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one fear filled it, - the purpose to be his father's worthy successor,
for Pablo was old now, and very feeble; the fear, that exile and ruin
were in store for them all.

It was of these things he had been thinking as be walked alone, in
advance of his men, on the previous night, when he first saw Ramona
kneeling at the brook. Between that moment and the present, it seemed
to Alessandro that some strange miracle must have happened to him. The
purposes and the fears had alike gone. A face replaced them; a vague
wonder, pain, joy, he knew not what, filled him so to overflowing that
he was bewildered. If he had been what the world calls a civilized man,
he would have known instantly and would have been capable of weighing,
analyzing, and reflecting on his sensations at leisure. But he was not
a civilized man; he had to bring to bear on his present situation only
simple, primitive, uneducated instincts and impulses. If Ramona had been
a maiden of his own people or race, he would have drawn near to her as
quickly as iron to the magnet. But now, if he had gone so far as to even
think of her in such a way, she would have been, to his view, as far
removed from him as was the morning star beneath whose radiance he had
that morning watched, hoping for sight of her at her window. He did not,
however, go so far as to thus think of her. Even that would have
been impossible. He only knelt on the stones outside the chapel door,
mechanically repeating the prayers with the rest, waiting for her to
reappear. He had no doubt, now, that she was Senor Felipe's wife; all
the same he wished to kneel there till she came out, that he might see
her face again. His vista of purpose, fear, hope, had narrowed now down
to that, - just one more sight of her. Ever so civilized, he could hardly
have worshipped a woman better. The mass seemed to him endlessly long.
Until near the last, he forgot to sing; then, in the closing of the
final hymn, he suddenly remembered, and the clear deep-toned voice
pealed out, as before, like the undertone of a great sea-wave, sweeping

Ramona heard the first note, and felt again the same thrill. She was as
much a musician born as Alessandro himself. As she rose from her knees,
she whispered to Felipe: "Felipe, do find out which one of the Indians
it is has that superb voice. I never heard anything like it."

"Oh, that is Alessandro," replied Felipe, "old Pablo's son. He is a
splendid fellow. Don't you recollect his singing two years ago?"

"I was not here," replied Ramona; "you forget."

"Ah, yes, so you were away; I had forgotten," said Felipe. "Well, he
was here. They made him captain of the shearing-band, though he was only
twenty, and he managed the men splendidly. They saved nearly all their
money to carry home, and I never knew them do such a thing before.
Father Salvierderra was here, which might have had something to do with
it; but I think it was quite as much Alessandro. He plays the violin
beautifully. I hope he has brought it along. He plays the old San Luis
Rey music. His father was band-master there."

Ramona's eyes kindled with pleasure. "Does your mother like it, to have
him play?" she asked.

Felipe nodded. "We'll have him up on the veranda tonight," he said.

While this whispered colloquy was going on, the chapel had emptied,
the Indians and Mexicans all hurrying out to set about the day's work.
Alessandro lingered at the doorway as long as he dared, till he was
sharply called by Juan Canito, looking back: "What are you gaping at
there, you Alessandro! Hurry, now, and get your men to work. After
waiting till near midsummer for this shearing, we'll make as quick work
of it as we can. Have you got your best shearers here?"

"Ay, that I have," answered Alessandro; "not a man of them but can shear
his hundred in a day, There is not such a band as ours in all San Diego
County; and we don't turn out the sheep all bleeding, either; you'll see
scarce a scratch on their sides."

"Humph." retorted Juan Can. "'Tis a poor shearer, indeed, that draws
blood to speak of. I've sheared many a thousand sheep in my day, and
never a red stain on the shears. But the Mexicans have always been famed
for good shearers."

Juan's invidious emphasis on the word "Mexicans" did not escape
Alessandro. "And we Indians also," he answered, good-naturedly,
betraying no annoyance; "but as for these Americans, I saw one at work
the other day, that man Lomax, who settled near Temecula, and upon my
faith, Juan Can, I thought it was a slaughter-pen, and not a shearing.
The poor beasts limped off with the blood running."

