"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.
They slept at a miserable cabin in one of the clearings, and at early dawn pushed on, reaching the Cahuilla village before noon. As their carriage came in sight, a great running to and fro of people was to be seen. Such an event as the arrival of a comfortable carriage drawn by four horses had never before taken place in the village. The agitation into which the people had been thrown by the murder of Alessandro had by no means subsided; they were all on the alert, suspicious of each new occurrence. The news had only just reached the village that Farrar had been set at liberty, and would not be punished for his crime, and the flames of indignation and desire for vengeance, which the aged Capitan had so much difficulty in allaying in the outset, were bursting forth again this morning. It was therefore a crowd of hostile and lowering faces which gathered around the carriage as it stopped in front of the Capitan's house.
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."