THEY took Custer down to the village of Ganado, where they had left their cars and obtained horses. Here they left the animals, including the Apache, with instructions that he should be returned to the Rancho del Ganado in the morning.
The inhabitants of the village, almost to a man, had grown up in neighbourly friendship with the Penningtons. When he from whom the officers had obtained their mounts discovered the identity of the prisoner, his surprise was exceeded only by his anger.
“If I’d known who you was after,” he said, “you’d never have got no horses from me. I’d a’ hamstrung ’em first! I’ve known Cus Pennington since he was knee high to a grasshopper, and whatever you took him for he never done it. Wait till the colonel hears of this. You won’t have no more job than a jack rabbit!”
The marshal turned threateningly toward the speaker.
“Shut up!” he advised. “If Colonel Pennington hears of this before morning, you’ll wish to God you was a jack rabbit, and could get out of the country in two jumps! Now you get what I’m telling you—you’re to keep your trap closed until morning. Hear me?”
The officers and their prisoner were in the car ready to start. The marshal pointed a finger at Jim.
“Don’t forget what I told you about keeping your mouth shut until morning,” he admonished.
They drove off toward Los Angeles. Jim watched them for a moment, as the red tail light diminished in the distance. Then he turned into the office of his feed barn and took the telephone receiver from its hook. “Gimme Ganado No. 1,” he said to the sleepy night operator.
It was five minutes before continuous ringing brought the colonel to the extension telephone in his bedroom. He seemed unable to comprehend the meaning of what Jim was trying to tell him, so sure was he that Custer was in bed and asleep in a near-by room; but at last he was half convinced, for he had known Jim for many years, and well knew his stability and his friendship.
He hung up the receiver. While he dressed hastily, he explained to his wife the purport of the message he had just received.
“What are you going to do, Custer? she asked.
“I’m going to Los Angeles, Julia. Unless that marshal’s driving a racing car, I’ll be waiting for him when he gets there!”
Shortly before breakfast the following morning two officers, armed with a warrant, searched the castle on the hill. In Custer Pennington’s closet they found something which seemed to fill them with elation—two full bottles of whisky and an empty bottle, each bearing a label identical with those on the bottles they had found in the cases borne by the burros. With this evidence and the laden pack train, they started off toward the village.
Shannon Burke had put in an almost sleepless night. For hours she had lain watching the black silhouette of the cupola against the clear sky, waiting for the light which would announce that Custer had returned home in safety: but no light shone to relieve her anxiety.
She was up early in the morning, and in the saddle at the first streak of dawn, riding directly to the stables of the Rancho del Ganado. The stableman was there, saddling the horses while they fed.
“No one has come down yet?” she asked.
“The Apache’s gone,” he replied. “I don’t understand it. He hasn’t been in his box all night. I was just thinkin’ of goin’ up to the house to see if Custer was there. Don’t seem likely he’d be ridin’ all night, does it.”
“No,” she said. Her heart was in her mouth. She could scarcely speak. “I’ll ride up for you.” she managed to say.
Wheeling Baldy, she put him up the steep hill to the house. The iron gate that closed the patio arch at night was still down, so she rode around to the north side of the house and coo-hooed to attract the attention of some one within. Mrs. Pennington followed by Eva, came to the door. Both were fully dressed. When they saw who it was, they came out and told Shannon what had happened.
He was not injured, then. The sudden sense of relief left her weak, and for a moment she did not consider the other danger that confronted him. He was safe! That was all she cared about just then. Later she commenced to realize the gravity of his situation, and the innocent part that she had taken in involving him in the toils of the scheme which her interference must have suggested to those actually responsible for the traffic in stolen liquor, the guilt of which they had now cleverly shifted to the shoulders of an innocent man.
But there was something that she could do. When she turned Baldy down the hill from the Pennington’s, she took the road home that led past the Evan’s ranch, and, turning in, dismounted and tied Baldy at the fence. Her knock was answered by Mrs. Evans.
“Is Guy here?” asked Shannon. Hearing her voice, Guy came from his room, drawing on his coat. “You’re getting as bad as the Pennington’s, “ he said, laughing. “They have no respect for Christian hours!”
“Something has happened,” she said, “that I thought you should know about. Custer was arrested last night by government officers and taken to Los Angeles. He was out on the Apache at the time. No one seems to know where he was arrested, or why; but the supposition is that they found him in the hills, for the man who runs the feed barn in the village—Jim—told the colonel that the officers got horses from him and rode up toward the ranch, and that it was a couple of hours later that they brought Custer back on the Apache. The stablemen just told me that the Apache had not been in his stall all night, and I know—Custer told me not to tell, but it will make no difference now—that he was going up into the hills last night to try to catch the men who have been bringing down loads on burros every Friday night for a long time, and who cut his fence last Friday.”
She looked straight into Guy’s eyes as she spoke; but he dropped his as a flush mounted his cheek.
“I thought,”—she continued, “that Guy might want to go to Los Angeles and see if he could help Custer in any way. The Colonel went last night.”
“I’ll go now,” said Guy. “I guess I can help him.”
His voice was suddenly weary, and he turned away with an air of dejection which assured Shannon that he intended to do the only honourable thing that he could do—assume the guilt that had been thrown upon Custer’s shoulders, no matter what the consequences to himself. She had little doubt that Guy would do this, for she realized his affection for Custer as well as the impulsive generosity of his nature, which, however marred by weakness, was still fine by instinct.
Half an hour later, after a hasty breakfast, young Evans started for Los Angeles, while his mother and Shannon, standing in the porch of the bungalow, waved their good-byes as his roadster swung through the gate into the county road. Mrs. Evans had only a vague idea as to what her son could do to assist Custer Pennington out of his difficulty; but Shannon Burke knew that Pennington’s fate lay in the hands of Guy Evans, unless she chose to tell what she knew.
Colonel Pennington had overtaken the marshal’s car before the latter reached Los Angeles, but after a brief parley on the road he had discovered that he could do nothing to alter the officer’s determination to place Custer in the county jail pending his preliminary hearing before a United States commissioner. Neither the colonel’s plea that his son should be allowed to accompany him to an hotel for the night, nor his assurance that he would be personally responsible for the young man’s appearance before the commissioner on the following morning, availed to move the obdurate marshal from his stand; nor would he permit the colonel to talk with the prisoner.
This was the last straw. Colonel Pennington had managed to dissemble outward indications of his rising ire, but now an amused smile lighted his son’s face as he realized that his father was upon the verge of an explosion. He caught the older man’s eyes and shook his head.
“It’ll only make it worse,” he cautioned.
The colonel directed a parting glare at the marshal, muttered something about homeopathic intellects, and turned back to his roadster.