"I donno whether I'd best make enny more fire naow or not," she said reflectively; "ef this storm's goin' to last till mornin', we'll come short o' wood, thet's clear." As she spoke, the door of the hut burst open, and her husband staggered in, followed by Alessandro, both covered with snow, their arms full of wood. Alessandro, luckily, knew of a little clump of young cottonwood-trees in a ravine, only a few rods from the house; and the first thing he had thought of, after tethering the horses in shelter between the hut and the wagons, was to get wood. Jeff, seeing him take a hatchet from the wagon, had understood, got his own, and followed; and now there lay on the ground enough to keep them warm for hours. As soon as Alessandro had thrown down his load, he darted to Ramona, and kneeling down, looked anxiously into the baby's face, then into hers; then he said devoutly, "The saints be praised, my Majella! It is a miracle!"
Jos listened in dismay to this ejaculation. "Ef they ain't Catholics!" he thought. "What kind o' Injuns be they I wonder. I won't tell mammy they're Catholics; she'd feel wuss'n ever. I don't care what they be. Thet gal's got the sweetest eyes'n her head ever I saw sence I wuz born."
By help of Jos's interpreting, the two families soon became well acquainted with each other's condition and plans; and a feeling of friendliness, surprising under the circumstances, grew up between them.
"Jeff," said Aunt Ri,-- "Jeff, they can't understand a word we say, so't's no harm done, I s'pose, to speak afore 'em, though't don't seem hardly fair to take advantage o' their not knowin' any language but their own; but I jest tell you thet I've got a lesson'n the subjeck uv Injuns. I've always hed a reel mean feelin' about 'em; I didn't want ter come nigh 'em, nor ter hev 'em come nigh me. This woman, here, she's ez sweet a creetur's ever I see; 'n' ez bound up 'n thet baby's yer could ask enny woman to be; 'n' 's fur thet man, can't yer see, Jeff, he jest worships the ground she walks on? Thet's a fact, Jeff. I donno's ever I see a white man think so much uv a woman; come, naow, Jeff, d' yer think yer ever did yerself?"
Aunt Ri was excited. The experience was, to her, almost incredible. Her ideas of Indians had been drawn from newspapers, and from a book or two of narratives of massacres, and from an occasional sight of vagabond bands or families they had encountered in their journey across the plains. Here she found herself sitting side by side in friendly intercourse with an Indian man and Indian woman, whose appearance and behavior were attractive; towards whom she felt herself singularly drawn.
"I'm free to confess, Jos," she said, "I wouldn't ha' bleeved it. I hain't seen nobody, black, white, or gray, sence we left hum, I've took to like these yere folks. An' they're real dark; 's dark's any nigger in Tennessee; 'n' he's pewer Injun; her father wuz white, she sez, but she don't call herself nothin' but an Injun, the same's he is. D' yer notice the way she looks at him, Jos? Don't she jest set a store by thet feller? 'N' I don't blame her."
Indeed, Jos had noticed. No man was likely to see Ramona with Alessandro without perceiving the rare quality of her devotion to him. And now there was added to this devotion an element of indefinable anxiety which made its vigilance unceasing. Ramona feared for Alessandro's reason. She had hardly put it into words to herself, but the terrible fear dwelt with her. She felt that another blow would be more than he could bear.
The storm lasted only a few hours. When it cleared, the valley was a solid expanse of white, and the stars shone out as if in an Arctic sky.