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mother, and must wait on table. It cannot be done. I was just going
to iron it now, and I found it - so - It was in the artichoke-patch, and
Capitan, the beast, had been tossing it among the sharp pricks of the
old last year's seeds."

"In the artichoke-patch!" ejaculated Ramona. "How under heavens did it
get there?"

"Oh, that was what I meant, Senorita, when I said she never would
forgive me. She has forbidden me many times to hang anything to dry on
the fence there; and if I had only washed it when she first told me, two
days ago, all would have been well. But I forgot it till this afternoon,
and there was no sun in the court to dry it, and you know how the sun
lies on the artichoke-patch, and I put a strong cloth over the fence,
so that the wood should not pierce the lace, and I did not leave it more
than half an hour, just while I said a few words to Luigo, and there
was no wind; and I believe the saints must have fetched it down to the
ground to punish me for my disobedience."

Ramona had been all this time carefully smoothing out the torn places,
"It is not so bad as it looks," she said; "if it were not for the hurry,
there would be no trouble in mending it. But I will do it the best I
can, so that it will not show, for to-morrow, and then, after the Father
is gone, I can repair it at leisure, and make it just as good as new.
I think I can mend it and wash it before dark," and she glanced at the
sun. "Oh, yes, there are good three hours of daylight yet. I can do it.
You put the irons on the fire, to have them hot, to iron it as soon
as it is partly dried. You will see it will not show that anything has
happened to it."

"Will the Senora know?" asked poor Margarita, calmed and reassured, but
still in mortal terror.

Ramona turned her steady glance full on Margarita's face. "You would not
be any happier if she were deceived, do you think?" she said gravely.

"O Senorita, after it is mended? If it really does not show?" pleaded
the girl.

"I will tell her myself, and not till after it is mended," said Ramona;
but she did not smile.

"Ah, Senorita," said Margarita, deprecatingly, "you do not know what it
is to have the Senora displeased with one."

"Nothing can be so bad as to be displeased with one's self," retorted
Ramona, as she walked swiftly away to her room with the linen rolled up
under her arm. Luckily for Margarita's cause, she met no one on the way.
The Senora had welcomed Father Salvierderra at the foot of the veranda
steps, and had immediately closeted herself with him. She had much to
say to him, - much about which she wished his help and counsel, and much
which she wished to learn from him as to affairs in the Church and in
the country generally.

Felipe had gone off at once to find Juan Canito, to see if everything
were ready for the sheep-shearing to begin on the next day, if the
shearers arrived in time; and there was very good chance of their coming
in by sundown this day, Felipe thought, for he had privately instructed
his messenger to make all possible haste, and to impress on the Indians
the urgent need of their losing no time on the road.

It had been a great concession on the Senora's part to allow the
messenger to be sent off before she had positive intelligence as to the
Father's movements. But as day after day passed and no news came, even
she perceived that it would not do to put off the sheep-shearing much
longer, or, as Juan Canito said, "forever." The Father might have fallen
ill; and if that were so, it might very easily be weeks before they
heard of it, so scanty were the means of communication between the
remote places on his route of visitation. The messenger had therefore
been sent to summon the Temecula shearers, and Senora had resigned
herself to the inevitable; piously praying, however, morning and night,
and at odd moments in the day, that the Father might arrive before the
Indians did. When she saw him coming up the garden-walk, leaning on
the arm of her Felipe, on the afternoon of the very day which was the
earliest possible day for the Indians to arrive, it was not strange that
she felt, mingled with the joy of her greeting to her long-loved friend
and confessor, a triumphant exultation that the saints had heard her

In the kitchen all was bustle and stir. The coming of any guest into the
house was a signal for unwonted activities there, - even the coming of
Father Salvierderra, who never knew whether the soup had force-meat
balls in it or not, old Marda said; and that was to her the last extreme
of indifference to good things of the flesh. "But if he will not eat,
he can see," she said; and her pride for herself and for the house was
enlisted in setting forth as goodly an array of viands as her larder
afforded, She grew suddenly fastidious over the size and color of the
cabbages to go into the beef-pot, and threw away one whole saucepan full
of rice, because Margarita had put only one onion in instead of two.

