Helen Hunt Jackson.

Ramona online

. (page 4 of 35)
Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 4 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

He never saw either your father or your mother, and so he could know
nothing about them. I knew your father very well. He was not a bad man.
He was my friend, and the friend of the Senora Ortegna; and that was the
reason he gave you to the Senora Ortegna, because she had no child of
her own. And I think your mother had a good many."

"Oh!" said Ramona, relieved, for the moment, at this new view of the
situation, - that the gift had been not as a charity to her, but to the
Senora Ortegna. "Did the Senora Ortegna want a little daughter very

"Yes, very much indeed," said the Senora, heartily and with fervor. "She
had grieved many years because she had no child."

Silence again for a brief space, during which the little lonely heart,
grappling with its vague instinct of loss and wrong, made wide thrusts
into the perplexities hedging it about, and presently electrified the
Senora by saying in a half-whisper, "Why did not my father bring me to
you first? Did he know you did not want any daughter?"

The Senora was dumb for a second; then recovering herself, she said:
"Your father was the Senora Ortegna's friend more than he was mine. I
was only a child, then."

"Of course you did not need any daughter when you had Felipe," continued
Ramona, pursuing her original line of inquiry and reflection without
noticing the Senora's reply. "A son is more than a daughter; but most
people have both," eying the Senora keenly, to see what response this
would bring.

But the Senora was weary and uncomfortable with the talk. At the very
mention of Felipe, a swift flash of consciousness of her inability
to love Ramona had swept through her mind. "Ramona," she said firmly,
"while you are a little girl, you cannot understand any of these things.
When you are a woman, I will tell you all that I know myself about your
father and your mother. It is very little. Your father died when you
were only two years old. All that you have to do is to be a good child,
and say your prayers, and when Father Salvierderra comes he will be
pleased with you. And he will not be pleased if you ask troublesome
questions. Don't ever speak to me again about this. When the proper time
comes I will tell you myself."

This was when Ramona was ten. She was now nineteen. She had never again
asked the Senora a question bearing on the forbidden subject. She had
been a good child and said her prayers, and Father Salvierderra had been
always pleased with her, growing more and more deeply attached to her
year by year. But the proper time had not yet come for the Senora to
tell her anything more about her father and mother. There were few
mornings on which the girl did not think, "Perhaps it may be to-day
that she will tell me." But she would not ask. Every word of that
conversation was as vivid in her mind as it had been the day it
occurred; and it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that during
every day of the whole nine years had deepened in her heart the
conviction which had prompted the child's question, "Did he know that
you did not want any daughter?"

A nature less gentle than Ramona's would have been embittered, or at
least hardened, by this consciousness. But Ramona's was not. She never
put it in words to herself. She accepted it, as those born deformed seem
sometimes to accept the pain and isolation caused by their deformity,
with an unquestioning acceptance, which is as far above resignation, as
resignation is above rebellious repining.

No one would have known, from Ramona's face, manner, or habitual
conduct, that she had ever experienced a sorrow or had a care. Her face
was sunny, she had a joyous voice, and never was seen to pass a human
being without a cheerful greeting, to highest and lowest the same. Her
industry was tireless. She had had two years at school, in the Convent
of the Sacred Heart at Los Angeles, where the Senora had placed her
at much personal sacrifice, during one of the hardest times the Moreno
estate had ever seen. Here she had won the affection of all the Sisters,
who spoke of her habitually as the "blessed child." They had taught her
all the dainty arts of lace-weaving, embroidery, and simple fashions
of painting and drawing, which they knew; not overmuch learning out of
books, but enough to make her a passionate lover of verse and romance.
For serious study or for deep thought she had no vocation. She was a
simple, joyous, gentle, clinging, faithful nature, like a clear brook
rippling along in the sun, - a nature as unlike as possible to the
Senora's, with its mysterious depths and stormy, hidden currents.

Of these Ramona was dimly conscious, and at times had a tender,
sorrowful pity for the Senora, which she dared not show, and could only
express by renewed industry, and tireless endeavor to fulfil every duty
possible in the house. This gentle faithfulness was not wholly lost on
Senora Moreno, though its source she never suspected; and it won no new
recognition from her for Ramona, no increase of love.

