Part 1 out of 9
Prepared by David Reed firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
by Helen Hunt Jackson
IT was sheep-shearing time in Southern California, but
sheep-shearing was late at the Senora Moreno's. The Fates had
seemed to combine to put it off. In the first place, Felipe Moreno
had been ill. He was the Senora's eldest son, and since his father's
death had been at the head of his mother's house. Without him,
nothing could be done on the ranch, the Senora thought. It had
been always, "Ask Senor Felipe," "Go to Senor Felipe," "Senor
Felipe will attend to it," ever since Felipe had had the dawning of a
beard on his handsome face.
In truth, it was not Felipe, but the Senora, who really decided all
questions from greatest to least, and managed everything on the
place, from the sheep-pastures to the artichoke-patch; but nobody
except the Senora herself knew this. An exceedingly clever woman
for her day and generation was Senora Gonzaga Moreno,-- as for
that matter, exceedingly clever for any day and generation; but
exceptionally clever for the day and generation to which she
belonged. Her life, the mere surface of it, if it had been written,
would have made a romance, to grow hot and cold over: sixty
years of the best of old Spain, and the wildest of New Spain, Bay
of Biscay, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean,-- the waves of them all
had tossed destinies for the Senora. The Holy Catholic Church had
had its arms round her from first to last; and that was what had
brought her safe through, she would have said, if she had ever said
anything about herself, which she never did,-- one of her many
wisdoms. So quiet, so reserved, so gentle an exterior never was
known to veil such an imperious and passionate nature, brimful of
storm, always passing through stress; never thwarted, except at
peril of those who did it; adored and hated by turns, and each at
the hottest. A tremendous force, wherever she appeared, was
Senora Moreno; but no stranger would suspect it, to see her gliding
about, in her scanty black gown, with her rosary hanging at her
side, her soft dark eyes cast down, and an expression of mingled
melancholy and devotion on her face. She looked simply like a
sad, spiritual-minded old lady, amiable and indolent, like her race,
but sweeter and more thoughtful than their wont. Her voice
heightened this mistaken impression. She was never heard to speak
either loud or fast. There was at times even a curious hesitancy in
her speech, which came near being a stammer, or suggested the
measured care with which people speak who have been cured of
stammering. It made her often appear as if she did not known her
own mind; at which people sometimes took heart; when, if they
had only known the truth, they would have known that the speech
hesitated solely because the Senora knew her mind so exactly that
she was finding it hard to make the words convey it as she desired,
or in a way to best attain her ends.
About this very sheep-shearing there had been, between her and
the head shepherd, Juan Canito, called Juan Can for short, and to
distinguish him from Juan Jose, the upper herdsman of the cattle,
some discussions which would have been hot and angry ones in
any other hands than the Senora's.
Juan Canito wanted the shearing to begin, even though Senor
Felipe were ill in bed, and though that lazy shepherd Luigo had not
yet got back with the flock that had been driven up the coast for
pasture. "There were plenty of sheep on the place to begin with,"
he said one morning,-- "at least a thousand;" and by the time they
were done, Luigo would surely be back with the rest; and as for
Senor Felipe's being in bed, had not he, Juan Canito, stood at the
packing-bag, and handled the wool, when Senor Felipe was a boy?
Why could he not do it again? The Senora did not realize how time
was going; there would be no shearers to be hired presently, since
the Senora was determined to have none but Indians. Of course, if
she would employ Mexicans, as all the other ranches in the valley
did, it would be different; but she was resolved upon having
Indians,-- "God knows why," he interpolated surlily, under his
"I do not quite understand you, Juan," interrupted Senora Moreno
at the precise instant the last syllable of this disrespectful
ejaculation had escaped Juan's lips; "speak a little louder. I fear I
am growing deaf in my old age."
What gentle, suave, courteous tones! and the calm dark eyes rested
on Juan Canito with a look to the fathoming of which he was as
unequal as one of his own sheep would have been. He could not
have told why he instantly and involuntarily said, "Beg your
"Oh, you need not ask my pardon, Juan," the Senora replied with
exquisite gentleness; "it is not you who are to blame, if I am deaf. I
have fancied for a year I did not hear quite as well as I once did.
But about the Indians, Juan; did not Senor Felipe tell you that he
had positively engaged the same band of shearers we had last
autumn, Alessandro's band from Temecula? They will wait until
we are ready for them. Senor Felipe will send a messenger for
them. He thinks them the best shearers in the country. He will be
well enough in a week or two, he thinks, and the poor sheep must
bear their loads a few days longer. Are they looking well, do you
think, Juan? Will the crop be a good one? General Moreno used to
say that you could reckon up the wool-crop to a pound, while it
was on the sheep's backs."
"Yes, Senora," answered the mollified Juan; "the poor beasts look
wonderfully well considering the scant feed they have had all
winter. We'll not come many pounds short of our last year's crop, if
any. Though, to be sure, there is no telling in what case that --
Luigo will bring his flock back."
The Senora smiled, in spite of herself, at the pause and gulp with
which Juan had filled in the hiatus where he had longed to set a
contemptuous epithet before Luigo's name.
This was another of the instances where the Senora's will and Juan
Canito's had clashed and he did not dream of it, having set it all
down as usual to the score of young Senor Felipe.
Encouraged by the Senora's smile, Juan proceeded: "Senor Felipe
can see no fault in Luigo, because they were boys together; but I
can tell him, he will rue it, one of these mornings, when he finds a
flock of sheep worse than dead on his hands, and no thanks to
anybody but Luigo. While I can have him under my eye, here in
the valley, it is all very well; but he is no more fit to take
responsibility of a flock, than one of the very lambs themselves.
He'll drive them off their feet one day, and starve them the next;
and I've known him to forget to give them water. When he's in his
dreams, the Virgin only knows what he won't do."
During this brief and almost unprecedented outburst of Juan's the
Senora's countenance had been slowly growing stern. Juan had not
seen it. His eyes had been turned away from her, looking down
into the upturned eager face of his favorite collie, who was leaping
and gambolling and barking at his feet.
"Down, Capitan, down!" he said in a fond tone, gently repulsing
him; "thou makest such a noise the Senora can hear nothing but
"I heard only too distinctly, Juan Canito," said the Senora in a
sweet but icy tone. "It is not well for one servant to backbite
another. It gives me great grief to hear such words; and I hope
when Father Salvierderra comes, next month, you will not forget to
confess this sin of which you have been guilty in thus seeking to
injure a fellow-being. If Senor Felipe listens to you, the poor boy
Luigo will be cast out homeless on the world some day; and what
sort of a deed would that be, Juan Canito, for one Christian to do
to another? I fear the Father will give you penance, when he hears
what you have said."
"Senora, it is not to harm the lad," Juan began, every fibre of his
faithful frame thrilling with a sense of the injustice of her
But the Senora had turned her back. Evidently she would hear no
more from him then. He stood watching her as she walked away, at
her usual slow pace, her head slightly bent forward, her rosary
lifted in her left hand, and the fingers of the right hand
mechanically slipping the beads.
"Prayers, always prayers!" thought Juan to himself, as his eyes
followed her. "If they'll take one to heaven, the Senora'll go by the
straight road, that's sure! I'm sorry I vexed her. But what's a man to
do, if he's the interest of the place at heart, I'd like to know. Is he to
stand by, and see a lot of idle mooning louts run away with
everything? Ah, but it was an ill day for the estate when the
General died,-- an ill day! an ill day! And they may scold me as
much as they please, and set me to confessing my sins to the
Father; it's very well for them, they've got me to look after matters.
Senor Felipe will do well enough when he's a man, maybe; but a
boy like him! Bah!" And the old man stamped his foot with a not
wholly unreasonable irritation, at the false position in which he
felt himself put.
