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The Trail to Yesterday By Charles Alden Seltzer Characters: 6865

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"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 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.

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