Sheila pointed mutely to the floor, where a bit of thin, crinkled ash was all that remained of the signed agreement.
"Burned!" said Dakota sharply.
He caught Sheila's nod and questioned coldly:
"Who burned it?"
"My—Mr. Langford," returned Sheila.
"You found it and showed it to him, and he burned it," said Dakota slowly. "Why?"
"Don't you see?" Sheila's eyes mocked Langford as she intercepted his gaze, which had been fixed on Dakota. "It was evidence against him," she concluded, indicating her father.
"I reckon I see." The smile was entirely gone out of Dakota's face now, and as he turned to look at Langford there was an expression in his eyes which chilled the latter.
"You've flunked on the agreement. You've burned it—won't recognize it, eh? Well, I'm not any surprised."
Langford had partially recovered from the shock occasioned by Dakota's unexpected appearance, and he shook his head in emphatic, brazen denial.
"There was no agreement between us, my friend," he said. "The paper I burned was a forgery."
Dakota's lips hardened. "You called me your friend once before, Langford," he said coldly. "Don't do it again or I'll forget that you are Sheila's father. I reckon she has told you about Doubler. That's why I came over here to get the paper, for I knew that if you got hold of it you'd make short work of it. I know something else." He took a step forward and tried to hold Langford's gaze, his own eyes filled with a snapping menace. "I know that you've sent Duncan to Lazette for the sheriff. The doctor told me he'd met him,—Duncan—and the doctor says Duncan told him that you'd said that I fixed Doubler. How do you know I did?"
"Duncan saw you," said Langford.
Dakota's lips curled. "Duncan tell you that?" he questioned.
At Langford's nod he laughed harshly. "So it's a plant, eh?" he said, with a mirthless chuckle. "You are figuring to get two birds with one stone—Doubler and me. You've already got Doubler, or think you have, and now it's my turn. It does look pretty bad for me, for a fact, doesn't it? You've burned the agreement you made with me, so that you could slip out of your obligation. I reckon you think that after the sheriff gets me you'll be able to take the Star without any trouble—like you expect to take Doubler's land.
"You've got Duncan to swear that he saw me do for Doubler, and you've got your daughter to testify that she saw me on the trail, coming from Doubler's cabin right after she heard the shooting. It was a right clever scheme, but it was my fault for letting you get anything on me—I ought to have known that you'd try some dog's trick or other."
His voice was coming rapidly, sharply, and was burdened with a lashing sarcasm. "Yes, it's a right clever scheme, Mister Langford, and it ought to be successful. But there's one thing you've forgot. I've lived too long in this country to let anyone tangle me up like you'd like to have me. When a man gets double crossed in this country, he can't go to the law for redress—he makes his own laws. I'm making mine. You've double crossed me, and damn your hide, I'm going to send you over the divide in a hurry!"
One of his heavy revolvers leaped from its holster and showed for an instant in his right hand. Sheila had been watching closely, forewarned by Dakota's manner, and when she saw his right hand drop to the holster she sprang upon him, catching the weapon by the muzzle.
Langford had covered his face with his hands, and stood beside the desk, trembling, and Sheila cried aloud in protest when she saw Dakota draw the weapon that swung at his other hip, holding her off with the hand which she had seized. But when Dakota saw Langford's hands go to his face he hesitated, smiling scornfully. He turned to Sheila, looking down at her face close to his, his smile softening.
"I forgot," he said gently; "I forgot he is your father."
"It isn't that," she said. "He isn't my father, any more. But—" she looked at Dakota pleadingly—"please don't shoot him. Go—leave the country. You have plenty of time. You have enough to answer for. Please go!"
For answer he grasped her by the shoulders, swinging her around so that she faced him,—as he had forced her to face him that day on the river trail—and there was a regretful, admiring gleam in his eyes.
"You told him—" he jerked a thumb toward Langford—"that you wouldn't bear witness against me. I heard you. You're a true blue girl, and your father's a fool or he wouldn't lose you, like he is going to lose you. If I had you I would take mighty good care that you didn't get away from me. You've given me some mighty good advice, and I would act on it if I was guilty of shooting Doubler. But I didn't shoot him—your father and Duncan have framed up on me. Doubler isn't dead yet, and so I'm not running away. If Doubler had someone to nurse him, he might—" He hesitated and looked at her with a strange smile. "You think I shot Doubler, too, don't you? Well, there's a chance that if we can get Doubler revived he can tell who did shoot him. Do you want to know the truth? I heard you say a while ago, while I was standing at the window, looking in at your father giving a demonstration of his love for you, that you intended going over to Doubler's shack to nurse him. If you're still of the same mind, I'll take you over there."
Sheila was at the door in an instant, but halted on the threshold to listen to Dakota's parting word to Langford.
"Mister man," he said enigmatically, "there's just one thing that I want to say to you. There's a day coming when you'll think thoughts—plenty of them."
In a flash he had stepped outside the door and closed it after him.
A few minutes later, still standing beside the desk, Langford heard the rapid beat of hoofs on the hard sand of the corral yard. Faint they became, and their rhythmic beat faster, until they died away entirely. But Dakota's words still lingered in Langford's mind, and it seemed to him that they conveyed a prophecy.
THE PARTING ON THE RIVER TRAIL
"I'll be leaving you now, ma'am." There was a good moon, and its mellow light streamed full into Dakota's grim, travel-stained face as he halted his pony on the crest of a slope above the Two Forks and pointed out a light that glimmered weakly through the trees on a level some distance on the other side of the river.
"There's Doubler's cabin—where you see that light," he continued, speaking to Sheila in a low voice. "You've been there before, and you won't get lost going the rest of the way alone. Do what you can for Doubler. I'm going down to my shack. I've done a heap of riding to-day, and I don't feel exactly like I want to keep going on, unless it's important. Besides, maybe Doubler will get along a whole lot better if I don't hang around there. At least, he'll do as well."
Sheila had turned her head from him. He was exhibiting a perfectly natural aversion toward visiting the man he had nearly killed, she assured herself with a shudder, and she felt no pity for him. He had done her a service, however, in appearing at the Double R at a most opportune time, and she was grateful. Therefore she lingered, finding it hard to choose words.
"I am sorry," she finally said.
"Thank you." He maneuvered his pony until the moonlight streamed in her face. "I reckon you've got the same notion as your father—that I shot Doubler?" he said, watching her narrowly. "You are willing to take Duncan's word for it?"
"Duncan's word, and the agreement which I found in the pocket of your vest," she returned, without looking at him. "I suppose that is proof enough?"
"Well," he said with a bitter laugh, "it does look bad for me, for a fact. I can't deny that. And I don't blame you for thinking as you do. But you heard what I told your father about the shooting of Doubler being a plant."
"A scheme, a plot—to make an innocent man seem guilty. That is what has been done with me. I didn't shoot Doubler. I wouldn't shoot him."
She looked at him now, unbelief in her eyes.
"Of course you would deny it," she said.
"Well," he said resignedly, "I reckon that's all. I can't say that I expected anything else. I've done some things in my life that I've regretted, but I've never told a lie when the truth would do as well. There is no reason now why I should lie, and so I want you to know that I am telling the truth when I say that I didn't shoot Doubler. Won't you believe me?"
"No," she returned, unaffected by the earnestness in his voice. "You were at Doubler's cabin when I heard the shot—I met you on the trail. You killed that man, Blanca, over in Lazette, for nothing. You didn't need to kill him; you shot him in pure wantonness. But you killed Doubler for money. You would have killed my father had I not been there to prevent you. Perhaps you can't help killing people. You have my sympathy on that account, and I hope that in time you will do better—will reform. But I don't believe you."