"Confess to Father Salvierderra, indeed!" he muttered aloud. "Ay,
that will I. He's a man of sense, if he is a priest," -- at which slip of
the tongue the pious Juan hastily crossed himself,-- "and I'll ask
him to give me some good advice as to how I'm to manage
between this young boy at the head of everything, and a doting
mother who thinks he has the wisdom of a dozen grown men. The
Father knew the place in the olden time. He knows it's no child's
play to look after the estate even now, much smaller as it is! An ill
day when the old General died, an ill day indeed, the saints rest his
soul!" Saying this, Juan shrugged his shoulders, and whistling to
Capitan, walked towards the sunny veranda of the south side of the
kitchen wing of the house, where it had been for twenty odd years
his habit to sit on the long bench and smoke his pipe of a morning.
Before he had got half-way across the court-yard, however, a
thought struck him. He halted so suddenly that Capitan, with the
quick sensitiveness of his breed, thought so sudden a change of
purpose could only come from something in connection with
sheep; and, true to his instinct of duty, pricked up his ears, poised
himself for a full run, and looked up in his master's face waiting
for explanation and signal. But Juan did not observe him.
"Ha!" he said, "Father Salvierderra comes next month, does he?
Let's see. To-day is the 25th. That's it. The sheep-shearing is not to
come off till the Father gets here. Then each morning it will be
mass in the chapel, and each night vespers; and the crowd will be
here at least two days longer to feed, for the time they will lose by
that and by the confessions. That's what Senor Felipe is up to. He's
a pious lad. I recollect now, it was the same way two years ago.
Well, well, it is a good thing for those poor Indian devils to get a
bit of religion now and then; and it's like old times to see the
chapel full of them kneeling, and more than can get in at the door;
I doubt not it warms the Senora's heart to see them all there, as if
they belonged to the house, as they used to: and now I know when
it's to be, I have only to make my arrangements accordingly. It is
always in the first week of the month the Father gets here. Yes; she
said, 'Senor Felipe will be well enough in a week or two, he
thinks.' Ha! ha! It will be nearer two; ten days or thereabouts. I'll
begin the booths next week. A plague on that Luigo for not being
back here. He's the best hand I have to cut the willow boughs for
the roofs. He knows the difference between one year's growth and
another's; I'll say that much for him, spite of the silly dreaming
head he's got on his shoulders."
Juan was so pleased with his clearing up in his mind as to Senor
Felipe's purpose about the time of the sheep-shearing, that it put
him in good humor for the day,-- good humor with everybody, and
himself most of all. As he sat on the low bench, his head leaning
back against the whitewashed wall, his long legs stretched out
nearly across the whole width of the veranda, his pipe firm wedged
in the extreme left corner of his mouth, his hands in his pockets,
he was the picture of placid content. The troop of youngsters
which still swarmed around the kitchen quarters of Senora
Moreno's house, almost as numerous and inexplicable as in the
grand old days of the General's time, ran back and forth across
Juan's legs, fell down between them, and picked themselves up by
help of clutches at his leather trousers, all unreproved by Juan,
though loudly scolded and warned by their respective mothers
from the kitchen.
"What's come to Juan Can to be so good-natured to-day?" saucily
asked Margarita, the youngest and prettiest of the maids, popping
her head out of a window, and twitching Juan's hair. He was so
gray and wrinkled that the maids all felt at ease with him. He
seemed to them as old as Methuselah; but he was not really so old
as they thought, nor they so safe in their tricks. The old man had
hot blood in his veins yet, as the under-shepherds could testify.
"The sight of your pretty face, Senorita Margarita," answered Juan
quickly, cocking his eye at her, rising to his feet, and making a
mock bow towards the window.
"He! he! Senorita, indeed!" chuckled Margarita's mother, old
Marda the cook. "Senor Juan Canito is pleased to be merry at the
doors of his betters;" and she flung a copper saucepan full of not
over-clean water so deftly past Juan's head, that not a drop touched
him, and yet he had the appearance of having been ducked. At
which bit of sleight-of-hand the whole court-yard, young and old,
babies, cocks, hens, and turkeys, all set up a shout and a cackle,
and dispersed to the four corners of the yard as if scattered by a
volley of bird-shot. Hearing the racket, the rest of the maids came
running,-- Anita and Maria, the twins, women forty years old, born
on the place the year after General Moreno brought home his
handsome young bride; their two daughters, Rosa and Anita the
Little, as she was still called, though she outweighed her mother;
old Juanita, the oldest woman in the household, of whom even the
Senora was said not to know the exact age or history; and she, poor
thing, could tell nothing, having been silly for ten years or more,
good for nothing except to shell beans: that she did as fast and well
as ever, and was never happy except she was at it. Luckily for her,
beans are the one crop never omitted or stinted on a Mexican
estate; and for sake of old Juanita they stored every year in the
Moreno house, rooms full of beans in the pod (tons of them, one
would think), enough to feed an army. But then, it was like a little
army even now, the Senora's household; nobody ever knew exactly
how many women were in the kitchen, or how many men in the
fields. There were always women cousins, or brother's wives or
widows or daughters, who had come to stay, or men cousins, or
sister's husbands or sons, who were stopping on their way up or
down the valley. When it came to the pay-roll, Senor Felipe knew
to whom he paid wages; but who were fed and lodged under his
roof, that was quite another thing. It could not enter into the head
of a Mexican gentleman to make either count or account of that. It
would be a disgraceful niggardly thought.
To the Senora it seemed as if there were no longer any people
about the place. A beggarly handful, she would have said, hardly
enough to do the work of the house, or of the estate, sadly as the
latter had dwindled. In the General's day, it had been a free-handed
boast of his that never less than fifty persons, men, women and
children, were fed within his gates each day; how many more, he
did not care, nor know. But that time had indeed gone, gone
forever; and though a stranger, seeing the sudden rush and muster
at door and window, which followed on old Marda's letting fly the
water at Juan's head, would have thought, "Good heavens, do all
those women, children, and babies belong in that one house!" the
Senora's sole thought, as she at that moment went past the gate,
was, "Poor things! how few there are left of them! I am afraid old
Marda has to work too hard. I must spare Margarita more from the
house to help her." And she sighed deeply, and unconsciously held
her rosary nearer to her heart, as she went into the house and
entered her son's bedroom. The picture she saw there was one to
thrill any mother's heart; and as it met her eye, she paused on the
threshold for a second,-- only a second, however; and nothing
could have astonished Felipe Moreno so much as to have been told
that at the very moment when his mother's calm voice was saying
to him, "Good morning, my son, I hope you have slept well, and
are better," there was welling up in her heart a passionate
ejaculation, "O my glorious son! The saints have sent me in him
the face of his father! He is fit for a kingdom!"
The truth is, Felipe Moreno was not fit for a kingdom at all. If he
had been, he would not have been so ruled by his mother without
ever finding it out. But so far as mere physical beauty goes, there
never was a king born, whose face, stature, and bearing would set
off a crown or a throne, or any of the things of which the outside of
royalty is made up, better than would Felipe Moreno's. And it was
true, as the Senora said, whether the saints had anything to do with
it or not, that he had the face of his father. So strong a likeness is
seldom seen. When Felipe once, on the occasion of a grand
celebration and procession, put on the gold-wrought velvet mantle,
gayly embroidered short breeches fastened at the knee with red
ribbons, and gold-and-silver-trimmed sombrero, which his father
had worn twenty-five years before, the Senora fainted at her first
look at him,-- fainted and fell; and when she opened her eyes, and
saw the same splendid, gayly arrayed, dark-bearded man, bending
over her in distress, with words of endearment and alarm, she
"Mother, mother mia," cried Felipe, "I will not wear them if it
makes you feel like this! Let me take them off. I will not go to
their cursed parade;" and he sprang to his feet, and began with
trembling fingers to unbuckle the sword-belt.
