"Are you married to your husband?" he finally said. "It is but a poor place he gives you to live in. If you will come and live with me, you shall have the best house in the valley, as good as the Ravallos'; and --" Jake did not finish his sentence. With a cry which haunted his memory for years, Ramona sprang from his side as if to run; then, halting suddenly, she faced him, her eyes like javelins, her breath coming fast. "Beast!" she said, and spat towards him; then turned and fled to the nearest house, where she sank on the floor and burst into tears, saying that the man below there in the road had been rude to her. Yes, the women said, he was a bad man; they all knew it. Of this Ramona said no word to Alessandro. She dared not; she believed he would kill Jake.
When the furious Jake confided to his friend Merrill his repulse, and the indignity accompanying it, Merrill only laughed at him, and said: "I could have told you better than to try that woman. She's married, fast enough. There's plenty you can get, though, if you want 'em. They're first-rate about a house, and jest's faithful's dogs. You can trust 'em with every dollar you've got."
From this day, Ramona never knew an instant's peace or rest till she stood on the rim of the refuge valley, high on San Jacinto. Then, gazing around, looking up at the lofty pinnacles above, which seemed to pierce the sky, looking down upon the world,-- it seemed the whole world, so limitless it stretched away at her feet,-- feeling that infinite unspeakable sense of nearness to Heaven, remoteness from earth which comes only on mountain heights, she drew in a long breath of delight, and cried: "At last! at last, Alessandro! Here we are safe! This is freedom! This is joy!"
"Can Majella be content?" he asked.
"I can almost be glad, Alessandro!" she cried, inspired by the glorious scene. "I dreamed not it was like this!"
It was a wondrous valley. The mountain seemed to have been cleft to make it. It lay near midway to the top, and ran transversely on the mountain's side, its western or southwestern end being many feet lower than the eastern. Both the upper and lower ends were closed by piles of rocks and tangled fallen trees; the rocky summit of the mountain itself made the southern wall; the northern was a spur, or ridge, nearly vertical, and covered thick with pine-trees. A man might roam years on the mountain and not find this cleft. At the upper end gushed out a crystal spring, which trickled rather than ran, in a bed of marshy green, the entire length of the valley, disappeared in the rocks at the lower end, and came out no more; many times Alessandro had searched for it lower down, but could find no trace of it. During the summer, when he was hunting with Jeff, he had several times climbed the wall and descended it on the inner side, to see if the rivulet still ran; and, to his joy, had found it the same in July as in January. Drought could not harm it, then. What salvation in such a spring! And the water was pure and sweet as if it came from the skies.
A short distance off was another ridge or spur of the mountain, widening out into almost a plateau. This was covered with acorn-bearing oaks; and under them were flat stones worn into hollows, where bygone generations of Indians had ground the nuts into meal. Generations long bygone indeed, for it was not in the memory of the oldest now living, that Indians had ventured so high up as this on San Jacinto. It was held to be certain death to climb to its summit, and foolhardy in the extreme to go far up its sides.
There was exhilaration in the place. It brought healing to both Alessandro and Ramona. Even the bitter grief for the baby's death was soothed. She did not seem so far off, since they had come so much nearer to the sky. They lived at first in a tent; no time to build a house, till the wheat and vegetables were planted. Alessandro was surprised, when he came to the ploughing, to see how much good land he had. The valley thrust itself, in inlets and coves, into the very rocks of its southern wall; lovely sheltered nooks these were, where he hated to wound the soft, flower-filled sward with his plough. As soon as the planting was done, he began to fell trees for the house. No mournful gray adobe this time, but walls of hewn pine, with half the bark left on; alternate yellow and brown, as gay as if glad hearts had devised it. The roof, of thatch, tule, and yucca-stalks, double laid and thick, was carried out several feet in front of the house, making a sort of bower-like veranda, supported by young fir-tree stems, left rough. Once more Ramona would sit under a thatch with birds'-nests in it. A little corral for the sheep, and a rough shed for the pony, and the home was complete: far the prettiest home they had ever had. And here, in the sunny veranda, when autumn came, sat Ramona, plaiting out of fragrant willow twigs a cradle. The one over which she had wept such bitter tears in the valley, they had burned the night before they left their Saboba home. It was in early autumn she sat plaiting this cradle. The ground around was strewn with wild grapes drying; the bees were feasting on them in such clouds that Ramona rose frequently from her work to drive them away, saying, as she did so, "Good bees, make our honey from something else; we gain nothing if you drain our grapes for it; we want these grapes for the winter;" and as she spoke, her imagination sped fleetly forward to the winter, The Virgin must have forgiven her, to give her again the joy of a child in her arms. Ay, a joy! Spite of poverty, spite of danger, spite of all that cruelty and oppression could do, it would still be a joy to hold her child in her arms.