It did not take many words to tell the story. Alessandro had not been ploughing more than an hour, when, hearing a strange sound, he looked up and saw a man unloading lumber a few rods off'. Alessandro stopped midway in the furrow and watched him. The man also watched Alessandro. Presently he came toward him, and said roughly, "Look here! Be off, will you? This is my land. I'm going to build a house here."
Alessandro had replied, "This was my land yesterday. How comes it yours to-day?"
Something in the wording of this answer, or something in Alessandro's tone and bearing, smote the man's conscience, or heart, or what stood to him in the place of conscience and heart, and he said: "Come, now, my good fellow, you look like a reasonable kind of a fellow; you just clear out, will you, and not make me any trouble. You see the land's mine. I've got all this land round here;" and he waved his arm, describing a circle; "three hundred and twenty acres, me and my brother together, and we're coming in here to settle. We got our papers from Washington last week. It's all right, and you may just as well go peaceably, as make a fuss about it. Don't you see?"
Yes, Alessandro saw. He had been seeing this precise thing for months. Many times, in his dreams and in his waking thoughts, he had lived over scenes similar to this. An almost preternatural calm and wisdom seemed to be given him now.
"Yes, I see, Senor," he said. "I am not surprised. I knew it would come; but I hoped it would not be till after harvest. I will not give you any trouble, Senor, because I cannot. If I could, I would. But I have heard all about the new law which gives all the Indians' lands to the Americans. We cannot help ourselves. But it is very hard, Senor." He paused.
The man, confused and embarrassed, astonished beyond expression at being met in this way by an Indian, did not find words come ready to his tongue. "Of course, I know it does seem a little rough on fellows like you, that are industrious, and have done some work on the land. But you see the land's in the market; I've paid my money for it."
"The Senor is going to build a house?" asked Alessandro.
"Yes," the man answered. "I've got my family in San Diego, and I want to get them settled as soon as I can. My wife won't feel comfortable till she's in her own house. We're from the States, and she's been used to having everything comfortable."
"I have a wife and child, Senor," said Alessandro, still in the same calm, deliberate tone; "and we have a very good house of two rooms. It would save the Senor's building, if he would buy mine."
"How far is it?" said the man. "I can't tell exactly where the boundaries of my land are, for the stakes we set have been pulled up."
"Yes, Senor, I pulled them up and burned them. They were on my land," replied Alessandro. "My house is farther west than your stakes; and I have large wheat-fields there, too,—many acres, Senor, all planted."
Here was a chance, indeed. The man's eyes gleamed. He would do the handsome thing. He would give this fellow something for his house and wheat-crops. First he would see the house, however; and it was for that purpose he had walked back with Alessandro, When he saw the neat whitewashed adobe, with its broad veranda, the sheds and corrals all in good order, he instantly resolved to get possession of them by fair means or foul.
"There will be three hundred dollars' worth of wheat in July, Senor, you can see for yourself; and a house so good as that, you cannot build for less than one hundred dollars. What will you give me for them?"
"I suppose I can have them without paying you for them, if I choose," said the man, insolently.
"No, Senor," replied Alessandro.
"What's to hinder, then, I'd like to know!" in a brutal sneer. "You haven't got any rights here, whatever, according to law."
"I shall hinder, Senor," replied Alessandro. "I shall burn down the sheds and corrals, tear down the house; and before a blade of the wheat is reaped, I will burn that." Still in the same calm tone.
"What'll you take?" said the man, sullenly.
"Two hundred dollars," replied Alessandro.
"Well, leave your plough and wagon, and I'll give it to you," said the man; "and a big fool I am, too. Well laughed at, I'll be, do you know it, for buying out an Indian!"
"The wagon, Senor, cost me one hundred and thirty dollars in San Diego. You cannot buy one so good for less. I will not sell it. I need it to take away my things in. The plough you may have. That is worth twenty."
"I'll do it," said the man; and pulling out a heavy buckskin pouch, he counted out into Alessandro's hand two hundred dollars in gold.
"Is that all right?" he said, as he put down the last piece.
"That is the sum I said, Senor," replied Alessandro. "Tomorrow, at noon, you can come into the house."
"Where will you go?" asked the man, again slightly touched by Alessandro's manner. "Why don't you stay round here? I expect you could get work enough; there are a lot of farmers coming in here; they'll want hands."
A fierce torrent of words sprang to Alessandro's lips, but he choked them back. "I do not know where I shall go, but I will not stay here," he said; and that ended the interview.
"I don't know as I blame him a mite for feeling that way," thought the man from the States, as he walked slowly back to his pile of lumber. "I expect I should feel just so myself."
Almost before Alessandro had finished this tale, he began to move about the room, taking down, folding up, opening and shutting lids; his restlessness was terrible to see. "By sunrise, I would like to be off," he said. "It is like death, to be in the house which is no longer ours." Ramona had spoken no words since her first cry on hearing that terrible laugh. She was like one stricken dumb. The shock was greater to her than to Alessandro. He had lived with it ever present in his thoughts for a year. She had always hoped. But far more dreadful than the loss of her home, was the anguish of seeing, hearing, the changed face, changed voice, of Alessandro. Almost this swallowed up the other. She obeyed him mechanically, working faster and faster as he grew more and more feverish in his haste. Before sundown the little house was dismantled; everything, except the bed and the stove, packed in the big wagon.
Whenever he thought of this change, always came the quick memory of Ramona. Would she be willing to go? Could it be that she felt a bond to this land, in which she had known nothing but sufferings.