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   Chapter 18 FOR DAKOTA

The Trail to Yesterday By Charles Alden Seltzer Characters: 7086

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


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.

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