Juan did not see his way clear at the moment to any fitting rejoinder to
this easy assumption, on Alessandro's part, of the equal superiority
of Indians and Mexicans in the sheep-shearing art; so, much vexed, with
another "Humph!" he walked away; walked away so fast, that he lost the
sight of a smile on Alessandro's face, which would have vexed him still

At the sheep-shearing sheds and pens all was stir and bustle. The
shearing shed was a huge caricature of a summerhouse, - a long, narrow
structure, sixty feet long by twenty or thirty wide, all roof and
pillars; no walls; the supports, slender rough posts, as far apart
as was safe, for the upholding of the roof, which was of rough planks
loosely laid from beam to beam. On three sides of this were the
sheep-pens filled with sheep and lambs.

A few rods away stood the booths in which the shearers' food was to be
cooked and the shearers fed. These were mere temporary affairs, roofed
only by willow boughs with the leaves left on. Near these, the Indians
had already arranged their camp; a hut or two of green boughs had
been built, but for the most part they would sleep rolled up in their
blankets, on the ground. There was a brisk wind, and the gay colored
wings of the windmill blew furiously round and round, pumping out into
the tank below a stream of water so swift and strong, that as the men
crowded around, wetting and sharpening their knives, they got well
spattered, and had much merriment, pushing and elbowing each other into
the spray.

A high four-posted frame stood close to the shed; in this, swung from
the four corners, hung one of the great sacking bags in which the
fleeces were to be packed. A big pile of bags lay on the ground at the
foot of the posts. Juan Can eyed them with a chuckle. "We'll fill more
than those before night, Senor Felipe," he said. He was in his element,
Juan Can, at shearing times. Then came his reward for the somewhat
monotonous and stupid year's work. The world held no better feast for
his eyes than the sight of a long row of big bales of fleece, tied,
stamped with the Moreno brand, ready to be drawn away to the mills.
"Now, there is something substantial," he thought; "no chance of wool
going amiss in market!"

If a year's crop were good, Juan's happiness was assured for the next
six months. If it proved poor, he turned devout immediately, and
spent the next six months calling on the saints for better luck, and
redoubling his exertions with the sheep.

On one of the posts of the shed short projecting slats were nailed, like
half-rounds of a ladder. Lightly as a rope-walker Felipe ran up these,
to the roof, and took his stand there, ready to take the fleeces and
pack them in the bag as fast as they should be tossed up from below.
Luigo, with a big leathern wallet fastened in front of him, filled with
five-cent pieces, took his stand in the centre of the shed. The thirty
shearers, running into the nearest pen, dragged each his sheep into
the shed, in a twinkling of an eye had the creature between his knees,
helpless, immovable, and the sharp sound of the shears set in. The
sheep-shearing had begun. No rest now. Not a second's silence from the
bleating, baa-ing, opening and shutting, clicking, sharpening of shears,
flying of fleeces through the air to the roof, pressing and stamping
them down in the bales; not a second's intermission, except the hour of
rest at noon, from sunrise till sunset, till the whole eight thousand
of the Senora Moreno's sheep were shorn. It was a dramatic spectacle. As
soon as a sheep was shorn, the shearer ran with the fleece in his
hand to Luigo, threw it down on a table, received his five-cent piece,
dropped it in his pocket, ran to the pen, dragged out another sheep, and
in less than five minutes was back again with a second fleece. The shorn
sheep, released, bounded off into another pen, where, light in the head
no doubt from being three to five pounds lighter on their legs, they
trotted round bewilderedly for a moment, then flung up their heels and
capered for joy.

It was warm work. The dust from the fleeces and the trampling feet
filled the air. As the sun rose higher in the sky the sweat poured off
the men's faces; and Felipe, standing without shelter on the roof, found
out very soon that he had by no means yet got back his full strength
since the fever. Long before noon, except for sheer pride, and for
the recollection of Juan Canito's speech, he would have come down and
yielded his place to the old man. But he was resolved not to give up,
and he worked on, though his face was purple and his head throbbing.
After the bag of fleeces is half full, the packer stands in it, jumping
with his full weight on the wool, as he throws in the fleeces, to
compress them as much as possible. When Felipe began to do this, he
found that he had indeed overrated his strength. As the first cloud of
the sickening dust came up, enveloping his head, choking his breath,
he turned suddenly dizzy, and calling faintly, "Juan, I am ill," sank
helpless down in the wool. He had fainted. At Juan Canito's scream of
dismay, a great hubbub and outcry arose; all saw instantly what had
happened. Felipe's head was hanging limp over the edge of the bag, Juan
in vain endeavoring to get sufficient foothold by his side to lift him.
One after another the men rushed up the ladder, until they were all
standing, a helpless, excited crowd, on the roof, one proposing one
thing, one another. Only Luigo had had the presence of mind to run to
the house for help. The Senora was away from home. She had gone with
Father Salvierderra to a friend's house, a half-day's journey off.
But Ramona was there. Snatching all she could think of in way of
restoratives, she came flying back with Luigo, followed by every servant
of the establishment, all talking, groaning, gesticulating, suggesting,
wringing their hands, - as disheartening a Babel as ever made bad matters