"You forgot to mention one other crime," he reminded her in a low voice, not without a trace of sarcasm.
"I have not forgotten it. I will never forget it. But I forgive you, for in comparison to your other crimes your sin against me was trivial—though it was great enough."
Again his bitter laugh reached her ears. "I thought," he began, and then stopped short. "Well, I reckon it doesn't make much difference what I thought. I would have to tell you many things before you would understand, and even then I suppose you wouldn't believe me. So I am keeping quiet until—until the time comes. Maybe that won't be so long, and then you'll understand. I'll be seeing you again."
"I am leaving this country to-morrow," she informed him coldly.
She saw him start and experienced a sensation of vindictive satisfaction.
"Well," he said, with a queer note of regret in his voice, "that's too bad. But I reckon I'll be seeing you again anyway, if the sheriff doesn't get me."
"Do you think they will come for you to-night?" she asked, suddenly remembering that her father had told her that Duncan had gone to Lazette for the sheriff. "What will they do?"
"Nothing, I reckon. That is, they won't do anything except take me into custody. They can't do anything until Doubler dies."
"If he doesn't die?" she said. "What can they do then?"
"Usually it isn't considered a crime to shoot a man—if he doesn't die. Likely they wouldn't do anything to me if Doubler gets well. They might want me to leave the country. But I don't reckon that I'm going to let them take me—whether Doubler dies or not. Once they've got a man it's pretty easy to prove him guilty—in this country. Usually they hang a man and consider the evidence afterward. I'm not letting them do that to me. If I was guilty, I suppose I might look at it differently, but maybe not."
Sheila was silent; he became silent, too, and looked gravely at her.
"Well," he said presently, "I'll be going." He urged his pony forward, but when it had gone only a few steps he turned and looked back at her. "Do your best to keep Doubler alive," he said.
There was a note of the old mockery in his voice, and it lingered long in Sheila's ears after she had watched him vanish into the mysterious shadows that surrounded the trail. Stiffling a sigh of regret and pity, she spoke to her pony, and the animal shuffled down the long slope, forded the river, and so brought her to the door of Doubler's cabin.
The doctor was there; he was bending over Doubler at the instant Sheila entered the cabin, and he looked up at her with grave, questioning eyes.
"I am going to nurse him," she informed the doctor.
"That's good," he returned softly; "he needs lots of care—the care that a woman can give him."
Then he went off into a maze of medical terms and phrases that left her confused, but out of which she gathered the fact that the bullet had missed a vital spot, that Doubler was suffering more from shock than from real injury, and that the only danger—his constitution being strong enough to withstand the shock—would be from blood poisoning. He had some fever, the doctor told Sheila, and he left a small vial on a shelf with instructions to administer a number of drops of its contents in a spoonful of water if Doubler became restless. The bandages were to be changed several times a day, and the wound bathed.
The doctor was glad that she had come, for he had a very sick patient in Mrs. Moreland, and he must return to her immediately. He would try to look in in a day or two. No, he said, in answer to her question, she could not leave Doubler to-morrow, even to go home—if she wanted the patient to get well.
And so Sheila watched him as he went out and saddled his horse and rode away down the river trail. Then with a sigh she returned to the cabin, closed the door, and took up her vigil beside the nester.
SHERIFF ALLEN TAKES A HAND
The sheriff's posse—three men whom he had deputized in Lazette and himself—had ridden hard over the twenty miles of rough trail from Lazette, for Duncan had assured Allen that he would have to get into action before Dakota could discover that there had been a witness to his deed, and therefore when they arrived at the edge of the clearing near Dakota's cabin at midnight, they were glad of an opportunity to dismount and stretch themselves.
There was no light in Dakota's cabin, no sign that the man the sheriff was after was anywhere about, and the latter consulted gravely with his men.
"This ain't going to be any picnic, boys," he said. "We've got to take our time and keep our eyes open. Dakota ain't no spring chicken, and if he don't want to come with us peaceable, he'll make things plumb lively."
A careful examination of the horses in the corral resulted in the discovery of one which had evidently been ridden hard and unsaddled but a few minutes before, for its flanks were in a lather and steam rose from its sides.
However, the discovery of the pony told the sheriff nothing beyond the fact that Dakota had ridden to the cabin from somewhere, some time before. Whether he was asleep, or watching the posse from some vantage point within or outside of the cabin was not quite clear. Therefore Allen, the sheriff, a man of much experience, advised caution. After another careful reconnoiter, which settled beyond all reasonable doubt the fact that Dakota was not secreted in the timber in the vicinity of the cabin, Allen told his deputies to remain concealed on the edge of the clearing, while he proceeded boldly to the door of the cabin and knocked loudly. He and Dakota had always been very friendly.
At the sound of the knock, Dakota's voice came from within the cabin, burdened with mockery.
"Sorry, Allen," it said, "but I'm locked up for the night. Can't take any chances on leaving my door unbarred—can't tell who's prowling around. If you'd sent word, now, so I would have had time to dress decently, I might have let you in, seeing it's you. I'm sure some sorry."
"Sorry, too." Allen grinned at the door. "I told the boys you'd be watching. Well, it can't be helped, I reckon. Only, I'd like mighty well to see you. Coming out in the morning?"
"Maybe. Missed my beauty sleep already." His voice was dryly sarcastic. "It's too bad you rode this far for nothing; can't even get a look at me. But it's no time to visit a man, anyway. You and your boys flop outside. We'll swap palaver in the morning. Good night."
Allen returned to the edge of the clearing, where he communicated to his men the result of the conference.
"He ain't allowing that he wants to be disturbed just now," he told them. "And he's too damned polite to monkey with. We'll wait. Likely he'll change his mind over-night."
"Wait nothing," growled Duncan. "Bust the door in!"
Allen grinned mildly. "Good advice," he said quietly. "Me and my men will set here while you do the busting. Don't imagine that we'll be sore because you take the lead in such a little matter as that."
"If I was the sheriff——" began Duncan.
"Sure," interrupted Allen with a dry laugh; "if you was the sheriff. There's a lot of things we'd do if we was somebody else. Maybe breaking down Dakota's door is one of them. But we don't want anyone killed if we can help it, and it's a dead sure thing that some one would cash in if we tried any monkey business with that door. If you're wanting to do something that amounts to something to help this game along, swap your cayuse for one of Dakota's and hit the breeze to the Double R for grub. We'll be needing it by the time you get back."
Duncan had already ridden over sixty miles within the past twenty-four hours, and he made a grumbling rejoinder. But in the end he roped one of Dakota's horses, saddled it, and presently vanished in the darkness. Allen and his men built a fire near the edge of the clearing and rolled into their blankets.
At eight o'clock the following morning, Langford appeared on the river trail, leading a pack horse loaded with provisions and cooking utensils for the sheriff and his men. Duncan, Langford told Allen while they breakfasted, had sought his bunk, being tired from the day's activities.
"You're the owner of the Double R?" questioned Allen.
"You and Dakota friendly?" he questioned again, noting Langford's nod.
"We've been quite friendly," smiled Langford.
"But you ain't now?"
"Not since this has happened. We must have law and order, even at the price of friendship."
Allen squinted a mildly hostile eye at Langford. "That's a good principle to get back of—for a weak-kneed friendship. But most men who have got friends wouldn't let a little thing like law and order interfere between them."
Langford reddened. "I haven't known Dakota long of course," he defended. "Perhaps I erred in saying we were friends. Acquaintances would better describe it I think."
