And thus vanished the last chance of succor for Ramona; vanished in a moment; blown like a thistledown on a chance breath,-- the breath of a loyal, loving friend, speaking a lie to save her.
Distraught with grief, Felipe returned home. Ramona had been very ill when she left home. Had she died, and been buried by the lonely, sorrowing Alessandro? And was that the reason Alessandro was going away to the North, never to return? Fool that he was, to have shrunk from speaking Ramona's name to the Indians! He would return, and ask again. As soon as he had seen his mother, he would set off again, and never cease searching till he had found either Ramona or her grave. But when Felipe entered his mother's presence, his first look in her face told him that he would not leave her side again until he had laid her at rest in the tomb.
"Thank God! you have come, Felipe," she said in a feeble voice. "I had begun to fear you would not come in time to say farewell to me. I am going to leave you, my son;" and the tears rolled down her cheeks.
Though she no longer wished to live, neither did she wish to die,-- this poor, proud, passionate, defeated, bereft Senora. All the consolations of her religion seemed to fail her. She had prayed incessantly, but got no peace. She fixed her imploring eyes on the Virgin's face and on the saints; but all seemed to her to wear a forbidding look. "If Father Salvierderra would only come!" she groaned. "He could give me peace. If only I can live till he comes again!"
When Felipe told her of the old man's feeble state, and that he would never again make the journey, she turned her face to the wall and wept. Not only for her own soul's help did she wish to see him: she wished to put into his hands the Ortegna jewels. What would become of them? To whom should she transfer the charge? Was there a secular priest within reach that she could trust? When her sister had said, in her instructions, "the Church," she meant, as the Senora Moreno well knew, the Franciscans. The Senora dared not consult Felipe; yet she must. Day by day these fretting anxieties and perplexities wasted her strength, and her fever grew higher and higher. She asked no questions as to the result of Felipe's journey, and he dared not mention Ramona's name. At last he could bear it no longer, and one day said, "Mother, I found no trace of Ramona. I have not the least idea where she is. The Father had not seen her or heard of her. I fear she is dead."
"Better so," was the Senora's sole reply; and she fell again into still deeper, more perplexed thought about the hidden treasure. Each day she resolved, "To-morrow I will tell Felipe;" and when to-morrow came, she put it off again. Finally she decided not to do it till she found herself dying. Father Salvierderra might yet come once more, and then all would be well. With trembling hands she wrote him a letter, imploring him to be brought to her, and sent it by messenger, who was empowered to hire a litter and four men to bring the Father gently and carefully all the way. But when the messenger reached Santa Barbara, Father Salvierderra was too feeble to be moved; too feeble even to write. He could write only by amanuensis, and wrote, therefore, guardedly, sending her his blessing, and saying that he hoped her foster-child might yet be restored to the keeping of her friends. The Father had been in sore straits of mind, as month after month had passed without tidings of his "blessed child."
Soon after this came the news that the Father was dead. This dealt the Senora a terrible blow. She never left her bed after it. And so the year had worn on; and Felipe, mourning over his sinking and failing mother, and haunted by terrible fears about the lost Ramona, had been tortured indeed.
But the end drew near, now. The Senora was plainly dying. The Ventura doctor had left off coming, saying that he could do no more; nothing remained but to give her what ease was possible; in a day or two more all would be over. Felipe hardly left her bedside. Rarely was mother so loved and nursed by son. No daughter could have shown more tenderness and devotion. In the close relation and affection of these last days, the sense of alienation and antagonism faded from both their hearts.
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