But there was one on whom not an act, not a look, not a smile of all
this graciousness was thrown away. That one was Felipe. Daily more and
more he wondered at his mother's lack of affection for Ramona. Nobody
knew so well as he how far short she stopped of loving her. Felipe knew
what it meant, how it felt, to be loved by the Senora Moreno. But Felipe
had learned while he was a boy that one sure way to displease his mother
was to appear to be aware that she did not treat Ramona as she treated
him. And long before he had become a man he had acquired the habit of
keeping to himself most of the things he thought and felt about his
little playmate sister, - a dangerous habit, out of which were slowly
ripening bitter fruits for the Senora's gathering in later years.


IT was longer even than the Senora had thought it would be, before
Father Salvierderra arrived. The old man had grown feeble during the
year that she had not seen him, and it was a very short day's journey
that he could make now without too great fatigue. It was not only his
body that had failed. He had lost heart; and the miles which would have
been nothing to him, had he walked in the companionship of hopeful and
happy thoughts, stretched out wearily as he brooded over sad memories
and still sadder anticipations, - the downfall of the Missions, the loss
of their vast estates, and the growing power of the ungodly in the land.
The final decision of the United States Government in regard to the
Mission-lands had been a terrible blow to him. He had devoutly believed
that ultimate restoration of these great estates to the Church was
inevitable. In the long vigils which he always kept when at home at the
Franciscan Monastery in Santa Barbara, kneeling on the stone pavement
in the church, and praying ceaselessly from midnight till dawn, he had
often had visions vouchsafed him of a new dispensation, in which the
Mission establishments should be reinstated in all their old splendor
and prosperity, and their Indian converts again numbered by tens of

Long after every one knew that this was impossible, he would narrate
these visions with the faith of an old Bible seer, and declare that they
must come true, and that it was a sin to despond. But as year after year
he journeyed up and down the country, seeing, at Mission after Mission,
the buildings crumbling into ruin, the lands all taken, sold, resold,
and settled by greedy speculators; the Indian converts disappearing,
driven back to their original wildernesses, the last traces of the noble
work of his order being rapidly swept away, his courage faltered, his
faith died out. Changes in the manners and customs of his order itself,
also, were giving him deep pain. He was a Franciscan of the same type as
Francis of Assisi. To wear a shoe in place of a sandal, to take money in
a purse for a journey, above all to lay aside the gray gown and cowl for
any sort of secular garment, seemed to him wicked. To own comfortable
clothes while there were others suffering for want of them - and
there were always such - seemed to him a sin for which one might not
undeservedly be smitten with sudden and terrible punishment. In vain the
Brothers again and again supplied him with a warm cloak; he gave it away
to the first beggar he met: and as for food, the refectory would have
been left bare, and the whole brotherhood starving, if the supplies had
not been carefully hidden and locked, so that Father Salvierderra could
not give them all away. He was fast becoming that most tragic yet often
sublime sight, a man who has survived, not only his own time, but
the ideas and ideals of it. Earth holds no sharper loneliness: the
bitterness of exile, the anguish of friendlessness at their utmost,
are in it; and yet it is so much greater than they, that even they seem
small part of it.

It was with thoughts such as these that Father Salvierderra drew near
the home of the Senora Moreno late in the afternoon of one of those
midsummer days of which Southern California has so many in spring. The
almonds had bloomed and the blossoms fallen; the apricots also, and the
peaches and pears; on all the orchards of these fruits had come a filmy
tint of green, so light it was hardly more than a shadow on the gray.
The willows were vivid light green, and the orange groves dark and
glossy like laurel. The billowy hills on either side the valley were
covered with verdure and bloom, - myriads of low blossoming plants, so
close to the earth that their tints lapped and overlapped on each other,
and on the green of the grass, as feathers in fine plumage overlap each
other and blend into a changeful color.

The countless curves, hollows, and crests of the coast-hills in Southern
California heighten these chameleon effects of the spring verdure; they
are like nothing in nature except the glitter of a brilliant lizard in
the sun or the iridescent sheen of a peacock's neck.

Father Salvierderra paused many times to gaze at the beautiful picture.
Flowers were always dear to the Franciscans. Saint Francis himself
permitted all decorations which could be made of flowers. He classed
them with his brothers and sisters, the sun, moon, and stars, - all
members of the sacred choir praising God.

