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   Chapter 17 DOUBLER TALKS

The Trail to Yesterday By Charles Alden Seltzer Characters: 12552

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

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.

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