"No, no, Felipe," faintly cried the Senora, from the ground. "It is
my wish that you wear them;" and staggering to her feet, with a
burst of tears, she rebuckled the old sword-belt, which her fingers
had so many times -- never unkissed -- buckled, in the days when
her husband had bade her farewell and gone forth to the uncertain
fates of war. "Wear them!" she cried, with gathering fire in her
tones, and her eyes dry of tears,-- "wear them, and let the
American hounds see what a Mexican officer and gentleman
looked like before they had set their base, usurping feet on our
necks!" And she followed him to the gate, and stood erect, bravely
waving her handkerchief as he galloped off, till he was out of
sight. Then with a changed face and a bent head she crept slowly
to her room, locked herself in, fell on her knees before the
Madonna at the head of her bed, and spent the greater part of the
day praying that she might be forgiven, and that all heretics might
be discomfited. From which part of these supplications she derived
most comfort is easy to imagine.
Juan Canito had been right in his sudden surmise that it was for
Father Salvierderra's coming that the sheep-shearing was being
delayed, and not in consequence of Senor Felipe's illness, or by the
non-appearance of Luigo and his flock of sheep. Juan would have
chuckled to himself still more at his perspicacity, had he overheard
the conversation going on between the Senora and her son, at the
very time when he, half asleep on the veranda, was, as he would
have called it, putting two and two together and convincing
himself that old Juan was as smart as they were, and not to be kept
in the dark by all their reticence and equivocation.
"Juan Can is growing very impatient about the sheep-shearing,"
said the Senora. "I suppose you are still of the same mind about it,
Felipe,-- that it is better to wait till Father Salvierderra comes? As
the only chance those Indians have of seeing him is here, it would
seem a Christian duty to so arrange it, if it be possible; but Juan is
very restive. He is getting old, and chafes a little, I fancy, under
your control. He cannot forget that you were a boy on his knee.
Now I, for my part, am like to forget that you were ever anything
but a man for me to lean on."
Felipe turned his handsome face toward his mother with a beaming
smile of filial affection and gratified manly vanity. "Indeed, my
mother, if I can be sufficient for you to lean on, I will ask nothing
more of the saints;" and he took his mother's thin and wasted little
hands, both at once, in his own strong right hand, and carried them
to his lips as a lover might have done. "You will spoil me,
mother," he said, "you make me so proud."
"No, Felipe, it is I who am proud," promptly replied the mother;
"and I do not call it being proud, only grateful to God for having
given me a son wise enough to take his father's place, and guide
and protect me through the few remaining years I have to live. I
shall die content, seeing you at the head of the estate, and living as
a Mexican gentleman should; that is, so far as now remains
possible in this unfortunate country. But about the sheep-shearing,
Felipe. Do you wish to have it begun before the Father is here? Of
course, Alessandro is all ready with his band. It is but two days'
journey for a messenger to bring him. Father Salvierderra cannot
be here before the 10th of the month. He leaves Santa Barbara on
the 1st, and he will walk all the way,-- a good six days' journey, for
he is old now and feeble; then he must stop in Ventura for a
Sunday, and a day at the Ortega's ranch, and at the Lopez's,-- there,
there is a christening. Yes, the 10th is the very earliest that he can
be here,-- near two weeks from now. So far as your getting up is
concerned, it might perhaps be next week. You will be nearly well
by that time."
"Yes, indeed," laughed Felipe, stretching himself out in the bed
and giving a kick to the bedclothes that made the high bedposts
and the fringed canopy roof shake and creak; "I am well now, if it
were not for this cursed weakness when I stand on my feet. I
believe it would do me good to get out of doors."
In truth, Felipe had been hankering for the sheep-shearing himself.
It was a brisk, busy, holiday sort of time to him, hard as he worked
in it; and two weeks looked long to wait.
"It is always thus after a fever," said his mother. "The weakness
lasts many weeks. I am not sure that you will be strong enough
even in two weeks to do the packing; but, as Juan Can said this
morning, he stood at the packing-bag when you were a boy, and
there was no need of waiting for you for that!"
"He said that, did he!" exclaimed Felipe, wrathfully. "The old man
is getting insolent. I'll tell him that nobody will pack the sacks but
myself, while I am master here; and I will have the sheep-shearing
when I please, and not before."
"I suppose it would not be wise to say that it is not to take place till
the Father comes, would it?" asked the Senora, hesitatingly, as if
the thing were evenly balanced in her mind. "The Father has not
that hold on the younger men he used to have, and I have thought
that even in Juan himself I have detected a remissness. The spirit
of unbelief is spreading in the country since the Americans are
running up and down everywhere seeking money, like dogs with
their noses to the ground! It might vex Juan if he knew that you
were waiting only for the Father. What do you think?"
"I think it is enough for him to know that the sheep-shearing waits
for my pleasure," answered Felipe, still wrathful, "and that is the
end of it." And so it was; and, moreover, precisely the end which
Senora Moreno had had in her own mind from the beginning; but
not even Juan Canito himself suspected its being solely her
purpose, and not her son's. As for Felipe, if any person had
suggested to him that it was his mother, and not he, who had
decided that the sheep-shearing would be better deferred until the
arrival of Father Salvierderra from Santa Barbara, and that nothing
should be said on the ranch about this being the real reason of the
postponing, Felipe would have stared in astonishment, and have
thought that person either crazy or a fool.
To attain one's ends in this way is the consummate triumph of art.
Never to appear as a factor in the situation; to be able to wield
other men, as instruments, with the same direct and implicit
response to will that one gets from a hand or a foot,-- this is to
triumph, indeed: to be as nearly controller and conqueror of Fates
as fate permits. There have been men prominent in the world's
affairs at one time and another, who have sought and studied such
a power and have acquired it to a great degree. By it they have
manipulated legislators, ambassadors, sovereigns; and have
grasped, held, and played with the destinies of empires. But it is to
be questioned whether even in these notable instances there has
ever been such marvellous completeness of success as is
sometimes seen in the case of a woman in whom the power is an
instinct and not an attainment; a passion rather than a purpose.
Between the two results, between the two processes, there is just
that difference which is always to be seen between the stroke of
talent and the stroke of genius.
Senora Moreno's was the stroke of genius.
THE Senora Moreno's house was one of the best specimens to be
found in California of the representative house of the half barbaric,
half elegant, wholly generous and free-handed life led there by
Mexican men and women of degree in the early part of this
century, under the rule of the Spanish and Mexican viceroys, when
the laws of the Indies were still the law of the land, and its old
name, "New Spain," was an ever-present link and stimulus to the
warmest memories and deepest patriotisms of its people.
It was a picturesque life, with more of sentiment and gayety in it,
more also that was truly dramatic, more romance, than will ever be
seen again on those sunny shores. The aroma of it all lingers there
still; industries and inventions have not yet slain it; it will last out
its century,-- in fact, it can never be quite lost, so long as there is
left standing one such house as the Senora Moreno's.
When the house was built, General Moreno owned all the land
within a radius of forty miles,-- forty miles westward, down the
valley to the sea; forty miles eastward, into the San Fernando
Mountains; and good forty miles more or less along the coast. The
boundaries were not very strictly defined; there was no occasion,
in those happy days, to reckon land by inches. It might be asked,
perhaps, just how General Moreno owned all this land, and the
question might not be easy to answer. It was not and could not be
answered to the satisfaction of the United States Land
Commission, which, after the surrender of California, undertook to
sift and adjust Mexican land titles; and that was the way it had
come about that the Senora Moreno now called herself a poor
woman. Tract after tract, her lands had been taken away from her;
it looked for a time as if nothing would be left. Every one of the
claims based on deeds of gift from Governor Pio Fico, her
husband's most intimate friend, was disallowed. They all went by
the board in one batch, and took away from the Senora in a day the
greater part of her best pasture-lands. They were lands which had
belonged to the Bonaventura Mission, and lay along the coast at
the mouth of the valley down which the little stream which ran
past her house went to the sea; and it had been a great pride and
delight to the Senora, when she was young, to ride that forty miles
by her husband's side, all the way on their own lands, straight from
their house to their own strip of shore. No wonder she believed the
Americans thieves, and spoke of them always as hounds. The
people of the United States have never in the least realized that the
taking possession of California was not only a conquering of
Mexico, but a conquering of California as well; that the real
bitterness of the surrender was not so much to the empire which
gave up the country, as to the country itself which was given up.