Allen's eye narrowed again with an emotion that Langford could not fathom. "I always had a heap of faith in Dakota's judgment," he said. And then, when Langford's face flushed with a realization of the subtle insult, Allen said gruffly:
"You say Doubler's dead?"
"I don't remember to have said that to you," returned Langford, his voice snapping with rage. "What I did say was that Duncan saw him killed and came to me with the news. I sent him for you. Since then my daughter has been over to Doubler's cabin. He is quite dead, she reported," he lied. "There can be no doubt of his guilt, if that is what bothers you," he continued. "Duncan saw him shoot Doubler in the back with Doubler's own rifle, and my daughter heard the shot and met Dakota coming from Doubler's cabin, immediately after. It's a clear case, it seems to me."
"Yes, clear," said Allen. "The evidence is all against him."
Yet it was not all quite clear to Langford. To be sure, he had expected to receive news that Dakota had accomplished the destruction of Doubler, but he had not anticipated the fortunate appearance of Duncan at the nester's cabin during the commission of the murder, nor had he expected Sheila to be near the scene of the crime. It had turned out better than he had planned, for since he had burned the agreement that he had made with Dakota, the latter had no hold on him whatever, and if it were finally proved that he had committed the crime there would come an end to both Dakota and Doubler.
Only one thing puzzled him. Dakota had been to his place, he knew that he was charged with the murder and that the agreement had been burned. He also knew that Duncan and Sheila would bear witness against him. And yet, though he had had an opportunity to escape, he had not done so. Why not?
He put this interrogation to Allen, carefully avoiding reference to anything which would give the sheriff any idea that he possessed any suspicion that Dakota was not really guilty.
"That's what's bothering me!" declared the latter. "He's had time enough to hit the breeze clear out of the Territory. Though," he added, squinting at Langford, "Dakota ain't never been much on the run. He'd a heap rather face the music. Damn the cuss!" he exploded impatiently.
He finished his breakfast in silence, and then again approached the door of Dakota's cabin, knocking loudly, as before.
"I'm wanting that palaver now, Dakota," he said coaxingly.
He heard Dakota laugh. "Have you viewed the corpse, Allen?" came his voice, burdened with mockery.
"No," said Allen.
"You're a hell of a sheriff—wanting to take a man when you don't know whether he's done anything."
"I reckon you ain't fooling me none," said Allen slowly. "The evidence is dead against you."
"Duncan saw you fixing Doubler, and Langford's daughter met you coming from his cabin."
"Who told you that?"
"Langford. He's just brought some grub over."
The silence that followed Allen's words lasted long, and the sheriff fidgeted impatiently. When he again spoke there was the sharpness of intolerance in his voice.
"If talking to you was all I had to do, I might monkey around here all summer," he said. "I've give you about eight hours to think this thing over, and that's plenty long enough. I don't like to get into any gun argument with you, because I know that somebody will get hurt. Why in hell don't you surrender decently? I'm a friend of yours and you hadn't ought to want to make any trouble for me. And them's good boys that I've got over there and I wouldn't want to see any of them perforated. And I'd hate like blazes to have to put you out of business. Why don't you act decent and come out like a man?"
"Go and look at the corpse," insisted Dakota.
"There'll be plenty of time to look at the corpse after you're took."
There was no answer. Allen sighed regretfully. "Well," he said presently, "I've done what I could. From now on, I'm looking for you."
"Just a minute, Allen," came Dakota's voice. To Allen's surprise he heard a fumbling at the fastenings of the door, and an instant later it swung open and Dakota stood in the opening, one of his six-shooters in hand.
"I reckon I know you well enough to be tolerably sure that you'll get me before you leave here," he said, as Allen wheeled and faced him, his arms folded over his chest as a declaration of his present peaceful intentions. "But I want you to get this business straight before anything is started. And then you'll be responsible. I'm giving it to you straight. Somebody's framed up on me. I didn't shoot Doubler. When I left him he was cleaning his rifle. After I left him I heard shooting. I thought it was him trying his rifle, or I would have gone back.
"Then I met Sheila Langford on the river trail, near the cabin. She'd heard the shooting, too. She thinks I did it. You think I did it, and Duncan says he saw me do it. Doubler isn't dead. At least he wasn't dead when I left the doctor with him at sundown. But he wasn't far from it, and if he dies without coming to it's likely that things will look bad for me. But because I knew he wasn't dead I took a chance on staying here. I am not allowing that I'm going to let anyone hang me for a thing I didn't do, and so if you're determined to get me without making sure that Doubler's going to have mourners immediately, it's a dead sure thing that some one's going to get hurt. I reckon that's all. I've given you fair warning, and after you get back to the edge of the clearing our friendship don't count any more."
He stepped back and closed the door.
Allen walked slowly toward the clearing, thinking seriously. He said nothing to Langford or his men concerning his conversation with Dakota, and though he covertly questioned the former he could discover nothing more than that which the Double R owner had already told him. Several times during the morning he was on the point of planning an attack on the cabin, but Dakota's voice had a ring of truth in it and he delayed action, waiting for some more favorable turn of events.
And so the hours dragged. The men lounged in the shade of the trees and talked; Langford—though he had no further excuse for staying—remained, concealing his impatience over Allen's inaction by taking short rides, but always returning; Allen, taciturn, morose even, paid no attention to him.
The afternoon waned; the sun descended to the peaks of the mountains, and there was still inaction on Allen's part, still silence from the cabin. Just at sundown Allen called his men to him and told them to guard the cabin closely, not to shoot unless forced by Dakota, but to be certain that he did not escape.
He said they might expect him to return by dawn of the following morning. Then, during Langford's absence on one of his rides, he loped his pony up the river trail toward Ben Doubler's cabin.
After the departure of the doctor Sheila entered the cabin and closed the door, fastening the bars and drawing a chair over near the table. Doubler seemed to be resting easier, though there was a flush in his cheeks that told of the presence of fever. However, he breathed more regularly and with less effort than before the coming of the doctor, and as a consequence, Sheila felt decidedly better. At intervals during the night she gave him quantities of the medicine which the doctor had left, but only when the fever seemed to increase, forcing the liquid through his lips. Several times she changed the bandages, and once or twice during the night when he moaned she pulled her chair over beside him and smoothed his forehead, soothing him. When the dawn came it found her heavy eyed and tired.
She went to the river and procured fresh water, washed her hands and face, prepared a breakfast of bacon and soda biscuit—which she found in a tin box in a corner of the cabin, and then, as Doubler seemed to be doing nicely, she saddled her pony and took a short gallop. Returning, she entered the cabin, to find Doubler tossing restlessly.
She gave him a dose of the medicine—an extra large one—but it had little effect, quieting him only momentarily. Evidently he was growing worse. The thought aroused apprehension in her mind, but she fought it down and stayed resolutely at the sick man's side.
Through the slow-dragging hours of the morning she sat beside him, giving him the best care possible under the circumstances, but in spite of her efforts the fever steadily rose, and at noon he sat suddenly up in the bunk and gazed at her with blazing, vacuous eyes.
"You're a liar!" he shouted. "Dakota's square!"
Sheila stifled a scream of fear and shrank from him. But recovering, she went to him, seizing his shoulders and forcing him back into the bunk. He did not resist, not seeming to pay any attention to her at all, but he mumbled, inexpressively:
"It ain't so, I tell you. He's just left me, an' any man which could talk like he talked to me ain't—I reckon not," he said, shaking his head with a vigorous, negative motion; "you're a heap mistaken—you ain't got him right at all."