Reaching the shed, Ramona looked up to the roof bewildered. "Where is
he?" she cried. The next instant she saw his head, held in Juan Canito's
arms, just above the edge of the wool-bag. She groaned, "Oh, how will he
ever be lifted out!"

"I will lift him, Senora," cried Alessandro, coming to the front, "I am
very strong. Do not be afraid; I will bring him safe down." And swinging
himself down the ladder, he ran swiftly to the camp, and returned,
bringing in his hands blankets. Springing quickly to the roof again,
he knotted the blankets firmly together, and tying them at the middle
around his waist, threw the ends to his men, telling them to hold him
firm. He spoke in the Indian tongue as he was hurriedly doing this,
and Ramona did not at first understand his plan. But when she saw
the Indians move a little back from the edge of the roof, holding the
blankets firm grasped, while Alessandro stepped out on one of the narrow
cross-beams from which the bag swung, she saw what he meant to do. She
held her breath. Felipe was a slender man; Alessandro was much heavier,
and many inches taller. Still, could any man carry such a burden safely
on that narrow beam! Ramona looked away, and shut her eyes, through
the silence which followed. It was only a few moments; but it seemed an
eternity before a glad murmur of voices told her that it was done, and
looking up, she saw Felipe lying on the roof, unconscious, his face
white, his eyes shut. At this sight, all the servants broke out afresh,
weeping and wailing, "He is dead! He is dead!"

Ramona stood motionless, her eyes fixed on Felipe's face. She, too,
believed him dead; but her thought was of the Senora.

"He is not dead," cried Juan Canito, who had thrust his hand under
Felipe's shirt. "He is not dead. It is only a faint."

At this the first tears rolled down Ramona's face. She looked piteously
at the ladder up and down which she had seen Alessandro run as if it
were an easy indoor staircase. "If I could only get up there!" she said,
looking from one to another. "I think I can;" and she put one foot on
the lower round.

"Holy Virgin!" cried Juan Can, seeing her movement. "Senorita! Senorita!
do not attempt it. It is not too easy for a man. You will break your
neck. He is fast coming to his senses."

Alessandro caught the words. Spite of all the confusion and terror of
the scene, his heart heard the word, "Senorita." Ramona was not the
wife of Felipe, or of any man. Yet Alessandro recollected that he had
addressed her as Senora, and she did not seem surprised. Coming to the
front of the group he said, bending forward, "Senorita!" There must
have been something in the tone which made Ramona start. The simple word
could not have done it. "Senorita," said Alessandro, "it will be nothing
to bring Senor Felipe down the ladder. He is, in my arms, no more
than one of the lambs yonder. I will bring him down as soon as he is
recovered. He is better here till then. He will very soon be himself
again. It was only the heat." Seeing that the expression of anxious
distress did not grow less on Ramona's face, he continued, in a tone
still more earnest, "Will not the Senorita trust me to bring him safe

Ramona smiled faintly through her tears. "Yes," she said, "I will trust
you. You are Alessandro, are you not?"

"Yes, Senorita," he answered, greatly surprised, "I am Alessandro."


A BAD beginning did not make a good ending of the Senora Moreno's
sheep-shearing this year. One as superstitiously prejudiced against
Roman Catholic rule as she was in favor of it, would have found, in the
way things fell out, ample reason for a belief that the Senora was
being punished for having let all the affairs of her place come to a
standstill, to await the coming of an old monk. But the pious Senora,
looking at the other side of the shield, was filled with gratitude
that, since all this ill luck was to befall her, she had the good Father
Salvierderra at her side to give her comfort and counsel.

