THE next morning he saw Shannon, who came to ride with them, the Penningtons, as had been her custom. She looked tired, as if she had spent a sleepless night. She had—she had spent two sleepless nights, and she had had to fight the old fight all over again. It had been very hard, even though she had won, for it had shown her that the battle was not over. She had thought that she had conquered the craving; but that had been when she had had no troubles or unhappiness to worry her mind and nerves. The last two days had been days of suffering for her, and the two sleepless nights had induced a nervous condition that begged for the quieting influence of the little white powder.
Custer noticed immediately that something was amiss. The roses were gone from her cheeks, leaving a suggestion of the old pallor; and though she smiled and greeted him happily, he thought that he detected an expression of wistfulness and pain in her face when she was not conscious that others were observing her.
Presently he turned toward her.
“I am going to ride over to the east pasture after breakfast,” he said, and waited.
“Is that an invitation?”
He smiled and nodded.
“But not if it isn’t perfectly convenient,” he added.
“I’d love to come with you. You know I always do.”
“Fine! And you’ll breakfast with us?”
“Not to-day. I have a couple of letters to write that I want to get off right away; but I’ll be up between eight thirty and nine. Is that too late?”
“I’ll ride down after breakfast and wait for you—if I won’t be in the way.”
“I’ve been thinking.” said Eva. “I’ve been thinking how lonely it will be when you have to go away to jail.”
“Why, they can’t send me to jail—I haven’t done anything,” he tried to reassure her.
“Come, dear, don’t worry about it. The chances are that they’ll free me. Even if they don’t, you mustn’t feel quite so bitterly against the men who are responsible. There may be reasons that you know nothing of that would keep them silent. Let’s not talk about it. All we can do now is to wait and see what the grand jury is going to do. In the meantime I don’t intend to worry.”
Their ride that morning was over a loved and familiar trail that led across El Camino Corto over low hills into Horse Camp Canyon, and up Horse Camp to Coyote Springs; then over El Camino Largo to Sycamore Canyon and down beneath the old, old sycamores to the ranch. She felt that she knew each bush and tree and boulder, and they held for her the quiet restfulness of the familiar faces of old friends. She should miss them, but she would carry them in her memory forever.
When they came to the fork in the road, she would not let Custer ride home with her.
“At eight thirty, then,” he called her, as she urged Baldy into a canter and left them with a gay wave of the hand that gave no token of the heavy sorrow in her heart.
After breakfast, as she was returning to her bungalow to write her letters, she saw a Mexican boy on a bicycle turn in at her gate. They met in front of the bungalow.
“Are you Miss Burke?” he asked. “Bartolo says for you to come to his camp in the mountains this morning, sure,” he went on, having received an affirmative reply.
The girl thought for a moment. Possibly here was a way out of her dilemma. If she could force Bartolo by threats of exposure, he might discover a way to clear Custer Pennington without incriminating himself. She turned to the boy.
“Tell him I will come.”
“I do not see him again. He is up in his camp now. He told me this yesterday. He also told me to tell you that he would be watching for you, and if you did not come alone you would not find him.”
“Very well,” she said, and turned into the bungalow.
She wrote her letters, but she was not thinking about them. Then she took them over to Powers to take to the city for her. After that she went to the telephone and called the Rancho del Ganado, asking for Custer when she got the connection.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” she said, when he came to the telephone. “I find I simply can’t ride this morning; but if you’ll put it off until afternoon—”
“Why, certainly! Come up to lunch and we’ll ride afterward,” he told her.
“You won’t go, then, until afternoon?” she asked.
“I’ll ride over to the east pasture this morning, and we’ll just take a ride any old place that you want to go this afternoon.”
“All right,” she replied.
She had hoped that he would not ride that morning. There was a chance that he might see her, even though the east pasture was miles from the trail she would ride, for there were high places on both trails, where a horseman would be visible for several miles.
“This noon at lunch, then,” he said.