Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Sheila Fans A Flame








From: The Trail To Yesterday

Sheila departed from the quicksand crossing nursing her wrath against the
man who had rescued her, feeling bitterly vindictive against him, yet
aware that the Dakota who had saved her life was not the Dakota whom she
had feared during her adventure with him in his cabin on the night of her
arrival in the country. He had changed, and though she assured herself
that she despised him more than ever, she found a grim amusement in the
recollection of his manner immediately following the rescue, and in a
review of the verbal battle, in which she had been badly worsted.

His glances had had in them the quality of inward mirth and satisfaction
which is most irritating, and behind his pretended remorse she could see a
pleasure over her dilemma which made her yearn to inflict punishment upon
him that would cause him to ask for mercy. His demeanor had said plainly
that if she wished to have the marriage set aside all well and good--he
would offer no objection. But neither would he take the initiative.
Decidedly, it was a matter in which she should consult her own desires.

It was late in the afternoon when she rode up to the Double R corral gates
and was met there by her father and Duncan. Langford had been worried, he
said, and was much concerned over her appearance. In the presence of
Duncan Sheila told him the story of her danger and subsequent rescue by
Dakota and she saw his eyes narrow with a strange light.

"Dakota!" he said. "Isn't that the chap who shot that half-breed over in
Lazette the day I came?"

To Sheila's nod he ejaculated: "He's a trump!"

"He is a brute!" As the words escaped her lips--she had not meant to utter
them--Sheila caught a glint in Duncan's eyes which told her that she had
echoed the latter's sentiments, and she felt almost like retracting the
charge. She had to bite her lips to resist the impulse.

"A brute, eh?" laughed Langford. "It strikes me that I wouldn't so
characterize a man who had saved my life. The chances are that after
saving you he didn't seem delighted enough, or he didn't smile to suit
you, or----"

"He ain't so awful much of a man," remarked Duncan disparagingly.

Langford turned and looked at Duncan with a comprehending smile.
"Evidently you owe Dakota nothing, my dear Duncan," he said.

The latter's face darkened, and with Sheila listening he told the story of
the calf deal, which had indirectly brought about the death of Blanca.

"For a long time we had suspected Texas Blanca of rustling," said Duncan,
"but we couldn't catch him with the goods. Five years ago, after the
spring round-up, I branded a bunch of calves with a secret mark, and then
we rode sign on Blanca.

"We had him then, for the calves disappeared and some of the boys found
some of them in Blanca's corral, but we delayed, hoping he would run off
more, and while we were waiting he sold out to Dakota. We didn't know that
at the time; didn't find it out until we went over to take Blanca and
found Dakota living in his cabin. He had a bill of sale from Blanca all
right, showing that he'd bought the calves from him. It looked regular,
but we had our doubts, and Dakota and me came pretty near having a run-in.
If the boys hadn't interfered----"

He hesitated and looked at Sheila, and as her gaze met his steadily his
eyes wavered and a slow red came into his face, for the recollection of
what had actually occurred at the meeting between him and Dakota was not
pleasant, and since that day Duncan had many times heard the word "Yellow"
spoken in connection with his name--which meant that he lacked courage.

"So he wasn't a rustler, after all?" said Sheila pleasantly. For some
reason which she could not entirely explain, she suspected that Duncan had
left many things out of his story of his clash with Dakota.

"Well, no," admitted Duncan grudgingly.

Sheila was surprised at the satisfaction she felt over this admission.
Perhaps Duncan read her face as she had read his, for he frowned.

"Him and Blanca framed up--making believe that Blanca had sold him the
Star brand," he said venomously.

"I don't believe it!" Sheila's eyes met Duncan's and the latter's wavered.
She was not certain which gave her the thrill she felt--her defense of
Dakota or Duncan's bitter rage over the exhibition of that defense.

"He doesn't appear to me to be the sort of man who would steal cows," she
said with a smile which made Duncan's teeth show. "Although," she
continued significantly, "it does seem that he is the sort of man I would
not care to trifle with--if I were a man. You told me yourself, if you
remember, that you were not taking any chances with him. And now you
accuse him. If I were you," she warned, "I would be more careful--I would
keep from saying things which I could not prove."

"Meaning that I'm afraid of him, I reckon?" sneered Duncan.

Sheila looked at him, her eyes alight with mischief. That day on the edge
of the butte overlooking the river, when Duncan had talked about Dakota,
she had detected in his manner an inclination to belittle the latter;
several times since then she had heard him speak venomously of him, and
she had suspected that all was not smooth between them. And now since
Duncan had related the story of the calf incident she was certain that the
relations between the two men were strained to the point of open rupture.
Duncan had bothered her, had annoyed her with his attentions, had adopted
toward her an air of easy familiarity, which she had deeply resented, and
she yearned to humiliate him deeply.

"Afraid?" She appeared to hesitate. "Well, no," she said, surveying him
with an appraising eye in which the mischief was partly concealed, "I do
not believe that you are afraid. Perhaps you are merely careful where he
is concerned. But I am certain that even if you were afraid of him you
would not refuse to take his pony back. I promised to send it back, you
know."

