It was sunset of the eighteenth day since Alessandro's departure. Ramona had lain for four days well-nigh motionless on her bed. She herself began to think she must be going to die. Her mind seemed to be vacant of all thought. She did not even sorrow for Alessandro's death; she seemed torpid, body and soul. Such prostrations as these are Nature's enforced rests. It is often only by help of them that our bodies tide over crises, strains, in which, if we continued to battle, we should be slain.
As Ramona lay half unconscious,-- neither awake nor yet asleep,-- on this evening, she was suddenly aware of a vivid impression produced upon her; it was not sound, it was not sight. She was alone; the house was still as death; the warm September twilight silence reigned outside, She sat up in her bed, intent -- half alarmed -- half glad -- bewildered -- alive. What had happened? Still there was no sound, no stir. The twilight was fast deepening; not a breath of air moving. Gradually her bewildered senses and faculties awoke from their long-dormant condition; she looked around the room; even the walls seemed revivified; she clasped her hands, and leaped from the bed. "Alessandro is not dead!" she said aloud; and she laughed hysterically. "He is not dead!" she repeated. "He is not dead! He is somewhere near!"
With quivering hands she dressed, and stole out of the house. After the first few seconds she found herself strangely strong; she did not tremble; her feet trod firm on the ground. "Oh, miracle!" she thought, as she hastened down the garden-walk; "I am well again! Alessandro is near!" So vivid was the impression, that when she reached the willows and found the spot silent, vacant, as when she had last sat there, hopeless, broken-hearted, she experienced a revulsion of disappointment. "Not here!" she cried; "not here!" and a swift fear shook her. "Am I mad? Is it this way, perhaps, people lose their senses, when they are as I have been!"
But the young, strong blood was running swift in her veins. No! this was no madness; rather a newly discovered power; a fulness of sense; a revelation. Alessandro was near.
Swiftly she walked down the river road. The farther she went, the keener grew her expectation, her sense of Alessandro's nearness. In her present mood she would have walked on and on, even to Temecula itself, sure that she was at each step drawing nearer to Alessandro.
As she approached the second willow copse, which lay perhaps a quarter of a mile west of the first, she saw the figure of a man, standing, leaning against one of the trees. She halted. It could not be Alessandro. He would not have paused for a moment so near the house where he was to find her. She was afraid to go on. It was late to meet a stranger in this lonely spot. The figure was strangely still; so still that, as she peered through the dusk, she half fancied it might be an optical illusion. She advanced a few steps, hesitatingly, then stopped. As she did so, the man advanced a few steps, then stopped. As he came out from the shadows of the trees, she saw that he was of Alessandro's height. She quickened her steps, then suddenly stopped again. What did this mean? It could not be Alessandro. Ramona wrung her hands in agony of suspense. An almost unconquerable instinct urged her forward; but terror held her back. After standing irresolute for some minutes, she turned to walk back to the house, saying, "I must not run the risk of its being a stranger. If it is Alessandro, he will come."
But her feet seemed to refuse to move in the opposite direction. Slower and slower she walked for a few paces, then turned again. The man had returned to his former place, and stood as at first, leaning against the tree.
"It may be a messenger from him," she said; "a messenger who has been told not to come to the house until after dark."
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