Provinces passed back and forth in that way, helpless in the hands
of great powers, have all the ignominy and humiliation of defeat,
with none of the dignities or compensations of the transaction.
Mexico saved much by her treaty, spite of having to acknowledge
herself beaten; but California lost all. Words cannot tell the sting
of such a transfer. It is a marvel that a Mexican remained in the
country; probably none did, except those who were absolutely
forced to it.
Luckily for the Senora Moreno, her title to the lands midway in the
valley was better than to those lying to the east and the west, which
had once belonged to the missions of San Fernando and
Bonaventura; and after all the claims, counter-claims, petitions,
appeals, and adjudications were ended, she still was left in
undisputed possession of what would have been thought by any
new-comer into the country to be a handsome estate, but which
seemed to the despoiled and indignant Senora a pitiful fragment of
one. Moreover, she declared that she should never feel secure of a
foot of even this. Any day, she said, the United States Government
might send out a new Land Commission to examine the decrees of
the first, and revoke such as they saw fit. Once a thief, always a
thief. Nobody need feel himself safe under American rule. There
was no knowing what might happen any day; and year by year the
lines of sadness, resentment, anxiety, and antagonism deepened on
the Senora's fast aging face.
It gave her unspeakable satisfaction, when the Commissioners,
laying out a road down the valley, ran it at the back of her house
instead of past the front. "It is well," she said. "Let their travel be
where it belongs, behind our kitchens; and no one have sight of the
front doors of our houses, except friends who have come to visit
us." Her enjoyment of this never flagged. Whenever she saw,
passing the place, wagons or carriages belonging to the hated
Americans, it gave her a distinct thrill of pleasure to think that the
house turned its back on them. She would like always to be able to
do the same herself; but whatever she, by policy or in business,
might be forced to do, the old house, at any rate, would always
keep the attitude of contempt,-- its face turned away.
One other pleasure she provided herself with, soon after this road
was opened,-- a pleasure in which religious devotion and race
antagonism were so closely blended that it would have puzzled the
subtlest of priests to decide whether her act were a sin or a virtue.
She caused to be set up, upon every one of the soft rounded hills
which made the beautiful rolling sides of that part of the valley, a
large wooden cross; not a hill in sight of her house left without the
sacred emblem of her faith. "That the heretics may know, when
they go by, that they are on the estate of a good Catholic," she said,
"and that the faithful may be reminded to pray. There have been
miracles of conversion wrought on the most hardened by a sudden
sight of the Blessed Cross."
There they stood, summer and winter, rain and shine, the silent,
solemn, outstretched arms, and became landmarks to many a
guideless traveller who had been told that his way would be by the
first turn to the left or the right, after passing the last one of the
Senora Moreno's crosses, which he couldn't miss seeing. And who
shall say that it did not often happen that the crosses bore a sudden
message to some idle heart journeying by, and thus justified the
pious half of the Senora's impulse? Certain it is, that many a good
Catholic halted and crossed himself when he first beheld them, in
the lonely places, standing out in sudden relief against the blue
sky; and if he said a swift short prayer at the sight, was he not so
much the better?
The house, was of adobe, low, with a wide veranda on the three
sides of the inner court, and a still broader one across the entire
front, which looked to the south. These verandas, especially those
on the inner court, were supplementary rooms to the house. The
greater part of the family life went on in them. Nobody stayed
inside the walls, except when it was necessary. All the kitchen
work, except the actual cooking, was done here, in front of the
kitchen doors and windows. Babies slept, were washed, sat in the
dirt, and played, on the veranda. The women said their prayers,
took their naps, and wove their lace there. Old Juanita shelled her
beans there, and threw the pods down on the tile floor, till towards
night they were sometimes piled up high around her, like
corn-husks at a husking. The herdsmen and shepherds smoked
there, lounged there, trained their dogs there; there the young made
love, and the old dozed; the benches, which ran the entire length of
the walls, were worn into hollows, and shone like satin; the tiled
floors also were broken and sunk in places, making little wells,
which filled up in times of hard rains, and were then an invaluable
addition to the children's resources for amusement, and also to the
comfort of the dogs, cats, and fowls, who picked about among
them, taking sips from each.
The arched veranda along the front was a delightsome place. It
must have been eighty feet long, at least, for the doors of five large
rooms opened on it. The two westernmost rooms had been added
on, and made four steps higher than the others; which gave to that
end of the veranda the look of a balcony, or loggia. Here the
Senora kept her flowers; great red water-jars, hand-made by the
Indians of San Luis Obispo Mission, stood in close rows against
the walls, and in them were always growing fine geraniums,
carnations, and yellow-flowered musk. The Senora's passion for
musk she had inherited from her mother. It was so strong that she
sometimes wondered at it; and one day, as she sat with Father
Salvierderra in the veranda, she picked a handful of the blossoms,
and giving them to him, said, "I do not know why it is, but it seems
to me if I were dead I could be brought to life by the smell of
"It is in your blood, Senora," the old monk replied. "When I was
last in your father's house in Seville, your mother sent for me to
her room, and under her window was a stone balcony full of
growing musk, which so filled the room with its odor that I was
like to faint. But she said it cured her of diseases, and without it
she fell ill. You were a baby then."
"Yes," cried the Senora, "but I recollect that balcony. I recollect
being lifted up to a window, and looking down into a bed of
blooming yellow flowers; but I did not know what they were. How
"No. Not strange, daughter," replied Father Salvierderra. "It would
have been stranger if you had not acquired the taste, thus drawing
it in with the mother's milk. It would behoove mothers to
remember this far more than they do."
Besides the geraniums and carnations and musk in the red jars,
there were many sorts of climbing vines,-- some coming from the
ground, and twining around the pillars of the veranda; some
growing in great bowls, swung by cords from the roof of the
veranda, or set on shelves against the walls. These bowls were of
gray stone, hollowed and polished, shining smooth inside and out.
They also had been made by the Indians, nobody knew how many
ages ago, scooped and polished by the patient creatures, with only
stones for tools.
Among these vines, singing from morning till night, hung the
Senora's canaries and finches, half a dozen of each, all of different
generations, raised by the Senora. She was never without a young
bird-family on hand; and all the way from Bonaventura to
Monterey, it was thought a piece of good luck to come into
possession of a canary or finch of Senora Moreno's 'raising.
Between the veranda and the river meadows, out on which it
looked, all was garden, orange grove, and almond orchard; the
orange grove always green, never without snowy bloom or golden
fruit; the garden never without flowers, summer or winter; and the
almond orchard, in early spring, a fluttering canopy of pink and
white petals, which, seen from the hills on the opposite side of the
river, looked as if rosy sunrise clouds had fallen, and become
tangled in the tree-tops. On either hand stretched away other
orchards,-- peach, apricot, pear, apple pomegranate; and beyond
these, vineyards. Nothing was to be seen but verdure or bloom or
fruit, at whatever time of year you sat on the Senora's south
A wide straight walk shaded by a trellis so knotted and twisted
with grapevines that little was to be seen of the trellis wood-work,
led straight down from the veranda steps, through the middle of
the garden, to a little brook at the foot of it. Across this brook, in
the shade of a dozen gnarled old willow-trees, were set the broad
flat stone washboards on which was done all the family washing.
