"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."
"You go to grass for a soft-head, you Jake!" muttered Merrill, as he dragged the meat out from beneath the bed.
"What is all this?" said a deep voice in the door; and Ramona, turning, with a glad cry, saw Alessandro standing there, looking on, with an expression which, even in her own terror and indignation, gave her a sense of dread, it was so icily defiant. He had his hand on his gun. "What is all this?" he repeated. He knew very well.
"It's that Temecula man," said one of the men, in a low tone, to Merrill. "If I'd known 't was his house, I wouldn't have let you come here. You're up the wrong tree, sure!"
Merrill dropped the meat he was dragging over the floor, and turned to confront Alessandro's eyes. His countenance fell. Even he saw that he had made a mistake. He began to speak. Alessandro interrupted him. Alessandro could speak forcibly in Spanish. Pointing to his pony, which stood at the door with a package on its back, the remainder of the meat rolled in the hide, he said: "There is the remainder of the beef. I killed the creature this morning, in the canon. I will take Senor Merrill to the place, if he wishes it. Senor Merrill's steer was killed down in the willows yonder, yesterday."
"That's so!" cried the men, gathering around him. "How did you know? Who did it?"
Alessandro made no reply. He was looking at Ramona. She had flung her shawl over her head, as the other woman had done, and the two were cowering in the corner, their faces turned away. Ramona dared not look on; she felt sure Alessandro would kill some one. But this was not the type of outrage that roused Alessandro to dangerous wrath. He even felt a certain enjoyment in the discomfiture of the self-constituted posse of searchers for stolen goods. To all their questions in regard to the stolen steer, he maintained silence. He would not open his lips. At last, angry, ashamed, with a volley of coarse oaths at him for his obstinacy, they rode away. Alessandro went to Ramona's side. She was trembling. Her hands were like ice.