"Have I not told you again and again that for the Father it is always
two onions?" she exclaimed. "It is the dish he most favors of all; and
it is a pity too, old as he is. It makes him no blood. It is good beef
he should take now."

The dining-room was on the opposite side of the courtyard from the
kitchen, and there was a perpetual procession of small messengers going
back and forth between the rooms. It was the highest ambition of each
child to be allowed to fetch and carry dishes in the preparation of
the meals at all times; but when by so doing they could perchance get a
glimpse through the dining-room door, open on the veranda, of strangers
and guests, their restless rivalry became unmanageable. Poor Margarita,
between her own private anxieties and her multiplied duties of helping
in the kitchen, and setting the table, restraining and overseeing her
army of infant volunteers, was nearly distraught; not so distraught,
however, but that she remembered and found time to seize a lighted
candle in the kitchen, run and set it before the statue of Saint Francis
of Paula in her bedroom, hurriedly whispering a prayer that the lace
might be made whole like new. Several times before the afternoon had
waned she snatched a moment to fling herself down at the statue's feet
and pray her foolish little prayer over again. We think we are quite
sure that it is a foolish little prayer, when people pray to have torn
lace made whole. But it would be hard to show the odds between asking
that, and asking that it may rain, or that the sick may get well. As the
grand old Russian says, what men usually ask for, when they pray to God,
is, that two and two may not make four. All the same he is to be pitied
who prays not. It was only the thought of that candle at Saint Francis's
feet, which enabled Margarita to struggle through this anxious and
unhappy afternoon and evening.

At last supper was ready, - a great dish of spiced beef and cabbage in
the centre of the table; a tureen of thick soup, with force-meat balls
and red peppers in it; two red earthen platters heaped, one with the
boiled rice and onions, the other with the delicious frijoles (beans)
so dear to all Mexican hearts; cut-glass dishes filled with hot stewed
pears, or preserved quinces, or grape jelly; plates of frosted cakes of
various sorts; and a steaming silver teakettle, from which went up an
aroma of tea such as had never been bought or sold in all California,
the Senora's one extravagance and passion.

"Where is Ramona?" asked the Senora, surprised and displeased, as she
entered the dining-room, "Margarita, go tell the Senorita that we are
waiting for her."

Margarita started tremblingly, with flushed face, towards the door. What
would happen now! "O Saint Francis," she inwardly prayed, "help us this

"Stay," said Felipe. "Do not call Senorita Ramona." Then, turning to his
mother, "Ramona cannot come. She is not in the house. She has a duty to
perform for to-morrow," he said; and he looked meaningly at his mother,
adding, "we will not wait for her."

Much bewildered, the Senora took her seat at the head of the table in a
mechanical way, and began, "But - " Felipe, seeing that questions were to
follow, interrupted her: "I have just spoken with her. It is impossible
for her to come;" and turning to Father Salvierderra, he at once engaged
him in conversation, and left the baffled Senora to bear her unsatisfied
curiosity as best she could.

Margarita looked at Felipe with an expression of profound gratitude,
which he did not observe, and would not in the least have understood;
for Ramona had not confided to him any details of the disaster. Seeing
him under her window, she had called cautiously to him, and said: "Dear
Felipe, do you think you can save me from having to come to supper? A
dreadful accident has happened to the altar-cloth, and I must mend it
and wash it, and there is barely time before dark. Don't let them call
me; I shall be down at the brook, and they will not find me, and your
mother will be displeased."

This wise precaution of Ramona's was the salvation of everything, so far
as the altar-cloth was concerned. The rents had proved far less serious
than she had feared; the daylight held out till the last of them was
skilfully mended; and just as the red beams of the sinking sun came
streaming through the willow-trees at the foot of the garden, Ramona,
darting down the garden, had reached the brook, and kneeling on the
grass, had dipped the linen into the water.

Her hurried working over the lace, and her anxiety, had made her cheeks
scarlet. As she ran down the garden, her comb had loosened and her hair
fallen to her waist. Stopping only to pick up the comb and thrust it in
her pocket, she had sped on, as it would soon be too dark for her to see
the stains on the linen, and it was going to be no small trouble to get
them out without fraying the lace.