It was melancholy to see how, after each one of these pauses, each fresh
drinking in of the beauty of the landscape and the balmy air, the old
man resumed his slow pace, with a long sigh and his eyes cast down.
The fairer this beautiful land, the sadder to know it lost to the
Church, - alien hands reaping its fulness, establishing new customs,
new laws. All the way down the coast from Santa Barbara he had seen,
at every stopping-place, new tokens of the settling up of the
country, - farms opening, towns growing; the Americans pouring in, at
all points, to reap the advantages of their new possessions. It was
this which had made his journey heavy-hearted, and made him feel, in
approaching the Senora Moreno's, as if he were coming to one of the last
sure strongholds of the Catholic faith left in the country.

When he was within two miles of the house, he struck off from the
highway into a narrow path that he recollected led by a short-cut
through the hills, and saved nearly a third of the distance. It was
more than a year since he had trod this path, and as he found it growing
fainter and fainter, and more and more overgrown with the wild mustard,
he said to himself, "I think no one can have passed through here this

As he proceeded he found the mustard thicker and thicker. The wild
mustard in Southern California is like that spoken of in the New
Testament, in the branches of which the birds of the air may rest.
Coming up out of the earth, so slender a stem that dozens can find
starting-point in an inch, it darts up, a slender straight shoot, five,
ten, twenty feet, with hundreds of fine feathery branches locking
and interlocking with all the other hundreds around it, till it is an
inextricable network like lace. Then it bursts into yellow bloom still
finer, more feathery and lacelike. The stems are so infinitesimally
small, and of so dark a green, that at a short distance they do not
show, and the cloud of blossom seems floating in the air; at times it
looks like golden dust. With a clear blue sky behind it, as it is often
seen, it looks like a golden snow-storm. The plant is a tyrant and a
nuisance, - the terror of the farmer; it takes riotous possession of a
whole field in a season; once in, never out; for one plant this year, a
million the next; but it is impossible to wish that the land were freed
from it. Its gold is as distinct a value to the eye as the nugget gold
is in the pocket.

Father Salvierderra soon found himself in a veritable thicket of these
delicate branches, high above his head, and so interlaced that he could
make headway only by slowly and patiently disentangling them, as one
would disentangle a skein of silk. It was a fantastic sort of dilemma,
and not unpleasing. Except that the Father was in haste to reach his
journey's end, he would have enjoyed threading his way through
the golden meshes. Suddenly he heard faint notes of singing. He
paused, - listened. It was the voice of a woman. It was slowly drawing
nearer, apparently from the direction in which he was going. At
intervals it ceased abruptly, then began again; as if by a sudden but
brief interruption, like that made by question and answer. Then, peering
ahead through the mustard blossoms, he saw them waving and bending, and
heard sounds as if they were being broken. Evidently some one entering
on the path from the opposite end had been caught in the fragrant
thicket as he was. The notes grew clearer, though still low and sweet
as the twilight notes of the thrush; the mustard branches waved more and
more violently; light steps were now to be heard. Father Salvierderra
stood still as one in a dream, his eyes straining forward into the
golden mist of blossoms. In a moment more came, distinct and clear to
his ear, the beautiful words of the second stanza of Saint Francis's
inimitable lyric, "The Canticle of the Sun:"

"Praise be to thee, O Lord, for all thy creatures, and especially for
our brother the Sun, - who illuminates the day, and by his beauty and
splendor shadows forth unto us thine."