It was not yet quite noon of the first day, when Felipe fainted and fell
in the wool; and it was only a little past noon of the third, when
Juan Canito, who, not without some secret exultation, had taken Senor
Felipe's place at the packing, fell from the cross-beam to the ground,
and broke his right leg, - a bad break near the knee; and Juan Canito's
bones were much too old for fresh knitting. He would never again be able
to do more than hobble about on crutches, dragging along the useless
leg. It was a cruel blow to the old man. He could not be resigned to
it. He lost faith in his saints, and privately indulged in blasphemous
beratings and reproaches of them, which would have filled the Senora
with terror, had she known that such blasphemies were being committed
under her roof.

"As many times as I have crossed that plank, in my day!" cried Juan;
"only the fiends themselves could have made me trip; and there was that
whole box of candles I paid for with my own money last month, and burned
to Saint Francis in the chapel for this very sheep-shearing! He may sit
in the dark, for all me, to the end of time! He is no saint at all! What
are they for, if not to keep us from harm when we pray to them? I'll
pray no more. I believe the Americans are right, who laugh at us." From
morning till night, and nearly from night till morning, for the leg
ached so he slept little, poor Juan groaned and grumbled and swore, and
swore and grumbled and groaned. Taking care of him was enough, Margarita
said, to wear out the patience of the Madonna herself. There was no
pleasing him, whatever you did, and his tongue was never still a minute.
For her part, she believed that it must be as he said, that the fiends
had pushed him off the plank, and that the saints had had their reasons
for leaving him to his fate. A coldness and suspicion gradually grew up
in the minds of all the servants towards him. His own reckless language,
combined with Margarita's reports, gave the superstitious fair ground
for believing that something had gone mysteriously wrong, and that the
Devil was in a fair way to get his soul, which was very hard for the old
man, in addition to all the rest he had to bear. The only alleviation he
had for his torments, was in having his fellow-servants, men and women,
drop in, sit by his pallet, and chat with him, telling him all that was
going on; and when by degrees they dropped off, coming more and more
seldom, and one by one leaving off coming altogether, it was the one
drop that overflowed his cup of misery; and he turned his face to the
wall, left off grumbling, and spoke only when he must.

This phase frightened Margarita even more than the first. Now, she
thought, surely the dumb terror and remorse of one who belongs to the
Devil had seized him, and her hands trembled as she went through the
needful ministrations for him each day. Three months, at least, the
doctor, who had come from Ventura to set the leg, had said he must lie
still in bed and be thus tended. "Three months!" sighed Margarita. "If I
be not dead or gone crazy myself before the end of that be come!"

The Senora was too busy with Felipe to pay attention or to give thought
to Juan. Felipe's fainting had been the symptom and beginning of a
fierce relapse of the fever, and he was lying in his bed, tossing and
raving in delirium, always about the wool.

"Throw them faster, faster! That's a good fleece; five pounds more; a
round ton in those bales. Juan! Alessandro! Captain! - Jesus, how this
sun burns my head!"

Several times he had called "Alessandro" so earnestly, that Father
Salvierderra advised bringing Alessandro into the room, to see if by any
chance there might have been something in his mind that he wished to say
to him. But when Alessandro stood by the bedside, Felipe gazed at
him vacantly, as he did at all the others, still repeating, however,
"Alessandro! Alessandro!"

"I think perhaps he wants Alessandro to play on his violin," sobbed out
Ramona. "He was telling me how beautifully Alessandro played, and said
he would have him up on the veranda in the evening to play to us."

"We might try it," said Father Salvierderra. "Have you your violin here,

"Alas, no, Father," replied Alessandro, "I did not bring it."

"Perhaps it would do him good it you were to sing, then," said Ramona.
"He was speaking of your voice also."

"Oh, try, try." said the Senorita, turning to Alessandro. "Sing
something low and soft."

Alessandro walked from the bed to the open window, and after thinking
for a moment, began a slow strain from one of the masses.

At the first note, Felipe became suddenly quiet, evidently listening. An
expression of pleasure spread over his feverish face. He turned his head
to one side, put his hand under his cheek and closed his eyes. The three
watching him looked at each other in astonishment.

"It is a miracle," said Father Salvierderra. "He will sleep."

"It was what he wanted!" whispered Ramona.