He was quiet for a time after this, but toward the middle of the afternoon Sheila saw that his gaze was following her as she paced softly back and forth in the cabin.
"So you're stuck on that Langford girl, are you?" he demanded, laughing. "Well, it won't do you any good, Dakota, she's—well, she's some sore at you for something. She won't listen to anything which is said about you." The laughter died out of his eyes; they became cold with menace. "I ain't listenin' to any more of that sorta talk, I tell you! I've got my eyes open. Why!" he said in surprise, starting up, "he's gone!" He suddenly shuddered and cursed. "In the back," he said. "You—you——" And profanity gushed from his lips. Then he collapsed, closing his eyes, and lay silent and motionless.
Out of the jumble of disconnected sentences Sheila was able to gather two things of importance—perhaps three.
The first was that some one had told him of Dakota's complicity in the plan to murder him and that he refused to believe his friend capable of such depravity. The second was that he knew who had shot him; he also knew the man who had informed him of Dakota's duplicity—though this knowledge would amount to very little unless he recovered enough to be able to supply the missing threads.
Sheila despaired of him supplying anything, for it seemed that he was steadily growing worse, and when the dusk came she began to feel a dread of remaining with him in the cabin during the night. If only the doctor would return! If Dakota would come—Duncan, her father, anybody! But nobody came, and the silence around the cabin grew so oppressive that she felt she must scream. When darkness succeeded dusk she lighted the kerosene lamp, placed a bar over the window, secured the door fastenings, and seated herself at the table, determined to take a short nap.
It seemed that she had scarcely dropped off to sleep—though in reality she had been unconscious for more than two hours—when she awoke suddenly, to see Doubler sitting erect in the bunk, watching her with a wan, sympathetic smile. There was the light of reason in his eyes and her heart gave an ecstatic leap.
"Could you give me a drink of water, ma'am?" he said, in the voice that she knew well.
She sprang to the pail, to find that it contained very little. She had lifted it, and was about to unfasten the door, intending to go to the river to procure fresh water, when Doubler's voice arrested her.
"There's some water there—I can hear it splashin': It'll do well enough just now. I don't want much. You can get some fresh after a while. I want to talk to you."
She placed the pail down and went over to him, standing beside him.
"What is it?" she asked.
"How long have you been here? I knowed you was here all the time—I kept seein' you, but somehow things was a little mixed. But I know that you've been here quite a while. How long?"
"This is the second night."
"You found me layin' there—in the door. I dropped there, not bein' able to go any further. I felt you touchin' me—draggin' me. There was someone else here, too. Who was it?"
"The doctor and Dakota."
"Where's Dakota now?"
"At his cabin, I suppose. He didn't stay here long—he left right after he brought the doctor. I imagine you know why he didn't stay. He was afraid that you would recognize him and accuse him."
"Accuse him of what, ma'am?"
"Of shooting you."
He smiled. "I reckon, ma'am, that you don't understand. It wasn't Dakota that shot me."
"Who did, then?" she questioned eagerly. "Who?"
"Why—why——" she said, sitting suddenly erect, a mysterious elation filling her, her eyes wide with surprise and delight, and a fear that Doubler might have been mistaken—"Why, I saw Dakota on the river trail just after you were shot."
"He'd just left me. He hadn't been gone more than ten minutes or so when Duncan rode up—comin' out of the timber just down by the crick. Likely he'd been hidin' there. I was cleanin' my rifle; we had words, and when I set my rifle down just outside the shack, he grabbed it an' shot me. After that I don't seem to remember a heap, except that someone was touchin' me—which must have been you."
"Oh!" she said. "I am so glad!"
She was thinking now of Dakota's parting words to her the night before on the crest of the slope above the river,—of his words, of the truth of his statement denying his guilt, and she was glad that she had not spoken some of the spiteful things which had been in her mind. How she had misjudged him!
"I reckon it's something to be glad for," smiled Doubler, misunderstanding her elation, "but I reckon I owe it to you—I'd have pulled my freight sure, if you hadn't come when you did. An' I told you not to be comin' here any more." He laughed. "Ain't it odd how things turn out—sometimes. I'd have died sure," he repeated.
"You are going to live a long while," she said. And then, to his surprise, she bent over and kissed his forehead, leaving his side instantly, her cheeks aflame, her eyes alight with a mysterious fire. To conceal her emotion from Doubler she seized the water pail.
"I will get some fresh water," she said, with a quick, smiling glance at him. "You'll want a fresh drink, and your bandages must be changed."
She opened the door and stepped down into the darkness.
There was a moon, and the trail to the river was light enough for her to see plainly, but when she reached the timber clump in which Doubler had said Duncan had been hiding, she shuddered and made a detour to avoid passing close to it. This took her some distance out of her way, and she reached the river and walked along its bank for a little distance, searching for a deep accessible spot into which she could dip the pail.
The shallow crossing over which she had ridden many times was not far away, and when she stooped to fill the pail she heard a sudden clatter and splashing, and looked up to see a horseman riding into the water from the opposite side of the river.
He saw her at the instant she discovered him, and once over the ford he turned his horse and rode directly toward her.
After gaining the bank he halted his pony and looked intently at her.
"You're Langford's daughter, I reckon," he said.
"Yes," she returned, seeing that he was a stranger; "I am."
"I'm Ben Allen," he said shortly; "the sheriff of this county. What are you doing here?"
"I am taking care of Ben Doubler," she said; "he has been——"
"Then he ain't dead, of course," said Allen, interrupting her. It seemed to Sheila that there was relief and satisfaction in his voice, and she peered closer at him, but his face was hidden in the shadow of his hat brim.
"He is very much better now," she told him, scarcely able to conceal her delight. "But he has been very bad."
"Able to talk?"
"Yes. He has just been talking to me." She took a step toward him, speaking earnestly and rapidly. "I suppose you are looking for Dakota," she said, remembering what her father had told her about sending Duncan to Lazette for the sheriff. "If you are looking for him, I want to tell you that he didn't shoot Doubler. It was Duncan. Doubler told me so not over five minutes ago. He said——"
But Allen had spurred his pony forward, and before she could finish he was out of hearing distance, riding swiftly toward the cabin.
Sheila lingered at the water's edge, for now suddenly she saw much beauty in the surrounding country, and she was no longer lonesome. She stood on the bank of the river, gazing long at the shadowy rims of the distant mountains, at their peaks, rising majestically in the luminous mist of the night; at the plains, stretching away and fading into the mysterious shadows of the distance; watching the waters of the river, shimmering like quicksilver—a band of glowing ribbon winding in and out and around the moon-touched buttes of the canyons.
"Oh!" she said irrelevantly, "he isn't so bad, after all!"
Stooping over again to fill the pail, she heard a sharp clatter of hoofs behind her. A horseman was racing toward the river—toward her—bending low over his pony's mane, riding desperately. She placed the pail down and watched him. Apparently he did not see her, for, swerving suddenly, he made for the crossing without slackening speed. He had almost reached the water's edge when there came a spurt of flame from the door of Doubler's cabin, followed by the sharp whip like crack of a rifle!
In the doorway of the cabin, clearly outlined against the flickering light of the interior, was a man. And as Sheila watched another streak of fire burst from the door, and she heard the shrill sighing of the bullet, heard the horseman curse. But he did not stop in his flight, and in an instant he had crossed the river. She saw him for an instant as he was outlined against the clear sky in the moonlight that bathed the crest of the slope, and then he was gone.
