Benito and Baba travelled as if they knew the errand on which they were hurrying. Good forty miles they had gone without flagging once, when Aunt Ri, pointing to a house on the right hand of the road, the only one they had seen for many miles, said: "We'll hev to sleep hyar. I donno the road beyant this. I allow they're gone ter bed; but they'll hev to git up 'n' take us in. They're used ter doin' it. They dew consid'able business keepin' movers. I know 'em. They're reel friendly fur the kind o' people they air. They're druv to death. It can't be far frum their time to git up, ennyhow. They're up every mornin' uv thar lives long afore daylight, a feedin' their stock, an' gittin' ready fur the day's work. I used ter hear 'em 'n' see 'em, when we wuz campin' here. The fust I saw uv it, I thought somebody wuz sick in the house, to git 'em up thet time o' night; but arterwards we found out 't wan't nothin' but thar reggerlar way. When I told dad, sez I, 'Dad, did ever yer hear sech a thing uz gittin' up afore light to feed stock?' 'n' ter feed theirselves tew. They'd their own breakfast all clared away, 'n' dishes washed, too, afore light; 'n' prayers said beside; they're Methodys, terrible pious. I used ter tell dad they talked a heap about believin' in God; I don't allow but what they dew believe in God, tew, but they don't worship Him so much's they worship work; not nigh so much. Believin' 'n' worshippin' 's tew things. Yeow wouldn't see no sech doin's in Tennessee. I allow the Lawd meant some time fur sleepin'; 'n' I'm satisfied with his times o' lightin' up. But these Merrills air reel nice folks, fur all this I've ben tellin' yer! -- Lawd! I don't believe he's understood a word I've said, naow!" thought Aunt Ri to herself, suddenly becoming aware of the hopeless bewilderment on Felipe's face. "'Tain't much use sayin' anything more'n plain yes 'n' no, between folks thet can't understand each other's langwedge; 'n' s' fur's thet goes, I allow thar ain't any gret use'n the biggest part o' what's sed between folks thet doos!"
When the Merrill family learned Felipe's purpose of going up the mountain to the Cahuilla village, they attempted to dissuade him from taking his own horses. He would kill them both, high-spirited horses like those, they said, if he took them over that road. It was a cruel road. They pointed out to him the line where it wound, doubling and tacking on the sides of precipices, like a path for a goat or chamois. Aunt Ri shuddered at the sight, but said nothing.
"I'm gwine whar he goes," she said grimly to herself. "I ain't a gwine ter back daown naow; but I dew jest wish Jeff Hyer wuz along."
Felipe himself disliked what he saw and heard of the grade. The road had been built for bringing down lumber, and for six miles it was at perilous angles. After this it wound along on ridges and in ravines till it reached the heart of a great pine forest, where stood a saw-mill. Passing this, it plunged into still darker, denser woods, some fifteen miles farther on, and then came out among vast opens, meadows, and grassy foot-hills, still on the majestic mountain's northern or eastern slopes. From these, another steep road, little more than a trail, led south, and up to the Cahuilla village. A day and a half's hard journey, at the shortest, it was from Merrill's; and no one unfamiliar with the country could find the last part of the way without a guide. Finally it was arranged that one of the younger Merrills should go in this capacity, and should also take two of his strongest horses, accustomed to the road. By the help of these the terrible ascent was made without difficulty, though Baba at first snorted, plunged, and resented the humiliation of being harnessed with his head at another horse's tail.
Except for their sad errand, both Felipe and Aunt Ri would have experienced a keen delight in this ascent. With each fresh lift on the precipitous terraces, the view off to the south and west broadened, until the whole San Jacinto Valley lay unrolled at their feet. The pines were grand; standing, they seemed shapely columns; fallen, the upper curve of their huge yellow disks came above a man's head, so massive was their size. On many of them the bark had been riddled from root to top, as by myriads of bullet-holes. In each hole had been cunningly stored away an acorn,-- the woodpeckers' granaries.
"Look at thet, naow!" exclaimed the observant Aunt Ri; "an' thar's folk's thet sez dumb critters ain't got brains. They ain't noways dumb to each other, I notice; an' we air dumb aourselves when we air ketched with furriners. I allow I'm next door to dumb myself with this hyar Mexican I'm er travellin' with."
"That's so!" replied Sam Merrill. "When we fust got here, I thought I'd ha' gone clean out o' my head tryin' to make these Mexicans sense my meanin'; my tongue was plaguy little use to me. But now I can talk their lingo fust-rate; but pa, he can't talk to 'em nohow; he hain't learned the fust word; 'n' he's ben here goin' on two years longer'n we have."
The miles seemed leagues to Felipe. Aunt Ri's drawling tones, as she chatted volubly with young Merrill, chafed him. How could she chatter! But when he thought this, it would chance that in a few moments more he would see her clandestinely wiping away tears, and his heart would warm to her again.