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


Some Memories








From: The Trail To Yesterday

When Sheila recovered consciousness she was in Dakota's cabin--in the bunk
in which she had lain on another night in the yesterday of her life in
this country. She recognized it instantly. There was the candle on the
table, there were the familiar chairs, the fireplace, the shelves upon
which were Dakota's tobacco tins and matches; there was the guitar, with
its gaudy string, suspended from the wall. If it had been raining, she
might have imagined that she was just awakening from a sleep in that other
time. She felt a hand on her forehead, a damp cloth, and she opened her
eyes to gaze fairly into Dakota's.

"Don't, please," she said, shrinking from him.

It occurred to her that she had uttered the same words to him before, and,
closing her eyes for a moment, she remembered. It had been when he had
tried to assist her out of the water at the quicksand crossing, and as on
that occasion, his answer was the same.

"Then I won't."

She lay for a long time, looking straight up at the ceiling, utterly
tired, wondering vaguely what had become of her father, Duncan, Allen, and
the others. She would have given much to have been able to lie there for a
time--a long time--and rest. But that was not to be thought of. She
struggled to a sitting position, and when her eyes had become accustomed
to the light she saw her father sitting in a chair near the fireplace. The
door was closed--barred. Sheila glanced again at her father, and then
questioningly at Dakota, who was watching her from the center of the room,
his face inscrutable.

"What does this mean? Where are the others?" she demanded.

"Allen and his men have gone back to Lazette," returned Dakota quietly.
"This means"--he pointed to Langford--"that we're going to have a little
talk--about things."

Sheila rose. "I don't care to hear any talk; I am not interested."

"You'll be interested in my talk," said Dakota.

Curiously, he seemed to be invested with a new character. Just now he was
more like the man he had been the night she had met him the first
time--before he had forced her to marry him--than he had been since. Only,
she felt as she watched him standing quietly in the middle of the room,
the recklessness which had marked his manner that other time seemed to
have entirely disappeared, seemed to have been replaced by something
else--determination.

Beneath the drooping mustache Sheila saw the lines of his lips; they had
always seemed hard to her, and now there were little curves at the corners
which hinted at amusement--grim amusement. His eyes, too, were different;
the mockery had departed from them. They were steady and unwavering, as
before, and though they still baffled her, she was certain that she saw a
slumbering devil in them--as though he possessed some mysterious knowledge
and purposed to confound Sheila and her father with it, though in his own
way and to suit his convenience. Yet behind it all there lurked a certain
gravity--a cold deliberation that seemed to proclaim that he was in no
mood to trifle and that he proposed to follow some plan and would brook no
interference.

Fascinated by the change in him Sheila resumed her seat on the edge of the
bunk, watching him closely. He drew a chair over near the door, tilted it
back and dropped into it, thus mutely announcing that he intended keeping
the prisoners until he had delivered himself of that mysterious knowledge
which seemed to be in his mind.

Glancing furtively at her father, Sheila observed that he appeared to have
formed some sort of a conclusion regarding Dakota's actions also, for he
sat very erect on his chair, staring at the latter, an intense interest in
his eyes.

Sheila had become interested, too; she had forgotten her weariness. And
yet Dakota's first words disappointed her--somehow they seemed
irrelevant.

"This isn't such a big world, after all, is it?" He addressed both Sheila
and her father, though he looked at neither. His tone was quietly
conversational, and when he received no answer to his remark he looked up
with a quiet smile.

"That has been said by a great many people, hasn't it? I've heard it many
times. I reckon you have, too. But it's a fact, just the same. The world
is a small place. Take us three. You"--he said, pointing to
Langford--"come out here from Albany and buy a ranch. You"--he smiled at
Sheila--"came with your father as a matter of course. You"--he looked
again at Langford--"might have bought a ranch in another part of the
country. You didn't need to buy this particular one. But you did. Take me.
I spent five years in Dakota before I came here. I've been here five
years.

"A man up in Dakota wanted me to stay there; said he'd do most anything
for me if I would. But I didn't like Dakota; something kept telling me
that I ought to move around a little. I came here, I liked the place, and
I've stayed here. I know that neither of you are very much interested in
what has happened to me, but I've told you that much just to prove my
contention about the world being a small place. It surely isn't so very
big when you consider that three persons can meet up like we've met--our
trails leading us to the same section of the country."