Dropping the pail, Sheila ran toward the cabin, fearing that Doubler had suddenly become delirious and had attacked Allen. But it seemed to her that it had not been Allen who had raced away from the cabin, and she had not gone more than half way toward it when she saw another horseman coming. She halted to wait for him, and when he halted and drew up beside her she saw that it was the sheriff.
"Who was it?" she demanded, breathlessly.
"Duncan!" Allen cursed picturesquely and profanely. "When I got to the shack he was inside, standing over Doubler, strangling him. The damned skunk! You was right," he added; "it was him who shot Doubler!" He continued rapidly, grimly, taking a piece of paper from a pocket and writing something on it.
"My men have got Dakota corraled in his cabin. If he tries to get away they will do for him. I don't want that to happen; there's too few square men in the country as it is. Take this"—he held out the paper to her—"and get down to Dakota's cabin with it. Give it to Bud—one of my men—and tell him to scatter the others and try to head off Duncan if he comes that way. I'm after him!"
The paper fluttered toward her, she snatched at it, missed it, and stooped to take it from the ground. When she stood erect she saw Allen and his pony silhouetted for an instant on the crest of the ridge on the other side of the river. Then he vanished.
Though in a state of anxiety and excitement over the incident of Duncan's attack on Doubler and the subsequent shooting, together with a realization of Dakota's danger, Sheila did not lose her composure. She ran to the river and secured the water, aware that it might be needed now more than ever. Then, hurrying as best she could with the weight of the pail, she returned to the cabin.
She was relieved to find that Doubler had received no injury, and she paused long enough to allow him to tell her that Duncan had entered the cabin shortly after she had left it. He had attacked Doubler, but had been interrupted by Allen, who had suddenly ridden up. Duncan had heard him coming, and had concealed himself behind the door, and when Allen had entered Duncan had struck him on the head with the butt of his six-shooter, knocking him down. The blow had been a glancing one, however, and Allen had recovered quickly, seizing Doubler's rifle and trying to bring down the would be murderer as he fled.
While attending to Doubler's bandages, Sheila repeated the conversation she had had with Allen concerning the situation in which he had left Dakota, and instantly the nester's anxiety for his friend took precedence over any thoughts for his own immediate welfare.
"There'll be trouble sure, now that Allen's left there," he said. "Dakota won't be a heap easy with them deputies."
He told Sheila to let the bandaging go until later, but she refused.
"Dakota'll be needin' you a heap more than I need you," he insisted, refusing to allow her to touch the bandages. "There'll be the devil to pay if any of them deputies try to rush Dakota's shack. I want you to go down there right now. If you wait, it'll mebbe be too late."
Sheila hesitated for a moment, and then, yielding to the entreaty in Doubler's eyes, she was at his side, pressing his hand.
"Ride ma'am!" he told her, when she was ready to go, his cheeks flushed with excitement, his eyes bright.
Her pony snorted with surprise when she brought her riding whip down against its flanks when turning from the corral gates, but it needed no second urging, and its pace when it splashed through the shallow water of the crossing was fully as great as that of Duncan's pony, which had previously passed through it.
Once on the hard sand of the river trail it settled into a long, swinging gallop, under which the miles flew by rapidly and steadily. Sheila drew the animal up on the rises, breathing it sometimes, but on the levels she urged it with whip and spur, and in something more than an hour after leaving Doubler's cabin, she flashed by the quicksand crossing, which she estimated as being not more than twelve miles from her journey's end.
She was tired after her long vigil at Doubler's side, but the weariness was entirely physical, for her brain was working rapidly, filling her thoughts with picturesque conjectures, drawing pictures in which she saw Dakota being shot down by Allen's deputies. And he was innocent!
She did not blame herself for Dakota's dilemma, though she felt a keen regret over her treatment of him, over her unjust suspicions. He had really been in earnest when he had told her the night before on the river trail that he was not guilty—that everybody had misjudged him. Vivid in her recollection was the curious expression on his face when he had said to her just before leaving her that night:
"Won't you believe me?"
And that other time, when he had taken her by the shoulders and looked steadily into her eyes—she remembered that, too; she could almost feel his fingers, and the words he had uttered then were fresh in her memory: "I've treated you mean, Sheila, about as mean as a man could treat a woman. I am sorry. I want you to believe that. And maybe some day—when this business is over—you'll understand, and forgive me."
There had been mystery in his actions ever since she had seen him the first time, and though she could not yet understand it, she had discovered that there were forces at work in his affairs which seemed to indicate that he had not told her that for the purpose of attempting to justify his previous actions.
Evidently, whatever the mystery that surrounded him, her father and Duncan were concerned in it, and this thought spurred her on, for it gave her a keen delight to think that she was arrayed against them, even though she were on the side of the man who had wronged her. He, at least, had not been concerned in the plot to murder Doubler.
When she reached the last rise—on the crest of which she had sat on her pony on the morning following her marriage to Dakota in the cabin and from which she had seen the parson riding away—she was trembling with eagerness and dread for fear that something might happen before she could arrive. It was three miles down the slope, and when she reached the level there was Dakota's cabin before her.
She drew her pony to a walk, for she saw men grouped in front of the cabin door, saw Dakota there himself, standing in the open doorway, framed in the light from within. There were no evidences of the conflict which she had dreaded. She had arrived in time.
Convinced of this, she felt for the first time her physical weariness, and she leaned forward on her pony, holding to its mane for support, approaching the cabin slowly.
Her father was there, she observed, as she drew nearer; and three strangers—and Allen! And near Allen, sitting on his horse dejectedly, was Duncan!
One of Duncan's arms swung oddly at his side, and Sheila thought instantly of his curse when he had been riding near her at the river crossing. Evidently Allen's bullet had struck him.
Sheila's presence at Dakota's cabin was now unnecessary, for it was evident that an understanding had been reached with Allen, and Sheila experienced a sudden aversion to appearing among the men. Turning her pony, she was about to ride away, intending to return to Doubler's cabin, when Allen turned and saw her. He spurred quickly to her side, seizing the pony by the bridle rein and leading it toward the cabin door.
"It's all right, ma'am," he said, "I got him. Holy smoke!" he exclaimed as she came within the radius of the light. "You certainly rode some, didn't you, ma'am?"
She did not answer. She saw her father look at her, noted his start, smiled scornfully when she observed a paleness overspreading his face. She looked from him to Duncan, and the latter flushed and turned his head. Then Allen's voice reached her, as he spoke to Dakota.
"This young woman has rode twenty miles to-night—to save your hide—you durned cuss. If you was anyways hospitable, you'd——"
Allen's voice seemed to grow distant to Sheila, the figures of the men in the group blurred, the light danced, she reeled in the saddle, tried to check herself, failed, and toppled limply forward over her pony's neck. She heard an exclamation, saw Dakota spring suddenly from the doorway, felt his arms around her. She struggled in his grasp, trying to fight him off, and then she drifted into oblivion.
When Sheila recovered consciousness she was in Dakota's cabin—in the bunk in which she had lain on another night in the yesterday of her life in this country. She recognized it instantly. There was the candle on the table, there were the familiar chairs, the fireplace, the shelves upon which were Dakota's tobacco tins and matches; there was the guitar, with its gaudy string, suspended from the wall. If it had been raining, she might have imagined that she was just awakening from a sleep in that other time. She felt a hand on her forehead, a damp cloth, and she opened her eyes to gaze fairly into Dakota's.
"Don't, please," she said, shrinking from him.
It occurred to her that she had uttered the same words to him before, and, closing her eyes for a moment, she remembered. It had been when he had tried to assist her out of the water at the quicksand crossing, and as on that occasion, his answer was the same.
