Before she had spoken again, the forms of the galloping riders darkened the doorway; the foremost of them, leaping off his horse, exclaimed: "By God! here's the rest of it. If they ain't the damnedest impudent thieves! Look at this woman, cutting it up! Put that down, will you? We'll save you the trouble of dryin' our meat for us, besides killin' it! Fork over, now, every bit you've got, you --" And he called Ramona by a vile epithet.
Every drop of blood left Ramona's face. Her eyes blazed, and she came forward with the knife uplifted in her hand. "Out of my house, you dogs of the white color!" she said. "This meat is our own; my husband killed the creature but this morning."
Her tone and bearing surprised them. There were six of the men, and they had all swarmed into the little room.
"I say, Merrill," said one of them, "hold on; the squaw says her husband only jest killed it to-day. It might be theirs."
Ramona turned on him like lightning. "Are you liars, you all," she cried, "that you think I lie? I tell you the meat is ours; and there is not an Indian in this village would steal cattle!"
A derisive shout of laughter from all the men greeted this speech; and at that second, the leader, seeing the mark of blood where the Indian woman had dragged the meat across the ground, sprang to the bed, and lifting the deerskin, pointed with a sneer to the beef hidden there. "Perhaps, when you know Injun's well's I do," he said, "you won't be for believin' all they say! What's she got it hid under the bed for, if it was their own cow?" and he stooped to drag the meat out. "Give us a hand here, Jake!"
"If you touch it, I will kill you!" cried Ramona, beside herself with rage; and she sprang between the men, her uplifted knife gleaming.
"Hoity-toity!" cried Jake, stepping back; "that's a handsome squaw when she's mad! Say, boys, let's leave her some of the meat. She wasn't to blame; of course, she believes what her husband told her."