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Doubler Talks

From: The Trail To Yesterday

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

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

"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

"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.

Next: For Dakota

Previous: Sheriff Allen Takes A Hand

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