"I don't see how that concerns us," said Langford impatiently.

"No," returned Dakota, and now there was a note of sarcasm in his voice,
"you don't see. Lots of folks don't see. But there are trails that lead
everywhere. Fate marks them out--blazes them. There are trails that lead
us into trouble, others that lead us to pleasure--straight trails, crooked
ones, trails that cross--all kinds. Folks start out on a crooked trail,
trying to get away from something, but pretty soon another trail crosses
the one they are on--maybe it will be a straight one that crosses theirs,
with a straight man riding it.

"The man riding the crooked trail and the man riding the straight one meet
at the place where the trails cross. Such trails don't lead to any
to-morrow; they are yesterday's trails, and before the man riding the
crooked trail and the man riding the straight trail can go any further
there has got to be an accounting. That is what has happened here.
You"--he smiled gravely as he looked at Langford--"have been riding a
crooked trail. I have been hanging onto the straight one as best I could.
Now we've got to where the trails cross."

"Meaning that you want an explanation of my action in burning that signed
agreement, I suppose?" sneered Langford, looking up.

"Still trying to ride the crooked trail?" smiled Dakota, with the first
note of mockery that Sheila had heard in his voice since he had begun
speaking. "I'm not worrying a bit about that agreement. Why, man, I'd have
shot myself before I'd have shot Doubler. He's my friend--the only real
friend I've had in ten years."

"Then when you signed the agreement you didn't mean to keep it?"
questioned Langford incautiously, disarmed by Dakota's earnestness.

"Ten years ago a boy named Ned Keegles went to Dakota. I am glad to see
that you are familiar with the name," he added with a smile as Langford
started and stiffened in his chair, his face suddenly ashen. "You knowing
Keegles will save me explaining a lot," continued Dakota. "Well, Keegles
went to Dakota--where I was. He was eighteen and wasn't very strong, as
young men go. But he got a job punching cows and I got to know him pretty
well--used to bunk with him. He took a liking to me because I took an
interest in him.

"He didn't like the work, because he had been raised differently. He lived
in Albany before he went West. His father, William Keegles, was in the
hardware business with a man named Langford--David Dowd Langford. You see,
I couldn't be mistaken in the name of the man; it's such an uncommon
one."

He smiled significantly at Sheila, and an odd expression came into her
face, for she remembered that on the night of her coming he had made the
same remark.

"One day Ned Keegles got sick and took me into his confidence. He wasn't
in the West for his health, he said. He was a fugitive from the law,
accused of murdering his father. It wasn't a nice story to hear, but he
told it, thinking he was going to die."

Dakota smiled enigmatically at Sheila and coldly at the now shrinking man
seated in the chair beside the fireplace.

"One day Keegles went into his father's office. His father's partner,
David Dowd Langford, was there, talking to his father. They'd had hard
words. Keegle's father had discovered that Langford had appropriated a
large sum of the firm's money. By forging his partner's signature he had
escaped detection until one day when the elder Keegles had accidentally
discovered the fraud--which was the day on which Ned Keegles visited his
father. It isn't necessary to go into detail, but it was perfectly plain
that Langford was guilty.

"There were hard words, as I have said. The elder Keegles threatened to
prosecute. Langford seized a sample knife that had been lying on the elder
Keegle's desk, and stabbed him, killing him instantly. Then, while Ned
Keegles stood by, stunned by the suddenness of the attack, Langford coolly
walked to a telephone and notified the police of the murder. Hanging up
the receiver, he raised the hue and cry, and a dozen clerks burst into the
office, to find Ned Keegles bending over his father, trying to withdraw
the knife.

"Langford accused Ned Keegles of the murder. He protested, of course, but
seeing that the evidence was against him, he fought his way out of the
office and escaped. He went to Dakota--where I met him." He hesitated and
looked steadily at Langford. "Do you see how the trails have crossed? The
crooked one and the straight one?"

Langford was leaning forward in his chair, a scared, wild expression in
his eyes, his teeth and hands clenched in an effort to control his
emotions.

"It's a lie!" he shouted. "I didn't kill him! Ned Keegles----"

"Wait!" Dakota rose from his chair and walked to a shelf, from which he
took a box, returning to Langford's side and opening it. He drew out a
knife, shoving it before Langford's eyes and pointing out some rust spots
on the blade.

