But it was indeed a hard ride. Alessandro had decided to hide for the day in a canon he knew, from which a narrow trail led direct to Temecula,-- a trail which was known to none but Indians. Once in this canon, they would be safe from all possible pursuit. Alessandro did not in the least share Ramona's confidence that no effort would be made to overtake them. To his mind, it appeared certain that the Senora would never accept the situation without making an attempt to recover at least the horse and the dog. "She can say, if she chooses, that I have stolen one of her horses," he thought to himself bitterly; "and everybody would believe her. Nobody would believe us, if we said it was the Senorita's own horse."
The head of the canon was only a couple of miles from the road; but it was in a nearly impenetrable thicket of chaparral, where young oaks had grown up so high that their tops made, as it were, a second stratum of thicket. Alessandro had never ridden through it; he had come up on foot once from the other side, and, forcing his way through the tangle had found, to his surprise, that he was near the highway. It was from this canon that he had brought the ferns which it had so delighted Ramona to arrange for the decoration of the chapel. The place was filled with them, growing almost in tropical luxuriance; but this was a mile or so farther down, and to reach that spot from above, Alessandro had had to let himself down a sheer wall of stone. The canon at its head was little more than a rift in the rocks, and the stream which had its rise in it was only a trickling spring at the beginning. It was this precious water, as well as the inaccessibility of the spot, which had decided Alessandro to gain the place at all hazards and costs. But a wall of granite would not have seemed a much more insuperable obstacle than did this wall of chaparral, along which they rode, vainly searching for a break in it. It appeared to Alessandro to have thickened and knit even since the last spring. At last they made their way down a small side canon,-- a sort of wing to the main canon; a very few rods down this, and they were as hidden from view from above as if the earth had swallowed them. The first red tints of the dawn were coming. From the eastern horizon to the zenith, the whole sky was like a dappled crimson fleece.
"Oh, what a lovely place." exclaimed Ramona. "I am sure this was not a hard ride at all, Alessandro! Is this where we are to stay?"
Alessandro turned a compassionate look upon her. "How little does the wood-dove know of rough places!" he said. "This is only the beginning; hardly is it even the beginning."
Fastening his pony to a bush, he reconnoitred the place, disappearing from sight the moment he entered the chaparral in any direction. Returning at last, with a grave face, he said, "Will Majella let me leave her here for a little time? There is a way, but I can find it only on foot. I will not be gone long. I know it is near."
Tears came into Ramona's eyes. The only thing she dreaded was the losing sight of Alessandro. He gazed at her anxiously. "I must go, Majella," he said with emphasis. "We are in danger here."
"Go! go! Alessandro," she cried. "But, oh, do not be long!"
As he disappeared in the thicket, the tough boughs crackling and snapping before him, it seemed to Ramona that she was again alone in the world. Capitan, too, bounded after Alessandro, and did not return at her call. All was still. Ramona laid her head on Baba's neck. The moments seemed hours. At last, just as the yellow light streamed across the sky, and the crimson fleeces turned in one second to gold, she heard Alessandro's steps, the next moment saw his face. It was aglow with joy.
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