Her hair in disorder, her sleeves pinned loosely on her shoulders, her
whole face aglow with the earnestness of her task, she bent low over
the stones, rinsing the altar-cloth up and down in the water, anxiously
scanning it, then plunging it in again.

The sunset beams played around her hair like a halo; the whole place was
aglow with red light, and her face was kindled into transcendent beauty.
A sound arrested her attention. She looked up. Forms, dusky black
against the fiery western sky, were coming down the valley. It was the
band of Indian shearers. They turned to the left, and went towards the
sheep sheds and booths. But there was one of them that Ramona did not
see. He had been standing for some minutes concealed behind a large
willow-tree a few rods from the place where Ramona was kneeling. It was
Alessandro, son of Pablo Assis, captain of the shearing band. Walking
slowly along in advance of his men, he had felt a light, as from a
mirror held in the sun, smite his eyes. It was the red sunbeam on the
glittering water where Ramona knelt. In the same second he saw Ramona.

He halted, as wild creatures of the forest halt at a sound; gazed;
walked abruptly away from his men, who kept on, not noticing his
disappearance. Cautiously he moved a few steps nearer, into the shelter
of a gnarled old willow, from behind which he could gaze unperceived on
the beautiful vision, - for so it seemed to him.

As he gazed, his senses seemed leaving him, and unconsciously he spoke
aloud; "Christ! What shall I do!"


THE room in which Father Salvierderra always slept when at the Senora
Moreno's house was the southeast corner room. It had a window to the
south and one to the east. When the first glow of dawn came in the sky,
this eastern window was lit up as by a fire. The Father was always on
watch for it, having usually been at prayer for hours. As the first ray
reached the window, he would throw the casement wide open, and standing
there with bared head, strike up the melody of the sunrise hymn sung in
all devout Mexican families. It was a beautiful custom, not yet wholly
abandoned. At the first dawn of light, the oldest member of the family
arose, and began singing some hymn familiar to the household. It was the
duty of each person hearing it to immediately rise, or at least sit up
in bed, and join in the singing. In a few moments the whole family would
be singing, and the joyous sounds pouring out from the house like
the music of the birds in the fields at dawn. The hymns were usually
invocations to the Virgin, or to the saint of the day, and the melodies
were sweet and simple.

On this morning there was another watcher for the dawn besides Father
Salvierderra. It was Alessandro, who had been restlessly wandering about
since midnight, and had finally seated himself under the willow-trees by
the brook, at the spot where he had seen Ramona the evening before. He
recollected this custom of the sunrise hymn when he and his band were
at the Senora's the last year, and he had chanced then to learn that the
Father slept in the southeast room. From the spot where he sat, he could
see the south window of this room. He could also see the low eastern
horizon, at which a faint luminous line already showed. The sky was like
amber; a few stars still shone faintly in the zenith. There was not
a sound. It was one of those rare moments in which one can without
difficulty realize the noiseless spinning of the earth through space.
Alessandro knew nothing of this; he could not have been made to believe
that the earth was moving. He thought the sun was coming up apace,
and the earth was standing still, - a belief just as grand, just as
thrilling, so far as all that goes, as the other: men worshipped the sun
long before they found out that it stood still. Not the most reverent
astronomer, with the mathematics of the heavens at his tongue's end,
could have had more delight in the wondrous phenomenon of the dawn, than
did this simple-minded, unlearned man.

His eyes wandered from the horizon line of slowly increasing light, to
the windows of the house, yet dark and still. "Which window is hers?
Will she open it when the song begins?" he thought. "Is it on this side
of the house? Who can she be? She was not here last year. Saw the saints
ever so beautiful a creature!"

At last came the full red ray across the meadow. Alessandro sprang to
his feet. In the next second Father Salvierderra flung up his south
window, and leaning out, his cowl thrown off, his thin gray locks
streaming back, began in a feeble but not unmelodious voice to sing, -

"O beautiful Queen,
Princess of Heaven."

