 't comes over me, to look up 't it,
ever sence I knowed she wuz there. 'T shines enuf to put yer eyes aout,
sometimes; I allow 'tain't so light's thet when you air into 't; 't
can't be; ther couldn't nobody stan' it, ef 't wuz. I allow 't must be
like bein' dead, Jos, don't yer think so, to be livin' thar? He sed ther
couldn't nobody git to 'em. Nobody ever seed the place but hisself. He
found it a huntin'. Thar's water thar, 'n' thet's abaout all thar is,
fur's I cud make aout; I allow we shan't never see her agin."

The horses and the wagon were indeed a godsend to Jos. It was the very
thing he had been longing for; the only sort of work he was as yet
strong enough to do, and there was plenty of it to be had in San
Bernardino. But the purchase of a wagon suitable for the purpose was at
present out of their power; the utmost Aunt Ri had hoped to accomplish
was to have, at the end of a year, a sufficient sum laid up to buy one.
They had tried in vain to exchange their heavy emigrant-wagon for one
suitable for light work. "'Pears like I'd die o' shame," said Aunt Ri,
"sometimes when I ketch myself er thinkin' what luck et's ben to Jos, er
gettin' thet Injun's hosses an' waggin. But ef Jos keeps on, airnin' ez
much ez he hez so fur, he's goin' ter pay the Injun part on 't, when he
cums. I allow ter Jos 'tain't no more'n fair. Why, them hosses, they'll
dew good tew days' work'n one. I never see sech hosses; 'n' they're jest
like kittens; they've ben drefful pets, I allow. I know she set all the
world, 'n' more tew, by thet nigh one. He wuz hern, ever sence she wuz a
child. Pore thing, - 'pears like she hedn't hed no chance!"

Alessandro had put off, from day to day, the killing of the cow. It went
hard with him to slaughter the faithful creature, who knew him, and came
towards him at the first sound of his voice. He had pastured her, since
the baby died, in a canon about three miles northeast of the village, - a
lovely green canon with oak-trees and a running brook. It was here that
he had thought of building his house if they had stayed in Saboba. But
Alessandro laughed bitterly to himself now, as he recalled that dream.
Already the news had come to Saboba that a company had been formed for
the settling up of the San Jacinto valley; the Ravallo brothers had sold
to this company a large grant of land. The white ranchmen in the valley
were all fencing in their lands; no more free running of stock. The
Saboba people were too poor to build miles of fencing; they must soon
give up keeping stock; and the next thing would be that they would be
driven out, like the people of Temecula. It was none too soon that he
had persuaded Majella to flee to the mountain. There, at least, they
could live and die in peace, - a poverty-stricken life, and the loneliest
of deaths; but they would have each other. It was well the baby had
died; she was saved all this misery. By the time she had grown to be
a woman, if she had lived, there would be no place in all the country
where an Indian could find refuge. Brooding over such thoughts as
these, Alessandro went up into the canon one morning. It must be done.
Everything was ready for their move; it would take many days to carry
even their few possessions up the steep mountain trail to their new
home; the pony which had replaced Benito and Baba could not carry a
heavy load. While this was being done, Ramona would dry the beef which
would be their supply of meat for many months. Then they would go.

At noon he came down with the first load of the meat, and Ramona began
cutting it into long strips, as is the Mexican fashion of drying.
Alessandro returned for the remainder. Early in the afternoon, as Ramona
went to and fro about her work, she saw a group of horsemen riding from
house to house, in the upper part of the village; women came running out
excitedly from each house as the horsemen left it; finally one of them
darted swiftly up the hill to Ramona. "Hide it! hide it!" she cried,
breathless; "hide the meat! It is Merrill's men, from the end of the
valley. They have lost a steer, and they say we stole it. They found the
place, with blood on it, where it was killed; and they say we did it.
Oh, hide the meat! They took all that Fernando had; and it was his own,
that he bought; he did not know anything about their steer!"

"I shall not hide it!" cried Ramona, indignantly. "It is our own cow.
Alessandro killed it to-day."

