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For Dakota

From: The Trail To Yesterday

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

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.

Next: Some Memories

Previous: Doubler Talks

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