"Then I won't."
She lay for a long time, looking straight up at the ceiling, utterly tired, wondering vaguely what had become of her father, Duncan, Allen, and the others. She would have given much to have been able to lie there for a time—a long time—and rest. But that was not to be thought of. She struggled to a sitting position, and when her eyes had become accustomed to the light she saw her father sitting in a chair near the fireplace. The door was closed—barred. Sheila glanced again at her father, and then questioningly at Dakota, who was watching her from the center of the room, his face inscrutable.
"What does this mean? Where are the others?" she demanded.
"Allen and his men have gone back to Lazette," returned Dakota quietly. "This means"—he pointed to Langford—"that we're going to have a little talk—about things."
Sheila rose. "I don't care to hear any talk; I am not interested."
"You'll be interested in my talk," said Dakota.
Curiously, he seemed to be invested with a new character. Just now he was more like the man he had been the night she had met him the first time—before he had forced her to marry him—than he had been since. Only, she felt as she watched him standing quietly in the middle of the room, the recklessness which had marked his manner that other time seemed to have entirely disappeared, seemed to have been replaced by something else—determination.
Beneath the drooping mustache Sheila saw the lines of his lips; they had always seemed hard to her, and now there were little curves at the corners which hinted at amusement—grim amusement. His eyes, too, were different; the mockery had departed from them. They were steady and unwavering, as before, and though they still baffled her, she was certain that she saw a slumbering devil in them—as though he possessed some mysterious knowledge and purposed to confound Sheila and her father with it, though in his own way and to suit his convenience. Yet behind it all there lurked a certain gravity—a cold deliberation that seemed to proclaim that he was in no mood to trifle and that he proposed to follow some plan and would brook no interference.
Fascinated by the change in him Sheila resumed her seat on the edge of the bunk, watching him closely. He drew a chair over near the door, tilted it back and dropped into it, thus mutely announcing that he intended keeping the prisoners until he had delivered himself of that mysterious knowledge which seemed to be in his mind.
Glancing furtively at her father, Sheila observed that he appeared to have formed some sort of a conclusion regarding Dakota's actions also, for he sat very erect on his chair, staring at the latter, an intense interest in his eyes.
Sheila had become interested, too; she had forgotten her weariness. And yet Dakota's first words disappointed her—somehow they seemed irrelevant.
"This isn't such a big world, after all, is it?" He addressed both Sheila and her father, though he looked at neither. His tone was quietly conversational, and when he received no answer to his remark he looked up with a quiet smile.
"That has been said by a great many people, hasn't it? I've heard it many times. I reckon you have, too. But it's a fact, just the same. The world is a small place. Take us three. You"—he said, pointing to Langford—"come out here from Albany and buy a ranch. You"—he smiled at Sheila—"came with your father as a matter of course. You"—he looked again at Langford—"might have bought a ranch in another part of the country. You didn't need to buy this particular one. But you did. Take me. I spent five years in Dakota before I came here. I've been here five years.
"A man up in Dakota wanted me to stay there; said he'd do most anything for me if I would. But I didn't like Dakota; something kept telling me that I ought to move around a little. I came here, I liked the place, and I've stayed here. I know that neither of you are very much interested in what has happened to me, but I've told you that much just to prove my contention about the world being a small place. It surely isn't so very big when you consider that three persons can meet up like we've met—our trails leading us to the same section of the country."
"I don't see how that concerns us," said Langford impatiently.
"No," returned Dakota, and now there was a note of sarcasm in his voice, "you don't see. Lots of folks don't see. But there are trails that lead everywhere. Fate marks them out—blazes them. There are trails that lead us into trouble, others that lead us to pleasure—straight trails, crooked ones, trails that cross—all kinds. Folks start out on a crooked trail, trying to get away from something, but pretty soon another trail crosses the one they are on—maybe it will be a straight one that crosses theirs, with a straight man riding it.
"The man riding the crooked trail and the man riding the straight one meet at the place where the trails cross. Such trails don't lead to any to-morrow; they are yesterday's trails, and before the man riding the crooked trail and the man riding the straight trail can go any further there has got to be an accounting. That is what has happened here. You"—he smiled gravely as he looked at Langford—"have been riding a crooked trail. I have been hanging onto the straight one as best I could. Now we've got to where the trails cross."
"Meaning that you want an explanation of my action in burning that signed agreement, I suppose?" sneered Langford, looking up.
"Still trying to ride the crooked trail?" smiled Dakota, with the first note of mockery that Sheila had heard in his voice since he had begun speaking. "I'm not worrying a bit about that agreement. Why, man, I'd have shot myself before I'd have shot Doubler. He's my friend—the only real friend I've had in ten years."
"Then when you signed the agreement you didn't mean to keep it?" questioned Langford incautiously, disarmed by Dakota's earnestness.
"Ten years ago a boy named Ned Keegles went to Dakota. I am glad to see that you are familiar with the name," he added with a smile as Langford started and stiffened in his chair, his face suddenly ashen. "You knowing Keegles will save me explaining a lot," continued Dakota. "Well, Keegles went to Dakota—where I was. He was eighteen and wasn't very strong, as young men go. But he got a job punching cows and I got to know him pretty well—used to bunk with him. He took a liking to me because I took an interest in him.
"He didn't like the work, because he had been raised differently. He lived in Albany before he went West. His father, William Keegles, was in the hardware business with a man named Langford—David Dowd Langford. You see, I couldn't be mistaken in the name of the man; it's such an uncommon one."
He smiled significantly at Sheila, and an odd expression came into her face, for she remembered that on the night of her coming he had made the same remark.
"One day Ned Keegles got sick and took me into his confidence. He wasn't in the West for his health, he said. He was a fugitive from the law, accused of murdering his father. It wasn't a nice story to hear, but he told it, thinking he was going to die."
Dakota smiled enigmatically at Sheila and coldly at the now shrinking man seated in the chair beside the fireplace.
"One day Keegles went into his father's office. His father's partner, David Dowd Langford, was there, talking to his father. They'd had hard words. Keegle's father had discovered that Langford had appropriated a large sum of the firm's money. By forging his partner's signature he had escaped detection until one day when the elder Keegles had accidentally discovered the fraud—which was the day on which Ned Keegles visited his father. It isn't necessary to go into detail, but it was perfectly plain that Langford was guilty.
"There were hard words, as I have said. The elder Keegles threatened to prosecute. Langford seized a sample knife that had been lying on the elder Keegle's desk, and stabbed him, killing him instantly. Then, while Ned Keegles stood by, stunned by the suddenness of the attack, Langford coolly walked to a telephone and notified the police of the murder. Hanging up the receiver, he raised the hue and cry, and a dozen clerks burst into the office, to find Ned Keegles bending over his father, trying to withdraw the knife.
"Langford accused Ned Keegles of the murder. He protested, of course, but seeing that the evidence was against him, he fought his way out of the office and escaped. He went to Dakota—where I met him." He hesitated and looked steadily at Langford. "Do you see how the trails have crossed? The crooked one and the straight one?"
Langford was leaning forward in his chair, a scared, wild expression in his eyes, his teeth and hands clenched in an effort to control his emotions.
"It's a lie!" he shouted. "I didn't kill him! Ned Keegles——"
"Wait!" Dakota rose from his chair and walked to a shelf, from which he took a box, returning to Langford's side and opening it. He drew out a knife, shoving it before Langford's eyes and pointing out some rust spots on the blade.
"This knife was given to me by Ned Keegles," he said slowly. "These rust spots on the blade are from his father's blood. Look at them!" he said sharply, for Langford had turned his head.