No long dawdling, and no running away from work on the part of
the maids, thus close to the eye of the Senora at the upper end of
the garden; and if they had known how picturesque they looked
there, kneeling on the grass, lifting the dripping linen out of the
water, rubbing it back and forth on the stones, sousing it, wringing
it, splashing the clear water in each other's faces, they would have
been content to stay at the washing day in and day out, for there
was always somebody to look on from above. Hardly a day passed
that the Senora had not visitors. She was still a person of note; her
house the natural resting-place for all who journeyed through the
valley; and whoever came, spent all of his time, when not eating,
sleeping, or walking over the place, sitting with the Senora on the
sunny veranda. Few days in winter were cold enough, and in
summer the day must be hot indeed to drive the Senora and her
friends indoors. There stood on the veranda three carved oaken
chairs, and a carved bench, also of oak, which had been brought to
the Senora for safe keeping by the faithful old sacristan of San
Luis Rey, at the time of the occupation of that Mission by the
United States troops, soon after the conquest of California. Aghast
at the sacrilegious acts of the soldiers, who were quartered in the
very church itself, and amused themselves by making targets of the
eyes and noses of the saints' statues, the sacristan, stealthily, day by
day and night after night, bore out of the church all that he dared to
remove, burying some articles in cottonwood copses, hiding others
in his own poor little hovel, until he had wagon-loads of sacred
treasures. Then, still more stealthily, he carried them, a few at a
time, concealed in the bottom of a cart, under a load of hay or of
brush, to the house of the Senora, who felt herself deeply honored
by his confidence, and received everything as a sacred trust, to be
given back into the hands of the Church again, whenever the
Missions should be restored, of which at that time all Catholics
had good hope. And so it had come about that no bedroom in the
Senora's house was without a picture or a statue of a saint or of the
Madonna; and some had two; and in the little chapel in the garden
the altar was surrounded by a really imposing row of holy and
apostolic figures, which had looked down on the splendid
ceremonies of the San Luis Rey Mission, in Father Peyri's time, no
more benignly than they now did on the humbler worship of the
Senora's family in its diminished estate. That one had lost an eye,
another an arm, that the once brilliant colors of the drapery were
now faded and shabby, only enhanced the tender reverence with
which the Senora knelt before them, her eyes filling with indignant
tears at thought of the heretic hands which had wrought such
defilement. Even the crumbling wreaths which had been placed on
some of the statues' heads at the time of the last ceremonial at
which they had figured in the Mission, had been brought away
with them by the devout sacristan, and the Senora had replaced
each one, holding it only a degree less sacred than the statue itself.
This chapel was dearer to the Senora than her house. It had been
built by the General in the second year of their married life. In it
her four children had been christened, and from it all but one, her
handsome Felipe, had been buried while they were yet infants. In
the General's time, while the estate was at its best, and hundreds of
Indians living within its borders, there was many a Sunday when
the scene to be witnessed there was like the scenes at the
Missions,-- the chapel full of kneeling men and women; those who
could not find room inside kneeling on the garden walks outside;
Father Salvierderra, in gorgeous vestments, coming, at close of the
services, slowly down the aisle, the close-packed rows of
worshippers parting to right and left to let him through, all looking
up eagerly for his blessing, women giving him offerings of fruit or
flowers, and holding up their babies that he might lay his hands on
their heads. No one but Father Salvierderra had ever officiated in
the Moreno chapel, or heard the confession of a Moreno. He was a
Franciscan, one of the few now left in the country; so revered and
beloved by all who had come under his influence, that they would
wait long months without the offices of the Church, rather than
confess their sins or confide their perplexities to any one else.
From this deep-seated attachment on the part of the Indians and
the older Mexican families in the country to the Franciscan Order,
there had grown up, not unnaturally, some jealousy of them in the
minds of the later-come secular priests, and the position of the few
monks left was not wholly a pleasant one. It had even been
rumored that they were to be forbidden to continue longer their
practice of going up and down the country, ministering
everywhere; were to be compelled to restrict their labors to their
own colleges at Santa Barbara and Santa Inez. When something to
this effect was one day said in the Senora Moreno's presence, two
scarlet spots sprang on her cheeks, and before she bethought
herself, she exclaimed, "That day, I burn down my chapel!"
Luckily, nobody but Felipe heard the rash threat, and his
exclamation of unbounded astonishment recalled the Senora to
"I spoke rashly, my son," she said. "The Church is to be obeyed
always; but the Franciscan Fathers are responsible to no one but
the Superior of their own order; and there is no one in this land
who has the authority to forbid their journeying and ministering to
whoever desires their offices. As for these Catalan priests who are
coming in here, I cannot abide them. No Catalan but has bad blood
in his veins!"
There was every reason in the world why the Senora should be
thus warmly attached to the Franciscan Order. From her earliest
recollections the gray gown and cowl had been familiar to her
eyes, and had represented the things which she was taught to hold
most sacred and dear. Father Salvierderra himself had come from
Mexico to Monterey in the same ship which had brought her father
to be the commandante of the Santa Barbara Presidio; and her
best-beloved uncle, her father's eldest brother, was at that time the
Superior of the Santa Barbara Mission. The sentiment and
romance of her youth were almost equally divided between the
gayeties, excitements, adornments of the life at the Presidio, and
the ceremonies and devotions of the life at the Mission. She was
famed as the most beautiful girl in the country. Men of the army,
men of the navy, and men of the Church, alike adored her. Her
name was a toast from Monterey to San Diego. When at last she
was wooed and won by Felipe Moreno, one of the most
distinguished of the Mexican Generals, her wedding ceremonies
were the most splendid ever seen in the country. The right tower of
the Mission church at Santa Barbara had been just completed, and
it was arranged that the consecration of this tower should take
place at the time of her wedding, and that her wedding feast should
be spread in the long outside corridor of the Mission building. The
whole country, far and near, was bid. The feast lasted three days;
open tables to everybody; singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and
making merry. At that time there were long streets of Indian
houses stretching eastward from the Mission; before each of these
houses was built a booth of green boughs. The Indians, as well as
the Fathers from all the other Missions, were invited to come. The
Indians came in bands, singing songs and bringing gifts. As they
appeared, the Santa Barbara Indians went out to meet them, also
singing, bearing gifts, and strewing seeds on the ground, in token
of welcome. The young Senora and her bridegroom, splendidly
clothed, were seen of all, and greeted, whenever they appeared, by
showers of seeds and grains and blossoms. On the third day, still in
their wedding attire, and bearing lighted candles in their hands,
they walked with the monks in a procession, round and round the
new tower, the monks chanting, and sprinkling incense and holy
water on its walls, the ceremony seeming to all devout beholders
to give a blessed consecration to the union of the young pair as
well as to the newly completed tower. After this they journeyed in
state, accompanied by several of the General's aids and officers,
and by two Franciscan Fathers, up to Monterey, stopping on their
way at all the Missions, and being warmly welcomed and
entertained at each.
General Moreno was much beloved by both army and Church. In
many of the frequent clashings between the military and the
ecclesiastical powers he, being as devout and enthusiastic a
Catholic as he was zealous and enthusiastic a soldier, had had the
good fortune to be of material assistance to each party. The Indians
also knew his name well, having heard it many times mentioned
with public thanksgivings in the Mission churches, after some
signal service he had rendered to the Fathers either in Mexico or
Monterey. And now, by taking as his bride the daughter of a
distinguished officer, and the niece of the Santa Barbara Superior,
he had linked himself anew to the two dominant powers and
interests of the country.