"Ramona!" exclaimed the Father, his thin cheeks flushing with pleasure.
"The blessed child!" And as he spoke, her face came into sight, set in
a swaying frame of the blossoms, as she parted them lightly to right and
left with her hands, and half crept, half danced through the loop-hole
openings thus made. Father Salvierderra was past eighty, but his blood
was not too old to move quicker at the sight of this picture. A man must
be dead not to thrill at it. Ramona's beauty was of the sort to be best
enhanced by the waving gold which now framed her face. She had just
enough of olive tint in her complexion to underlie and enrich her skin
without making it swarthy. Her hair was like her Indian mother's, heavy
and black, but her eyes were like her father's, steel-blue. Only those
who came very near to Ramona knew, however, that her eyes were blue, for
the heavy black eyebrows and long black lashes so shaded and shadowed
them that they looked black as night. At the same instant that Father
Salvierderra first caught sight of her face, Ramona also saw him, and
crying out joyfully, "Ah, Father, I knew you would come by this path,
and something told me you were near!" she sprang forward, and sank on
her knees before him, bowing her head for his blessing. In silence he
laid his hands on her brow. It would not have been easy for him to speak
to her at that first moment. She had looked to the devout old monk, as
she sprang through the cloud of golden flowers, the sun falling on
her bared head, her cheeks flushed, her eyes shining, more like an
apparition of an angel or saint, than like the flesh-and-blood maiden
whom he had carried in his arms when she was a babe.

"We have been waiting, waiting, oh, so long for you, Father!" she said,
rising. "We began to fear that you might be ill. The shearers have been
sent for, and will be here tonight, and that was the reason I felt so
sure you would come. I knew the Virgin would bring you in time for mass
in the chapel on the first morning."

The monk smiled half sadly. "Would there were more with such faith as
yours, daughter," he said. "Are all well on the place?"

"Yes, Father, all well," she answered. "Felipe has been ill with a
fever; but he is out now, these ten days, and fretting for - for your

Ramona had like to have said the literal truth, - "fretting for the
sheep-shearing," but recollected herself in time.

"And the Senora?" said the Father.

"She is well," answered Ramona, gently, but with a slight change of
tone, - so slight as to be almost imperceptible; but an acute observer
would have always detected it in the girl's tone whenever she spoke of
the Senora Moreno. "And you, - are you well yourself, Father?" she asked
affectionately, noting with her quick, loving eye how feebly the old
man walked, and that he carried what she had never before seen in his
hand, - a stout staff to steady his steps. "You must be very tired with
the long journey on foot."

"Ay, Ramona, I am tired," he replied. "Old age is conquering me. It will
not be many times more that I shall see this place."

"Oh, do not say that, Father," cried Ramona; "you can ride, when it
tires you too much to walk. The Senora said, only the other day, that
she wished you would let her give you a horse; that it was not right for
you to take these long journeys on foot. You know we have hundreds of
horses. It is nothing, one horse," she added, seeing the Father slowly
shake his head.

"No;" he said, "it is not that. I could not refuse anything at the hands
of the Senora. But it was the rule of our order to go on foot. We
must deny the flesh. Look at our beloved master in this land, Father
Junipero, when he was past eighty, walking from San Diego to Monterey,
and all the while a running ulcer in one of his legs, for which most men
would have taken to a bed, to be healed. It is a sinful fashion that
is coming in, for monks to take their ease doing God's work. I can no
longer walk swiftly, but I must walk all the more diligently."

While they were talking, they had been slowly moving forward, Ramona
slightly in advance, gracefully bending the mustard branches, and
holding them down till the Father had followed in her steps. As they
came out from the thicket, she exclaimed, laughing, "There is Felipe, in
the willows. I told him I was coming to meet you, and he laughed at me.
Now he will see I was right."

Astonished enough, Felipe, hearing voices, looked up, and saw Ramona and
the Father approaching. Throwing down the knife with which he had been
cutting the willows, he hastened to meet them, and dropped on his knees,
as Ramona had done, for the monk's blessing. As he knelt there, the wind
blowing his hair loosely off his brow, his large brown eyes lifted in
gentle reverence to the Father's face, and his face full of affectionate
welcome, Ramona thought to herself, as she had thought hundreds of times
since she became a woman, "How beautiful Felipe is! No wonder the Senora
loves him so much! If I had been beautiful like that she would have
liked me better." Never was a little child more unconscious of her own
beauty than Ramona still was. All the admiration which was expressed
to her in word and look she took for simple kindness and good-will.
Her face, as she herself saw it in her glass, did not please her. She
compared her straight, massive black eyebrows with Felipe's, arched and
delicately pencilled, and found her own ugly. The expression of gentle
repose which her countenance wore, seemed to her an expression of
stupidity. "Felipe looks so bright!" she thought, as she noted his
mobile changing face, never for two successive seconds the same. "There
is nobody like Felipe." And when his brown eyes were fixed on her, as
they so often were, in a long lingering gaze, she looked steadily back
into their velvet depths with an abstracted sort of intensity which
profoundly puzzled Felipe. It was this look, more than any other one
thing, which had for two years held Felipe's tongue in leash, as it
were, and made it impossible for him to say to Ramona any of the loving
things of which his heart had been full ever since he could remember.
The boy had spoken them unhesitatingly, unconsciously; but the man found
himself suddenly afraid. "What is it she thinks when she looks into my
eyes so?" he wondered. If he had known that the thing she was usually
thinking was simply, "How much handsomer brown eyes are than blue!
I wish my eyes were the color of Felipe's!" he would have perceived,
perhaps, what would have saved him sorrow, if he had known it, that a
girl who looked at a man thus, would be hard to win to look at him as a
lover. But being a lover, he could not see this. He saw only enough to
perplex and deter him.

