"It will not be more than two hours," she said, "or three, at the utmost. It must be nine o'clock now."
She did not observe that Alessandro had evaded the promise not to leave the spot. That promise Alessandro would not have given. He had something to do in preparation for this unexpected flight of Ramona. In her innocence, her absorption in her thoughts of Alessandro and of love, she had never seemed to consider how she would make this long journey. As Alessandro had ridden towards Temecula, eighteen days ago, he had pictured himself riding back on his fleet, strong Benito, and bringing Antonio's matchless little dun mare for Ramona to ride. Only eighteen short days ago; and as he was dreaming that very dream, he had looked up and seen Antonio on the little dun mare, galloping towards him like the wind, the overridden creature's breath coming from her like pants of a steam-engine, and her sides dripping blood, where Antonio, who loved her, had not spared the cruel spurs; and Antonio, seeing him, had uttered a cry, and flinging himself off, came with a bound to his side, and with gasps between his words told him. Alessandro could not remember the words, only that after them he set his teeth, and dropping the bridle, laid his head down between Benito's ears, and whispered to him; and Benito never stopped, but galloped on all that day, till he came into Temecula; and there Alessandro saw the roofless houses, and the wagons being loaded, and the people running about, the women and children wailing; and then they showed him the place where his father lay on the ground, under the tule, and jumping off Benito he let him go, and that was the last he ever saw of him. Only eighteen days ago! And now here he was, under the willows,-- the same copse where he first halted, at his first sight of Ramona; and it was night, dark night, and Ramona had been there, in his arms; she was his; and she was going back presently to go away with him,-- where! He had no home in the wide world to which to take her,-- and this poor beast he had ridden from Temecula, had it strength enough left to carry her? Alessandro doubted. He had himself walked more than half the distance, to spare the creature, and yet there had been good pasture all the way; but the animal had been too long starved to recover quickly. In the Pachanga canon, where they had found refuge, the grass was burned up by the sun, and the few horses taken over there had suffered wretchedly; some had died. But Alessandro, even while his arms were around Ramona, had revolved in his mind a project he would not have dared to confide to her. If Baba, Ramona's own horse, was still in the corral, Alessandro could without difficulty lure him out. He thought it would be no sin. At any rate, if it were, it could not be avoided. The Senorita must have a horse, and Baba had always been her own; had followed her about like a dog ever since he could run; in fact, the only taming he had ever had, had been done by Ramona, with bread and honey. He was intractable to others; but Ramona could guide him by a wisp of his silky mane. Alessandro also had nearly as complete control over him; for it had been one of his greatest pleasures, during the summer, when he could not see Ramona, to caress and fondle her horse, till Baba knew and loved him next to his young mistress. If only Baba were in the corral, all would be well. As soon as the sound of Ramona's footsteps had died away, Alessandro followed with quick but stealthy steps; keeping well down in the bottom, below the willows, he skirted the terrace where the artichoke-patch and the sheepfolds lay, and then turned up to approach the corral from the farther side. There was no light in any of the herdsmen's huts. They were all asleep. That was good. Well Alessandro knew how sound they slept; many a night while he slept there with them he had walked twice over their bodies as they lay stretched on skins on the floor,-- out and in without rousing them. If only Baba would not give a loud whinny. leaning on the corral-fence, Alessandro gave a low, hardly audible whistle. The horses were all in a group together at the farther end of the corral. At the sound there was a slight movement in the group; and one of them turned and came a pace or two toward Alessandro.
"I believe that is Baba himself," thought Alessandro; and he made another low sound. The horse quickened. his steps; then halted, as if he suspected some mischief.
"Baba," whispered Alessandro. The horse knew his name as well as any dog; knew Alessandro's voice too; but the sagacious creature seemed instinctively to know that here was an occasion for secrecy and caution. If Alessandro whispered, he, Baba, would whisper back; and it was little more than a whispered whinny which he gave, as he trotted quickly to the fence, and put his nose to Alessandro's face, rubbing and kissing and giving soft whinnying sighs.
"Hush! hush! Baba," whispered Alessandro, as if he were speaking to a human being. "Hush!" and he proceeded cautiously to lift off the upper rails and bushes of the fence. The horse understood instantly; and as soon as the fence was a little lowered, leaped over it and stood still by Alessandro's side, while he replaced the rails, smiling to himself, spite of his grave anxiety, to think of Juan Can's wonder in the morning as to how Baba had managed to get out of the corral.
This had taken only a few moments. It was better luck than Alessandro had hoped for; emboldened by it, he began to wonder if he could not get the saddle too. The saddles, harnesses, bridles, and all such things hung on pegs in an open barn, such as is constantly to be seen in Southern California; as significant a testimony, in matter of climate, as any Signal Service Report could be,-- a floor and a roof; no walls, only corner posts to hold the roof. Nothing but summerhouses on a large scale are the South California barns. Alessandro stood musing. The longer he thought, the greater grew his desire for that saddle.
"Baba, if only you knew what I wanted of you, you'd lie down on the ground here and wait while I got the saddle. But I dare not risk leaving you. Come, Baba!" and he struck down the hill again, the horse following him softly. When he got down below the terrace, he broke into a run, with his hand in Baba's mane, as if it were a frolic; and in a few moments they were safe in the willow copse, where Alessandro's poor pony was tethered. Fastening Baba with the same lariat, Alessandro patted him on the neck, pressed his face to his nose, and said aloud, "Good Baba, stay here till the Senorita comes." Baba whinnied.
"Why shouldn't he know the Senorita's name! I believe he does!" thought Alessandro, as he turned and again ran swiftly back to the corral. He felt strong now,-- felt like a new man. Spite of all the terror, joy thrilled him. When he reached the corral, all was yet still. The horses had not moved from their former position. Throwing himself flat on the ground, Alessandro crept on his breast from the corral to the barn, several rods' distance. This was the most hazardous part of his adventure; every other moment he paused, lay motionless for some seconds, then crept a few paces more. As he neared the corner where Ramona's saddle always hung, his heart beat. Sometimes, of a warm night, Luigo slept on the barn floor. If he were there to-night, all was lost. Groping in the darkness, Alessandro pulled himself up on the post, felt for the saddle, found it, lifted it, and in a trice was flat on the ground again, drawing the saddle along after him. Not a sound had he made, that the most watchful of sheep-dogs could hear.
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