Helen Hunt Jackson.

Ramona online

. (page 7 of 35)
Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 7 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

remain here? The Senora would like to have you remain in Juan Can's
place till he is about. She will give you the same wages he had. Would
it not be a good thing for you, Alessandro? You cannot be sure of
earning so much as that for the next three months, can you?"

While the Father was speaking, a tumult had been going on in
Alessandro's breast. He did not know by name any of the impulses which
were warring there, tearing him in twain, as it were, by their pulling
in opposite directions; one saying "Stay!" and the other saying "Go!"
He would not have known what any one meant, who had said to him, "It
is danger to stay; it is safety to fly." All the same, he felt as if he
could do neither.

"There is another shearing yet, Father," he began, "at the Ortega's
ranch. I had promised to go to them as soon as I had finished here, and
they have been wroth enough with us for the delay already. It will not
do to break the promise, Father."

Father Salvierderra's face fell. "No, my son, certainly not," he said;
"but could no one else take your place with the band?"

Hearing these words, Ramona came to the window, and leaning out,
whispered, "Are you talking about Alessandro's staying? Let me come
and talk to him. He must not go." And running swiftly through the hall,
across the veranda, and down the steps, she stood by Alessandro's side
in a moment. Looking up in his face pleadingly, she said: "We can't let
you go, Alessandro. The Senor will pay wages to some other to go in your
place with the shearers. We want you to stay here in Juan Can's place
till he is well. Don't say you can't stay! Felipe may need you to sing
again, and what would we do then? Can't you stay?"

"Yes, I can stay, Senorita," answered Alessandro, gravely. "I will stay
so long as you need me."

"Oh, thank you, Alessandro!" Ramona cried. "You are good, to stay. The
Senora will see that it is no loss to you;" and she flew back to the

"It is not for the wages, Senorita," Alessandro began; but Ramona
was gone. She did not hear him, and he turned away with a sense of
humiliation. "I don't want the Senorita to think that it was the money
kept me," he said, turning to Father Salvierderra. "I would not leave
the band for money; it is to help, because they are in trouble, Father."

"Yes, yes, son. I understand that," replied the monk, who had known
Alessandro since he was a little fellow playing in the corridors of San
Luis Rey, the pet of all the Brothers there. "That is quite right of
you, and the Senora will not be insensible of it. It is not for such
things that money can pay. They are indeed in great trouble now, and
only the two women in the house; and I must soon be going on my way
North again."

"Is it sure that Senor Felipe will get well?" asked Alessandro.

"I think so," replied Father Salvierderra. "These relapses are always
worse than the first attack; but I have never known one to die, after
he had the natural sweat to break from the skin, and got good sleep. I
doubt not he will be in his bed, though, for many days, and there will
be much to be seen to. It was an ill luck to have Juan Can laid up,
too, just at this time. I must go and see him; I hear he is in most
rebellious frame of mind, and blasphemes impiously."

"That does he!" said Alessandro. "He swears the saints gave him over to
the fiends to push him off the plank, and he'll have none of them from
this out! I told him to beware, or they might bring him to worse things
yet if he did not mend his speech of them."

Sighing deeply as they walked along, the monk said: "It is but a sign
of the times. Blasphemers are on the highway. The people are being
corrupted. Keeps your father the worship in the chapel still, and does a
priest come often to the village?"

"Only twice a year," replied Alessandro; "and sometimes for a funeral,
if there is money enough to pay for the mass. But my father has the
chapel open, and each Sunday we sing what we know of the mass; and the
people are often there praying."

"Ay, ay! Ever for money!" groaned Father Salvierderra, not heeding the
latter part of the sentence. "Ever for money! It is a shame. But that it
were sure to be held as a trespass, I would go myself to Temecula once
in three months; but I may not. The priests do not love our order."

"Oh, if you could, Father," exclaimed Alessandro, "it would make my
father very glad! He speaks often to me of the difference he sees
between the words of the Church now and in the days of the Mission. He
is very sad, Father, and in great fear about our village. They say the
Americans, when they buy the Mexicans' lands, drive the Indians away as
if they were dogs; they say we have no right to our lands. Do you think
that can be so, Father, when we have always lived on them, and the
owners promised them to us forever?"