As they drew near the house, Ramona saw Margarita standing at the gate
of the garden. She was holding something white in her hands, looking
down at it, and crying piteously. As she perceived Ramona, she made an
eager leap forward, and then shrank back again, making dumb signals
of distress to her. Her whole attitude was one of misery and entreaty.
Margarita was, of all the maids, most beloved by Ramona. Though they
were nearly of the same age, it had been Margarita who first had charge
of Ramona; the nurse and her charge had played together, grown up
together, become women together, and were now, although Margarita never
presumed on the relation, or forgot to address Ramona as Senorita, more
like friends than like mistress and maid.

"Pardon me, Father," said Ramona. "I see that Margarita there is in
trouble. I will leave Felipe to go with you to the house. I will be with
you again in a few moments." And kissing his hand, she flew rather than
ran across the field to the foot of the garden.

Before she reached the spot, Margarita had dropped on the ground and
buried her face in her hands. A mass of crumpled and stained linen lay
at her feet.

"What is it? What has happened, Margarita mia?" cried Ramona, in the
affectionate Spanish phrase. For answer, Margarita removed one wet hand
from her eyes, and pointed with a gesture of despair to the crumpled
linen. Sobs choked her voice, and she buried her face again in her

Ramona stooped, and lifted one corner of the linen. An involuntary cry
of dismay broke from her, at which Margarita's sobs redoubled, and
she gasped out, "Yes, Senorita, it is totally ruined! It can never be
mended, and it will be needed for the mass to-morrow morning. When I saw
the Father coming by your side, I prayed to the Virgin to let me die.
The Senora will never forgive me."

It was indeed a sorry sight. The white linen altar-cloth, the cloth
which the Senora Moreno had with her own hands made into one solid front
of beautiful lace of the Mexican fashion, by drawing out part of the
threads and sewing the remainder into intricate patterns, the
cloth which had always been on the altar, when mass was said, since
Margarita's and Ramona's earliest recollections, - there it lay, torn,
stained, as if it had been dragged through muddy brambles. In silence,
aghast, Ramona opened it out and held it up. "How did it happen,
Margarita?" she whispered, glancing in terror up towards the house.

"Oh, that is the worst of it, Senorita!" sobbed the girl. "That is the
worst of it! If it were not for that, I would not be so afraid. If it
had happened any other way, the Senora might have forgiven me; but she
never will. I would rather die than tell her;" and she shook from head
to foot.

"Stop crying, Margarita!" said Ramona, firmly, "and tell me all about
it. It isn't so bad as it looks. I think I can mend it."

"Oh, the saints bless you!" cried Margarita, looking up for the first
time. "Do you really think you can mend it, Senorita? If you will mend
that lace, I'll go on my knees for you all the rest of my life!"

Ramona laughed in spite of herself. "You'll serve me better by keeping
on your feet," she said merrily; at which Margarita laughed too, through
her tears. They were both young.

"Oh, but Senorita," Margarita began again in a tone of anguish, her
tears flowing afresh, "there is not time! It must be washed and ironed
to-night, for the mass to-morrow morning, and I have to help at the
supper. Anita and Rosa are both ill in bed, you know, and Maria has gone
away for a week. The Senora said if the Father came to-night I must help

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 4 of 35)