The Senora spoke not, but buried her face in the bedclothes for a
second; then lifting it, she gazed at Alessandro as if she were praying
to a saint. He, too, saw the change in Felipe, and sang lower and lower,
till the notes sounded as if they came from afar; lower and lower,
slower; finally they ceased, as if they died away lost in distance. As
they ceased, Felipe opened his eyes.

"Oh, go on, go on!" the Senora implored in a whisper shrill with
anxiety. "Do not stop!"

Alessandro repeated the strain, slow, solemn; his voice trembled; the
air in the room seemed stifling, spite of the open window; he felt
something like terror, as he saw Felipe evidently sinking to sleep by
reason of the notes of his voice. There had been nothing in Alessandro's
healthy outdoor experience to enable him to understand such a
phenomenon. Felipe breathed more and more slowly, softly, regularly;
soon he was in a deep sleep. The singing stopped; Felipe did not stir.

"Can I go?" whispered Alessandro.

"No, no." replied the Senora, impatiently. "He may wake any minute."

Alessandro looked troubled, but bowed his head submissively, and
remained standing by the window. Father Salvierderra was kneeling on
one side of the bed, the Senora at the other, Ramona at the foot, - all
praying; the silence was so great that the slight sounds of the rosary
beads slipping against each other seemed loud. In a niche in the wall,
at the head of the bed, stood a statue of the Madonna, on the other side
a picture of Santa Barbara. Candles were burning before each. The long
wicks smouldered and died down, sputtering, then flared up again as
the ends fell into the melted wax. The Senora's eyes were fixed on the
Madonna. The Father's were closed. Ramona gazed at Felipe with tears
streaming down her face as she mechanically told her beads.

"She is his betrothed, no doubt," thought Alessandro. "The saints will
not let him die;" and Alessandro also prayed. But the oppression of the
scene was too much for him. Laying his hand on the low window-sill, he
vaulted over it, saying to Ramona, who turned her head at the sound,
"I will not go away, Senorita, I will be close under the window, if he

Once in the open air, he drew a long breath, and gazed bewilderedly
about him, like one just recovering consciousness after a faint. Then
he threw himself on the ground under the window, and lay looking up into
the sky. Capitan came up, and with a low whine stretched himself out at
full length by his side. The dog knew as well as any other one of the
house that danger and anguish were there.

One hour passed, two, three; still no sound from Felipe's room.
Alessandro rose, and looked in at the window. The Father and the Senora
had not changed their attitudes; their lips were yet moving in prayer.
But Ramona had yielded to her fatigue; slipped from her knees into a
sitting posture, with her head leaning against the post of the bedstead,
and fallen asleep. Her face was swollen and discolored by weeping, and
heavy circles under her eyes told how tired she was. For three days and
nights she had scarcely rested, so constant were the demands on her.
Between Felipe's illness and Juan Can's, there was not a moment without
something to be done, or some perplexing question to be settled, and
above all, and through all, the terrible sorrow. Ramona was broken down
with grief at the thought of Felipe's death. She had never known till
she saw him lying there delirious, and as she in her inexperience
thought, dying, how her whole life was entwined with his. But now, at
the very thought of what it would be to live without him, her heart
sickened. "When he is buried, I will ask Father Salvierderra to take
me away. I never can live here alone," she said to herself, never for a
moment perceiving that the word "alone" was a strange one to have come
into her mind in the connection. The thought of the Senora did not enter
into her imaginations of the future which so smote her with terror. In
the Senora's presence, Ramona always felt herself alone.

Alessandro stood at the window, his arms folded, leaning on the sill,
his eyes fixed on Ramona's face and form. To any other than a lover's
eyes she had not looked beautiful now; but to Alessandro she looked more
beautiful than the picture of Santa Barbara on the wall beyond. With a
lover's instinct he knew the thoughts which had written such lines
on her face in the last three days. "It will kill her if he dies,"
he thought, "if these three days have made her look like that." And
Alessandro threw himself on the ground again, his face down. He did not
know whether it were an hour or a day that he had lain there, when he
heard Father Salvierderra's voice speaking his name. He sprang up, to
see the old monk standing in the window, tears running down his cheeks.
"God be praised," he said, "the Senor Felipe will get well. A sweat has
broken out on his skin; he still sleeps, but when he wakes he will be in
his right mind. The strength of the fever is broken. But, Alessandro, we
know not how to spare you. Can you not let the men go without you, and

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 6 of 35)