A deep red suddenly suffused Duncan's face. A sharp, savage gleam in his
eyes--which Sheila met with a disarming smile--convinced her that he was
aware of her object. She saw also that he did not intend to allow her to
force him to perform the service.

He bowed and regarded her with a shallow smile.

"I will have one of the boys take the pony over to him the first thing in
the morning," he said.

Sheila smiled sweetly. "Please don't bother," she said. "I wouldn't think
of allowing one of the men to take the pony back. Perhaps I shall decide
to ride over that way myself. I should not care to have you meet Dakota if
you are afraid of him."

Her rippling laugh caused the red in Duncan's face to deepen, but she gave
him no time to reply, for directly she had spoken she turned and walked
toward the ranchhouse. Both Duncan and Langford watched her until she had
vanished, and then Langford turned to Duncan.

"What on earth have you done to her?" he questioned.

But Duncan was savagely pulling the saddle from Dakota's pony and did not
answer.

Sheila really had no expectation of prevailing upon Duncan to return
Dakota's horse, and had she anticipated that the manager would accept her
challenge she would not have given it, for after thinking over the
incident of her rescue she had come to the conclusion that she had not
treated Dakota fairly, and by personally taking his horse to him she would
have an opportunity to proffer her tardy thanks for his service. She did
not revert to the subject of the animal's return during the evening meal,
however, nor after it when she and her father and Duncan sat on the
gallery of the ranchhouse enjoying the cool of the night breezes.

After breakfast on the following morning she was standing near the
windmill, watching the long arms travel lazily in their wide circles, when
she saw Duncan riding away from the ranchhouse, leading Dakota's pony. She
started toward the corral gates, intending to call to him to return, but
thought better of the impulse and hailed him tauntingly instead:

"Please tell him to accept my thanks," she said, and Duncan turned his
head, bowed mockingly, and continued on his way.

Half an hour after the departure of Duncan Sheila pressed a loafing
puncher into service and directed him to rope a gentle pony for her. After
the puncher had secured a suitable appearing animal and had placed a
saddle and bridle on it, she compelled him to ride it several times around
the confines of the pasture to make certain that it would not "buck." Then
she mounted and rode up the river.

Duncan was not particularly pleased over his errand, and many times while
he rode the trail toward Dakota's cabin his lips moved from his teeth in a
snarl. Following the incident of the theft of the calves by Blanca, Duncan
had taken pains to insinuate publicly that Dakota's purchase of the Star
from the half-breed had been a clever ruse to avert suspicion, intimating
that a partnership existed between Dakota and Blanca. The shooting of
Blanca by Dakota, however, had exploded this charge, and until now Duncan
had been very careful to avoid a meeting with the man whom he had
maligned.

During the night he had given much thought to the circumstance which was
sending him to meet his enemy. He had a suspicion that Sheila had
purposely taunted him with cowardice--that in all probability Dakota
himself had suggested the plan in order to force a meeting with him. This
thought suggested another. Sheila's defense of Dakota seemed to indicate
that a certain intimacy existed between them. He considered this
carefully, and with a throb of jealously concluded that Dakota's action in
saving Sheila's life would very likely pave the way for a closer
acquaintance.

Certainly, in spite of Sheila's remark about Dakota being a "brute," she
had betrayed evidence of admiration for the man. In that case her veiled
allusions to his own fear of meeting Dakota were very likely founded on
something which Dakota had told her, and certainly anything which Dakota
might have said about him would not be complimentary. Therefore his rage
against both Sheila and his enemy was bitter when he finally rode up to
the door of the latter's cabin.

There was hope in his heart that Dakota might prove to be absent, and
when, after calling once and receiving no answer, he dismounted and
hitched Dakota's pony to a rail of the corral fence, there was a smile of
satisfaction on his face.

He took plenty of time to hitch the pony; he even lingered at the corral
bars, leaning on them to watch several steers which were inside the
enclosure. He found time, too, in spite of his fear of his enemy, to sneer
over the evidences of prosperity which were on every hand. He was
congratulating himself on his good fortune in reaching Dakota's cabin
during a time when the latter was absent, when he heard a slight sound
behind him. He turned rapidly, to see Dakota standing in the doorway of
the cabin, watching him with cold, level eyes, one of his heavy
six-shooters in hand.

Duncan's face went slowly pale. He did not speak at once and when he did
he was surprised at his hoarseness.

"I've brought your cayuse back," he said finally.

"So I see," returned Dakota. His eyes glinted with a cold humor, though
they were still regarding Duncan with an alertness which the other could
not mistake.

"So I see," repeated Dakota. His slow drawl was in evidence again. "I
don't recollect, though, that I sent word to have you bring him back."

"I wasn't tickled to death over the job," returned Duncan.

Now that his first surprise was over and Dakota had betrayed no sign of
resenting his visit, Duncan felt easier. There had been a slight sneer in
his voice when he answered.