Father Salvierderra was silent a long time before replying, and
Alessandro watched his face anxiously. He seemed to be hesitating for
words to convey his meaning. At last he said: "Got your father any
notice, at any time since the Americans took the country, - notice to
appear before a court, or anything about a title to the land?"

"No, Father," replied Alessandro.

"There has to be some such paper, as I understand their laws," continued
the monk; "some notice, before any steps can be taken to remove Indians
from an estate. It must be done according to the law, in the courts. If
you have had no such notice, you are not in danger."

"But, Father," persisted Alessandro, "how could there be a law to take
away from us the land which the Senor Valdez gave us forever?"

"Gave he to you any paper, any writing to show it?"

"No, no paper; but it is marked in red lines on the map. It was marked
off by Jose Ramirez, of Los Angeles, when they marked all the boundaries
of Senor Valdez's estate. They had many instruments of brass and wood to
measure with, and a long chain, very heavy, which I helped them carry.
I myself saw it marked on the map. They all slept in my father's
house, - Senor Valdez, and Ramirez, and the man who made the measures. He
hired one of our men to carry his instruments, and I went to help, for I
wished to see how it was done; but I could understand nothing, and Jose
told me a man must study many years to learn the way of it. It seemed to
me our way, by the stones, was much better. But I know it is all marked
on the map, for it was with a red line; and my father understood it, and
Jose Ramirez and Senor Valdez both pointed to it with their finger, and
they said, 'All this here is your land, Pablo, always.' I do not think
my father need fear, do you?"

"I hope not," replied Father Salvierderra, cautiously; "but since the
way that all the lands of the Missions have been taken away, I have
small faith in the honesty of the Americans. I think they will take all
that they can. The Church has suffered terrible loss at their hands."

"That is what my father says," replied Alessandro. "He says, 'Look at
San Luis Rey! Nothing but the garden and orchard left, of all their vast
lands where they used to pasture thirty thousand sheep. If the Church
and the Fathers could not keep their lands, what can we Indians do?'
That is what my father says."

"True, true!" said the monk, as he turned into the door of the room
where Juan Can lay on his narrow bed, longing yet fearing to see Father
Salvierderra's face coming in. "We are all alike helpless in their
hands, Alessandro. They possess the country, and can make what laws they
please. We can only say, 'God's will be done,'" and he crossed himself
devoutly, repeating the words twice.

Alessandro did the same, and with a truly devout spirit, for he was full
of veneration for the Fathers and their teachings; but as he walked on
towards the shearing-shed he thought: "Then, again, how can it be God's
will that wrong be done? It cannot be God's will that one man should
steal from another all he has. That would make God no better than a
thief, it looks to me. But how can it happen, if it is not God's will?"

It does not need that one be educated, to see the logic in this formula.
Generations of the oppressed and despoiled, before Alessandro, had
grappled with the problem in one shape or another.

At the shearing-shed, Alessandro found his men in confusion and
ill-humor. The shearing had been over and done by ten in the morning,
and why were they not on their way to the Ortega's? Waiting all day, - it
was now near sunset, - with nothing to do, and still worse with not
much of anything to eat, had made them all cross; and no wonder. The
economical Juan Can, finding that the work would be done by ten, and
supposing they would be off before noon, had ordered only two sheep
killed for them the day before, and the mutton was all gone, and old
Marda, getting her cue from Juan, had cooked no more frijoles than the
family needed themselves; so the poor shearers had indeed had a sorry
day of it, in no wise alleviated either by the reports brought from time
to time that their captain was lying on the ground, face down, under
Senor Felipe's window, and must not be spoken to.

It was not a propitious moment for Alessandro to make the announcement
of his purpose to leave the band; but he made a clean breast of it in
few words, and diplomatically diverted all resentment from himself by
setting them immediately to voting for a new captain to take his place
for the remainder of the season.

"Very well!" they said hotly; "captain for this year, captain for next,
too!" It wasn't so easy to step out and in again of the captaincy of the

"All right," said Alessandro; "please yourselves! It is all the same
to me. But here I am going to stay for the present. Father Salvierderra
wishes it."

