SHANNON BURKE did not ride to her home after she left Custer. She turned toward the west at the road above the Evans place, continued on to the mouth of Horse Camp Canyon, and entered the hills. For two miles she followed the canyon trail to El Camino Largo, and there, turning to the left, she followed this other trail east to Sycamore Canyon. Whatever her mission, it was evident that she did not wish it known to others. Had she not wished to conceal it, she might have ridden directly up Sycamore Canyon from Ganado with a saving of several miles.
Presently she found what she sought—a trail running north and south across the basin. She turned Baldy into it, and headed him south toward the mountains. She was nervous and inwardly terrified, and a dozen times she would have turned back had she not been urged on by a power infinitely more potent than self-interest.
She had found what she sought, but the fear that rode her all but sent her panic-stricken in retreat. It was only the fact that she could not turn Baldy upon that narrow trail that gave her sufficient pause to gain mastery over the chaos of her nerves and drive them again into the fold of reason. It required a supreme effort of will to urge her horse onward again, down into that mysterious ravine, where she knew there might lurk for her a thing more terrible than death. That she did it bespoke the greatness of the love that inspired her courage.
After what seemed a long time she rode out among splendid old oaks, in view of a soiled tent and a picket line where three horses and a half dozen burros were tethered. Nowhere was there sign of the actual presence of men, yet she had an uncanny feeling that they were there, and that from some place of concealment they were watching her. She sat quietly upon her horse for a moment, waiting. Then, no one appearing, she called aloud.
“Hello, there! I want to speak with you.”
Her voice sounded strange and uncanny in her ears.
For what seemed a long time there was no other sound than the gently moving leaves about her, the birds and the heavy breathing of Baldy. Then, from the brush behind her, came another voice. It came from the direction of the trail down which she had ridden. She realized that she must have passed within a few feet of the man who now spoke.
“What do you want?”
“I have come to warn you. You are being watched.”
“You mean you are not alone? There are others with you? Then tell them to go away, for we have our rifles. We have done nothing. We’re tending our bees—they’re just below the ridge above our camp.”
“There is no one with me. I do not mean that others are watching you now, but that others know that you come down out of the hills with something each Friday night, and they want to find out what it is you bring.”
There was a rustling in the brush behind her, and she turned to see a man emerge, carrying a rifle ready in his hands. He was a Mexican, swarthy and ill-favoured, his face pitted by smallpox. Almost immediately two other men stepped from the brush at other points about the camp. The three walked to where Shannon sat upon her mount. All were armed, and all were Mexicans.
“What do you know about what we bring out of the hills? Should we not bring our honey out?” asked the pock-marked one.
“I know what you bring out,” she said. “I am not going to expose you. I am here to warn you.”
“I know Allen.”
Immediately their attitude changed. “You have seen Allen? You bring a message from him?”
“I have not seen him. I bring no message from him; but for reasons of my own I have come to warn you not to bring down another load next Friday night.”