IT WAS morning when the colonel reached the ranch. He found his wife and Eva sitting in Custer’s room. They knew the hour, and they were waiting there to be as near him as they could. They were weeping quietly. In the kitchen across the patio they could hear Hannah sobbing.
They sat there for a long time in silence. Suddenly they heard a door slam in the patio, and the sound of some one running.
“Colonel Pennington! Colonel Pennington!” a voice cried.
The colonel stepped to the door of Custer’s room. It was the bookkeeper calling him.
“What is it?” he asked. “Here I am.”
“The Governor has granted a stay of execution. There is new evidence. Miss Burke is on her way here now. She has found the man who killed Crumb!”
What more he said the colonel did not hear, for he had turned back into the room, and, collapsing on his son’s bed, had broken into tears—he who had gone through those long weeks like a man of iron.
It was nearly noon before Shannon arrived. She had been driven from Los Angeles by an attache of the district attorney’s office. The Penningtons had been standing on the east porch, watching the road with binoculars, so anxious were they for confirmation of their hopes.
She was out of the car before it had stopped and was running toward them. The man who had accompanied her followed, and joined them on the porch. Shannon threw her arms around Mrs. Pennington’s neck.
“He is safe!” she cried. “Another has confessed, and has satisfied the district attorney of his guilt.”
“Who was it?” they asked.
Shannon turned toward Eva.
“It is going to be another blow to you all,” she said; “but wait until I’m through, and you will understand that it could not have been otherwise. It was Guy who killed Wilson Crumb.”
“Guy? Why should he have done it?”
“That was it. That was why suspicion was never directed toward him. Only he knew the facts that prompted him to commit the deed. It was Allen who suggested to me the possibility that it might have been Guy. I have spent nearly two months at the sanatorium with this gentleman from the district attorney’s office, in an effort to awaken Guy’s sleeping intellect to a realization of the past, and of the present necessity for recalling it. He has been improving steadily, but it was only yesterday that memory returned to him. We worked on the theory that if he could be made to realize that Eva lived, the cause of his mental sickness would be removed. We tried everything, and we had almost given up hope when, almost like a miracle his memory returned, while he was looking at a snapshot of Eva that I had shown him. The rest was easy, especially after he knew that she had recovered. Instead of the necessity for confession resulting in a further shock, it seemed to inspirit him. His one thought was of Custer, his one hope that we would be in time to save him.”
“Why did he kill Crumb?” asked Eva.
“Because Crumb killed Grace. He told me the whole story yesterday.”
Very carefully Shannon related all that Guy had told of Crumb’s relations with his sister, up to the moment of Grace’s death.
“I am glad he killed him!” said Eva. “I would have had no respect for him if he hadn’t done it.”
“Guy told me that the evening before he killed Crumb he had been looking over a motion picture magazine, and he had seen there a picture of Crumb which tallied with the photograph he had taken from Grace’s dressing table—a portrait of the man who, as she told him, was responsible for her trouble. Guy had never been able to learn this man’s identity, but the picture in the magazine, with his name below it, was a reproduction of the same photograph. There was no question as to the man’s identity. The scarf-pin, and a lock of hair falling in a peculiar way over the forehead, marked the pictures as identical. Though Guy had never seen Crumb, he knew from conversations that he had heard here that it was Wilson Crumb who was directing the picture that was to be taken on Ganado. He immediately got his pistol, saddled his horse, and rode up to the camp in search of Crumb. It was he whom one of the witnesses mistook for Custer. He then did what the district attorney attributed to Custer. He rode to the mouth of Jackknife, and saw the lights of Crumb’s car up near El Camino Largo. While he was in Jackknife, Eva must have ridden down Sycamore from her meeting with Crumb, passing Jackknife before Guy rode back into Sycamore. He rode up to where Crumb was attempting to crank his engine. Evidently the starter had failed to work, for Crumb was standing in front of the car, in the glare of the headlights, attempting to crank it. Guy accosted him, charged him with the murder of Grace, and shot him. He then started for home by way of El Camino Largo. Half a mile up the trail he dismounted and hid his pistol and belt in a hollow tree. Then he rode home.
“He told me that while he never for an instant regretted his act, he did not sleep all that night, and was in a highly nervous condition when the shock of Eva’s supposed death unbalanced his mind; otherwise he would gladly have assumed the guilt of Crumb’s death at the time when Custer and I were accused.
“After we had obtained Guy’s confession, Allen gave us further information tending to prove Custer’s innocence. He said he could not give it before without incriminating himself; and as he had no love for Custer, he did not intend to hang for a crime he had not committed. He knew that he would surely hang if he confessed the part that he had played in formulating the evidence against Custer.
“Crumb had been the means of sending Allen to the county jail, after robbing him of several thousand dollars. The day before Crumb was killed, Allen’s sentence expired. The first thing he did was to search for Crumb, with the intention of killing the man. He learned at the studio where Crumb was, and he followed him immediately. He was hanging around the camp out of sight, waiting for Crumb, when he heard the shot that killed him. His investigation led him to Crumb’s body. He was instantly overcome by the fear, induced by his guilty conscience, that the crime would be laid at his door. In casting about for some plan by which he might divert suspicion from himself, he discovered an opportunity to turn it against a man whom he hated. The fact that he had been a stableman on Ganado, and was familiar with the customs of the ranch made it an easy thing for him to go to the stables, saddle the Apache, and ride him up Sycamore to Crumb’s body. Here he deliberately pulled the off fore shoe from the horse and hit it under Crumb’s body. Then he rode back to the stable, unsaddled the Apache, and made his way to the village.
“The district attorney said that we need have no fear but that Custer will be exonerated and freed. And, Eva”—she turned to the girl with a happy smile—“I have it very confidentially that there is small likelihood that any jury in southern California will convict Guy, if he bases his defence upon a plea of insanity.”
Eva smiled bravely and said:
“One thing I don’t understand, Shannon, is what you were doing brushing the road with a bough from a tree, on the morning after the killing of Crumb, if you weren’t trying to obliterate some one’s tracks.”
“That’s just what I was trying to do,” said Shannon. “Ever since Custer taught me something about tracking, it has held a certain fascination for me, so that I often try to interpret the tracks I see along the trails in the hills. It was because of this, I suppose, that I immediately recognized the Apache’s tracks around the body of Crumb. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Custer had killed him, and I did what I could to remove this evidence. As it turned out, my efforts did more harm than good, until Allen’s explanation cleared up the matter.”
“And why,” asked the colonel, “did Allen undergo this sudden change of heart?”
Shannon turned toward him, her face slightly flushed, though she looked him straight in the eyes as she spoke.
“It is a hard thing for me to tell you,” she said.
“Allen is a bad man—a very bad man; yet in the worst of men there is a spark of good. Allen told me this morning, in the district attorney’s office, what it was that had kindled to life the spark of good in him. He is my father.”