"Oh, if the Father wishes it, that is different." "Ah, that alters
the case!" "Alessandro is right!" came up in confused murmur from the
appeased crowd. They were all good Catholics, every one of the Temecula
men, and would never think of going against the Father's orders. But
when they understood that Alessandro's intention was to remain until
Juan Canito's leg should be well enough for him to go about again, fresh
grumblings began. That would not do. It would be all summer. Alessandro
must be at home for the Saint Juan's Day fete, in midsummer, - no doing
anything without Alessandro then. What was he thinking of? Not of the
midsummer fete, that was certain, when he promised to stay as long as
the Senorita Ramona should need him. Alessandro had remembered nothing
except the Senorita's voice, while she was speaking to him. If he had
had a hundred engagements for the summer, he would have forgotten
them all. Now that he was reminded of the midsummer fete, it must be
confessed he was for a moment dismayed at the recollection; for that was
a time, when, as he well knew, his father could not do without his help.
There were sometimes a thousand Indians at this fete, and disorderly
whites took advantage of the occasion to sell whisky and encourage all
sorts of license and disturbance. Yes, Alessandro's clear path of duty
lay at Temecula when that fete came off. That was certain.

"I will manage to be at home then," he said. "If I am not through here
by that time, I will at least come for the fete. That you may depend

The voting for the new captain did not take long. There was, in fact,
but one man in the band fit for the office. That was Fernando, the only
old man in the band; all the rest were young men under thirty, or boys.
Fernando had been captain for several years, but had himself begged,
two years ago, that the band would elect Alessandro in his place. He was
getting old, and he did not like to have to sit up and walk about the
first half of every night, to see that the shearers were not gambling
away all their money at cards; he preferred to roll himself up in his
blanket at sunset and sleep till dawn the next morning. But just for
these few remaining weeks he had no objection to taking the office
again. And Alessandro was right, entirely right, in remaining; they
ought all to see that, Fernando said; and his word had great weight with
the men.

The Senora Moreno, he reminded them, had always been a good friend
of theirs, and had said that so long as she had sheep to shear, the
Temecula shearers should do it; and it would be very ungrateful now if
they did not do all they could to help her in her need.

The blankets were rolled up, the saddles collected, the ponies caught
and driven up to the shed, when Ramona and Margarita were seen coming at
full speed from the house.

"Alessandro! Alessandro!" cried Ramona, out of breath, "I have only just
now heard that the men have had no dinner to-day. I am ashamed; but you
know it would not have happened except for the sickness in the house.
Everybody thought they were going away this morning. Now they must have
a good supper before they go. It is already cooking. Tell them to wait."

Those of the men who understood the Spanish language, in which Ramona
spoke, translated it to those who did not, and there was a cordial
outburst of thanks to the Senorita from all lips. All were only too
ready to wait for the supper. Their haste to begin on the Ortega
sheep-shearing had suddenly faded from their minds. Only Alessandro

"It is a good six hours' ride to Ortega's," he said to the men. "You'll
be late in, if you do not start now."

"Supper will be ready in an hour," said Ramona. "Please let them stay;
one hour can't make any difference."

Alessandro smiled. "It will take nearer two, Senorita, before they are
off," he said; "but it shall be as you wish, and many thanks to you,
Senorita, for thinking of it."

"Oh, I did not think of it myself," said Ramona. "It was Margarita,
here, who came and told me. She knew we would be ashamed to have the
shearers go away hungry. I am afraid they are very hungry indeed," she
added ruefully. "It must be dreadful to go a whole day without anything
to eat; they had their breakfast soon after sunrise, did they not?"

"Yes, Senorita," answered Alessandro, "but that is not long; one can do
without food very well for one day. I often do."

"Often." exclaimed Ramona; "but why should you do that?" Then suddenly
bethinking herself, she said in her heart, "Oh, what a thoughtless
question! Can it be they are so poor as that?" And to save Alessandro
from replying, she set off on a run for the house, saying, "Come, come,
Margarita, we must go and help at the supper."

"Will the Senorita let me help, too," asked Alessandro, wondering at his
own boldness, - "if there is anything I can do?"

