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.
"I have found the trail!" he exclaimed; "but we must climb up again out of this; and it is too light. I like it not."
With fear and trembling they urged their horses up and out into the open again, and galloped a half-mile farther west, still keeping as close to the chaparral thicket as possible. Here Alessandro, who led the way, suddenly turned into the very thicket itself; no apparent opening; but the boughs parted and closed, and his head appeared above them; still the little pony was trotting bravely along. Baba snorted with displeasure as he plunged into the same bristling pathway. The thick-set, thorny branches smote Ramona's cheeks. What was worse, they caught the nets swung on Baba's sides; presently these were held fast, and Baba began to rear and kick. Here was a real difficulty. Alessandro dismounted, cut the strings, and put both the packages securely on the back of his own pony. "I will walk," he said. "It was only a little way longer I would have ridden. I shall lead Baba, where it is narrow."
"Narrow," indeed. It was from sheer terror, soon, that Ramona shut her eyes. A path, it seemed to her only a hand's-breadth wide,-- a stony, crumbling path,-- on the side of a precipice, down which the stones rolled, and rolled, and rolled, echoing, far out of sight, as they passed; at each step the beasts took, the stones rolled and fell. Only the yucca-plants, with their sharp bayonet-leaves, had made shift to keep foothold on this precipice. Of these there were thousands; and their tall flower-stalks, fifteen, twenty feet high, set thick with the shining, smooth seed-cups, glistened like satin chalices in the sun. Below -- hundreds of feet below -- lay the canon bottom, a solid bed of chaparral, looking soft and even as a bed of moss. Giant sycamore-trees lifted their heads, at intervals, above this; and far out in the plain glistened the loops of the river, whose sources, unknown to the world, seen of but few human eyes, were to be waters of comfort to these fugitives this day.
Alessandro was cheered. The trail was child's play to him. At the first tread of Baba's dainty steps on the rolling stones, he saw that the horse was as sure-footed as an Indian pony. In a few short hours, now, they would be all at rest. He knew where, under a sycamore-clump, there was running water, clear as crystal, and cold,-- almost colder than one could drink,-- and green grass too; plenty for two days' feed for the horses, or even three; and all California might be searched over in vain for them, once they were down this trail. His heart full of joy at these thoughts, he turned, to see Ramona pallid, her lips parted, her eyes full of terror. He had forgotten that her riding had hitherto been only on the smooth ways of the valley and the plain, There she was so fearless, that he had had no misgiving about her nerves here; but she had dropped the reins, was clutching Baba's mane with both hands, and sitting unsteadily in her saddle. She had been too proud to cry out; but she was nearly beside herself with fright. Alessandro halted so suddenly that Baba, whose nose was nearly on his shoulder, came to so sharp a stop that Ramona uttered a cry. She thought he had lost his footing.
Alessandro looked at her in dismay. To dismount on that perilous trail was impossible; moreover, to walk there would take more nerve than to ride. Yet she looked as if she could not much longer keep her seat.
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