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   Chapter 20 INTO THE UNKNOWN

The Trail to Yesterday By Charles Alden Seltzer Characters: 14405

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


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."

"The end?"

"Yes; the end," he said gravely. "He"-Dakota pointed to the prostrate figure-"must sign a written confession."

"And then?"

"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.

THE END

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