At the command he swung around, his gaze resting on the knife. "That's a pretty story," he sneered.
Dakota's laugh when he returned the knife to the box chilled Sheila as that same laugh had chilled her when she had heard it during her first night in the country—in this same cabin, with Dakota sitting at the table—a bitter, mocking laugh that had in it a savagery controlled by an iron will. He turned abruptly and walked to his chair, seating himself.
"Yes," he said, "it's a pretty story. But it hasn't all been told. With a besmirched name and the thoughts which were with him all the time, life wasn't exactly a joyful one for Ned Keegles. He was young, you see, and it all preyed on his mind. But after a while it hardened him. He'd hit town with the rest of the boys, and he'd drink whiskey until he'd forget. But he couldn't forget long. He kept seeing his father and Langford; nights he'd start from his blankets, living over and over again the incident of the murder. He got so he couldn't stay in Dakota. He came down here and tried to forget. It was just the same—there was no forgetfulness.
"One night when he was on the trail near here, he met a woman. It was raining and the woman had lost the trail. He took the woman in. She interested him, and he questioned her. He discovered that she was the daughter of the man who had murdered his father—the daughter of David Dowd Langford!"
Langford cringed and looked at Sheila, who was looking straight at Dakota, her eyes alight with knowledge.
"Ned Keegles kept his silence, as he had kept it for ten years," resumed Dakota. "But the coming of the woman brought back the bitter memories, and while the woman slept in his cabin he turned to the whiskey bottle for comfort. As he drank his troubles danced before him—magnified. He thought it would be a fine revenge if he should force the woman to marry him, for he figured that it would be a blow at the father's pride. If it hadn't been for a cowardly parson and the whiskey the marriage would never have occurred—Ned Keegles would not have thought of it. But he didn't hurt the woman; she left him pure as she came—mentally and physically."
Langford slowly rose from his chair, his lips twitching, his face working strangely, his eyes wide and glaring.
"You say she married him—Ned Keegles?" he said, his voice high keyed and shrill. He turned to Sheila after catching Dakota's nod. "Is this true?" he demanded sharply. "Did you marry him as this man says you did?"
"Yes; I married him," returned Sheila dully, and Langford sank limply into his chair.
Dakota smiled with flashing eyes and continued:
"Keegles married the woman," he said coldly, "because he thought she was Langford's real daughter." He looked at Sheila with a glance of compassion. "Later, when Keegles discovered that the woman was only Langford's stepdaughter, he was mighty sorry. Not for Langford, however, because he could not consider Langford's feelings. And in spite of what he had done he was still determined to secure revenge.
"One day Langford came to Keegles with a proposal. He had seen Keegles kill one man, and he wanted to hire him to kill another—a man named Doubler. Keegles agreed, for the purpose of getting Langford into——"
Dakota hesitated, for Langford had risen to his feet and stood looking at him, his eyes bulging, his face livid.
"You!" he said, in a choking, wailing voice; "you—you, are Ned Keegles! You—you—— Why——" he hesitated and passed a hand uncertainly over his forehead, looking from Sheila to Dakota with glazed eyes. "You—you are a liar!" he suddenly screamed, his voice raised to a maniacal pitch. "It isn't so! You—both of you—have conspired against me!"
"Wait!" Dakota got to his feet, walked to a shelf, and took down a small glass, a pair of shears, a shaving cup, and a razor. While Langford watched, staring at him with fearful, wondering eyes, Dakota deftly snipped off the mustache with the shears, lathered his lip, and shaved it clean. Then he turned and confronted Langford.
The latter looked at him with one, long, intense gaze, and then with a dry sob which caught in his throat and seemed to choke him, he covered his face with his hands, shuddered convulsively, and without a sound pitched forward, face down, at Dakota's feet.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
After a time Sheila rose from the bunk on which she had been sitting and stood in the center of the floor, looking down at her father. Dakota had not moved. He stood also, watching Langford, his face pale and grim, and he did not speak until Sheila had addressed him twice.
"What are you going to do now?" she said dully. "It is for you to say, you know. You hold his life in your hands."
"Do?" He smiled bitterly at her. "What would you do? I have waited ten years for this day. It must go on to the end."
"Yes; the end," he said gravely. "He"—Dakota pointed to the prostrate figure—"must sign a written confession."
"He will return to answer for his crime."
Sheila shuddered and turned from him with bowed head.
"Oh!" she said at last; "it will be too horrible! My friends in the East—they will——"
"Your friends," he said with some bitterness. "Could your friends say more than my friends said when they thought that I had murdered my own father in cold blood and then run away?"
"But I am innocent," she pleaded.
"I was innocent," he returned, with a grave smile.
"Yes, but I could not help you, you know, for I wasn't there when you were accused. But you are here, and you can help me. Don't you see," she said, coming close to him, "don't you see that the disgrace will not fall on him, but on me. I will make him sign the confession," she offered, "you can hold it over him. He will make restitution of your property. But do not force him to go back East. Let him go somewhere—anywhere—but let him live. For, after all, he is my father—the only one I ever knew."
"But my vengeance," he said, the bitterness of his smile softening as he looked down at her.
"Your vengeance?" She came closer to him, looking up into his face. "Are we to judge—to condemn? Will not the power which led us three together—the power which you are pleased to call 'Fate'; the power that blazed the trail which you have followed from the yesterday of your life;—will not this power judge him—punish him? Please," she pleaded, "please, for my sake, for—for"—her voice broke and she came forward and placed her hands on his shoulders—"for your wife's sake."
He looked down at her for an instant, the hard lines of his face breaking into gentle, sympathetic curves. Then his arms went around her, and she leaned against him, her head against his shoulder, while she wept softly.
* * * * *
An hour later, standing side by side in the open doorway of the cabin, Sheila and Dakota watched in silence while Langford, having signed a confession dictated by Dakota, mounted his pony and rode slowly up the river trail toward Lazette.
He slowly passed the timber clump near the cabin, and with bowed head traveled up the long slope which led to the rise upon which, in another time, Sheila had caught her last glimpse of the parson. It was in the cold, bleak moment of the morning when darkness has not yet gone and the dawn not come, and Langford looked strangely desolate out there on the trail alone—alone with thoughts more desolate than his surroundings.
Sheila shivered and snuggled closer to Dakota. He looked down at her with a sympathetic smile.
"It is so lonesome," she said.
"Where?" he asked.
"Out there—where he is going."
Dakota did not answer. For a long time they watched the huddled form of the rider. They saw him approach the crest of the rise—reach it. Then from the mountains in the eastern distance came a shaft of light, striking the summit of the rise where the rider bestrode his pony—throwing both into bold relief. For a moment the rider halted the pony, turned, glanced back an instant, and was gone.