"Oh, no," she cried, "there is not. Yes, there is, too. You can help
carry the things down to the booth; for we are short of hands now, with
Juan Can in bed, and Luigo gone to Ventura for the doctor. You and some
of your men might carry all the supper over. I'll call you when we are

The men sat down in a group and waited contentedly, smoking, chatting,
and laughing. Alessandro walked up and down between the kitchen and
the shed. He could hear the sounds of rattling dishes, jingling spoons,
frying, pouring water. Savory smells began to be wafted out. Evidently
old Marda meant to atone for the shortcoming of the noon. Juan Can, in
his bed, also heard and smelled what was going on. "May the fiends get
me," he growled, "if that wasteful old hussy isn't getting up a feast
for those beasts of Indians! There's mutton and onions, and peppers
stewing, and potatoes, I'll be bound, and God knows what else, for
beggars that are only too thankful to get a handful of roasted wheat or
a bowl of acorn porridge at home. Well, they'll have to say they
were well feasted at the Moreno's, - that's one comfort. I wonder if
Margarita'll think I am worthy of tasting that stew! San Jose! but it
smells well! Margarita! Margarita!" he called at top of his lungs; but
Margarita did not hear. She was absorbed in her duties in the kitchen;
and having already taken Juan at sundown a bowl of the good broth which
the doctor had said was the only sort of food he must eat for two weeks,
she had dismissed him from her mind for the night. Moreover, Margarita
was absent-minded to-night. She was more than half in love with the
handsome Alessandro, who, when he had been on the ranch the year
before, had danced with her, and said many a light pleasant word to her,
evenings, as a young man may; and what ailed him now, that he seemed,
when he saw her, as if she were no more than a transparent shade,
through which he stared at the sky behind her, she did not know. Senor
Felipe's illness, she thought, and the general misery and confusion,
had perhaps put everything else out of his head; but now he was going
to stay, and it would be good fun having him there, if only Senor Felipe
got well, which he seemed likely to do. And as Margarita flew about,
here, there, and everywhere, she cast frequent glances at the tall
straight figure pacing up and down in the dusk outside.

Alessandro did not see her. He did not see anything. He was looking off
at the sunset, and listening. Ramona had said, "I will call you when we
are ready." But she did not do as she said. She told Margarita to call.

"Run, Margarita," she said. "All is ready now; see if Alessandro is in
sight. Call him to come and take the things."

So it was Margarita's voice, and not Ramona's, that called "Alessandro!
Alessandro! the supper is ready."

But it was Ramona who, when Alessandro reached the doorway, stood there
holding in her arms a huge smoking platter of the stew which had so
roused poor Juan Can's longings; and it was Ramona who said, as she gave
it into Alessandro's hands, "Take care, Alessandro, it is very full. The
gravy will run over if you are not careful. You are not used to waiting
on table;" and as she said it, she smiled full into Alessandro's
eyes, - a little flitting, gentle, friendly smile, which went near to
making him drop the platter, mutton, gravy, and all, then and there, at
her feet.

The men ate fast and greedily, and it was not, after all, much more than
an hour, when, full fed and happy, they were mounting their horses to
set off. At the last moment Alessandro drew one of them aside. "Jose,"
he said, "whose horse is the faster, yours or Antonio's?"

"Mine," promptly replied Jose. "Mine, by a great deal. I will run
Antonio any day he likes."

Alessandro knew this as well before asking as after. But Alessandro was
learning a great many things in these days, among other things a little
diplomacy. He wanted a man to ride at the swiftest to Temecula and back.
He knew that Jose's pony could go like the wind. He also knew that there
was a perpetual feud of rivalry between him and Antonio, in matter of
the fleetness of their respective ponies. So, having chosen Jose for
his messenger, he went thus to work to make sure that he would urge his
horse to its utmost speed.

Whispering in Jose's ear a few words, he said, "Will you go? I will pay
you for the time, all you could earn at the shearing."

"I will go," said Jose, elated. "You will see me back tomorrow by

"Not earlier?" asked Alessandro. "I thought by noon."

"Well, by noon be it, then," said Jose. "The horse can do it."

"Have great care!" said Alessandro.

"That will I," replied Jose; and giving his horse's sides a sharp punch
with his knees, set off at full gallop westward.

"I have sent Jose with a message to Temecula," said Alessandro, walking
up to Fernando. "He will be back here tomorrow noon, and join you at the
Ortega's the next morning."

"Back here by noon to-morrow!" exclaimed Fernando. "Not unless he kills
his horse!"

"That was what he said," replied Alessandro, nonchalantly.