"They won't believe you!" said the woman, in distress. "They'll take it
all away. Oh, hide some of it!" And she dragged a part of it across the
floor, and threw it under the bed, Ramona standing by, stupefied.

Before she had spoken again, the forms of the galloping riders darkened
the doorway; the foremost of them, leaping off his horse, exclaimed:
"By God! here's the rest of it. If they ain't the damnedest impudent
thieves! Look at this woman, cutting it up! Put that down, will you?
We'll save you the trouble of dryin' our meat for us, besides killin'
it! Fork over, now, every bit you've got, you - " And he called Ramona by
a vile epithet.

Every drop of blood left Ramona's face. Her eyes blazed, and she came
forward with the knife uplifted in her hand. "Out of my house, you dogs
of the white color!" she said. "This meat is our own; my husband killed
the creature but this morning."

Her tone and bearing surprised them. There were six of the men, and they
had all swarmed into the little room.

"I say, Merrill," said one of them, "hold on; the squaw says her husband
only jest killed it to-day. It might be theirs."

Ramona turned on him like lightning. "Are you liars, you all," she
cried, "that you think I lie? I tell you the meat is ours; and there is
not an Indian in this village would steal cattle!"

A derisive shout of laughter from all the men greeted this speech; and
at that second, the leader, seeing the mark of blood where the Indian
woman had dragged the meat across the ground, sprang to the bed, and
lifting the deerskin, pointed with a sneer to the beef hidden there.
"Perhaps, when you know Injun's well's I do," he said, "you won't be for
believin' all they say! What's she got it hid under the bed for, if it
was their own cow?" and he stooped to drag the meat out. "Give us a hand
here, Jake!"

"If you touch it, I will kill you!" cried Ramona, beside herself with
rage; and she sprang between the men, her uplifted knife gleaming.

"Hoity-toity!" cried Jake, stepping back; "that's a handsome squaw when
she's mad! Say, boys, let's leave her some of the meat. She wasn't to
blame; of course, she believes what her husband told her."

"You go to grass for a soft-head, you Jake!" muttered Merrill, as he
dragged the meat out from beneath the bed.

"What is all this?" said a deep voice in the door; and Ramona, turning,
with a glad cry, saw Alessandro standing there, looking on, with an
expression which, even in her own terror and indignation, gave her a
sense of dread, it was so icily defiant. He had his hand on his gun.
"What is all this?" he repeated. He knew very well.

"It's that Temecula man," said one of the men, in a low tone, to
Merrill. "If I'd known 't was his house, I wouldn't have let you come
here. You're up the wrong tree, sure!"

Merrill dropped the meat he was dragging over the floor, and turned to
confront Alessandro's eyes. His countenance fell. Even he saw that
he had made a mistake. He began to speak. Alessandro interrupted him.
Alessandro could speak forcibly in Spanish. Pointing to his pony, which
stood at the door with a package on its back, the remainder of the meat
rolled in the hide, he said: "There is the remainder of the beef.
I killed the creature this morning, in the canon. I will take Senor
Merrill to the place, if he wishes it. Senor Merrill's steer was killed
down in the willows yonder, yesterday."

"That's so!" cried the men, gathering around him. "How did you know? Who
did it?"

Alessandro made no reply. He was looking at Ramona. She had flung her
shawl over her head, as the other woman had done, and the two were
cowering in the corner, their faces turned away. Ramona dared not look
on; she felt sure Alessandro would kill some one. But this was not the
type of outrage that roused Alessandro to dangerous wrath. He even felt
a certain enjoyment in the discomfiture of the self-constituted posse
of searchers for stolen goods. To all their questions in regard to the
stolen steer, he maintained silence. He would not open his lips. At
last, angry, ashamed, with a volley of coarse oaths at him for his
obstinacy, they rode away. Alessandro went to Ramona's side. She was
trembling. Her hands were like ice.

"Let us go to the mountain to-night!" she gasped. "Take me where I need
never see a white face again!"