Before he had finished the second line, a half-dozen voices had joined
in, - the Senora, from her room at the west end of the veranda, beyond
the flowers; Felipe, from the adjoining room; Ramona, from hers, the
next; and Margarita and other of the maids already astir in the wings of
the house. As the volume of melody swelled, the canaries waked, and the
finches and the linnets in the veranda roof. The tiles of this roof were
laid on bundles of tule reeds, in which the linnets delighted to build
their nests. The roof was alive with them, - scores and scores, nay
hundreds, tame as chickens; their tiny shrill twitter was like the
tuning of myriads of violins.

"Singers at dawn
From the heavens above
People all regions;
Gladly we too sing,"

continued the hymn, the birds corroborating the stanza. Then men's
voices joined in, - Juan and Luigo, and a dozen more, walking slowly up
from the sheepfolds. The hymn was a favorite one, known to all.

"Come, O sinners,
Come, and we will sing
Tender hymns
To our refuge,"

was the chorus, repeated after each of the five verses of the hymn.

Alessandro also knew the hymn well. His father, Chief Pablo, had been
the leader of the choir at the San Luis Rey Mission in the last years of
its splendor, and had brought away with him much of the old choir music.
Some of the books had been written by his own hand, on parchment. He not
only sang well, but was a good player on the violin. There was not at
any of the Missions so fine a band of performers on stringed instruments
as at San Luis Rey. Father Peyri was passionately fond of music, and
spared no pains in training all the neophytes under his charge who
showed any special talent in that direction. Chief Pablo, after the
breaking up of the Mission, had settled at Temecula, with a small band
of his Indians, and endeavored, so far as was in his power, to keep
up the old religious services. The music in the little chapel of the
Temecula Indians was a surprise to all who heard it.

Alessandro had inherited his father's love and talent for music, and
knew all the old Mission music by heart. This hymn to the

"Beautiful Queen,
Princess of Heaven,"

was one of his special favorites; and as he heard verse after verse
rising, he could not forbear striking in.

At the first notes of this rich new voice, Ramona's voice ceased in
surprise; and, throwing up her window, she leaned out, eagerly looking
in all directions to see who it could be. Alessandro saw her, and sang
no more.

"What could it have been? Did I dream it?" thought Ramona, drew in her
head, and began to sing again.

With the next stanza of the chorus, the same rich barytone notes. They
seemed to float in under all the rest, and bear them along, as a great
wave bears a boat. Ramona had never heard such a voice. Felipe had
a good tenor, and she liked to sing with him, or to hear him; but
this - this was from another world, this sound. Ramona felt every note of
it penetrating her consciousness with a subtle thrill almost like pain.
When the hymn ended, she listened eagerly, hoping Father Salvierderra
would strike up a second hymn, as he often did; but he did not this
morning; there was too much to be done; everybody was in a hurry to
be at work: windows shut, doors opened; the sounds of voices from all
directions, ordering, questioning, answering, began to be heard. The sun
rose and let a flood of work-a-day light on the whole place.

Margarita ran and unlocked the chapel door, putting up a heartfelt
thanksgiving to Saint Francis and the Senorita, as she saw the snowy
altar-cloth in its place, looking, from that distance at least, as good
as new.

The Indians and the shepherds, and laborers of all sorts, were coming
towards the chapel. The Senora, with her best black silk handkerchief
bound tight around her forehead, the ends hanging down each side of her
face, making her look like an Assyrian priestess, was descending the
veranda steps, Felipe at her side; and Father Salvierderra had already
entered the chapel before Ramona appeared, or Alessandro stirred from
his vantage-post of observation at the willows.

When Ramona came out from the door she bore in her hands a high silver
urn filled with ferns. She had been for many days gathering and hoarding
these. They were hard to find, growing only in one place in a rocky
canon, several miles away.

As she stepped from the veranda to the ground, Alessandro walked slowly
up the garden-walk, facing her. She met his eyes, and, without knowing
why, thought, "That must be the Indian who sang." As she turned to the
right and entered the chapel, Alessandro followed her hurriedly, and
knelt on the stones close to the chapel door. He would be near when she
came out. As he looked in at the door, he saw her glide up the aisle,
place the ferns on the reading-desk, and then kneel down by Felipe in
front of the altar. Felipe turned towards her, smiling slightly, with a
look as of secret intelligence.

