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 lace.
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 Ramona.
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!"
THE room in which Father Salvierderra always slept when at the Senora Moreno's house was the southeast corner room. It had a window to the south and one to the east. When the first glow of dawn came in the sky, this eastern window was lit up as by a fire. The Father was always on watch for it, having usually been at prayer for hours. As the first ray reached the window, he would throw the casement wide open, and standing there with bared head, strike up the melody of the sunrise hymn sung in all devout Mexican families. It was a beautiful custom, not yet wholly abandoned. At the first dawn of light, the oldest member of the family arose, and began singing some hymn familiar to the household. It was the duty of each person hearing it to immediately rise, or at least sit up in bed, and join in the singing. In a few moments the whole family would be singing, and the joyous sounds pouring out from the house like the music of the birds in the fields at dawn. The hymns were usually invocations to the Virgin, or to the saint of the day, and the melodies were sweet and simple.
On this morning there was another watcher for the dawn besides Father Salvierderra. It was Alessandro, who had been restlessly wandering about since midnight, and had finally seated himself under the willow-trees by the brook, at the spot where he had seen Ramona the evening before. He recollected this custom of the sunrise hymn when he and his band were at the Senora's the last year, and he had chanced then to learn that the Father slept in the southeast room. From the spot where he sat, he could see the south window of this room. He could also see the low eastern horizon, at which a faint luminous line already showed. The sky was like amber; a few stars still shone faintly in the zenith. There was not a sound. It was one of those rare moments in which one can without difficulty realize the noiseless spinning of the earth through space. Alessandro knew nothing of this; he could not have been made to believe that the earth was moving. He thought the sun was coming up apace, and the earth was standing still,-- a belief just as grand, just as thrilling, so far as all that goes, as the other: men worshipped the sun long before they found out that it stood still. Not the most reverent astronomer, with the mathematics of the heavens at his tongue's end, could have had more delight in the wondrous phenomenon of the dawn, than did this simple-minded, unlearned man.
His eyes wandered from the horizon line of slowly increasing light, to the windows of the house, yet dark and still. "Which window is hers? Will she open it when the song begins?" he thought. "Is it on this side of the house? Who can she be? She was not here last year. Saw the saints ever so beautiful a creature!"
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