Aunt Ri's face was a ludicrous study of mingled terror, defiance, and contempt. "Uv all ther low-down, no-'count, beggarly trash ever I laid eyes on," she said in a low tone to Merrill, "I allow these yere air the wust! But I allow they'd flatten us all aout in jest abaout a minnit, if they wuz to set aout tew! Ef she ain't hyar, we air in a scrape, I allow."
"Oh, they're friendly enough," laughed Merrill. "They're all stirred up, now, about the killin' o' that Injun; that's what makes 'em look so fierce. I don't wonder! 'Twas a derned mean thing Jim Farrar did, a firin' into the man after he was dead. I don't blame him for killin' the cuss, not a bit; I'd have shot any man livin' that 'ad taken a good horse o' mine up that trail. That's the only law we stock men've got out in this country. We've got to protect ourselves. But it was a mean, low-lived trick to blow the feller's face to pieces after he was dead; but Jim's a rough feller, 'n' I expect he was so mad, when he see his horse, that he didn't know what he did."
Aunt Ri was half paralyzed with astonishment at this speech. Felipe had leaped out of the carriage, and after a few words with the old Capitan, had hurried with him into his house. Felipe had evidently forgotten that she was still in the carriage. His going into the house looked as if Ramona was there. Aunt Ri, in all her indignation and astonishment, was conscious of this train of thought running through her mind; but not even the near prospect of seeing Ramona could bridle her tongue now, or make her defer replying to the extraordinary statements she had just heard. The words seemed to choke her as she began. "Young man," she said, "I donno much abaout yeour raisin'. I've heered yeour folks wuz great on religion. Naow, we ain't, Jeff 'n' me; we warn't raised thet way; but I allow ef I wuz ter hear my boy, Jos,-- he's jest abaout yeour age, 'n' make tew, though he's narrerer chested,-- ef I should hear him say what yeou've jest said, I allow I sh'd expect to see him struck by lightnin'; 'n' I sh'dn't think he hed got more 'n his deserts, I allow I sh'dn't!"
What more Aunt Ri would have said to the astounded Merrill was never known, for at that instant the old Capitan, returning to the door, beckoned to her; and springing from her seat to the ground, sternly rejecting Sam's offered hand, she hastily entered the house. As she crossed the threshold, Felipe turned an anguished face toward her, and said, "Come, speak to her." He was on his knees by a wretched pallet on the floor. Was that Ramona,-- that prostrate form; hair dishevelled, eyes glittering, cheeks scarlet, hands playing meaninglessly, like the hands of one crazed, with a rosary of gold beads? Yes, it was Ramona; and it was like this she had lain there now ten days; and the people had exhausted all their simple skill for her in vain.
Aunt Ri burst into tears. "Oh, Lawd!" she said. "Ef I had some 'old man' hyar, I'd bring her aout er thet fever! I dew bleeve I seed some on 't growin' not more'n er mile back." And without a second look, or another word, she ran out of the door, and springing into the carriage, said, speaking faster than she had been heard to speak for thirty years: "Yeow jest turn raound 'n' drive me back a piece, the way we come. I allow I'll git a weed thet'll break thet fever. Faster, faster! Run yer hosses. 'Tain't above er mile back, whar I seed it," she cried, leaning out, eagerly scrutinizing each inch of the barren ground. "Stop! Here 'tis!" she cried. "I knowed I smelt the bitter on 't somewhars along hyar;" and in a few minutes more she had a mass of the soft, shining, gray, feathery leaves in her hands, and was urging the horses fiercely on their way back. "This'll cure her, ef ennything will," she said, as she entered the room again; but her heart sank as she saw Ramona's eyes roving restlessly over Felipe's face, no sign of recognition in them. "She's bad," she said, her lips trembling; "but, 'never say die!' ez allers our motto; 'tain't never tew late fur ennything but oncet, 'n' yer can't tell when thet time's come till it's past 'n' gone."
Steaming bowls of the bitterly odorous infusion she held at Ramona's nostrils; with infinite patience she forced drop after drop of it between the unconscious lips; she bathed the hands and head, her own hands blistered by the heat. It was a fight with death; but love and life won. Before night Ramona was asleep.
Felipe and Aunt Ri sat by her, strange but not uncongenial watchers, each taking heart from the other's devotion. All night long Ramona slept. As Felipe watched her, he remembered his own fever, and how she had knelt by his bed and prayed there. He glanced around the room. In a niche in the mud wall was a cheap print of the Madonna, one candle just smouldering out before it. The village people had drawn heavily on their poverty-stricken stores, keeping candles burning for Alessandro and Ramona during the past ten days. The rosary had slipped from Ramona's hold; taking it cautiously in his hand, Felipe went to the Madonna's picture, and falling on his knees, began to pray as simply as if he were alone. The Indians, standing on the doorway, also fell on their knees, and a low-whispered murmur was heard.
For a moment Aunt Ri looked at the kneeling figures with contempt. "Oh, Lawd!" she thought, "the pore heathen, prayin' ter a picter!" Then a sudden revulsion seized her. "I allow I ain't gwine ter be the unly one out er the hull number thet don't seem to hev nothin' ter pray ter; I allow I'll jine in prayer, tew, but I shan't say mine ter no picter!" And Aunt Ri fell on her knees; and when a young Indian woman by her side slipped a rosary into her hand, Aunt Ri did not repulse it, but hid it in the folds of her gown till the prayers were done. It was a moment and a lesson Aunt Ri never forgot.