A melancholy joy gleamed in Alessandro's eyes. Ramona, at last, felt as
he did.

"I would not dare to leave Majella there alone, while there is no
house," he said; "and I must go and come many times, before all the
things can be carried."

"It will be less danger there than here, Alessandro," said Ramona,
bursting into violent weeping as she recalled the insolent leer with
which the man Jake had looked at her. "Oh! I cannot stay here!"

"It will not be many days, my Majel. I will borrow Fernando's pony, to
take double at once; then we can go sooner."

"Who was it stole that man's steer?" said Ramona. "Why did you not tell
them? They looked as if they would kill you."

"It was that Mexican that lives in the bottom, Jose Castro. I myself
came on him, cutting the steer up. He said it was his; but I knew very
well, by the way he spoke, he was lying. But why should I tell? They
think only Indians will steal cattle. I can tell them, the Mexicans
steal more."

"I told them there was not an Indian in this village would steal
cattle," said Ramona, indignantly.

"That was not true, Majella," replied Alessandro, sadly. "When they
are very hungry, they will steal a heifer or steer. They lose many
themselves, and they say it is not so much harm to take one when they
can get it. This man Merrill, they say, branded twenty steers for his
own, last spring, when he knew they were Saboba cattle!"

"Why did they not make him give them up?" cried Ramona.

"Did not Majella see to-day why they can do nothing? There is no help
for us, Majella, only to hide; that is all we can do!"

A new terror had entered into Ramona's life; she dared not tell it to
Alessandro; she hardly put it into words in her thoughts. But she was
haunted by the face of the man Jake, as by a vision of evil, and on one
pretext and another she contrived to secure the presence of some one of
the Indian women in her house whenever Alessandro was away. Every day
she saw the man riding past. Once he had galloped up to the open door,
looked in, spoken in a friendly way to her, and ridden on. Ramona's
instinct was right. Jake was merely biding his time. He had made up his
mind to settle in the San Jacinto valley, at least for a few years, and
he wished to have an Indian woman come to live with him and keep his
house. Over in Santa Ysabel, his brother had lived in that way with an
Indian mistress for three years; and when he sold out, and left Santa
Ysabel, he had given the woman a hundred dollars and a little house for
herself and her child. And she was not only satisfied, but held herself,
in consequence of this temporary connection with a white man, much above
her Indian relatives and friends. When an Indian man had wished to marry
her, she had replied scornfully that she would never marry an Indian;
she might marry another white man, but an Indian, - never. Nobody had
held his brother in any less esteem for this connection; it was quite
the way in the country. And if Jake could induce this handsomest squaw
he had ever seen, to come and live with him in a smaller fashion, he
would consider himself a lucky man, and also think he was doing a good
thing for the squaw. It was all very clear and simple in his mind;
and when, seeing Ramona walking alone in the village one morning, he
overtook her, and walking by her side began to sound her on the
subject, he had small misgivings as to the result. Ramona trembled as he
approached her. She walked faster, and would not look at him; but he, in
his ignorance, misinterpreted these signs egregiously.

"Are you married to your husband?" he finally said. "It is but a poor
place he gives you to live in. If you will come and live with me, you
shall have the best house in the valley, as good as the Ravallos';
and - " Jake did not finish his sentence. With a cry which haunted
his memory for years, Ramona sprang from his side as if to run; then,
halting suddenly, she faced him, her eyes like javelins, her breath
coming fast. "Beast!" she said, and spat towards him; then turned and
fled to the nearest house, where she sank on the floor and burst into
tears, saying that the man below there in the road had been rude to her.
Yes, the women said, he was a bad man; they all knew it. Of this Ramona
said no word to Alessandro. She dared not; she believed he would kill

When the furious Jake confided to his friend Merrill his repulse, and
the indignity accompanying it, Merrill only laughed at him, and said: "I
could have told you better than to try that woman. She's married, fast
enough. There's plenty you can get, though, if you want 'em. They're

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 29 of 35)