"Easy enough, too!" cried Antonio, riding up on his little dun mare.
"I'd go in less time than that, on this mare. Jose's is no match for
her, and never was. Why did you not send me, Alessandro?"

"Is your horse really faster than Jose's?" said Alessandro. "Then I wish
I had sent you. I'll send you next time."


IT was strange to see how quickly and naturally Alessandro fitted into
his place in the household. How tangles straightened out, and rough
places became smooth, as he quietly took matters in hand. Luckily, old
Juan Can had always liked him, and felt a great sense of relief at the
news of his staying on. Not a wholly unselfish relief, perhaps, for
since his accident Juan had not been without fears that he might lose
his place altogether; there was a Mexican he knew, who had long
been scheming to get the situation, and had once openly boasted at
a fandango, where he was dancing with Anita, that as soon as that
superannuated old fool, Juan Canito, was out of the way, he meant to
be the Senora Moreno's head shepherd himself. To have seen this man in
authority on the place, would have driven Juan out of his mind.

But the gentle Alessandro, only an Indian, - and of course the Senora
would never think of putting an Indian permanently in so responsible a
position on the estate, - it was exactly as Juan would have wished; and
he fraternized with Alessandro heartily from the outset; kept him in
his room by the hour, giving him hundreds of long-winded directions and
explanations about things which, if only he had known it, Alessandro
understood far better than he did.

Alessandro's father had managed the Mission flocks and herds at San Luis
Rey for twenty years; few were as skilful as he; he himself owned nearly
as many sheep as the Senora Moreno; but this Juan did not know. Neither
did he realize that Alessandro, as Chief Pablo's son, had a position
of his own not without dignity and authority. To Juan, an Indian was
an Indian, and that was the end of it. The gentle courteousness of
Alessandro's manner, his quiet behavior, were all set down in Juan's
mind to the score of the boy's native amiability and sweetness. If Juan
had been told that the Senor Felipe himself had not been more carefully
trained in all precepts of kindliness, honorable dealing, and polite
usage, by the Senora, his mother, than had Alessandro by his father, he
would have opened his eyes wide. The standards of the two parents
were different, to be sure; but the advantage could not be shown to be
entirely on the Senora's side. There were many things that Felipe knew,
of which Alessandro was profoundly ignorant; but there were others
in which Alessandro could have taught Felipe; and when it came to the
things of the soul, and of honor, Alessandro's plane was the higher
of the two. Felipe was a fair-minded, honorable man, as men go; but
circumstances and opportunity would have a hold on him they could never
get on Alessandro. Alessandro would not lie; Felipe might. Alessandro
was by nature full of veneration and the religious instinct; Felipe had
been trained into being a good Catholic. But they were both singularly
pure-minded, open-hearted, generous-souled young men, and destined, by
the strange chance which had thus brought them into familiar relations,
to become strongly attached to each other. After the day on which
the madness of Felipe's fever had been so miraculously soothed and
controlled by Alessandro's singing, he was never again wildly delirious.
When he waked in the night from that first long sleep, he was, as Father
Salvierderra had predicted, in his right mind; knew every one, and asked
rational questions. But the over-heated and excited brain did not
for some time wholly resume normal action. At intervals he wandered,
especially when just arousing from sleep; and, strangely enough, it
was always for Alessandro that he called at these times, and it seemed
always to be music that he craved. He recollected Alessandro's having
sung to him that first night. "I was not so crazy as you all thought,"
he said. "I knew a great many of the things I said, but I couldn't help
saying them; and I heard Ramona ask Alessandro to sing; and when he
began, I remember I thought the Virgin had reached down and put her hand
on my head and cooled it."

On the second evening, the first after the shearers had left,
Alessandro, seeing Ramona in the veranda, went to the foot of the steps,
and said, "Senorita, would Senor Felipe like to have me play on the
violin to him tonight?"

"Why, whose violin have you got?" exclaimed Ramona, astonished.

"My own, Senorita."

"Your own! I thought you said you did not bring it."

"Yes, Senorita, that is true; but I sent for it last night, and it is

"Sent to Temecula and back already!" cried Ramona.

"Yes, Senorita. Our ponies are swift and strong. They can go a hundred
miles in a day, and not suffer. It was Jose brought it, and he is at the

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonRamona → online text (page 7 of 35)