When they reached San Luis Obispo, the whole Indian population
turned out to meet them, the Padre walking at the head. As they
approached the Mission doors the Indians swarmed closer and
closer and still closer, took the General's horse by the head, and
finally almost by actual force compelled him to allow himself to
be lifted into a blanket, held high up by twenty strong men; and
thus he was borne up the steps, across the corridor, and into the
Padre's room. It was a position ludicrously undignified in itself, but
the General submitted to it good-naturedly.
"Oh, let them do it, if they like," he cried, laughingly, to Padre
Martinez, who was endeavoring to quiet the Indians and hold them
back. "Let them do it. It pleases the poor creatures."
On the morning of their departure, the good Padre, having
exhausted all his resources for entertaining his distinguished
guests, caused to be driven past the corridors, for their inspection,
all the poultry belonging to the Mission. The procession took an
hour to pass. For music, there was the squeaking, cackling, hissing,
gobbling, crowing, quacking of the fowls, combined with the
screaming, scolding, and whip-cracking of the excited Indian
marshals of the lines. First came the turkeys, then the roosters,
then the white hens, then the black, and then the yellow, next the
ducks, and at the tail of the spectacle long files of geese, some
strutting, some half flying and hissing in resentment and terror at
the unwonted coercions to which they were subjected. The Indians
had been hard at work all night capturing, sorting, assorting, and
guarding the rank and file of their novel pageant. It would be safe
to say that a droller sight never was seen, and never will be, on the
Pacific coast or any other. Before it was done with, the General
and his bride had nearly died with laughter; and the General could
never allude to it without laughing almost as heartily again.
At Monterey they were more magnificently feted; at the Presidio,
at the Mission, on board Spanish, Mexican, and Russian ships
lying in harbor, balls, dances, bull-fights, dinners, all that the
country knew of festivity, was lavished on the beautiful and
winning young bride. The belles of the coast, from San Diego up,
had all gathered at Monterey for these gayeties, but not one of
them could be for a moment compared to her. This was the
beginning of the Senora's life as a married woman. She was then
just twenty. A close observer would have seen even then,
underneath the joyous smile, the laughing eye, the merry voice, a
look thoughtful, tender, earnest, at times enthusiastic. This look
was the reflection of those qualities in her, then hardly aroused,
which made her, as years developed her character and stormy fates
thickened around her life, the unflinching comrade of her soldier
husband, the passionate adherent of the Church. Through wars,
insurrections, revolutions, downfalls, Spanish, Mexican, civil,
ecclesiastical, her standpoint, her poise, remained the same. She
simply grew more and more proudly, passionately, a Spaniard and
a Moreno; more and more stanchly and fierily a Catholic, and a
lover of the Franciscans.
During the height of the despoiling and plundering of the
Missions, under the Secularization Act, she was for a few years
almost beside herself. More than once she journeyed alone, when
the journey was by no means without danger, to Monterey, to stir
up the Prefect of the Missions to more energetic action, to implore
the governmental authorities to interfere, and protect the Church's
property. It was largely in consequence of her eloquent entreaties
that Governor Micheltorena issued his bootless order, restoring to
the Church all the Missions south of San Luis Obispo. But this
order cost Micheltorena his political head, and General Moreno
was severely wounded in one of the skirmishes of the insurrection
which drove Micheltorena out of the country.
In silence and bitter humiliation the Senora nursed her husband
back to health again, and resolved to meddle no more in the affairs
of her unhappy country and still more unhappy Church. As year by
year she saw the ruin of the Missions steadily going on, their vast
properties melting away, like dew before the sun, in the hands of
dishonest administrators and politicians, the Church powerless to
contend with the unprincipled greed in high places, her beloved
Franciscan Fathers driven from the country or dying of starvation
at their posts, she submitted herself to what, she was forced to
admit, seemed to be the inscrutable will of God for the discipline
and humiliation of the Church. In a sort of bewildered resignation
she waited to see what further sufferings were to come, to fill up
the measure of the punishment which, for some mysterious
purpose, the faithful must endure. But when close upon all this
discomfiture and humiliation of her Church followed the
discomfiture and humiliation of her country in war, and the near
and evident danger of an English-speaking people's possessing the
land, all the smothered fire of the Senora's nature broke out afresh.
With unfaltering hands she buckled on her husband's sword, and
with dry eyes saw him go forth to fight. She had but one regret,
that she was not the mother of sons to fight also.
"Would thou wert a man, Felipe," she exclaimed again and again
in tones the child never forgot. "Would thou wert a man, that thou
might go also to fight these foreigners!"
Any race under the sun would have been to the Senora less hateful
than the American. She had scorned them in her girlhood, when
they came trading to post after post. She scorned them still. The
idea of being forced to wage a war with pedlers was to her too
monstrous to be believed. In the outset she had no doubt that the
Mexicans would win in the contest.
"What!" she cried, "shall we who won independence from Spain,
be beaten by these traders? It is impossible!"
When her husband was brought home to her dead, killed in the last
fight the Mexican forces made, she said icily, "He would have
chosen to die rather than to have been forced to see his country in
the hands of the enemy." And she was almost frightened at herself
to see how this thought, as it dwelt in her mind, slew the grief in
her heart. She had believed she could not live if her husband were
to be taken away from her; but she found herself often glad that he
was dead,-- glad that he was spared the sight and the knowledge of
the things which happened; and even the yearning tenderness with
which her imagination pictured him among the saints, was often
turned into a fierce wondering whether indignation did not fill his
soul, even in heaven, at the way things were going in the land for
whose sake he had died.
Out of such throes as these had been born the second nature which
made Senora Moreno the silent, reserved, stern, implacable
woman they knew, who knew her first when she was sixty. Of the
gay, tender, sentimental girl, who danced and laughed with the
officers, and prayed and confessed with the Fathers, forty years
before, there was small trace left now, in the low-voiced,
white-haired, aged woman, silent, unsmiling, placid-faced, who
manoeuvred with her son and her head shepherd alike, to bring it
about that a handful of Indians might once more confess their sins
to a Franciscan monk in the Moreno chapel.
JUAN CANITO and Senor Felipe were not the only members of
the Senora's family who were impatient for the sheep-shearing.
There was also Ramona. Ramona was, to the world at large, a far
more important person than the Senora herself. The Senora was of
the past; Ramona was of the present. For one eye that could see the
significant, at times solemn, beauty of the Senora's pale and
shadowed countenance, there were a hundred that flashed with
eager pleasure at the barest glimpse of Ramona's face; the
shepherds, the herdsmen, the maids, the babies, the dogs, the
poultry, all loved the sight of Ramona; all loved her, except the
Senora. The Senora loved her not; never had loved her, never
could love her; and yet she had stood in the place of mother to the
girl ever since her childhood, and never once during the whole
sixteen years of her life had shown her any unkindness in act. She
had promised to be a mother to her; and with all the inalienable
stanchness of her nature she fulfilled the letter of her promise.
More than the bond lay in the bond; but that was not the Senora's
The story of Ramona the Senora never told. To most of the
Senora's acquaintances now, Ramona was a mystery. They did not
know -- and no one ever asked a prying question of the Senora
Moreno -- who Ramona's parents were, whether they were living
or dead, or why Ramona, her name not being Moreno, lived always
in the Senora's house as a daughter, tended and attended equally
with the adored Felipe. A few gray-haired men and women here
and there in the country could have told the strange story of
Ramona; but its beginning was more than a half-century back, and
much had happened since then. They seldom thought of the child.
They knew she was in the Senora Moreno's keeping, and that was
enough. The affairs of the generation just going out were not the
business of the young people coming in. They would have
tragedies enough of their own presently; what was the use of
passing down the old ones? Yet the story was not one to be
forgotten; and now and then it was told in the twilight of a summer
evening, or in the shadows of vines on a lingering afternoon, and
all young men and maidens thrilled who heard it.
