Chapter 29 The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The six months that had just passed had been months of indecision and sadness for Shannon Burke. Constantly moved by a conviction that she should leave the vicinity of Ganado and the Penningtons, she was held there by a force that she had not the power to overcome.

Never before since she had left her mother’s home in the Middle West had she experienced the peace and content and happiness that her little orchard on the highway imparted to her life. The friendship of the Penningtons had meant more to her than anything that had hitherto entered her life; and to be near them, even if she saw them but seldom, constituted a constant bulwark against the assaults of her old enemy, which still occasionally assailed the ramparts of her will.

After the departure of Custer she had conscientiously observed what she considered to be his wishes as expressed in his reference comparing her with the girl friend of Cousin William, whom he had practically ordered out of the house. She had as far as possible avoided Eva’s society; and though contemplation of the cause of this avoidance filled her with humiliation, and with a sense of the injustice of all that it implied, she nevertheless felt it a duty to the man she loved to respect his every wish, however indirectly suggested.

That she might put herself in Eva’s way as seldom as possible, Shannon had formed the habit of riding at those hours at which the Penningtons were not accustomed to ride. The habit of solitude grew upon her, and she loved the loneliness of the hills. They never oppressed her—she never feared them. They drew her to them and soothed her as a mother might have done. There she forgot her sorrows, and hope was stimulated to new life.

Especially when the old craving seized her did she long for the hills, and it was because of this that she first rode at night—on a night of brilliant moonlight that imparted to familiar scenes the weird beauties of a strange world. The experience was unique. It assumed the proportions of an adventure, and it lured her to other similar excursions.

Even the Senator felt the spell of enchantment. He stepped daintily with uppricked ears and arched neck, peering nervously into the depth of each shadowy bush. He leaped suddenly aside at the movement of a leaf, or halted, trembling and snorting, at the moon-bathed outlines of some jutting rock that he had passed a hundred times, unmoved, by day.

The moonlight rides led Shannon to others on moonless nights, so that she was often in the saddle when the valley slept. She invariably followed the same trail on these occasions, with the result that both she and the Senator knew every foot of it so well that they had traversed it beneath the blackness of heavy clouds, or when low fogs obliterated all but the nearest objects.

Never, in the hills, could her mind dwell upon depressing thoughts. Only cheerful reflections were her companions of those hours of solitude. She thought of the love that had come into her life, of the beauty of it, and of all that it had done to make life more worth the living; of the Penningtons and the example of red-blooded cleanliness that they set—decency without prudery; of her little orchard and the saving problems it had brought to occupy her mind and hands; of her horse and her horsemanship, two never-failing sources of companionship and pleasure which the Penningtons had taught her to love and enjoy.

On the morning after Custer’s return, Guy started early for Los Angeles, while Custer—Shannon not having joined them on their morning ride—resaddled the Apache after breakfast and rode down to her bungalow. He both longed to see her and dreaded the meeting; for, regardless of Grace’s attitude and of the repulse she had given him, his honor bound him to her. Loyalty to the girl had been engendered by long years of association, during which friendship had grown into love by so gradual a process that it seemed to each of them that there had never been a time when they had not loved. Such attachments, formed in the heart of youth, hallowed by time, and fortified by the pride and honor of inherited chivalry, become a part of the characters of their possessors, and as difficult to uproot as those other habits of thought and action which differentiate one individual from another.

Custer had realized, in that brief interview of the day before, that Grace was not herself. What was the cause of her change he could not guess, since he was entirely unacquainted with the symptoms of narcotics. Even had a suspicion of the truth entered his mind, he would have discarded it as a vile slander upon the girl, as he had rejected the involuntary suggestion that she might have been drinking. His position was distressing for a man to whom honor was a fetish, since he knew that he still loved Grace, while at the same time realizing a still greater love for Shannon.

She saw him coming and came down the driveway to meet him, her face radiant with the joy of his return, and with that expression of love that is always patent to all but the object of its concern.

“Oh, Custer!” she cried. “I am so glad that you are home again! It has seemed years and years, rather than months, to all of us.”

“I am glad to be home, Shannon. I have missed you, too. I have missed you all—everything—the hills, the valley, every horse and cow and little pig, the clean air, the smell of flowers and sage—all that is Ganado.”

“You like it better than the city?”

“I shall never long for the city again,” he said. “Cities are wonderful, of course, with their great buildings, their parks and boulevards, their fine residences, their lawns and gardens. The things that men have accomplished there fill a fellow with admiration; but how pitiful they really are compared with the magnificence that is ours!” He turned and pointed toward the mountains. “Just think of those hills, Shannon, and the infinite, unthinkable power that uplifted such mighty monuments. Think of the countless ages that they have endured, and then compare them with the puny efforts of man. Compare the range of vision of the city dweller with ours. He can see across the street, and to the top of some tall building, which may look imposing; but place it beside one of our hills, and see what becomes of it. Place it in a ravine in the high Sierras, and you would have difficulty in finding it; and you cannot even think of it in connection with a mountain fifteen or twenty thousand feet in height. And yet the city man patronizes us country people, deploring the necessity that compels us to pursue our circumscribed existence.”

“Pity him,” laughed Shannon. “He is as narrow as his streets. His ideals can reach no higher than the pall of smoke that hangs over the roofs of his buildings. I am so glad, Custer, that you have given up the idea of leaving the country for the city!”

“I never really intended to,” he replied. “I couldn’t have left, on father’s account; but now I can remain on my own as well as his, and with a greater degree of contentment. You see that my recent experience was a blessing in disguise.”

“I am glad if some good came out of it; but it was a wicked injustice, and there were others as innocent as you who suffered fully as much—Eva especially.”

“I know,” he said. “She has been very lonely since I left, with Grace away, too; and they tell me that you have constantly avoided them. Why? I cannot understand it.”

He had dismounted and tied the Apache, and they were walking toward the porch. She stopped, and turned to look Custer squarely in the eyes.

“How could I have done otherwise?” she asked.

“I do not understand,” he replied.

She could not hold her eyes to his as she explained, but looked down, her expression changing from happiness to one of shame and sadness.

“You forget that girl, the friend of Cousin William?” she asked.

“Oh, Shannon!” he cried, laying a hand impulsively upon her arm. “I told you that I wouldn’t say that to you. I didn’t want you to stay away. I have implicit confidence in you.”

“No,” she contradicted him. “In your heart you thought it, and perhaps you were right.”

“No,” he insisted. “Please don’t stay away—promise me that you will not! You have hurt them all, and they are all so fond of you!”

“I am sorry, Custer. I would not hurt them. I love them all; but I thought I was doing the thing that you wished. There was so much that you did not understand—that you can never understand—and you were away where you couldn’t know what was going on; so it seemed disloyal to do the thing I thought you would rather I didn’t do.”

“It’s all over now,” he said. “Let’s start over again, forgetting all that has happened in the last six months and a half.”

Again, as his hand lay upon her arm, he was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to crush her to him. Two things deterred him—his loyalty to Grace, and the belief that his love would be unwelcome to Shannon.