"Thet's jest it," persisted Aunt Ri. "Thet's what I've ben seein'; 'n' thet's why I want so bad ter git at what 'tis the Guvvermunt means ter hev yeow dew fur 'em. I allow ef yeow ain't ter feed 'em, an' ef yer can't put folks inter jail fur robbin' 'n' cheatin' 'em, not ter say killin' 'em,-- ef yer can't dew ennythin' more 'n keep 'em from gettin' whiskey, wall, I'm free ter say --" Aunt Ri paused; she did not wish to seem to reflect on the Agent's usefulness, and so concluded her sentence very differently from her first impulse,-- "I'm free ter say I shouldn't like ter stan' in yer shoes."
"You may very well say that, Aunt Ri," laughed the Agent, complacently. "It is the most troublesome Agency in the whole list, and the least satisfactory."
"Wall, I allow it mought be the least satisfyin'," rejoined the indefatigable Aunt Ri; "but I donno whar the trouble comes in, ef so be's thar's no more kin be done than yer wuz er tellin'." And she looked honestly puzzled.
"Look there, Aunt Ri!" said he, triumphantly, pointing to a pile of books and papers. "All those to be gone through with, and a report to be made out every month, and a voucher to be sent for every lead-pencil I buy. I tell you I work harder than I ever did in my life before, and for less pay."
"I allow yer hev hed easy times afore, then," retorted Aunt Ri, good-naturedly satirical, "ef yeow air plum tired doin' thet!" And she took her leave, not a whit clearer in her mind as to the real nature and function of the Indian Agency than she was in the beginning.
Through all of Ramona's journey home she seemed to herself to be in a dream. Her baby in her arms; the faithful creatures, Baba and Benito, gayly trotting along at a pace so swift that the carriage seemed gliding; Felipe by her side, -- the dear Felipe,-- his eyes wearing the same bright and loving look as of old,-- what strange thing was it which had happened to her to make it all seem unreal? Even the little one in her arms,-- she too, seemed unreal! Ramona did not know it, but her nerves were still partially paralyzed. Nature sends merciful anaesthetics in the shocks which almost kill us. In the very sharpness of the blow sometimes lies its own first healing. It would be long before Ramona would fully realize that Alessandro was dead. Her worst anguish was yet to come.
Felipe did not know and could not have understood this; and it was with a marvelling gratitude that he saw Ramona, day after day, placid, always ready with a smile when he spoke to her. Her gratitude for each thoughtfulness of his smote him like a reproach; all the more that he knew her gentle heart had never held a thought of reproach in it towards him. "Grateful to me!" he thought. "To me, who might have spared her all this woe if I had been strong!"
Never would Felipe forgive himself,-- no, not to the day of his death. His whole life should be devoted to her and her child; but what a pitiful thing was that to render!