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Circle, The. By Katherine Cecil Thurston (author of "The Masquerader," "The Gambler.") Colonial Free Lance, A. By Chauncey C. Hotchkiss. Conquest of Canaan, The. By Booth Tarkington. Conspirators, The. By Robert W. Chambers. Cynthia of the Minute. By Louis Joseph Vance. Dan Merrithew. By Lawrence Perry. Day of the Dog, The. By George Barr McCutcheon. Depot Master, The. By Joseph C. Lincoln. Derelicts. By William J. Locke. Diamond Master, The. By Jacques Futrelle. Diamonds Cut Paste. By Agnes and Egerton Castle. Divine Fire, The. By May Sinclair. Dixie Hart. By Will N. Harben. Dr. David. By Marjorie Benton Cooke. Early Bird, The. By George Randolph Chester. Eleventh Hour, The. By David Potter. Elizabeth in Rugen. (By the author of "Elizabeth and Her German Garden.") Elusive Isabel. By Jacques Futrelle. Elusive Pimpernel, The. By Baroness Orczy. Enchanted Hat, The. By Harold McGrath. Excuse Me. By Rupert Hughes. 54-40 or Fight. By Emerson Hough. Fighting Chance, The. By Robert W. Chambers. Flamsted Quarries. By Mary E. Waller. Flying Mercury, The. By Eleanor M. Ingram. For a Maiden Brave. By Chauncey C. Hotchkiss. Four Million, The. By O. Henry. Four Pool's Mystery, The. By Jean Webster. Fruitful Vine, The. By Robert Hichens. Ganton & Co. By Arthur J. Eddy. Gentleman of France, A. By Stanley Weyman. Gentleman, The. By Alfred Ollivant. Get-Rick-Quick-Wallingford. By George Randolph Chester. Gilbert Neal. By Will N. Harben. Girl and the Bill, The. By Bannister Merwin. Girl from His Town, The. By Marie Van Vorst. Girl Who Won, The. By Beth Ellis. Glory of Clementina, The. By William J. Locke. Glory of the Conquered, The. By Susan Glaspell. God's Good Man. By Marie Corelli. Going Some. By Rex Beach. Golden Web, The. By Anthony Partridge. Green Patch, The. By Bettina von Hutten. Happy Island (sequel to "Uncle William"). By Jennette Lee. Hearts and the Highway. By Cyrus Townsend Brady. Held for Orders. By Frank H. Spearman. Hidden Water. By Dane Coolidge. Highway of Fate, The. By Rosa N. Carey. Homesteaders, The. By Kate and Virgil D. Boyles. Honor of the Big Snows, The. By James Oliver Curwood. Hopalong Cassidy. By Clarence E. Mulford. Household of Peter, The. By Rosa N. Carey. House of Mystery, The. By Will Irwin. House of the Lost Court, The. By C. N. Williamson. House of the Whispering Pines, The. By Anna Katherine Green.
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House on Cherry Street, The. By Amelia E. Barr. How Leslie Loved. By Anne Warner. Husbands of Edith, The. By George Barr McCutcheon. Idols. By William J. Locke. Illustrious Prince, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. Imprudence of Prue, The. By Sophie Fisher. Inez. (Illustrated Edition.) By Augusta J. Evans. Infelice. By Augusta Evans Wilson. Initials Only. By Anna Katharine Green. In Defiance of the King. By Chauncey C. Hotchkiss. Indifference of Juliet, The. By Grace S. Richmond. In the Service of the Princess. By Henry C. Rowland. Iron Woman, The. By Margaret Deland. Ishmael. (Illustrated.) By Mrs. Southworth. Island of Regeneration, The. By Cyrus Townsend Brady. Jack Spurlock, Prodigal. By Horace Lorimer. Jane Cable. By George Barr McCutcheon. Jeanne of the Marshes. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. Jude the Obscure. By Thomas Hardy. Keith of the Border. By Randall Parrish. Key to the Unknown, The. By Rosa N. Carey. Kingdom of Earth, The. By Anthony Partridge. King Spruce. By Holman Day. Ladder of Swords, A. By Gilbert Parker. Lady Betty Across the Water. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson. Lady Merton, Colonist. By Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Lady of Big Shanty, The. By Berkeley F. Smith. Langford of the Three Bars. By Kate and Virgil D. Boyles. Land of Long Ago, The. By Eliza Calvert Hall. Lane That Had No Turning, The. By Gilbert Parker. Last Trail, The. By Zane Grey. Last Voyage of the Donna Isabel, The. By Randall Parrish. Leavenworth Case, The. By Anna Katharine Green. Lin McLean. By Owen Wister. Little Brown Jug at Kildare, The. By Meredith Nicholson. Loaded Dice. By Ellery H. Clarke. Lord Loveland Discovers America. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson. Lorimer of the Northwest. By Harold Bindloss. Lorraine. By Robert W. Chambers. Lost Ambassador, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. Love Under Fire. By Randall Parrish. Loves of Miss Anne, The. By S. R. Crockett. Macaria. (Illustrated Edition.) By Augusta J. Evans. Mademoiselle Celeste. By Adele Ferguson Knight. Maid at Arms, The. By Robert W. Chambers. Maid of Old New York, A. By Amelia E. Barr. Maid of the Whispering Hills, The. By Vingie Roe. Maids of Paradise, The. By Robert W. Chambers. Making of Bobby Burnit, The. By George Randolph Chester. Mam' Linda. By Will N. Harben. Man Outside, The. By Wyndham Martyn. Man In the Brown Derby, The. By Wells Hastings. Marriage a la Mode. By Mrs. Humphrey Ward. Marriage of Theodora, The. By Molly Elliott Seawell. Marriage Under the Terror, A. By Patricia Wentworth. Master Mummer, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. Masters of the Wheatlands. By Harold Bindloss.
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Max. By Katherine Cecil Thurston. Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. By A. Conan Doyle. Millionaire Baby, The. By Anna Katharine Green. Missioner, The. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. Miss Selina Lue. By Maria Thompson Daviess. Mistress of Brae Farm, The. By Rosa N. Carey. Money Moon, The. By Jeffery Farnol. Motor Maid, The. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson. Much Ado About Peter. By Jean Webster. Mr. Pratt. By Joseph C. Lincoln. My Brother's Keeper. By Charles Tenny Jackson. My Friend the Chauffeur. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson. My Lady Caprice (author of the "Broad Higway"). Jeffery Farnol. My Lady of Doubt. By Randall Parrish. My Lady of the North. By Randall Parrish. My Lady of the South. By Randall Parrish. Mystery Tales. By Edgar Allen Poe. Nancy Stair. By Elinor Macartney Lane. Ne'er-Do-Well, The. By Rex Beach. No Friend Like a Sister. By Rosa N. Carey. Officer 666. By Barton W. Currie and Augustin McHugh. One Braver Thing. By Richard Dehan. Order No. 11. By Caroline Abbot Stanley. Orphan, The. By Clarence B. Mulford. Out of the Primitive. By Robert Ames Bennett. Pam. By Bettina von Hutten. Pam Decides. By Bettina von Hutten. Pardners. By Rex Beach. Partners of the Tide. By Joseph C. Lincoln. Passage Perilous, The. By Rosa N. Carey. Passers By. By Anthony Partridge. Paternoster Ruby, The. By Charles Edmonds Walk. Patience of John Moreland, The. By Mary Dillon. Paul Anthony, Christian. By Hiram W. Hays. Phillip Steele. By James Oliver Curwood. Phra the Phoenician. By Edwin Lester Arnold. Plunderer, The. By Roy Norton. Pole Baker. By Will N. Harben. Politician, The. By Edith Huntington Mason. Polly of the Circus. By Margaret Mayo. Pool of Flame, The. By Louis Joseph Vance. Poppy. By Cynthia Stockley. Power and the Glory, The. By Grace McGowan Cooke. Price of the Prairie, The. By Margaret Hill McCarter. Prince of Sinners, A. By E. Phillips Oppenheim. Prince or Chauffeur. By Lawrence Perry. Princess Dehra, The. By John Reed Scott. Princess Passes, The. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson. Princess Virginia, The. By C. N. and A. M. Williamson. Prisoners of Chance. By Randall Parrish. Prodigal Son, The. By Hall Caine. Purple Parasol, The. By George Barr McCutcheon.