A look of impatient despair spread over Aunt Ri's face. "I hain't no patience left with yer," she said, "er talkin' abaout stealin' hosses ez ef hosses wuz more'n human bein's! But lettin' thet all go, this Injun, he wuz crazy. Yer all knowed it. Thet Farrar knowed it. D'yer think ef he'd ben stealin' the hoss, he'd er left his own hoss in the corral, same ez, yer might say, leavin' his kyerd to say 't wuz he done it; 'n' the hoss er tied in plain sight 'n front uv his house fur ennybody ter see?"
"Left his own horse, so he did!" retorted Merrill. "A poor, miserable, knock-kneed old pony, that wa'n't worth twenty dollars; 'n' Jim's horse was worth two hundred, 'n' cheap at that."
"Thet ain't nuther here nor thar in what we air sayin'," persisted Aunt Ri. "I ain't a speakin' on 't ez a swap er hosses. What I say is, he wa'n't tryin' to cover 't up thet he'd tuk the hoss. We air sum used ter hoss-thieves in Tennessee; but I never heered o' one yit thet left his name fur a refference berhind him, ter show which road he tuk, 'n' fastened ther stolen critter ter his front gate when he got hum! I allow me 'n' yeow hedn't better say anythin' much more on ther subjeck, fur I allow we air bound to querril ef we dew;" and nothing that Merrill said could draw another word out of Aunt Ri in regard to Alessandro's death. But there was another subject on which she was tireless, and her speech eloquent. It was the kindness and goodness of the Cahuilla people. The last vestige of her prejudice against Indians had melted and gone, in the presence of their simple-hearted friendliness. "I'll never hear a word said agin 'em, never, ter my longest day," she said. "The way the pore things hed jest stripped theirselves, to git things fur Ramony, beat all ever I see among white folks, 'n' I've ben raound more'n most. 'N' they wa'n't lookin' fur no pay, nuther; fur they didn't know, till Feeleepy 'n' me cum, thet she had any folks ennywhar, 'n' they'd ha' taken care on her till she died, jest the same. The sick allers ez took care on among them, they sed, 's long uz enny on em hez got a thing left. Thet's ther way they air raised; I allow white folks might take a lesson on 'em, in thet; 'n' in heaps uv other things tew. Oh, I'm done talkin' again Injuns, naow, don't yeow furgit it! But I know, fur all thet, 't won't make any difference; 'pears like there cuddn't nobody b'leeve ennythin' 'n this world 'thout seein' 't theirselves. I wuz thet way tew; I allow I hain't got no call ter talk; but I jest wish the hull world could see what I've seen! Thet's all!"
It was a sad day in the village when Ramona and her friends departed. Heartily as the kindly people rejoiced in her having found such a protector for herself and her child, and deeply as they felt Felipe's and Aunt Ri's good-will and gratitude towards them, they were yet conscious of a loss,-- of a void. The gulf between them and the rest of the world seemed defined anew, their sense of isolation deepened, their hopeless poverty emphasized. Ramona, wife of Alessandro, had been as their sister,-- one of them; as such, she would have had share in all their life had to offer. But its utmost was nothing, was but hardship and deprivation; and she was being borne away from it, like one rescued, not so much from death, as from a life worse than death.
The tears streamed down Ramona's face as she bade them farewell. She embraced again and again the young mother who had for so many days suckled her child, even, it was said, depriving her own hardier babe that Ramona's should not suffer. "Sister, you have given me my child," she cried; "I can never thank you; I will pray for you all my life."
She made no inquiries as to Felipe's plans. Unquestioningly, like a little child, she resigned herself into his hands. A power greater than hers was ordering her way; Felipe was its instrument. No other voice spoke to guide her. The same old simplicity of acceptance which had characterized her daily life in her girlhood, and kept her serene and sunny then,-- serene under trials, sunny in her routine of little duties,-- had kept her serene through all the afflictions, and calm, if not sunny, under all the burdens of her later life; and it did not desert her even now,
Aunt Ri gazed at her with a sentiment as near to veneration as her dry, humorous, practical nature was capable of feeling. "I allow I donno but I sh'd cum ter believin' in saints tew," she said, "ef I wuz ter live 'long side er thet gal. 'Pears like she wuz suthin' more 'n human. 'T beats me plum out, ther way she takes her troubles. Thar's sum would say she hedn't no feelin'; but I allow she hez more 'n most folks. I kin see, 'tain't thet. I allow I didn't never expect ter think 's well uv prayin' to picters, 'n' strings er beads, 'n' sech; but ef 't 's thet keeps her up ther way she's kept up, I allow thar's more in it 'n it's hed credit fur. I ain't gwine ter say enny more agin it' nor agin Injuns. 'Pears like I'm gittin' heaps er new idears inter my head, these days. I'll turn Injun, mebbe, afore I git through!"
The farewell to Aunt Ri was hardest of all. Ramona clung to her as to a mother. At times she felt that she would rather stay by her side than go home with Felipe; then she reproached herself for the thought, as for a treason and ingratitude. Felipe saw the feeling, and did not wonder at it. "Dear girl," he thought; "it is the nearest she has ever come to knowing what a mother's love is like!" And he lingered in San Bernardino week after week, on the pretence that Ramona was not yet strong enough to bear the journey home, when in reality his sole motive for staying was his reluctance to deprive her of Aunt Ri's wholesome and cheering companionship.