"Shaw, Jos! You tell her I ain't any lady. Tell her everybody round where we live calls me 'Aunt Ri,' or 'Mis Hyer;' she kin call me whichever she's a mind to. She's reel sweet-spoken."
With some difficulty Jos explained his mother's disclaimer of the title of Senora, and the choice of names she offered to Ramona.
Ramona, with smiles which won both mother and son, repeated after him both names, getting neither exactly right at first trial, and finally said, "I like 'Aunt Ri' best; she is so kind, like aunt, to every one."
"Naow, ain't thet queer, Jos," said Aunt Ri, "aout here 'n thes wilderness to ketch sumbody sayin' thet,-- jest what they all say ter hum? I donno's I'm enny kinder'n ennybody else. I don't want ter see ennybody put upon, nor noways sufferin', ef so be's I kin help; but thet ain't ennythin' stronary, ez I know. I donno how ennybody could feel enny different."
"There's lots doos, mammy," replied Jos, affectionately. "Yer'd find out fast enuf, ef yer went raound more. There's mighty few's good's you air ter everybody."
Ramona was crouching in the corner by the fire, her baby held close to her breast. The place which at first had seemed a haven of warmth, she now saw was indeed but a poor shelter against the fearful storm which raged outside. It was only a hut of rough boards, carelessly knocked together for a shepherd's temporary home. It had been long unused, and many of the boards were loose and broken. Through these crevices, at every blast of the wind, the fine snow swirled. On the hearth were burning a few sticks of wood, dead cottonwood branches, which Jef Hyer had hastily collected before the storm reached its height. A few more sticks lay by the hearth. Aunt Ri glanced at them anxiously. A poor provision for a night in the snow. "Be ye warm, Jos?" she asked.
"Not very, mammy," he said; "but I ain't cold, nuther; an' thet's somethin'."
It was the way in the Hyer family to make the best of things; they had always possessed this virtue to such an extent, that they suffered from it as from a vice. There was hardly to be found in all Southern Tennessee a more contented, shiftless, ill-bestead family than theirs. But there was no grumbling. Whatever went wrong, whatever was lacking, it was "jest like aour luck," they said, and did nothing, or next to nothing, about it. Good-natured, affectionate, humorous people; after all, they got more comfort out of life than many a family whose surface conditions were incomparably better than theirs. When Jos, their oldest child and only son, broke down, had hemorrhage after hemorrhage, and the doctor said the only thing that could save him was to go across the plains in a wagon to California, they said, "What good luck 'Lizy was married last year! Now there ain't nuthin' ter hinder sellin' the farm 'n goin' right off." And they sold their little place for half it was worth, traded cattle for a pair of horses and a covered wagon, and set off, half beggared, with their sick boy on a bed in the bottom of the wagon, as cheery as if they were rich people on a pleasure-trip. A pair of steers "to spell" the horses, and a cow to give milk for Jos, they drove before them; and so they had come by slow stages, sometimes camping for a week at a time, all the way from Tennessee to the San Jacinto Valley. They were rewarded. Jos was getting well. Another six months, they thought, would see him cured; and it would have gone hard with any one who had tried to persuade either Jefferson or Maria Hyer that they were not as lucky a couple as could be found. Had they not saved Joshua, their son?