"That isn't surprising," returned Dakota. "There never was a time when you
were tickled a heap to stick your nose into my affairs." His smile froze
Duncan.

"I ain't looking for trouble," said the latter, with a perfect knowledge
of Dakota's peculiar expression.

"Then why did you come over here? I reckon there wasn't anyone else to
send my horse over by?" said Dakota, his voice coming with a truculent
snap.

Duncan flushed. "Sheila Langford sent me," he admitted reluctantly.

Dakota's eyes lighted with incredulity. "I reckon you're a liar," he said
with cold emphasis.

Duncan's gaze went to the pistol in Dakota's hand and his lips curled. He
knew that he was perfectly safe so long as he made no hostile move, for in
spite of his derogatory remarks about the man he was aware that he never
used his weapons without provocation.

Therefore he forced a smile. "You ain't running no Blanca deal on me," he
said. "Calling me a liar ain't going to get no rise out of me. But she
sent me, just the same. I reckon, liking you as I do, that I ought to be
glad she gave me the chance to come over and see you, but I ain't. We was
gassing about you and she told me I was scared to bring your cayuse back."
He laughed mirthlessly. "I reckon I've proved that I ain't any scared."

"No," said Dakota with a cold grin, "you ain't scared. You know that there
won't be any shooting done unless you get careless with that gun you
carry." His eyes were filled with a whimsical humor, but they were still
alert, as he watched Duncan's face for signs of insincerity. He saw no
such signs and his expression became mocking. "So she sent you over here?"
he said, and his was the voice of one enemy enjoying some subtle advantage
over another. "Why, I reckon you're a kind of handy man to have
around--sort of ladies' man--running errands and such."

Duncan's face bloated with anger, but he dared not show open resentment.
For behind Dakota's soft voice and gentle, over-polite manner, he felt the
deep rancor for whose existence he alone was responsible. So, trying to
hold his passions in check, he grinned at Dakota, significantly,
insinuatingly, unable finally to keep the bitter hatred and jealousy out
of his voice. For in the evilness of his mind he had drawn many imaginary
pictures of what had occurred between Dakota and Sheila immediately after
her rescue by the latter.

"I reckon," he said hoarsely, "that you take a heap of interest in
Sheila."

"That's part of your business, I suppose?" Dakota's voice was suddenly
hard.

Duncan had decided to steer carefully away from any trouble with Dakota;
he had even decided that as a measure for his own safety he must say
nothing which would be likely to arouse Dakota's anger, but the jealous
thoughts in his mind had finally gotten the better of prudence, and the
menace in Dakota's voice angered him.

"I reckon," he said with a sneer, "that I ain't as much interested in her
as you are."

He started back, his lips tightening over his teeth in a snarl of alarm
and fear, for Dakota had stepped down from the doorway and was at his
side, his eyes narrowed with cold wrath.

"Meaning what?" he demanded harshly, sharply, for he imagined that perhaps
Sheila had told of her marriage to him, and the thought that Duncan should
have been selected by her to share the secret maddened him.

"Meaning what, you damned coyote?" he insisted, stepping closer to
Duncan.

"Meaning that she ain't admiring you for nothing," flared Duncan
incautiously, his jealously overcoming his better judgment. "Meaning that
any woman which has been pulled out of a quicksand like you pulled her out
might be expected to favor you with----"

The sunlight flashed on Dakota's pistol as it leaped from his right hand
to his left and was bolstered with a jerk. And with the same motion his
clenched fist was jammed with savage force against Duncan's lips, cutting
short the slanderous words and sending him in a heap to the dust of the
corral yard.

With a cry of rage Duncan grasped for his pistol and drew it out, but the
hand holding it was stamped violently into the earth, the arm bent and
twisted until the fingers released the weapon. And then Dakota stood over
him, looking down at him with narrowed, chilling eyes, his face white and
hard, his anger gone as quickly as it had come. He said no word while
Duncan clambered awkwardly to his feet and mounted his horse.


IT WAS STAMPED VIOLENTLY INTO THE EARTH.]

"I'm telling you something," he said quietly, as Duncan lifted the reins
with his uninjured hand, turning his horse to depart. "You and me have
never hitched very well and there isn't any chance of us ever falling on
each other's necks. I think what I've done to you about squares us for
that calf deal. I've been yearning to hand you something before you left
the country, but I didn't expect you'd give me the chance in just this
way. I'm warning you that the next time you shove your coyote nose into my
business I'll muss it up some. That applies to Miss Sheila. If I ever hear
of you getting her name on your dirty tongue again I'll tear you apart. I
reckon that's all." He drew his pistol and balanced it in his right hand.
"It makes me feel some reckless to be talking to you," he added, a glint
of intolerance in his eyes. "You'd better travel before I change my mind.

"You don't need to mention this to Miss Sheila," he said mockingly, as
Duncan urged his horse away from the corral gate; "just let her go
on--thinking you're a man."





Next: Strictly Business

Previous: Bogged Down



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 409