It was an elder sister of the Senora's,-- a sister old enough to be
wooed and won while the Senora was yet at play,-- who had been
promised in marriage to a young Scotchman named Angus Phail.
She was a beautiful woman; and Angus Phail, from the day that he
first saw her standing in the Presidio gate, became so madly her
lover, that he was like a man bereft of his senses. This was the
only excuse ever to be made for Ramona Gonzaga's deed. It could
never be denied, by her bitterest accusers, that, at the first, and
indeed for many months, she told Angus she did not love him, and
could not marry him; and that it was only after his stormy and
ceaseless entreaties, that she did finally promise to become his
wife. Then, almost immediately, she went away to Monterey, and
Angus set sail for San Blas. He was the owner of the richest line of
ships which traded along the coast at that time; the richest stuffs,
carvings, woods, pearls, and jewels, which came into the country,
came in his ships. The arrival of one of them was always an event;
and Angus himself, having been well-born in Scotland, and being
wonderfully well-mannered for a seafaring man, was made
welcome in all the best houses, wherever his ships went into
harbor, from Monterey to San Diego.
The Senorita Ramona Gonzaga sailed for Monterey the same day
and hour her lover sailed for San Blas. They stood on the decks
waving signals to each other as one sailed away to the south, the
other to the north. It was remembered afterward by those who
were in the ship with the Senorita, that she ceased to wave her
signals, and had turned her face away, long before her lover's ship
was out of sight. But the men of the "San Jose" said that Angus
Phail stood immovable, gazing northward, till nightfall shut from
his sight even the horizon line at which the Monterey ship had long
before disappeared from view.
This was to be his last voyage. He went on this only because his
honor was pledged to do so. Also, he comforted himself by
thinking that he would bring back for his bride, and for the home
he meant to give her, treasures of all sorts, which none could select
so well as he. Through the long weeks of the voyage he sat on
deck, gazing dreamily at the waves, and letting his imagination
feed on pictures of jewels, satins, velvets, laces, which would best
deck his wife's form and face. When he could not longer bear the
vivid fancies' heat in his blood, he would pace the deck, swifter
and swifter, till his steps were like those of one flying in fear; at
such times the men heard him muttering and whispering to
himself, "Ramona! Ramona!" Mad with love from the first to the
last was Angus Phail; and there were many who believed that if he
had ever seen the hour when he called Ramona Gonzaga his own,
his reason would have fled forever at that moment, and he would
have killed either her or himself, as men thus mad have been
known to do. But that hour never came. When, eight months later,
the "San Jose" sailed into the Santa Barbara harbor, and Angus
Phail leaped breathless on shore, the second man he met, no friend
of his, looking him maliciously in the face, said. "So, ho! You're
just too late for the wedding! Your sweetheart, the handsome
Gonzaga girl, was married here, yesterday, to a fine young officer
of the Monterey Presidio!"
Angus reeled, struck the man a blow full in the face, and fell on
the ground, foaming at the mouth. He was lifted and carried into a
house, and, speedily recovering, burst with the strength of a giant
from the hands of those who were holding him, sprang out of the
door, and ran bareheaded up the road toward the Presidio. At the
gate he was stopped by the guard, who knew him.
"Is it true?" gasped Angus.
"Yes, Senor," replied the man, who said afterward that his knees
shook under him with terror at the look on the Scotchman's face.
He feared he would strike him dead for his reply. But, instead,
Angus burst into a maudlin laugh, and, turning away, went
staggering down the street, singing and laughing.
The next that was known of him was in a low drinking-place,
where he was seen lying on the floor, dead drunk; and from that
day he sank lower and lower, till one of the commonest sights to
be seen in Santa Barbara was Angus Phail reeling about, tipsy,
coarse, loud, profane, dangerous.
"See what the Senorita escaped!" said the thoughtless. "She was
quite right not to have married such. a drunken wretch."
In the rare intervals when he was partially sober, he sold all he
possessed,-- ship after ship sold for a song, and the proceeds
squandered in drinking or worse. He never had a sight of his lost
bride. He did not seek it; and she, terrified, took every precaution
to avoid it, and soon returned with her husband to Monterey,
Finally Angus disappeared, and after a time the news came up
from Los Angeles that he was there, had gone out to the San
Gabriel Mission, and was living with the Indians. Some years later
came the still more surprising news that he had married a squaw,--
a squaw with several Indian children, -- had been legally married
by the priest in the San Gabriel Mission Church. And that was the
last that the faithless Ramona Gonzaga ever heard of her lover,
until twenty-five years after her marriage, when one day he
suddenly appeared in her presence. How he had gained admittance
to the house was never known; but there he stood before her,
bearing in his arms a beautiful babe, asleep. Drawing himself up to
the utmost of his six feet of height, and looking at her sternly, with
eyes blue like steel, he said: "Senora Ortegna, you once did me a
great wrong. You sinned, and the Lord has punished you. He has
denied you children. I also have done a wrong; I have sinned, and
the Lord has punished me. He has given me a child. I ask once
more at your hands a boon. Will you take this child of mine, and
bring it up as a child of yours, or of mine, ought to be brought up?"
The tears were rolling down the Senora Ortegna's cheeks. The
Lord had indeed punished her in more ways than Angus Phail
knew. Her childlessness, bitter as that had been, was the least of
them. Speechless, she rose, and stretched out her arms for the
child. He placed it in them. Still the child slept on, undisturbed.
"I do not know if I will be permitted," she said falteringly; "my
"Father Salvierderra will command it. I have seen him," replied
The Senora's face brightened. "If that be so, I hope it can be as you
wish," she said. Then a strange embarrassment came upon her, and
looking down upon the infant, she said inquiringly, "But the child's
Angus's face turned swarthy red. Perhaps, face to face with this
gentle and still lovely woman he had once so loved, he first
realized to the full how wickedly he had thrown away his life.
With a quick wave of his hand, which spoke volumes, he said:
"That is nothing. She has other children, of her own blood. This is
mine, my only one, my daughter. I wish her to be yours; otherwise,
she will be taken by the Church."
With each second that she felt the little warm body's tender weight
in her arms, Ramona Ortegna's heart had more and more yearned
towards the infant. At these words she bent her face down and
kissed its cheek. "Oh, no! not to the Church! I will love it as my
own," she said.
Angus Phail's face quivered. Feelings long dead within him stirred
in their graves. He gazed at the sad and altered face, once so
beautiful, so dear. "I should hardly have known you, Senora!" burst
from him involuntarily.
She smiled piteously, with no resentment. "That is not strange. I
hardly know myself," she whispered. "Life has dealt very hardly
with me. I should not have known you either -- Angus." She
pronounced his name hesitatingly, half appealingly. At the sound
of the familiar syllables, so long unheard, the man's heart broke
down. He buried his face in his hands, and sobbed out: "O
Ramona, forgive me! I brought the child here, not wholly in love;
partly in vengeance. But I am melted now. Are you sure you wish
to keep her? I will take her away if you are not."
"Never, so long as I live, Angus," replied Senora Ortegna. "Already
I feel that she is a mercy from the Lord. If my husband sees no
offence in her presence, she will be a joy in my life. Has she been
Angus cast his eyes down. A sudden fear smote him. "Before I had
thought of bringing her to you," he stammered, "at first I had only
the thought of giving her to the Church. I had had her christened
by" -- the words refused to leave his lips -- "the name -- Can you
not guess, Senora, what name she bears?"
The Senora knew. "My own?" she said.
Angus bowed his head. "The only woman's name that my lips ever
spoke with love," he said, reassured, "was the name my daughter
"It is well," replied the Senora. Then a great silence fell between
them. Each studied the other's face, tenderly, bewilderedly. Then
by a simultaneous impulse they drew nearer. Angus stretched out
both his arms with a gesture of infinite love and despair, bent
down and kissed the hands which lovingly held his sleeping child.
