"Never!" exclaimed Alessandro, with horror in his tone. "Never, Majella! How dared you?"
"I dare anything now!" said Ramona. "I have been thinking to do it for some days, and to tell her she could not have him any more till she gave me back the baby well and strong; but I knew I could not have courage to sit and look at her all lonely without him in her arms, so I did not do it. But now we are to be away, I thought, that is the time; and I told her, 'When we come back with our baby well, you shall have your little Jesus again, too; now, Holy Mother, you go with us, and make the doctor cure our baby!' Oh, I have heard, many times, women tell the Senora they had done this, and always they got what they wanted. Never will she let the Jesus be out of her arms more than three weeks before she will grant any prayer one can make. It was that way she brought you to me, Alessandro. I never before told you. I was afraid. I think she had brought you sooner, but I could keep the little Jesus hid from her only at night. In the day I could not, because the Senora would see. So she did not miss him so much; else she had brought you quicker."
"But, Majella," said the logical Alessandro, "it was because I could not leave my father that I did not come. As soon as he was buried, I came."
"If it had not been for the Virgin, you would never have come at all," said Ramona, confidently.
For the first hour of this sad journey it seemed as if the child were really rallying; the air, the sunlight, the novel motion, the smiling mother by her side, the big black horses she had already learned to love, all roused her to an animation she had not shown for days. But it was only the last flicker of the expiring flame. The eyes drooped, closed; a strange pallor came over the face. Alessandro saw it first. He was now walking, Ramona riding Benito. "Majella!" he cried, in a tone which told her all.
In a second she was at the baby's side, with a cry which smote the dying child's consciousness. Once more the eyelids lifted; she knew her mother; a swift spasm shook the little frame; a convulsion as of agony swept over the face, then it was at peace. Ramona's shrieks were heart-rending. Fiercely she put Alessandro away from her, as he strove to caress her. She stretched her arms up towards the sky. "I have killed her! I have killed her!" she cried. "Oh, let me die!"
Slowly Alessandro turned Baba's head homeward again.
"Oh, give her to me! Let her lie on my breast! I will hold her warm!" gasped Ramona.