"This knife was given to me by Ned Keegles," he said slowly. "These rust
spots on the blade are from his father's blood. Look at them!" he said
sharply, for Langford had turned his head.

At the command he swung around, his gaze resting on the knife. "That's a
pretty story," he sneered.

Dakota's laugh when he returned the knife to the box chilled Sheila as
that same laugh had chilled her when she had heard it during her first
night in the country--in this same cabin, with Dakota sitting at the
table--a bitter, mocking laugh that had in it a savagery controlled by an
iron will. He turned abruptly and walked to his chair, seating himself.

"Yes," he said, "it's a pretty story. But it hasn't all been told. With a
besmirched name and the thoughts which were with him all the time, life
wasn't exactly a joyful one for Ned Keegles. He was young, you see, and it
all preyed on his mind. But after a while it hardened him. He'd hit town
with the rest of the boys, and he'd drink whiskey until he'd forget. But
he couldn't forget long. He kept seeing his father and Langford; nights
he'd start from his blankets, living over and over again the incident of
the murder. He got so he couldn't stay in Dakota. He came down here and
tried to forget. It was just the same--there was no forgetfulness.

"One night when he was on the trail near here, he met a woman. It was
raining and the woman had lost the trail. He took the woman in. She
interested him, and he questioned her. He discovered that she was the
daughter of the man who had murdered his father--the daughter of David
Dowd Langford!"

Langford cringed and looked at Sheila, who was looking straight at Dakota,
her eyes alight with knowledge.

"Ned Keegles kept his silence, as he had kept it for ten years," resumed
Dakota. "But the coming of the woman brought back the bitter memories, and
while the woman slept in his cabin he turned to the whiskey bottle for
comfort. As he drank his troubles danced before him--magnified. He thought
it would be a fine revenge if he should force the woman to marry him, for
he figured that it would be a blow at the father's pride. If it hadn't
been for a cowardly parson and the whiskey the marriage would never have
occurred--Ned Keegles would not have thought of it. But he didn't hurt the
woman; she left him pure as she came--mentally and physically."

Langford slowly rose from his chair, his lips twitching, his face working
strangely, his eyes wide and glaring.

"You say she married him--Ned Keegles?" he said, his voice high keyed and
shrill. He turned to Sheila after catching Dakota's nod. "Is this true?"
he demanded sharply. "Did you marry him as this man says you did?"

"Yes; I married him," returned Sheila dully, and Langford sank limply into
his chair.

Dakota smiled with flashing eyes and continued:

"Keegles married the woman," he said coldly, "because he thought she was
Langford's real daughter." He looked at Sheila with a glance of
compassion. "Later, when Keegles discovered that the woman was only
Langford's stepdaughter, he was mighty sorry. Not for Langford, however,
because he could not consider Langford's feelings. And in spite of what he
had done he was still determined to secure revenge.

"One day Langford came to Keegles with a proposal. He had seen Keegles
kill one man, and he wanted to hire him to kill another--a man named
Doubler. Keegles agreed, for the purpose of getting Langford into----"

Dakota hesitated, for Langford had risen to his feet and stood looking at
him, his eyes bulging, his face livid.

"You!" he said, in a choking, wailing voice; "you--you, are Ned Keegles!
You--you---- Why----" he hesitated and passed a hand uncertainly over his
forehead, looking from Sheila to Dakota with glazed eyes. "You--you are a
liar!" he suddenly screamed, his voice raised to a maniacal pitch. "It
isn't so! You--both of you--have conspired against me!"

"Wait!" Dakota got to his feet, walked to a shelf, and took down a small
glass, a pair of shears, a shaving cup, and a razor. While Langford
watched, staring at him with fearful, wondering eyes, Dakota deftly
snipped off the mustache with the shears, lathered his lip, and shaved it
clean. Then he turned and confronted Langford.

The latter looked at him with one, long, intense gaze, and then with a dry
sob which caught in his throat and seemed to choke him, he covered his
face with his hands, shuddered convulsively, and without a sound pitched
forward, face down, at Dakota's feet.





Next: Into The Unknown

Previous: For Dakota



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 463