"Ah, Senor Felipe has married. She is his wife," thought Alessandro, and
a strange pain seized him. He did not analyze it; hardly knew what it
meant. He was only twenty-one. He had not thought much about women. He
was a distant, cold boy, his own people of the Temecula village said.
It had come, they believed, of learning to read, which was always bad.
Chief Pablo had not done his son any good by trying to make him like
white men. If the Fathers could have stayed, and the life at the Mission
have gone on, why, Alessandro could have had work to do for the Fathers,
as his father had before him. Pablo had been Father Peyri's right-hand
man at the Mission; had kept all the accounts about the cattle; paid the
wages; handled thousands of dollars of gold every month. But that was
"in the time of the king;" it was very different now. The Americans
would not let an Indian do anything but plough and sow and herd cattle.
A man need not read and write, to do that.

Even Pablo sometimes doubted whether he had done wisely in teaching
Alessandro all he knew himself. Pablo was, for one of his race, wise and
far-seeing. He perceived the danger threatening his people on all sides.
Father Peyri, before he left the country, had said to him: "Pablo, your
people will be driven like sheep to the slaughter, unless you keep them
together. Knit firm bonds between them; band them into pueblos; make
them work; and above all, keep peace with the whites. It is your only

Most strenuously Pablo had striven to obey Father Peyri's directions. He
had set his people the example of constant industry, working steadily in
his fields and caring well for his herds. He had built a chapel in his
little village, and kept up forms of religious service there. Whenever
there were troubles with the whites, or rumors of them, he went from
house to house, urging, persuading, commanding his people to keep the
peace. At one time when there was an insurrection of some of the Indian
tribes farther south, and for a few days it looked as if there would
be a general Indian war, he removed the greater part of his band, men,
women, and children driving their flocks and herds with them, to
Los Angeles, and camped there for several days, that they might be
identified with the whites in case hostilities became serious.

But his labors did not receive the reward that they deserved. With every
day that the intercourse between his people and the whites increased,
he saw the whites gaining, his people surely losing ground, and his
anxieties deepened. The Mexican owner of the Temecula valley, a friend
of Father Peyri's, and a good friend also of Pablo's, had returned
to Mexico in disgust with the state of affairs in California, and was
reported to be lying at the point of death. This man's promise to Pablo,
that he and his people should always live in the valley undisturbed,
was all the title Pablo had to the village lands. In the days when the
promise was given, it was all that was necessary. The lines marking off
the Indians' lands were surveyed, and put on the map of the estate. No
Mexican proprietor ever broke faith with an Indian family or village,
thus placed on his lands.

But Pablo had heard rumors, which greatly disquieted him, that such
pledges and surveyed lines as these were corning to be held as of no
value, not binding on purchasers of grants. He was intelligent enough
to see that if this were so, he and his people were ruined. All these
perplexities and fears he confided to Alessandro; long anxious hours the
father and son spent together, walking back and forth in the village, or
sitting in front of their little adobe house, discussing what could be
done. There was always the same ending to the discussion, - a long sigh,
and, "We must wait, we can do nothing."

No wonder Alessandro seemed, to the more ignorant and thoughtless young
men and women of his village, a cold and distant lad. He was made old
before his time. He was carrying in his heart burdens of which they
knew nothing. So long as the wheat fields came up well, and there was
no drought, and the horses and sheep had good pasture, in plenty, on the
hills, the Temecula people could be merry, go day by day to their easy
work, play games at sunset, and sleep sound all night. But Alessandro
and his father looked beyond. And this was the one great reason why
Alessandro had not yet thought about women, in way of love; this,
and also the fact that even the little education he had received was
sufficient to raise a slight barrier, of which he was unconsciously
aware, between him and the maidens of the village. If a quick, warm
fancy for any one of them ever stirred in his veins, he found himself
soon, he knew not how, cured of it. For a dance, or a game, or a
friendly chat, for the trips into the mountains after acorns, or to the
marshes for grasses and reeds, he was their good comrade, and they were
his; but never had the desire to take one of them for his wife, entered
into Alessandro's mind. The vista of the future, for him, was filled
full by thoughts which left no room for love's dreaming; one purpose and

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 5 of 35)