On one of the posts of the shed short projecting slats were nailed, like half-rounds of a ladder. Lightly as a rope-walker Felipe ran up these, to the roof, and took his stand there, ready to take the fleeces and pack them in the bag as fast as they should be tossed up from below. Luigo, with a big leathern wallet fastened in front of him, filled with five-cent pieces, took his stand in the centre of the shed. The thirty shearers, running into the nearest pen, dragged each his sheep into the shed, in a twinkling of an eye had the creature between his knees, helpless, immovable, and the sharp sound of the shears set in. The sheep-shearing had begun. No rest now. Not a second's silence from the bleating, baa-ing, opening and shutting, clicking, sharpening of shears, flying of fleeces through the air to the roof, pressing and stamping them down in the bales; not a second's intermission, except the hour of rest at noon, from sunrise till sunset, till the whole eight thousand of the Senora Moreno's sheep were shorn. It was a dramatic spectacle. As soon as a sheep was shorn, the shearer ran with the fleece in his hand to Luigo, threw it down on a table, received his five-cent piece, dropped it in his pocket, ran to the pen, dragged out another sheep, and in less than five minutes was back again with a second fleece. The shorn sheep, released, bounded off into another pen, where, light in the head no doubt from being three to five pounds lighter on their legs, they trotted round bewilderedly for a moment, then flung up their heels and capered for joy.
It was warm work. The dust from the fleeces and the trampling feet filled the air. As the sun rose higher in the sky the sweat poured off the men's faces; and Felipe, standing without shelter on the roof, found out very soon that he had by no means yet got back his full strength since the fever. Long before noon, except for sheer pride, and for the recollection of Juan Canito's speech, he would have come down and yielded his place to the old man. But he was resolved not to give up, and he worked on, though his face was purple and his head throbbing. After the bag of fleeces is half full, the packer stands in it, jumping with his full weight on the wool, as he throws in the fleeces, to compress them as much as possible. When Felipe began to do this, he found that he had indeed overrated his strength. As the first cloud of the sickening dust came up, enveloping his head, choking his breath, he turned suddenly dizzy, and calling faintly, "Juan, I am ill," sank helpless down in the wool. He had fainted. At Juan Canito's scream of dismay, a great hubbub and outcry arose; all saw instantly what had happened. Felipe's head was hanging limp over the edge of the bag, Juan in vain endeavoring to get sufficient foothold by his side to lift him. One after another the men rushed up the ladder, until they were all standing, a helpless, excited crowd, on the roof, one proposing one thing, one another. Only Luigo had had the presence of mind to run to the house for help. The Senora was away from home. She had gone with Father Salvierderra to a friend's house, a half-day's journey off. But Ramona was there. Snatching all she could think of in way of restoratives, she came flying back with Luigo, followed by every servant of the establishment, all talking, groaning, gesticulating, suggesting, wringing their hands,-- as disheartening a Babel as ever made bad matters worse.
Reaching the shed, Ramona looked up to the roof bewildered. "Where is he?" she cried. The next instant she saw his head, held in Juan Canito's arms, just above the edge of the wool-bag. She groaned, "Oh, how will he ever be lifted out!"
"I will lift him, Senora," cried Alessandro, coming to the front, "I am very strong. Do not be afraid; I will bring him safe down." And swinging himself down the ladder, he ran swiftly to the camp, and returned, bringing in his hands blankets. Springing quickly to the roof again, he knotted the blankets firmly together, and tying them at the middle around his waist, threw the ends to his men, telling them to hold him firm. He spoke in the Indian tongue as he was hurriedly doing this, and Ramona did not at first understand his plan. But when she saw the Indians move a little back from the edge of the roof, holding the blankets firm grasped, while Alessandro stepped out on one of the narrow cross-beams from which the bag swung, she saw what he meant to do. She held her breath. Felipe was a slender man; Alessandro was much heavier, and many inches taller. Still, could any man carry such a burden safely on that narrow beam! Ramona looked away, and shut her eyes, through the silence which followed. It was only a few moments; but it seemed an eternity before a glad murmur of voices told her that it was done, and looking up, she saw Felipe lying on the roof, unconscious, his face white, his eyes shut. At this sight, all the servants broke out afresh, weeping and wailing, "He is dead! He is dead!"
Ramona stood motionless, her eyes fixed on Felipe's face. She, too, believed him dead; but her thought was of the Senora.
"He is not dead," cried Juan Canito, who had thrust his hand under Felipe's shirt. "He is not dead. It is only a faint,"
At this the first tears rolled down Ramona's face. She looked piteously at the ladder up and down which she had seen Alessandro run as if it were an easy indoor staircase. "If I could only get up there!" she said, looking from one to another. "I think I can;" and she put one foot on the lower round.
"Holy Virgin!" cried Juan Can, seeing her movement. "Senorita! Senorita! do not attempt it. It is not too easy for a man. You will break your neck. He is fast coming to his senses."
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