"God bless you, Ramona! Farewell! You will never see me more,"
he cried, and was gone.
In a moment more he reappeared on the threshold of the door, but
only to say in a low tone, "There is no need to be alarmed if the
child does not wake for some hours yet. She has had a safe
sleeping-potion given her. It will not harm her."
One more long lingering look into each other's faces, and the two
lovers, so strangely parted, still more strangely met, had parted
again, forever. The quarter of a century which had lain between
them had been bridged in both their hearts as if it were but a day.
In the heart of the man it was the old passionate adoring love
reawakening; a resurrection of the buried dead, to full life, with
lineaments unchanged. In the woman it was not that; there was no
buried love to come to such resurrection in her heart, for she had
never loved Angus Phail. But, long unloved, ill-treated,
heartbroken, she woke at that moment to the realization of what
manner of love it had been which she had thrown away in her
youth; her whole being yearned for it now, and Angus was
When Francis Ortegna, late that night, reeled, half-tipsy, into his
wife's room, he was suddenly sobered by the sight which met his
eyes,-- his wife kneeling by the side of the cradle, in which lay,
smiling in its sleep, a beautiful infant.
"What in the devil's name," he began; then recollecting, he
muttered: "Oh, the Indian brat! I see! I wish you joy, Senora
Ortegna, of your first child!" and with a mock bow, and cruel
sneer, he staggered by, giving the cradle an angry thrust with his
foot as he passed.
The brutal taunt did not much wound the Senora. The time had
long since passed when unkind words from her husband could give
her keen pain. But it was a warning not lost upon her new-born
mother instinct, and from that day the little Ramona was carefully
kept and tended in apartments where there was no danger of her
being seen by the man to whom the sight of her baby face was only
a signal for anger and indecency.
Hitherto Ramona Ortegna had, so far as was possible, carefully
concealed from her family the unhappiness of her married life.
Ortegna's character was indeed well known; his neglect of his
wife, his shameful dissipations of all sorts, were notorious in every
port in the country. But from the wife herself no one had even
heard so much as a syllable of complaint. She was a Gonzaga, and
she knew how to suffer in silence, But now she saw a reason for
taking her sister into her confidence. It was plain to her that she
had not many years to live; and what then would become of the
child? Left to the tender mercies of Ortegna, it was only too certain
what would become of her. Long sad hours of perplexity the lonely
woman passed, with the little laughing babe in her arms, vainly
endeavoring to forecast her future. The near chance of her own
death had not occurred to her mind when she accepted the trust.
Before the little Ramona was a year old, Angus Phail died. An
Indian messenger from San Gabriel brought the news to Senora
Ortegna. He brought her also a box and a letter, given to him by
Angus the day before his death. The box contained jewels of value,
of fashions a quarter of a century old. They were the jewels which
Angus had bought for his bride. These alone remained of all his
fortune. Even in the lowest depths of his degradation, a certain
sentiment had restrained him from parting with them. The letter
contained only these words: "I send you all I have to leave my
daughter. I meant to bring them myself this year. I wished to kiss
your hands and hers once more. But I am dying. Farewell."
After these jewels were in her possession, Senora Ortegna rested
not till she had persuaded Senora Moreno to journey to Monterey,
and had put the box into her keeping as a sacred trust. She also
won from her a solemn promise that at her own death she would
adopt the little Ramona. This promise came hard from Senora
Moreno. Except for Father Salvierderra's influence, she had not
given it. She did not wish any dealings with such alien and
mongrel blood, "If the child were pure Indian, I would like it
better," she said. "I like not these crosses. It is the worst, and not
the best of each, that remains."
But the promise once given, Senora Ortegna was content. Well she
knew that her sister would not lie, nor evade a trust. The little
Ramona's future was assured. During the last years of the unhappy
woman's life the child was her only comfort. Ortegna's conduct
had become so openly and defiantly infamous, that he even
flaunted his illegitimate relations in his wife's presence; subjecting
her to gross insults, spite of her helpless invalidism. This last
outrage was too much for the Gonzaga blood to endure; the Senora
never afterward left her apartment, or spoke to her husband. Once
more she sent for her sister to come; this time, to see her die.
Every valuable she possessed, jewels, laces, brocades, and
damasks, she gave into her sister's charge, to save them from
falling into the hands of the base creature that she knew only too
well would stand in her place as soon as the funeral services had
been said over her dead body.
Stealthily, as if she had been a thief, the sorrowing Senora Moreno
conveyed her sister's wardrobe, article by article, out of the house,
to be sent to her own home. It was the wardrobe of a princess. The
Ortegnas lavished money always on the women whose hearts they
broke; and never ceased to demand of them that they should sit
superbly arrayed in their lonely wretchedness.
One hour after the funeral, with a scant and icy ceremony of
farewell to her dead sister's husband, Senora Moreno, leading the
little four-year-old Ramona by the hand, left the house, and early
the next morning set sail for home.
When Ortegna discovered that his wife's jewels and valuables of
all kinds were gone, he fell into a great rage, and sent a messenger
off, post-haste, with an insulting letter to the Senora Moreno,
demanding their return. For answer, he got a copy of his wife's
memoranda of instructions to her sister, giving all the said
valuables to her in trust for Ramona; also a letter from Father
Salvierderra, upon reading which he sank into a fit of despondency
that lasted a day or two, and gave his infamous associates
considerable alarm, lest they had lost their comrade. But he soon
shook off the influence, whatever it was, and settled back into his
old gait on the same old high-road to the devil. Father Salvierderra
could alarm him, but not save him.
And this was the mystery of Ramona. No wonder the Senora
Moreno never told the story. No wonder, perhaps, that she never
loved the child. It was a sad legacy, indissolubly linked with
memories which had in them nothing but bitterness, shame, and
sorrow from first to last.
How much of all this the young Ramona knew or suspected, was
locked in her own breast. Her Indian blood had as much proud
reserve in it as was ever infused into the haughtiest Gonzaga's
veins. While she was yet a little child, she had one day said to the
Senora Moreno, "Senora, why did my mother give me to the
Taken unawares, the Senora replied hastily: "Your mother had
nothing whatever to do with it. It was your father."
"Was my mother dead?" continued the child.
Too late the Senora saw her mistake. "I do not know," she replied;
which was literally true, but had the spirit of a lie in it. "I never
saw your mother."
"Did the Senora Ortegna ever see her?" persisted Ramona.
"No, never," answered the Senora, coldly, the old wounds burning
at the innocent child's unconscious touch.
Ramona felt the chill, and was silent for a time, her face sad, and
her eyes tearful. At last she said, "I wish I knew if my mother was
"Why?" asked the Senora.
"Because if she is not dead I would ask her why she did not want
me to stay with her."
The gentle piteousness of this reply smote the Senora's conscience.
Taking the child in her arms, she said, "Who has been talking to
you of these things, Ramona?"
"Juan Can," she replied.
"What did he say?" asked the Senora, with a look in her eye which
boded no good to Juan Canito.
"It was not to me he said it, it was to Luigo; but I heard him,"
answered Ramona, speaking slowly, as if collecting her various
reminiscences on the subject. "Twice I heard him. He said that my
mother was no good, and that my father was bad too." And the
tears rolled down the child's cheeks.
The Senora's sense of justice stood her well in place of tenderness,
now. Caressing the little orphan as she had never before done, she
said, with an earnestness which sank deep into the child's mind,
"Ramona must not believe any such thing as that. Juan Can is a
bad man to say it. 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
"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
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
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
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
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 year."
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
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 hands.
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 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
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
"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
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 prayers.
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 once!"
"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
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
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
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
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!"